Investing in the Future of Food: Soylent shares strategies for expanding distribution beyond online

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Investing in the Future of Food

The success that brands incubated online often enjoy with direct-to-consumer marketing and distribution doesn’t always translate well to brick and mortar, but according to Soylent’s VP of sales Melody Conner building a company online first can provide a suite of tools that – when leveraged correctly – can boost in store sales.

At the Digital Food & Beverage conference​ in Austin, Texas, this summer, Conner explained that when Soylent decided to make the move from selling primarily on its own website to other online and offline channels, it discovered its most valuable asset was its dedicated and highly engaged consumer base.

“Using your heaviest user is an incredible strategy. It is your biggest asset,”​ she said, explaining that dedicated consumers often are willing to share data about themselves, their habits and their needs that a brand can then use to determine what to distribute where and how.

Dedicate fans also are invaluable advocates and can be much more effective than other marketing efforts, Conner said.  

“Listen to your consumers. They are the advocates for the brand and they are going to share. You are much more likely, if your friend tells you to go try Soylent than if I put a billboard on a highway and you see a Soylent bottle,”​ she said. “For us, it is really using that consumer to market and work with us and we try to … put that at the heart of everything we are doing.”

Similarly, loyal consumers also can help bridge the information gap between online and offline marketing, which can be a major stumbling block as companies move into traditional retail where they have fewer opportunities to communicate with potential new consumers.

Conner explained that online marketing is a much richer experience with multiple ways of educating consumers, but in stores most of this heavy lifting falls to packaging, a shelf talker or a neck hanger. So again, as Soylent moved into physical stores it relied on dedicated users to educate their friends and other potential consumers about Soylent’s value proposition.

Ask for help from outside

Another key component to Soylent’s successful expansion across channels was recognizing when it needed help from outside the organization and asking for it.

“We didn’t have retail experience in the organization”​ when Soylent first made the move to brick and mortar, Conner said. And so, the company had to rely on partnerships with its retailers to help build the brand.

“We first worked with 7-Eleven and tested 110 stores in LA – that was our home market – we wanted ot prove to ourselves: could we drive that online consumer who was so loyal to the brand? Could we get them to try a new flavor if it was available in singles and retail?” ​Conner said.

Soylent also wanted to see how in-store sales would impact online sales before expanding widely, she added.

New products helped fuel incremental sales across channels

As Soylent expands its distribution, it also is expanding its product portfolio with the recent addition bite-sized bars to complement its ready-to-drink offerings.

“We started as a ready-to-drink meal replacement product, and now we are creating a nutrition platform, and the direction there is to allow us to be in multiple formats,”​ Conner said. “Now we have a chewable format”​ with bars that are 100 calories with 5 grams of plant-based protein and probiotics can be consumed places where drinks are not as convenient or available.

As the company considers its next steps, Conner stressed, it will continue to keep the consumer at the at the forefront of any changes it makes.

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