10 top tips to get fledgling food and drink brands off the ground fast

By Luke Sapsed

Have you got a fantastic idea that will rock the food and drink world? Launching a product in today’s hyper-competitive market is a tough proposition and young start-ups need all the help they can get. Here are Business Accelerator’s 10 top tips to get food and drinks brands started on the right track…

1. Work out your ‘breakeven figure’

Do this before anything else. This will never, ever let you down as the best thing you ever did for your business. It’s the figure around which all other things orbit. Once you have got to it, you know that everything on the other side is profit. And that, as they say, is it. How? There’s a great guide here – or talk to Reach Accelerator.

2. Do your research – who will buy your product?

Don’t jump until you know what you’re going to land on. Ask yourself these three questions, and answer honestly:  

  • Do you know that your product has a market?
  • Know what your customer wants – then ask yourself what need do you satisfy?
  • Are there enough people out there with a problem that needs solving?

3. Now do some more research – how many will they buy?

Find how many and how often they buy your lovely creation. We all know how it feels to tempted by a new, shiny and delicious-looking product. But does your product have what it takes to tempt customers to buy it again and turn them into that most fantastic of things, the repeat customer? This can be down to more than great taste…

4. Is your brand going to work hard enough for you?

Once the product is good enough, it’s vital to get your branding 100% right. Fledgling brands sometimes don’t realise that a great product isn’t always enough.

  • Does your brand exude personality and emotion?
  • What does it make your customer thinks it says about them?
  • What does it make them feel?

These emotional qualities make connections, creating both buzz and loyalty that can make the difference between acceptable performance and stand-out success. 

To really fly, your product needs a brand that inspires loyalty and can make ambassadors of the customers by making them feel that they are pioneers. By making your consumers feel like they’ve discovered new tastes, styles and ingredients, you make them want to share with the rest of their tribe – lighting the touchpaper for sales success.

5. Get the right team around you

For most entrepreneurs, it’s not ideal to try doing this all at home, alone. Well, leastways, don’t do it on your own. By all means be lean, but most start-ups need all the help and advice they can get, and it solo-entrepreneurship can get very lonely.

There are many sources of great advice out there – some of my top picks include:

  • Bread and Jam Fest – this annual event is packed with useful sessions that covers all the ground you would need to know about as a startup food or drink entrepreneur
  • The British Business Bank – they have great pages covering Start Up, Scale Up and Stay Ahead
  • The UK Business Angels Association – the Angels Association offers guides, services, and routes to funding for young start-ups

6. Keep launching

Have new ideas in your pocket. Don’t wheel out all your great ideas in one go – the buyers at the larger retailers like to see new products in the pipeline, and so do investors.

7. Ensure that you know your competitive set back to front

Show that you understand the market really well, and identify all the threats and opportunities that the marketplace can offer. A good way to do this is to invest the time to put together a short, tight matrix or infographic that shows all the benefits of your brand over your competitive set.

I have encountered all too many businesses plans by authors who haven’t put enough time or thought into how someone might react when faced with a presentation that doesn’t absolutely nail what the advantages are of the product – and that can be a fatal flaw when you’re talking to investors, lenders, manufacturing partners or a potential customers.  

List all your benefits clearly and with authority – this works like nothing else. As the great food and drink start-up writer Tessa Stuart says: “Bang on about how you’re different. If you can’t tell me how you’re different and distinctive, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not.”

8. Get all the tax breaks lined up

Look carefully into the benefits of schemes like Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) and Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS). SEIS was introduced in 2012 by the UK Government. It was designed to boost economic growth in the UK by encouraging investment in small and start-up businesses, whilst offering tax-efficient benefits to individuals who invest. 

In essence, EIS and SEIS provide a safety net for investors keen to protect some of their cash. Investors tend to love these schemes, as they mitigate losses in the (highly unlikely) event of anything going wrong!

9. Know your Route to Market

Know how you are going to get your customers is part of the battle. The next stage is getting the product to them. How you choose this aspect of putting your business together is one of the elements that will make a huge impact on your profitability massively in the early days.

Do it yourself? This a time-consuming choice, but you have complete control and get to meet your customers  – and you’ll get the chance to do a bit of sampling too

Recruit a wholesaler with a big distribution network?  This option can be very expensive and you aren’t in control – but the advantage is that sales can be ramping up while you hunt down the next sales opportunity. But…..keep an eye on how your wholesale partner is doing and ensure that they are clearly listing the benefits of buying your brand to their customers rather than all the other products in their portfolio

10. Sorting out the COGS

Knowing how much each and every constituent item of your product is crucial. This is your ‘Cost of Goods’ or COGS. Be crystal clear and honest with yourself and your supplier – don’t kid yourself that prices might fall, or go for a ‘mates’ rate’. Then ensure that you can carry on buying every item at that price.

This is as vital an element as anything in your launch strategy. Get it right, and you’ve got increasingly predictable profits. Get it wrong, and you might end up wasting time to get costs of materials and ingredients down when you should be ramping up sales. It’s a vital asset to your product to set out with the best and most premium ingredients you can, but if you can’t sell the manufactured product for a decent margin, your trajectory will cease to be upward all too quickly.

The last word…

The brands that tend to really get ahead are the ones who have more to prove and more to give, and the ones who pay as much attention to purpose as to profit. If you need some help and guidance to get started on the right track, let’s talk.

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