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Mark McTavish of Pulp Culture: 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food

If the product is not unique and authentic, don’t waste your time. Product always comes first, and it must be worth the attention from consumers.What purpose does the product serve? What problem does it solve? What void does it fill in the market? Why would a consumer see value in this product?It takes a village! […]

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If the product is not unique and authentic, don’t waste your time. Product always comes first, and it must be worth the attention from consumers.

What purpose does the product serve? What problem does it solve? What void does it fill in the market? Why would a consumer see value in this product?

It takes a village! Without a strong team, your business will not succeed. Select wisely, find great people and provide them with the tools they need to perform in their role. They must be passionate about your product, that is a minimum threshold.

Asa part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark McTavish.

Raised in the apple growing region of southwest Ontario, Mark began his career in the craft beverage industry at the age of 19. Soon after earning his Bachelor of Commerce at Canada’s top beverage management school, Mark established his foothold in the marketplace by opening one of the first craft bars in Canada in 2003.

After helping to pioneer the craft beer industry in Canada, Mark followed his other passion and built a successful career in the commercial fitness business. With a focus on product design and brand development, Mark spent nearly a decade working with fitness professionals across North America. Mark’s career path came full circle when he realized his dream to craft the healthiest alcoholic beverages on the planet; a convergence of two industries that had previously seemed to be an impossible pairing.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Asthe son of an entrepreneur, I grew up working for the family business. To be honest, I love to work. The sense of accomplishment is incredibly fulfilling, and I learned that from my parents.

From a young age, I have always been a lover of beverages. It started with crafty Root Beer, cold pressed juices, and plenty of protein shakes during my teenage years. As a fitness enthusiast, I was always looking for ways to boost performance and do good for my body. This became an essential part of my life during my twenties, as I certainly enjoyed a social scene that was fueled by adult beverages. When you bounce around Toronto on cold winter evenings, you need a buzzy beverage to keep you warm and smiling!

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the beverage brand you are leading?

While working in the fitness industry, I found myself attending many conferences through the year. These events were characterized by heavy drinking and social experiences, with those in attendance being some of the fittest folks on the planet. However, I was always left scratching my head when they would consume incredibly unhealthy alcoholic beverages that were not aligned with the quality of foods found in their daily diets. I asked myself the question “if fermentation is a healthy and natural science, then why can’t I find a healthy, fermented beverage?” The truth is that Mother Nature created fermentation, and alcohol is one of the many outcomes of fermentation. With that discovery in mind, I set out to find the Holy Grail…and I did.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Believe it or not, I had never fermented anything before starting my business. In fact, the first batch of cider that I ever made was 5,500 gallons! This was viewed by many as a mistake — a risky move to say the least. Those who I was working/consulting with on that first batch would ask “what if it goes bad?” and I always answered, “what if it goes good?” In the end, I made many mistakes in the early days of experimenting with wild fermented juice. Many of the batches were funky, full of sediment, and bracingly sour! However, all of those batches propelled our production process forward and I can now say we produce a world-class line of beverages of unmatched quality and character.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a beverage line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

In my humble opinion, too many (most) beverage entrepreneurs are learning the process from a textbook, or an expensive consultant who claims to be an expert on their associated craft. This is a sterile approach that is often far more technical than necessary, lacking in authenticity.

I believe that both beverage entrepreneurs and consumers benefit from authenticity. It starts with a passionate founder, who strives to craft an incredible product that adds value for consumers (not currently available on the market, or an innovation that improves the current offering). Stick to the vision, don’t follow what others have done before.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

If you really want to start a beverage business, start by assessing the need. Investigate the market, speak with consumers, ask yourself “will this product add value and generate demand?” if the answer is yes, then start crafting that beverage!

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

Don’t over-complicate things! The act of starting a business involves nothing more than taking a gamble on yourself, which is the best bet you can make in life. If you believe in your vision, then reach deep down inside and ask the question “do I believe in myself?”

Once you have determined that the beverage is commercially viable, you must formulate a production plan. This involves construction of a production facility (or co-packing relationship), regulatory issues (licensing, etc.), distribution plan, etc. Above all of that, you must be certain that your product can result in a profitable business. Focus on a costing strategy that will allow you to craft the beverage you have envisioned, while allowing you to reach profitability.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I always recommend that aspiring entrepreneurs take their time to investigate the opportunity first. This should be done yourself, not by way of paid consultants. If you are paying others to do the learning for you, then you don’t learn it yourself!

Travel around, meet the current stakeholders in the market (your future competitors, your future customers, potential investors, etc). Act like you are already in the business before it becomes your reality.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Be well informed, study the market, investigate the process of those that you will be competing with, and get to know your target audience. Once you have gathered the information that is relevant to your vision, perform a SWOT analysis to determine the variables that may impact your potential success.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Always bootstrap first. You need the pressure of being cash poor. It lights a fire under your butt that propels you forward. If you aren’t scared of running out of cash, you miss out on the stress induced innovation that is often the byproduct of bootstrapping!

Once you feel your business is “investable,” then get out there and raise growth capital. You will need to throw more fuel on the fire at some point. Just make sure that you time this correctly and don’t take money too early.

Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?

Patents are expensive! Be sure that a patent will add value before going down that path. There are other ways to build a moat around your brand, such as trademarks and proprietary processes, that are cultivated over time. When ready to pursue a patent, find an IP lawyer who understands the beverage industry.

Sourcing is critical. Your supplier partners are an essential piece to the puzzle, be sure to do your homework and have several suppliers in place. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, as you never know what lies ahead. If you don’t have your ingredients, you can’t produce your product and that causes serious stress for your business.

Remember that distribution is difficult, and not a fun part of the business. Be patient and take your time to find the right partners who are aligned with your goals. Distribution is an ongoing challenge for any beverage brand, so the sooner you accept that, the better off you will be.

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Beverage Line or Specialty Beverage” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Product
  2. Purpose
  3. People
  4. Process
  5. Profit

If the product is not unique and authentic, don’t waste your time. Product always comes first, and it must be worth the attention from consumers.

What purpose does the product serve? What problem does it solve? What void does it fill in the market? Why would a consumer see value in this product?

It takes a village! Without a strong team, your business will not succeed. Select wisely, find great people and provide them with the tools they need to perform in their role. They must be passionate about your product, that is a minimum threshold.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

If I had the answer to that I would be too busy launching an endless stream of brands.

There is no secret sauce when it comes to creating a product that consumers will love. However, it’s important to start with the basics. It takes great product, mindful packaging, and plenty of effort. You could have the greatest product on the planet, but if nobody has access to it then it holds no value (from a commercial perspective).

Consumers love products that meet and exceed their expectations! Learn how to give consumers a little bit of what they think they want, and then earn the right to give them what you know they need.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Our beverages are better for consumers, better for society, and better for our planet.

We start by sourcing sustainable and local ingredients, while limiting water use and emissions. Next, we produce our beverages using natural processes only. Limited water, limited energy, and limited waste. In addition, our beverages are made from tree fruit…the same trees that clean our air!

Our core mission is to craft the healthiest alcoholic beverages on the planet. Why? Because we firmly believe that our society has a drinking problem, and that alcohol is not the culprit. We help consumers “DRINK BETTER”.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Our movement is titled “DRINK BETTER.”

Gone are the days of mindless consumption. Consumers want to do good for themselves, for those around them, and for the planet — even when they are drinking!

We are on a mission to change the way that consumers look at alcoholic beverages: drinking during the day, with an intention to enjoy life and improve their well-being — not to get drunk, escape reality, and feel horrible the next day.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Elon Musk. There is no entrepreneur who has been more disruptive, more committed, and more imaginative. I have a million questions for him, so we may need a full day. I’ll bring the beverages, of course!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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