Billed as the UK’s largest community of food and drink entrepreneurs and the UK’s first food founders’ festival, Bread & Jam 2018 held at the Institute of Directors last month certainly didn’t disappoint. If anything, there were too many speakers, workshops and pitching sessions to really allow delegates to make the most of the event.
Bread & Jam is targeted at both the ‘producers’ (who pay one ticket price) and the cleverly phrased ‘experts’ (who pay rather more). The groaning long table of producers represented brought right to the fore the number of new producers and brands all fighting for their place in the market. Predictably plant-based products abounded, as did gluten-free, kombucha and fermented food and drink, fruit and tea-based spirits, breakfast bowls and baby food. The ‘experts’ included circling venture capitalists looking to pick off the next Fevertree; packaging, retail, export and management consultants plus a range of communications specialists – from branding, to creatives and of course PR & social.
What to take out of the one day I attended? Firstly, all aspects of the retail spectrum were covered; from the large multiples to the increasing focus on direct to consumer. Secondly, workshops on product truth and branding were thought provoking and inspirational. And then of course, pulling it all together is the perfectly blended power of time-proven organic relationship building, coupled with best use of the range of communications platforms available today.
Certain brands are looking to avoid the mire of the multiple listing and opt for direct to consumer. New brands such as Willy’s Apple Cider Vinegar (the latest initiative from the continually innovating Will Chase of Tyrrell’s fame – look out for his kombucha) and established brands such as Pukka Tea are looking to expand and innovate via CRM, ecommerce and subscription offerings. On the flip side, the multiple retailers are embracing the small producer. Harking back to the days of the Sainsbury’s Special Selection initiative, which I worked with when I first set up back in the nineties, is Sainsbury’s Future Brands. Future Brands is a cross-company and category drive to bring more differentiation to the Sainsbury’s offering. Dedicated secondary space has already been allocated in 100 stores, showcasing a differentiated product portfolio of small ‘exclusive’ brands. With the word ‘exclusive’ mentioned at least five times in the opening few minutes of a Future Brands hosted Startup Studio session, there was much discussion about what constitutes ‘exclusive’ in Sainsbury’s-speak.
Tesco, Morrison’s and Asda – no discussion about how rules will change post proposed merger – were cited as competition, whilst an early indication of brand commerciality through the on-trade, independent and even Waitrose sales would be welcomed by the Future Brands team. Unsurprisingly the fine food and speciality food and drink sectors were also well represented as the natural launch pad for start-ups, with Shoptalk Panels and live pitching sessions with the likes of Selfridges, Whole Foods and Ocado. To quote Will Chase, “Look after your independents and the big boys will come after you.”
When it comes to the brand, it is all about ‘stickiness’ and brand magic. Right at the heart of a ‘sticky brand’ sits authenticity and transparency, backed up by belief and purpose. One of our consultants at Wild Card, Emma Sykes, has for several years been advocating the power of the ‘polished pebble’ – a finely honed user-friendly description of what your brand and consumer proposition is about. Something that anyone from across the business can hold in their back pocket (Emma advocates putting them on credit sized cards) to refer to when they are asked either formally or ‘on the hoof’ to introduce said brand. Fox from Pukka calls them ‘wisdom seeds’ – whatever is key to develop the core product and brand values from the start and then remain true to them. These values – truth, respect, effort and ethics in the case of Pukka – then drive all aspects of the business, from product sourcing, to development, packaging, consumer engagement and internally through team culture.
Story telling is now a rather over-used phrase, but it does neatly describe what sits at the heart of all brand communication. Know your consumer, talk to your consumer and listen to your consumer. And on listening, be prepared to be flexible and adapt. Dalston’s Dan Broughton talked about the evolution from Dalston Cola to Dalston Soda and the value of differentiation – in Dalston’s case exemplified by the black ring pull. Yes, it added an extra one penny per can, but it paid dividends in stand out. Pukka brings variety through product development but also constantly evolving pack designs, with the inside of the boxes changing every eight weeks.
When it comes to marketing and communication, the value of organic relationships and engagement was mentioned by many speakers and delegates. Social media has certainly transformed the opportunity and communication channels for young brands. But there is also a dose of realism emerging; the impact can be over-rated, and the key is to understand the audience and the relevant channels, building engaged and organic numbers. The value of proper relationships with influencers has been proved again and again and whilst several speakers claimed never to have paid an influencer, the best relationships are built on a true affinity between the brand and the influencer, coupled with an understanding by the brand of the commercial reality that value needs to be returned on both sides of the partnership.
Innovative, growing, energetic food and drink businesses and brands prove great fodder for media and exposure across recognised and established media outlets is still the holy grail for any brand, looking to prove credentials and build its all-important story. ‘Newness’ is great cannon fodder for the media but there is a delicate balance to be struck between new and unproven and ‘one of many’ – which will all too often find itself in the proverbial dustbin – and ‘the next big thing’, which both journalists and influencers are looking to ‘discover’. In truth, media want to see some measure of success and financial achievement, be it listings, strong numbers or perhaps a clever social campaign.
Linking producers, consumers and influencers is daily bread for Wild Card and Wild West. In a very different media landscape truth must underpin innovation, energy, product credentials and entrepreneurial energy. Yes a powerful backstory is crucial – be it the founder (a bit of bad luck always plays well), an environmental angle, true innovation or indeed health benefits. But without authenticity, a keystone for our campaign approaches, the new ‘next thing’ is unlikely to land and become the ‘big one’.
Kate Wild, Founder of Wild Card and Wild West, attended Bread & Jam 2018.