A brand that stands out in people’s heads, hearts and wallets. The success of your company lies more in the brand than in the product. When you have a brand that connects with people, they’ll pick you up off the shelves, share it with their friends, and buy it over and over again assuming the taste is right. Having a great tasting product is not enough because if you don’t have a brand that truly connects with people, no one will pick it up in the first place. Really understanding your brand, how it shows up in the world, how it makes people feel and why people need it makes the biggest difference between having a food brand people can’t wait to buy and stores can’t wait to list and brands that struggle for far too long. Your brand is not solely your logo or your packaging either. Those are parts of your brand, but really, your brand is how you show up across every aspect of your business in a consistent way that connects with the right audience.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ainsley Moir, host of the Food Founders™ Podcast, the Author of Branding Beyond Logos and the founder and Food Brand Strategist at the Healthy Food & Beverage Group. After spending a decade working for Fortune 500 CPG brands, Ainsley then launched her own D2C coffee company and now helps emerging food & beverage companies create food brands that sell.
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”?
Igrew up outside of Toronto Canada in a household with mostly clean eating. Our desserts would consist of apples, oranges or some other fruit. Prepackaged goods and pop was something we’d only ever get on birthdays. Knowing that, you might find it a bit odd my dream job was to work for Coca-Cola in the Marketing department. The reason this was my dream job wasn’t so much because of the taste, but rather the fact that when I was in business school there were so many case studies on building solid brands and businesses and Coca-Cola was always a shining example of what to do. I knew then that the CPG industry is where I wanted to be.
I was lucky enough to land that dream job in marketing at Coca-Cola a month before I graduated school. And the CPG world was everything and more I’d imagined. Decisions were made based on sound strategies, teams of people came together to solve problems and the magic of both strategy and creativity blended together to drive sales and brand love of products.
I spent 10 years working in these large Fortune 500 CPG companies before eventually getting the itch to put these practices to test for myself and for emerging brands. I ended up launching a direct to consumer coffee company of my own and started consulting other companies on brand strategies on the side. The idea of helping merging big brand strategies with the nimbleness of a small brand eventually led me to leave my corporate career to set out on a mission of helping emerging food brands grow.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
Through launching my own coffee company and speaking with a number of other small business owners, I realized I approached the building of my business with a brand first mentality. This was something every large CPG brand I worked for did, yet I realized this was something most small and growing brands weren’t doing. I shared this brand first approach with the companies I was consulting with so they could focus on building a brand people connected with versus simply selling a product that could be replicated. Their businesses shifted with this.
It’s when I started doing this that I realized my big brand thinking paired with my experience running my own small business allowed me to share strategies and tactics with other businesses that allowed them to stand out because they could apply the best of both worlds; big brand thinking and principles and the scrappiness and resourcefulness of a small company. That’s really how the Healthy Food & Beverage Group came to be the consulting and training company it is today.
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?
The first lead magnets I got out into the world I created myself and they’re a bit laughable to me now. Lesson learned, hire people to do what they’re good at so you can focus on what you’re good at.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The biggest mistake I see food businesses make is focusing solely on their food taste. Now, don’t get me wrong, the product absolutely needs to taste great, but if you don’t have a brand that connects with people, people aren’t going to get to ever taste how amazing it is. Really understanding how to stand out in the market and connect with people emotionally is key to giving your brand a chance in the CPG space.
One of the best ways to overcome this is to know your ideal audience, and create something that connects with them. This means going out and talking to your audience, getting their feedback, hearing the words and phrases and emotions they have as it relates to your category and your product itself.
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?
The first step is really seeing if there’s room for your product in the market and how to really stand out. Part of this is looking at the industry data to see what’s going on. Another part is truly understanding your potential audience to see how they interact with the category you’re looking to go into. If there is a need in the market for your product with your audience, then the next question becomes, “how do I stand out?”. Standing out with flavors is one thing, but it’s not the only thing, and I’d argue it’s the least attractive way to stand out. You want to stand out in a way that people only consider you for solving a real or imagined problem they have. This could include owning a specific occasion or day part, connecting with a very specific audience and no matter what, trying to create an emotional connection with would be consumers. People buy based on emotions, no matter what category you’re in.
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?
I’m an advocate for seeking help with information you don’t know. This is true in all areas of life. If you’re struggling with health, you want to hire a personal trainer. If you’re struggling with getting out of debt, you’ll hire a financial advisor and if you’re struggling with getting your product idea to market in a way you feel great about, hire someone with the skills and experience you need or take a training program to fill the gaps you have.
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? Bootstrapping it forever can be a long uphill battle. When you hire experts, you can fast track your success and allow your product to make fewer mistakes. Time, money and energy are everything in your business. And when you hire the right experts to help your business grow you’re able to save time, energy and money. Yes, it might seem like an investment up front, but looking at the return you’re able to get with that investment will show you, you’re far better off working with a team of experts than all on your own, trying to figure it all out yourself.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
I believe you should bootstrap for as long as you can and then seek investment when/if needed. By not having outside investment, you’re able to really focus on the growth of the business and not be distracted by raising funds, which can feel like a second job, or reporting back to investors when instead you could be focused on growth. The food industry does require upfront costs for ingredients and packaging, but there are lots of financing options and loans available for packaged food and beverage companies. By going as far as you can on your own, you’ll also find it a lot easier to raise money if that’s a route you want to go down. When people see you’ve been successful with the resources you have at your disposal, it makes them saying yes a lot easier.
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?
A great way to get the right people on your team is to ask around with your fellow food producers. Chances are, they know the right people to connect with or the right places to look for whatever services you’re looking for in your region. The food industry is pretty collaborative so ask and you’ll get some great leads on where to find your next best supplier, contractor, consultant partner.
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
The five things you need are straight from my Food Brands That Sell™ Success Map and is based on my years of experience launching and growing large and small packaged food and beverage brands.
#1 You need a brand, business and product you’re aligned to personally. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in your business and it truly is a representation of you in the world. This is why it’s so important that you build a brand you’re aligned to. If you don’t care about being Keto whatsoever, maybe don’t create a Keto company just because it’s the hottest new thing. When you create a brand and a company around something you’re so passionate about and you believe in, it makes it not seem like work, it helps you move past the difficult times and you know a lot of problems and opportunities already because they’ve impacted your life.
#2 You need to know what the market is hungry for. Just because you love chocolate vegan peanut pretzels, doesn’t mean anyone will buy them. Really doing your research to see if there’s actually a market for what you want to sell is a key piece many food producers overlook. Once you have an understanding of what’s happening in the market, you can clearly see where there’s an opportunity for your brand to stand out from everyone else’s.
#3 A brand that stands out in people’s heads, hearts and wallets. The success of your company lies more in the brand than in the product. When you have a brand that connects with people, they’ll pick you up off the shelves, share it with their friends, and buy it over and over again assuming the taste is right. Having a great tasting product is not enough because if you don’t have a brand that truly connects with people, no one will pick it up in the first place. Really understanding your brand, how it shows up in the world, how it makes people feel and why people need it makes the biggest difference between having a food brand people can’t wait to buy and stores can’t wait to list and brands that struggle for far too long. Your brand is not solely your logo or your packaging either. Those are parts of your brand, but really, your brand is how you show up across every aspect of your business in a consistent way that connects with the right audience.
#4 A plan to build brand awareness, trust and love with the right people, in the right places, at the right time with the right messaging. You need to get your product in front of people so they’ll want to buy it and they’ll know why to buy it over any other product. Having a focused marketing plan to get in front of your audience is a key step to making sure your product gets noticed. You don’t have to do every different marketing tactic, but you do need to show up where people are. If your audience is on Instagram, learn how to nail Instagram. If your audience is on Twitter, know how to master that channel. Your audience isn’t everywhere so make sure you’re really honest with who they are and where they spend time so you can focus your efforts too.
#5 A plan to have your product sold in the right places, with the right pricing that aligns to your brand. You don’t need to have your product listed everywhere. And that shouldn’t be your goal either. Your goal should be to be sold in the places your audience is and where they’d want your product. For example if you have a collagen based water, being listed in spas makes a lot of sense. More sense than an arena or on a golf course. Think of where your audience spendings their day, and focus on those locations.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
Sell people what they really want. And to do that, you need to actually sit down with real people (who aren’t your friends or family) and hear what they want, what they need, how they feel, why they buy and all the other important questions that go around your business. When you can deliver a brand that is based on what real people want, and that’s not just around taste, they can’t wait to buy that up!
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
As the name of my company Healthy Food & Beverage Group suggests, I work solely with better for you food and beverage companies. By helping these food founders launch and grow their food companies, they’re then able to feed more people a healthier food option and we’re all able to have a healthier food future. I truly believe food can heal or hurt us, so being able to help create more options in the world that can do the body good is something I feel great about and is my part in making the food industry a healthier one.
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.
I’d love to see more people chase their dreams. No matter how wild or crazy they may be. No matter how experienced or inexperienced they may be in that field. We all have a gift to offer the world, most people simply don’t believe their gift is worth sharing with others, let alone to start a business around it. We’re all capable of incredible things, and if I could create a movement, it’d be around helping people chase those dreams of theirs.
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.
I’d love to sit down for breakfast with Tony Robbins. He is a man who knows how to read people and see how they can reach their next level of success and that’s something I’m personally always stretching for and I try to help others stretch for as well.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.