For CPG founders looking to expand their brand recognition and sales through wholesale accounts, success doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a well-thought-out strategy and a strong foundation. In this blog post, we’ll explore the three pillars that every successful CPG brand has put into place in order to find stability on the shelf. These foundational keys will help you take your packaged food business to new heights in the competitive world of wholesale distribution.

Pillar One: Effective branding and marketing

By the time you get to the shelf, we assume that you have a fantastic product line (Delicious! Values-oriented! Sustainable! Functional! Craveworthy! And on and on and on…) that attracts a specific target audience. But your product is just going to sit on the shelf unless it’s eye-catching enough to stop a new audience and convert them to buyers. 

From that point, what will turn your audience into repeat customers and raving fans? Aside from your delicious taste, or undoubtable functionality, it’s memorable branding and marketing that is going to do it. Think about your favorite brand: can you recall the way it makes you feel? The colors on the packaging? Maybe a cheeky tagline they use, or the vibe of their online personality? You likely feel connected to your favorite products because of many reasons beyond just the taste or how well it works. 

Creating an unforgettable brand is like adding the perfect seasoning to your product. It’s what makes your packaging stand out on the shelves and in the hearts of consumers. Define your brand’s personality, values, and mission. What message do you want to convey to your audience? How do you want them to feel when they buy your brand? Connect with your target market on a personal level and build a loyal following to gain those repeat purchasers. 

Beyond just selling in physical stores, your online presence is a game-changer. How are you attracting and staying connected with your in-person audience long after they’ve left the store? Through thoughtful, intentional branding and a well-developed digital and in-person marketing strategy, you’re laying the foundation for a brand that connects with consumers on a deeper, emotional level and keeps them coming back again and again – whether they turn to online consumers, or are picking you up again on their next in-person shopping trip. 

What comes next? We’ve got to focus on profitable sales. 

Pillar Two: Sales Strategy

As an early stage CPG company, you have limited time, money, and energy. When resources are spread thin, it’s even more important to prioritize selling in the RIGHT channels – where your target audience is already looking for you – and putting your efforts into the places where you have a positive return-on-investment. 

One mistake that I see CPG founders make, especially in the beginning, is winging it with your sales strategy, spending all of your resources to get ON the shelf with no plan on how you’ll get OFF the shelf (and into shoppers baskets) once you’re there. It can feel like “any account is a good account!” and you say yes to anyone who will carry your products. But smart founders know that not every sales channel is profitable for them, and it’s crucial to determine the ROI in each channel before you go all-in. 

Savvy founders know that a sales strategy and repeatable systems are key to building a strong foundation for your business once you DO determine which channels are best suited for your brand. Don’t reinvent the wheel with every new account in your key channel; after you define your channel strategy, create systems for pitching to new accounts within that channel, and templates and structure for sales follow ups, and promotional plans for once you DO land those new accounts. Sure, some customization will be involved from one account to another, but once you build a reliable process for each channel, it will make things run much more efficiently.

So you have memorable branding, you’ve got a solid marketing plan in place, and you’re clear on your sales strategy. What else is missing? 

Pillar Three: Financial management 

Behind every successful CPG brand is up-to-date, clear, accurate financial reporting. You have to know exactly how much it costs to make, sell, and distribute your product so that you’re actually making money in your business. Clear financial management is an essential ingredient that keeps your business running smoothly and sets the stage for growth. Put solid financial systems in place from the BEGINNING, and you’ll ensure that you grow your product line into a profitable business instead of just an expensive hobby. 

While I often hear founders tell me that they’re “not a numbers person,” I’ll reassure you that financials are something that you can learn, or hire out. Someone on the team has to take responsibility for keeping your numbers in check. Monitor your expenses, set budgets, and analyze financial reports regularly. This will empower you to make informed decisions, take advantage of growth opportunities, and navigate cash flow challenges that come your way.

What else do you need? 

Beyond branding and marketing, sales strategy, and financial management, there are so many moving parts to running a successful packaged products business: from administrative and legal, to product development and innovation, to manufacturing, to streamlining operations, to navigating brokers and distribution, to raising investment and developing yourself as a leader. It really can be overwhelming! Focus on one pillar at a time, and don’t hesitate to connect with strategic partners, fellow founders, service providers, and community resources along the way to support you.

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