‘Health foods and health drinks are growth markets. And if you’re dreaming, like I did, of starting your own health food or beverage brand, then I’d like to share with you what I learnt when launching INIU’, says the founder of the health food brand INIU.
In a market that’s constantly shifting with trends that change rapidly (and often irreversibly), starting out can be beyond confusing. So, I’ve tried to whittle down the white noise into some key principles and practices to help you successfully launch your health food and/or beverage brand.
What’s your big idea?
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek
Define your ‘what’ and more importantly identify your ‘why’. The ‘what’ is usually straightforward, but the ‘why’ is critical. It will form the basis of your brand story and the passion that drives you. My ‘what’ is simple – fresh juice. My ‘why’ being healthy, fewer hours shopping, and less kitchen time combining ingredients to make this fresh juice for my family.
I came up with INIU because it avoided choosing between convenience and healthy eating. I located and solved a problem on a small scale. What’s important though is that I then asked, “why keep this idea small?”
Take it further. Ask where and when. How big can your business idea get? Keep stretching it to find out where it breaks (hypothetically). For example, I wanted to think globally because as a father of four I can’t help but think about the future. And I’m aware of the impact at various levels that the processed foods and livestock farming industries have on our health and the health of our planet. If I can impact that, that’s part of the legacy I leave for my children.
Finally are there new markets you can push into in the future? For example, with INIU, we can tackle snacking. Health foods can still be “fast foods”, not to mention tasty, nutritious and sustainable. The vision is to start with juices and then move beyond that. Don’t think big – think huge!
Once you have your what, why, where and when – ask yourself, “what would just one step before that huge idea look like? And one step before that?” And so on. With these answers, you’ll have created your plan.
Is there a market?
To figure this out you need to test your idea or product on as many different and diverse people as possible.
- Have your friends try the product
- Get feedback; listen to it, learn from it
- Work out what they actually expect from your product or one like it
- If necessary, adapt
Even with a small test-group, if people want to buy it, you could have a market. Then it’s time to widen the net, start testing larger focus groups.
Investing in market research is an investment in the fine-tuning of your product. Everything from public demand and target markets to key geographical locations can come from market research and should then all be filtered down into your eventual marketing plan.
Don’t forget also to research your competition. You will need to have a crystal-clear picture of what’s happening in the market you hope to enter. That ecosystem could make or break your idea, so make sure you do your homework well. Look for any competing products, their pricing, their market share; and look at past and present trends in food, drinks, health foods, and shopper behaviour. Do they repeat? Do you fit into recently past trends? You don’t want to start a new business in a declining field, and you don’t want to bring a product to market that already exists.
Your idea has traction, what next?
Having validated your idea you need to turn it into a product. That means figuring out how and where to produce it. In our case, getting the recipes right required working with several professional nutritionists. They can help you balance ingredient combinations so that they not only taste great but are also good for you. Engage experts to help you – even if you think you have the knowledge in-house, bringing external expertise into the process is a good idea; you don’t know what you don’t know!
Based on our research we decided on flash freezing our juices to preserve as much of the original nutritional content as possible. The next step was to find the right facility capable of producing them. Avoid the temptation of trying to set up your own production facility. The best bet is to find a reliable production facility, certified to handle food that can scale in production as your demands do.
Creating a brand
“Brands exist as a means of communicating what to expect from a product or service – or to highlight the family likeness between different products and services.” – Richard Branson in Business Stripped Bare
You’re not just launching another drink or food item, you are launching a new brand with its own identity. It’s important to start thinking about this early and to trademark it so that no copycats can steal the results of your hard work.
Part of your brand identity is knowing what makes you different to (and hopefully better than) everything else out there. This differentiation will be vital for targeting your chosen consumers. Your brand, its story and potential are all part of what they’re buying into. The way to introduce this story and your brand’s personality to consumers is through marketing.
With limited resources, you need an effective way to reach your target market. Work with influencers who truly believe in your product. Treat your loyal customers well and nurture that special relationship so they become brand ambassadors, sharing your message over social media. It’s true – there’s no better marketing than word of mouth. However, look at options for PR, social media, blogging, YouTube, paid advertising and exhibitions too. Although your budget dictates a lot of what you can and can’t do – it’s best to consider every option and to understand its benefits, challenges and costs. Then you can make sensible, helpful decisions.
Be recognisable – stand out
Your packaging is a consumer’s first impression of your product and plays a vital role in making your brand recognisable. It needs to stand out from your competitors. Go to a wide variety of shops; study your competitors again. How your design will fit within and stand out once on the shelf?
I strongly advise against DIY design. Get it done professionally; keep working with the designers until you’re happy that it has your voice, style and individuality.
There are practical considerations: how the packaging will handle when delivered by post; and how the product will interact with the packaging? You don’t want packaging that’s easily damaged, or quickly looks tatty on the shelf. If you’re a health product then anticipate customers expecting the product and the packing to be environmentally conscious.
Build your business understanding
Work on your finances, particularly your pricing and cash flow. Understand all your costs and margins. You won’t expect profit immediately, but you need to plan your financials as if your survival depends on it because it does.
To attract retailers you need a clear USP. Leveraging customer feedback and demonstrating demand will improve your chances of bagging a retail contract. Retailers need to be confident that it will sell – not just take up valuable shelf space.
The retailer route takes resources; time to negotiate these contracts and the facilities to meet their volume demand. There may be other channels, including direct to consumers, which will get your product out there.
Get a great team around you
“No individual can win a game by himself.” – Pelé
This cannot be said enough. If you try to do it all on your own, it will not only take you longer, but each struggle will be tougher, and you’ll soon find yourself second guessing each decision. The key to scaling up quickly is utilising the experience, knowledge and innovation of others.
Find people that are passionate about the brand, are highly skilled, and above all have an incredible work ethic; they will need it – and you will need them. Don’t try to find another version of you. Look for people who are different from you, and have complementary skills.
I have been fortunate enough to have found myself a team that is not only committed to INIU but is a reflection of the brand and its values. If the brand is the brain, your team should be the synapses firing. Never underestimate or under-value your team members. The team is what will breed success.