C.A. Fortune and JB Chicago converge to help level up early-stage brands: ‘The whole path to market has changed’

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages / tumsasedgars
©GettyImages / tumsasedgars

Related tags: branding, Startup company, Chicago

The road from startup to category leader is not for the faint of heart, and there are few end-to-end resources available to an emerging brand that can guide food entrepreneurs on branding and packaging all the way through to sales and marketing strategy.

C.A. Fortune​, a privately-held consumer products sales and marketing firm based in Chicago, has struck a deal with marketing and branding agency, JB Chicago, to integrate the boutique agency into its holistic business model.

JB Chicago will continue to operate independently, wholly owned by C.A. Fortune.

Getting food brands to first base

C.A. Fortune managing partner, Tyler Lowell, describes the company's journey and transformation since its start in 1983: “We’re much more than a sales agency — our team is constantly looking to evolve and redefine the CPG brand sector via comprehensive and high-quality service offerings from those most knowledgeable and experienced in the industry.”

tyler-lowell

Realizing the competition in food is fierce, C.A. Fortune underwent a transformation right around the time managing partner Tyler Lowell joined the team, making eight separate agency transactions across the country between 2013 and 2017.

“We realized the diversification piece and being able to provide a client or a brand with a multitude of service offerings all in the same shop,”​ Lowell told FoodNavigator-USA.

In 2018, C.A. Fortune acquired incubator accelerator firm BUILD to give the national sales agency deeper footing into the world of emerging consumer brands.

“It gives a solution at the very early stage of a brand’s growth. It could be pre revenue brands or somebody making kombucha in their bathtub – someone who has a great idea but no idea how to get on first base,”​ Lowell said.

The addition of JB Chicago made a lot of sense for C.A. Fortune, explained Lowell.

“These brands at that early stage all the way up to brands that are doing $500m in business, they’re all utilizing more than likely, a third party marketing firm, one that can dive deep into social, digital, brand building,”​ he said.

Devising a creative brand strategy for early stage food companies is JB Chicago’s sweet spot, according to president Steve Gaither who began the agency roughly 20 years ago, and experienced first-hand the seismic consumer shift away from big food and the consumer uptake of small, better-for-you food and beverage brands.

“The entire game changed where [before] all these brand blocks were controlled by the big boys, then all the sudden you had these smaller companies that could differentiate and cut through the clutter and actually start to get some of that market share across the board,” ​Gaither said.  

President of JB Chicago, Steve Gaither, is also a mentor for the Good Food Business Accelerator​, Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago (ICNC​) and The Hatchery​.

SteveGaither-headshot

"Any time we’re working with these companies, no matter how well you’re doing the branding and marketing the question that always come by is ‘who’s your sales agency?’"

JB Chicago​ has created and executed brand strategies for Kishr Tea, 10th​ Avenue Tea, The Farmer & Co., and Monkfruit.

With any startup, the same obstacles present themselves such as choosing a co-packer and moving the product off the shelf, according to Gaither. 

“Any time we’re working with these companies, no matter how well you’re doing the branding and marketing, the question that always come by is ‘who’s your sales agency?’,” ​said Gaither. 

‘The whole path to market has changed’

But whatever happened to the bootstrap, blood, sweat, and tears approach that supposedly has helped some food and beverage brands achieve national acclaim?

According to Gaither, while a bold vision and unrelenting work ethic are important to possess as a small company, that strategy can only get you so far and the need for sales agency with a broad range of service capabilities on a national scale is crucial to brands looking to grow outside their own backyard.

“The whole path to market has changed. For an earlier stage company today, instead of going ‘distribution is the key, let’s go nationwide, let’s rock this thing’. [Now] typically what happens is the idea of ‘owning home’ and a little bit less about distribution and more about velocity,”​ Gaither said.

“If you can get through the Midwest on your own, through duct tape and sheer brute force, you can get to $1.5m to $2m revenue relatively quick. Then it makes a heck of a lot sense to join with a national sales organization.

“That’s a new strategy that really didn’t exist until five years ago or so.”

‘We’ve got a really busy first quarter’

With C.A. Fortune in its corner, JB Chicago can connect clients with the national sales agency’s capabilities and in turn, C.A. Fortune can provide its consumer brands with the creative branding know-how of one of its agency partners.

“When we sign on a new brand, we’re all in; we’re going to give you everything we’ve got. You’re seeing consumers that are that much more intelligent and much more educated by the time they’re ready to make a purchase; we have to make sure we’re staying out in front of that,”​ added Lowell.

Early in 2019, C.A, Fortune will be adding to its in-store execution capabilities via a strategic partnership, according to Lowell.

“We’ve got a really busy first quarter building out horizontal growth,”​ he said.

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