Investing in the Future of Food: Poppilu balances ambition with fundamentals for long term success

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Kraft heinz Investing in the Future of Food incubator Startup company

For many entrepreneurs who dream of launching the next big national brand, the future can’t get here fast enough; but the founder of the “curiously pink” antioxidant lemonade brand Poppilu, warns growing too quickly without first nailing down the fundamentals can hold a brand back in the long run.

In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Investing in the Future of Food, Poppilu Founder Melanie Kahn explains how as a member of the first class of Kraft Heinz’ first incubator program Springboard​, she is learning how to balance her ambition and lockdown the fundamentals before expanding.

“One of my biggest pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs is not to let ambition get in the way of … making sure your business fundamentals are strong before you expand,”​ Kahn told FoodNavigator-USA. “Everyone wants to be the best new national brand and grow the quickest to reach those milestones ahead of everyone else. And it is very exciting as we are entrepreneurs we are by nature ambitious.”

But, she explained, “we have to pace ourselves and go only as fast as we can go, as fast as our capital and resources allow us.”

Taking time at the beginning before expanding also gives new companies a chance to work out the kinks while they are small and nimble, and the impact isn’t as substantial as it would be if they were bigger, Kahn said.

For example, she noted, “one of the mistakes that I made launching this brand last year was something very basic: It was the size of the bottle. I used a 12-ounce bottle, but I used a form that was about an inch shorter than the other 12-ounce bottles, so you look at the product on shelf we were the little tiny guy next to the big guy, even though we were all 12 ounces.”

Because her company was still small, Kahn said, she was able to course correct more easily and perfect her packaging. She added having the correct packaging is especially important as a new entrepreneur because startups don’t have money for large marketing campaigns, so their package often is their marketing.

The importance of selling the founder versus the product

Fine-tuning Poppilu’s branding is another fundamental that Kahn is refining while at Kraft Heinz’s Springboard, and while some of her decisions may appear to go against the norm, they underscore the importance of knowing when to follow the herd and when to break free.

For example, Kahn recognizes that current marketing trends emphasize including on the packaging the story of how a product was created or where the ingredients were farmed, but for her there were other ways she wanted to use the limited space on her bottles.

“A lot of people have asked me to put the story of how I came up with the lemonade on the bottle, which is me having a pregnancy craving for citrus. And I decided not to put that on the bottle not because that doesn’t lend authenticity to how I developed the brand … but it may not be relevant to everyone,”​ she explained.

She added she would rather use the package to explain what the product is and how the addition of aronia berries to her juice not only added a vibrant pink, but pack each bottle with antioxidants and allow her to reduce the total amount of sugar in the beverage.

Backing up branding decisions with data

Deviating from current marketing standards can be risky for new brands, but Kahn notes that retailers are more open to new ideas if entrepreneurs also has the data to support their decision.

“For me what Kraft Heinz has been really helpful with specific to my business is giving me access to a lot of the data. I have had to operate on gut and most entrepreneurs do because we can’t afford the data, but the access they have given us to data has been so helpful to better understand the consumer, to better understand and to better position ourselves within the category, and to be able to have data that we can then take to retailers when we are trying to get into those retailers … that is powerful,”​ she said.

Kahn says she excited to take these and other lessons she has learned at Kraft Heinz Springboard with her after she graduates from the incubator program, and apply them as she continues to scale up “carefully, strategically and slowly.”

She says she also hopes that Kraft Heinz will continue to work with her and nurture the brand and continue to make introductions to retailers, for example, to help her reach the next level.

Investing in the Future of Food: A new series from FoodNavigator-USA

The food and beverage industry is experiencing a renaissance and it seems like everyone wants in on the action – resulting in a huge influx of funds into the space and slew of new startups coming to market with innovative products.

In this new series from FoodNavigator-USA we will try to answer these questions and others by looking at how different players are investing in the future of food, what besides money it takes for startups to succeed and how entrepreneurs are using these resources to get ahead.

Last week we kicked off the series with a profile of Kraft Heinz’s Springboard platform​, and how its incubator is helping entrepreneurs as well as the host company. Over the next few weeks we hear from Springboard’s first cohort about the lessons they have learned and the advice they wish they knew when they started.

Stick with us from there to find out what investors, brand builders, other iconic food manufacturers and entrepreneurs see as the path forward for the food and beverage industry and what it takes to succeed in the increasingly competitive space.

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