The Importance of Public Relations for Food & Beverage Brands

Hiring a public relations agency at the right time is crucial to the success of your brand, especially in this “Amazon Era”. A dedicated PR agency not only helps create brand awareness before and after a product launch, but also offers a plethora of services important to your overall ROI, including securing A-list press coverage, brand exposure, consumer activations, creative campaign ideation, social media management, influencer marketing, brand partnerships, and crisis communications, among other services.

Word of mouth is a powerful tool, however strategic media relations outreach and a measurable public relations program — whether you are a startup or an established brand launching a new product — will help determine the right messaging and strategic approach to ensure you reach your target consumer.

When to hire a PR Agency?

There is a common misconception that brands should engage a PR agency after they launch their product or service or once they are available for distribution, ie, at Amazon or other e-commerce platforms. Hiring a PR firm is like bringing on an experienced partner to help you throughout the “on boarding” process, from start to finish, whether it’s a rebranding, important company development or a product launch. Additionally, it often takes months to get a good PR hit (yes you get PR before 3 months),—but consider the time it takes to select the right media targets, the time it takes to send them samples, the time it takes to follow up, and the timing of their editorial calendar. Additionally long lead magazines like Everyday with Rachel Ray, Vogue, etc. work on “long lead” times which can be 3-6 months.  Most long lead publications, as of the day of this writing, are already working on their November and December holiday issues.

Your PR agency will not only promote the launch of your brand or product, but will work with you from the beginning to develop creative strategies and ideas that will attract the media, retailers and distributors and your target consumer audience. They work in partnership with you to create key messages, support with website copy and content development, and conduct focus groups to learn what your consumers are looking for and how they will respond to your product launch.  They often help in creating ideas that generate attention from distributors and retailers and make your brand stand out.  No one wants to be considered “just another brand” by buyers.

Involving a PR company during your start up stages strengthens your brand’s credibility, builds momentum, and stimulates consumer demand. Consumer trust can also be destroyed when a company promises one thing but delivers another.  Look at many poor Amazon reviews and you will see a lot of companies unintentionally over promise and under deliver. Therefore, messaging should be managed carefully. When it comes to a product launch, the consumer will already have perceptions of the brand’s product based on word-of-mouth, social media messaging, media articles, product reviews, and marketing efforts.  By having all of these key tactics in place, you have a better opportunity to launch your produce or service successfully.

How does PR support Amazon reach & sales?

What role does PR play in Amazon sales and distribution? Product availability and Amazon distribution are promoted through public relation efforts via press releases, social media messaging and secured media coverage. When media outlets include a brand or product in a round up or feature article as a result of the PR agency’s outreach, they include the Amazon link where readers can purchase the products, resulting in sales and website traffic.

Influencer Marketing

Another way PR can support Amazon sales is through influencer marketing. Influencer marketing has become one of the most sought -after channels to reach consumers organically. Whether we like it or not, content creators and influencers are here to stay and their power and influence in consumers’ behavior and choices will continue to grow.

Like many businesses, Amazon engages with influencers to promote its products through affiliated links. Through the Amazon Influencer Program, influencers receive a portion of the sales of a specific product they promote in their social media or blog when people click through the affiliated link. Although there are no additional fees for brands and Amazon covers the commission for each unit the influencer sells through their shop, there is no guarantee influencers will promote your product unless you are working directly with the influencers.

Here is where your PR agency comes in to support through an influencer partnership and campaign. Your PR agency partner can manage the influencer campaign on behalf of your brand by carefully vetting influencers, providing recommendations, drafting the messaging, providing key branding assets and overseeing deliverables and results.

For a brand trying to increase their sales on Amazon, leveraging influencers is a great way to raise brand awareness, grow exposure on the platform, and generate sales as influencers have the credibility and an audience who is looking for their recommendations.

Want to learn more?

CIIC–CAROLYN IZZO INTEGRATED COMMUNICATIONS

Cascadia has partnered with CIIC (www.ciicnews.com) to provide consulting or project-based PR services to brands looking to successfully compete in the food & beverage industry.  Contact Paola Cuevas at pcuevas@ciicnews.com to learn more about their food & beverage experience and how they can help you get your product in the news and “off the shelves” in no time.

Cascadia Managing Brands offers its clients outsourced sales, brand management, Amazon setup and sales, traditional retail sales, marketing, new product development, operations, production and logistics.

Cascadia Managing Brands helps brands reach critical mass faster, cheaper, better, and smarter. From business plan development to the actual execution of the plan, from strict consulting advice to managing your sales or sales team, marketing and operational plan; Cascadia Managing Brands is the outsourced resource for large and small beverage companies alike. 

Cascadia Managing Brands has over 75 plus years of food and beverage experience including Evian, Zico, Hint, C2O Coconut Water, Nantucket Nectars, Fresh Samantha (Odwalla), Naked Juice and many more.

For more information about Cascadia Managing Brands please visit us at http://www.cascadiamanagingbrands.com. Please visit our Facebook Page at http://www.facebook.com/Cascadiamanagingbrands or our Twitter page at http://twitter.com/cascadiabrands.

For additional information about Cascadia Managing Brands go to www.cascadiafoodbev.com

eCommerce: Thriving in Our New Normal

Written By Betsy McGinn and Bill Sipper

I started working with Betsy McGinn several months ago.  Betsy is the leading expert on selling on Amazon and has written and excellent book called The Amazon Roadmap: How Innovative Brands are Reinventing The Path to Market.

Betsy has given us an MBA in Amazon and since we have started working with her and since she has been coaching us our clients have greatly increased their Amazon sales. Betsy handles the strategy and we handle the execution.

Betsy and I decided to co-write an article a few months ago.  However, I will be the first to note that Betsy is the author of this article and I am just the “co writer”. The information contained in this article will hopefully help you understand and prepare to increase your Amazon sales…

A byproduct of the threat of COVID-19 is that it’s taken eCommerce in the US to new heights. Amazon.com has hired 175,000 new employees, Instacart has been forced to scale in ways and at a speed never dreamed of, and high demand has resulted in continuing out-of-stocks on some essential items we all need. The subset that so many of our clients play in – grocery – has grown in ways no one predicted, and may even accelerate the adoption of online grocery by 4 to 5 years. Brands are scrambling, not only to meet consumer needs, but to up their game in eComm. eCommerce no longer represents incremental “nice-to-have” sales; it’s now essential to a brand’s success, and maybe even its survival.

But here’s the challenge: eCommerce strategy and execution aren’t one-size-fits-all, and can’t be relegated to a single division within your company to handle. Everything about this new retail dynamic requires a commitment of the whole organization to truly understand, and to meet the needs of this varied and often confusing channel. Here’s why:  Amazon is nothing like Direct-to-Consumer (DTC), which is nothing like Fresh Direct, which is nothing like Instacart. Yet, many companies lump any retailer with a .com in their name into one bucket.

Let’s break it down.

Source: Biggcommerce.com

Amazon is the beast of eCommerce. Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, they account for 49% on online sales, and are by far the largest online grocery retailer. Their 105 million Prime members convert at a rate exponentially higher than most other eComm options. Seems like a no-brainer to take advantage of the power wielded by this giant, right?

But here’s where it gets tricky.

First, all but the largest CPG brands must sell their products in Amazon’s 3d Party marketplace, which works beautifully for many of the companies we work with, the digital natives that are scrappy and nimble. But it can be anything but simple for many others. Because 3rd Party marketplace means you’re the seller. You own the product, and if you use Amazon’s fulfillment feature, Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), you’re essentially adopting a consignment model for your brand. So here are the questions: is your company prepared for this? Is finance able to adapt? Can operations label and ship product to Amazon’s fulfillment centers and meet Amazon’s standards? Do you have the right product packs (selling a single unit of most grocery items will not be profitable for your company)? Lots of considerations for your team to work out.

Secondly, there are eComm partners like ThriveMarket and Vitacost, which you may sell through one of your distributors. They provide a basket-building model where individual selling single units does make sense, so are they really any different than any other of your retail accounts? Your major involvement will be around pricing, discounts and promotions – just like your brick-and-mortar partners. So, should your eComm team be responsible for managing these partners?

Third, there is eCommerce through Brick-and-Mortar grocery – either click-and-collect or delivery. Often everything about this business is merged with the processes and model of the grocery store itself – rather than a separate buying division, warehouse or operations structure. Promotions and advertising align with what is going on in the store which raises the question: is this a job for your eCommerce team? And to further complicate matters, there are variations on this theme, where a retailer like Walmart will sell some products on their site and the same products in their stores plus some products only through their Third-Party marketplace.

There are also dedicated grocery delivery partners like Fresh Direct, Peapod and Amazon Fresh that purchase product directly from a brand or may use its distributor. Are they eCommerce or simply another grocery account that happens to deliver?

Is your head spinning yet? Because we have a few more questions:

What about your own DTC? Should you sell from your own website (we say yes) and if you do, will you ship your products to your consumer, or use a fulfillment partner? Or fulfill from your Amazon FBA inventory? Do you sell the same products as you sell to other online and brick-and-mortar retail partners or a differentiated set of products? And who in your company manages this completely different model than eComm retail partners

Finally, there’s the “Grubhub of Grocery” – Instacart. They don’t buy or sell anything, but instead, act strictly as a delivery mechanism from grocery stores. But they have instituted features, like coupons and advertising, that can benefit a brand regardless of the retailer the consumer chooses to purchase from. So where does this business live in your company?

All of this is to say it’s time to get serious, figure out how to make this complex opportunity work in your organization, and get in the game. Grocery eComm was already a fast-changing, fast growing channel, and the pandemic crisis has increased that exponentially. Creating an eCommerce team, and putting all these diverse business models on their plate simply won’t cut it. Every brand has to decide if they have the bandwidth to embrace the unique business models listed above, and if they do, figure out how to structure themselves around each one of them.

Picturequotes.com

Albert Einstein said, “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” And as devastating and painful as the crisis we’re facing now has been for so many people and companies, many of the brands we work with have not only avoided loss, but have been able to able to thrive. By taking time to understand the landscape and doing what it takes to adapt, amidst the chaos, they’ve found their own great opportunity while also providing a great service to their customers.

Written by Betsy McGinn and Bill Sipper

How to Cut a Sound Trail thru the Amazon Thicket

As published in Beverage Business Insights May 11, 2020.

There’s little question that online sales’ continuing inroads in the bev biz have become accelerated as conventional shopping has become more tortuous during the coronavirus pandemic.  Data shared on Monster Bev earnings call last week showed that rival Celsius may be still modest at retail but it owns 10% category share on Amazon.  BellRing Brands’ ceo said ecomm has jumped to 10% share of sales and may stay that way even post-pandemic.  Those are eye-popping stats.  Should your early-stage brand make the leap?  Does the chaos of the current crisis make this a good time or a bad time do so?  Bill Sipper, partner at Cascadia Managing Brands in Ramsey, NJ (CascadiaFoodBev.com), offers a primer here on what factors should go into your decision-making and how to plot your strategy. 

“Our vision is to be the earth’s most consumer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they want to buy online.”  That’s Amazon’s mission statement.  From a consumer perspective, they have achieved their goal.  But what is missing from that mission statement?  You, the vendor.

As much as Amazon cares about making consumers happy is as little as they are concerned about their vendors.  Amazon can be daunting for even the most experienced food and beverage executive.  (It certainly was a learning curve for those of us at Cascadia Managing Brands.)  It is even more difficult for an early-stage entrepreneur with limited understanding of their digital space. And as I noted, Amazon doesn’t necessarily work hard to make it easy and intuitive for you.  Having been steeped in these issues for our clients in recent years, I’m offering a few guidelines for navigating this challenging but potential rewarding channel.

A word first about timing.  Much has been said about Amazon focusing on “essential items” during this pandemic. Yes, food and beverages typically are considered essential, but your early-stage brand may not be so essential at a time many consumers are more focused on staple items. Does this imply you should put off a launch until things settle down?  Not necessarily, because of the time frame involved. It will usually take 8 weeks or more to get items listed on the platform.  Amazon people are very meticulous and want information the way they want it. For example, quite often Amazon will ask you to prove that you are the brand owner and require specific, and somewhat odd, documentation to support that. It is not uncommon to receive approval to steps in your account only to have them unapproved the following day, as the company requests additional information. So the sooner one starts this process the faster the products will find a berth on the great ship Amazon.

If you decide the time is right to proceed, you first need to determine which Amazon platform is right for your brand. Amazon is not one unitary service. Rather, it offers 3 options, each with its pros and cons: Amazon Vendor Central, Amazon Seller Central Fulfillment by Merchant, and Amazon Seller Central Fulfillment by Vendor. Which platform do you choose? It all depends on your brand’s needs and your operational strength. You need to think this through because success on Amazon starts by choosing the optimal platform.

Product type and packaging are important here. Take ASC Fulfillment by Merchant, in which the order is placed on Amazon but the product is shipped by you, the seller.  This is a much better platform for pills and powders, refrigerated products and glass packages (9 out of 10 times Amazon will not ship glass directly). Then there is ASC Fulfillment by Amazon, where you deliver your product to the Amazon distribution centers on consignment and it is shipped to the buyer by Amazon. This most often is better for shelf-stable and RTD food and bevs. Each of these platforms offers different options and opportunities. For example, Vendor Central allows you to participate in Amazon Pantry, Amazon Fresh and Prime Now, while the other platforms do not.  ASC FBA automatically gets you a Prime designation while ASC FBM Prime offers that possibility but not a guarantee. This may all sound like gobbledygook to you now, but these are essential, crucial distinctions.

Your digital shelf on Amazon is completely different than your retail shelf.  Although you will find some level of uniformity, realistically there is much more flexibility in digital. For example, in traditional brick & mortar you would most probably want to offer each one of your sku’s, sometimes individually, sometimes in multipacks, and sometimes in cases. However, you are limited to the room a retailer allows you on the shelf.  The digital shelf is much different.  You can offer any pack you want, whether a 3-pack, 4-pack, 6-pack or 12-pack. Variety packs and packs that meet a consumer subscription cadence are the gold standard on Amazon. So this is a key part of your strategizing for this platform. You need to settle on the right size and the right pack count with the right order cadence, and of course make this all work with your supply chain. 

Price is also important – but maybe not as important as you might assume. When Amazon shoppers are polled on what’s most important to them, the top three responses tend to be: (1) free shipping, (2) most likely to have the product I want, and (3) better prices. According to Consumer Research Report by Salsify, 2019 69% of consumer will abandon a product page for lack of information or details, a significantly greater driver than price.

Therefore, the content on your digital page (again, think of it as a shelf) is critical, from the type and number of photos, to the titles, to the bullet points. All these things affect your search ranking. Reviews also help in the search rankings and consumers like to see what other people are saying. Focus on getting quality reviews, not quantity.

Last but not least is promotion and advertising. You don’t have an Amazon business without marketing inside Amazon and out. But don’t spend one penny until your content is right. Amazon offers programs ranging from pay-per-click (PPC) to brand sponsorship, product sponsorship and brand store.  These need to be combined with search engine optimization and key words on your pages. Yes, it’s a complex matrix, but again, you won’t have a successful Amazon business without thinking these issues through.

I should note that one of the downsides of Amazon is the lack of overall data you will receive about your consumer. Yes, Amazon captures a great deal of data about its shoppers and their purchasing habits, but it doesn’t share much of it. For vendors using Seller Central, the only consumer data you will be able to see is age, household income, education, gender and marital status. Amazon owns the relationship with the consumer. Vendors would receive a lot more consumer data if they sold their products on their own website. But consider this simple bit of arithmetic: Amazon receives 200 million unique views per month, while the average food and beverage startup’s website will receive no more than 50-100 visitors. So do the math. More often than not, even with a lack of consumer data, the sheer consumer volume on the Amazon platform will offer greater sales. Brands would have to spend a considerable amount of money to secure enough views of their website to come close to Amazon’s sales potential. It is a tradeoff that needs to be considered.

If you have a very large brand and if you have a lot of capital to invest in Google search terms and pay-per-click ads, and you have a large database of social media followers, you might opt to sell your product from both your website and Amazon. That could yield incremental sales and capture your consumers’ data directly. However, if you don’t have a large amount of capital (although you still need some to support your Amazon marketing), then it is best to focus on selling your product on Amazon. If you happen to generate sales from your website, that is great. But I would not invest a lot of time there.  It is worth noting in this context that Amazon is the #1 search engine for retail products.  More than 70% of online consumers begin their product searches with Amazon, versus just 11% with Google. Think about that.

If you’ve read this far, you understand that Amazon can be very difficult to set up if you don’t know what you are doing. It is not as easy as just throwing some photos and words on a page. Today, many brands launch exclusively on Amazon because the barrier to entry and costs are relatively low compared to the requirements of operating in the bricks-&-mortar world, from recruiting distributors to paying slotting fees to running in-store demos. Amazon sold $8.2 billion of grocery items in the US last year (compared to Walmart’s online business of just $2.4 billion). It can be a great place both for large brands and small ones. But only if you have a plan.

Retail & Grocery: Amazon.com, Inc.

In only 24 years, Amazon.com Inc. has evolved from a little online bookstore to the most extensive digital retailer in the world. Generating $177.9 billion in net sales from its over 300 million users in 2017, it is a giant in many markets, including retail and groceries.

As the company remains true to its four guiding principles – customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking – its sell-through position strengthened with inroads in new categories. Among other things, it has led Amazon to acquire Whole Foods Market as its subsidiary.

In 2018, the growth trend continues. Despite demanding more dollars for marketing from vendors, Amazon has met planned sales expectations for the second quarter for many categories (14 out of 25), exceeding plans in 9 categories in the changing natural food industry.

Orders from Whole Foods mainly surpassed its planned expectations due to deep discounts for Amazon Prime members, while higher marketing fees discouraged vendors from investing in promotion for their products. As a result, more vendors have opened Seller Central accounts, which allowed them to manage costs better and simplify product launch, and increased direct shipment from Prime Now.

Those are only two critical areas to watch. But if you want to learn more about other changes in 2018, there are other trends to look out for in retail and grocery as the year draws to an end at Amazon.

A Growing Amazon Prime Membership

In May 2018, the cost of Amazon Prime membership rose to $119. And while some vendors viewed it negatively, most don’t expect any significant impact on service use. It comes down to the advanced features included in the membership to its users, including Amazon’s marketing tools and expanded offering on Amazon.com platform. A natural food vendor even said:

“Amazon keeps offering more and more benefits [for Prime members], so I don’t think [the higher annual fee] will have any impact. Prime members value that service so much.”

And payment fees and commissions to Amazon were also raised in most vendor contracts. Because of the 10% increase in rates, all vendor contracts from 2017 are invalid, and sellers need to sign a new 2018 contract.

But it’s important to remember the terms in the new contract are negotiable. And while vendors do encounter additional fees, like fulfillment fees, inventory fees for storage, out-of-stock penalties, and accrual fees, it’s important to accept Amazon’s demands and negotiate a 2018 contract.

Amazon Competition Is Low

Amazon’s main competitors are Walmart.com and The Kroger Co., closely followed by Walmart’s Jet.com, Walmart brick-and-mortar stores, Target Corp. and Thrive Market Inc. However, most vendors agree that no e-commerce platform or store chain can compete with the retail giant when it comes to grocery retail.

However, Kroger and Target are making breakthroughs in grocery assortments and improving the shopping experience for their consumers. It seems to be generating interest among some vendors, as Kroger, for example, is placing standard category managers in charge of specific category managers and buyers. But it is yet to generate the amount of attention required to disrupt Amazon’s large-scale operation.

Amazon Prime Is Helping Whole Foods

Amazon’s Prime benefits (10% discount on all items and steep “Prime Member Deals”) helped increase sales during the second quarter in 2018 at Whole Foods Markets. The Amazon subsidiary saw an initial redemption rate between 60%-70% in June, but the figure is likely to reach 80% by year-end.

Prime Deals and promotion also aided vendors in their efforts. Many natural and organic vendors stated their Whole Food orders exceeded expectations, with almost all of them meeting their planned goals.

Despite this, vendors will bear the cost of those mandatory 10% discounts, which may result in several sellers reducing budgets allocated for promotion. However, for most of them, the price will be worth the effort if Amazon can deliver the right sales volume with Prime discounts. And according to the amount of sales Amazon made – it can.

Grocery Sales on Amazon.com and Fresh

In 2018, Amazon has made a lot of efforts to increase its foothold into groceries. It has led natural and organic food vendors to a very successful quarter with their sale of non-perishables on Amazon.com, than of perishable items sold on AmazonFresh. Also, over 65% of vendors exceeded planned order figures, which led some of them to improve their use of Amazon Marketing Services (AMS).

More and more vendors are turning to e-commerce SEO and search terms with AMS for marketing, than, for example, offering customer incentive programs such as coupons. On the other hand, vendor spending on ads has also increased but not significantly. Still, the combined efforts of both marketing tactics resulted in a higher revenue stream than in previous years.

In contrast, vendors who used AmazonFresh did not meet expectations. Their sales quotas fell below plan. They attribute this to significant reorganizations within the company, as AmazonFresh and Prime Now are hiring more staff in Seattle and distribution networks get realigned to handle perishable goods.

New Expansion Plans

Another critical factor influencing all of these changes is Amazon’s plan for rapid expansion. In short order, AmazonFresh is planned to move from the current eight-hour delivery format to a new two-hour delivery, which will make it stand out even more from the competition.

A new app is also set to be launched shortly, as Amazon wants to consolidate all of its grocery platforms in one place. But, until now, there is yet to be an integration of all purchases into one system, as Amazon.com, AmazonFresh, Prime Now, and Amazon Go remain separate from Whole Foods.

Finally, Amazon is moving towards direct shipments to reduce the reliance on United Natural Foods Inc. The plan is to allow room for rapid expansion of Prime Now with a hub-and-spoke system that will revamp warehouses and transportation logistics for perishables.

Follow Trends and News

Keep up to date with the latest innovations, trends, news, and so much more in the retail and food and beverage. Stay on top of best practices when it comes to marketing and sales, and gain insight from inside the industry.

With new developments each week, a piece of news, a new strategy or business model might catch your eye and lead you to apply it to your business to –

Seize the opportunity! Grow to scale! Realize the potential of your business! Become a leading influence on the market!

For more information about Cascadia Managing Brands, please go to www.cascadiamanagingbrands.com

Amazon’s Strategy Changed the Marketplace

Amazon's Strategy and Your Brand post by William Sipper

Strategy And Your Brand

Amazon has been a game changer in the digital marketplace where it has redefined the customer experience. Traditional brands are fighting to stay relevant as they compete with new, digitally experienced companies.Your brand needs to understand Amazon’s strategy.

Prime, Amazon’s membership program, is helping to accelerate its forward momentum.  Over 40 million people in the US have a Prime membership. Customers want to know ‘Do you have what I want and how quickly can you get it to me?’ Amazon has been working hard giving a positive answer to these questions.

They want users to keep renewing their membership and buying more products. The more products they purchase, the more data Amazon can use to establish what they want to buy next.

Understand Its Use

Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, has created an on-demand, personalized experience for users. They can simply give Alexa a voice command, such as for toothpaste to be reordered, and it happens.

Your brand, no matter how big or small, can’t afford to ignore the extraordinary growth of Amazon. You can learn from them to understand more about how customers are using the platform.  Work at creating a more customer-centric experience for your own customers.

You need to know more than just what they are buying.  In turn, you also need to be aware of the other ways in which they are using the platform, such as using Alexa or Prime Video. You should also be familiar with Amazon’s different selling models to find out what may work for your products.

Connecting with Customers

Amazon has accumulated large amounts of data that can be used to gauge more about customer behavior.  Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) and Amazon Retail Analytics (ARA) offer enlightening reports.

Some brands are using third-party apps and other skills to find new methods of connecting with customers. Companies like Uber and Domino’s are enhancing their existing services this way.

Technology can be game changing.  It shouldn’t be used just for the sake of using it. Should be used where it can make an improvement to the customer experience.

All brands need to think about making whatever changes are necessary to their marketing strategies in order to thrive in a world that is digitally driven.