From Underdog To People's Choice

According to Catalina’s 2015 Mid-Year Review, total sales volume for 62 of the Top 100 brands declined by an average of over 4%. So who grew and what does it mean? Private label and new brands, and it goes far beyond just “Innovate or Die.” 

New brands are giving consumers what they have wanted for a long time, true innovation and differentiation, not just another flavor that tested well in the year-long dance of concept and use testing. Think meat that’s good for you — Applegate Farms, KRAVE jerky, EPIC Provisions. Great tasting snacks that are low in calories — SkinnyPop, Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP … or high in Protein — Beanitos, Beanfields. Beverages loaded with the protein you want, but not the sugar you don’t — Lifeway, B’more Organic … 

There are multiple forces enabling these new brands. Private equity firms and savvy investors (CircleUp) that have discovered the excellent ROI from investing in truly differentiated start-up food brands, given the propensity of cash rich, innovation poor corporate parents of Top 100 Brands to buy them once proof of concept has been achieved. Also, open-minded retailers are willing to take a chance on people, like a couple brothers with a Tupperware container of their mom’s salad dressing (Tessemae’s). Digital advertising is dramatically reducing the cost to get a brand’s message out, and social media is enabling brands to start small and use influencers to do the heavy lifting of persuading later adopters to give them a try. 



So what can we learn from their successes? 

One, being different can make a difference — Whether that difference is coming from ingredients (Way Better Snacks or Harvest Snaps) or lack of ingredients (evol), packaging (Plum Organics) or process (Suja Juice), what makes you different can get you noticed. 

Two, being human helps when you are trying to appeal to humans — No one is perfect, so brands that appear too perfect are not to be believed, nor are they emotionally appealing. Brands that bring personality to categories, like eating better or, heaven forbid, dieting (SkinnyPop, Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP, Hi I’m Skinny), have a distinct advantage. Social causes (Kohana Coffee) or desirable traits (Honest Tea) also help to elevate functional differences to a more compelling state. 

Three, trying to be all things to all people results in being nothing to no one — Many of the most successful challenger brands start by trying to change the lives of a small group – athletes (KRAVE Jerky or Quest Nutrition), food allergy sufferers (Enjoy Life) … and when they do that small job well, their customers take it from there. 

Lastly, if you live your brand, then everyone can — The clearer the mission, the easier it is for a brand and its whole ecosystem to live it (Annie’s Homegrown) and unlock the incredible power of social media and influencers to grow it (Chobani).

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