Investing in the Future of Food: 3 strategies for startups to level the playing field with e-commerce

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Investing in the Future of Food, ecommerce, Startup company

Entrepreneurs hoping to disrupt an established category dominated by large companies and well-known brands could gain a significant strategic advantage by launching first online where they can leverage positive consumer reviews and social media, advises the founder and CEO of the plant-based creamer nutpods.

Madeline Haydon explains in this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Investing in the Future of Food​ that e-commerce offers startups three main benefits compared to brick-and-mortar, all of which helped her company outpace established brands to become the #1 best-selling alternative creamer on Amazon and grow 500% in 2017 after launching online first in 2015.

“Going up against big brands, like Danone, like Nestle, like Califia, I really needed to leverage tools in my favor that would allow me to compete with the big brands, and what allowed me to do that is e-commerce and social media and a digital marketing strategy,”​ Haydon explained at the Digital Food & Beverage conference in Austin, Texas, this summer.

Connect directly with consumers

The first way e-commerce and online marketing leveled the playing field for nutpods to compete with more established brands was by giving consumers a place to share their experiences and read reviews of other shoppers, which Haydon says are inherently more trustworthy than an advertisement funded by the brand.

“People are trusting more about what their family and their friends [are] saying, rather than for me to pay for a billboard ad in Times Square,”​ she explained.

Reviews also lower the risk for consumers to try a product for the first time because they can read about others’ experiences, rather than purchasing something based solely on what the manufacturer tells them.

“Even if I am at a store and I am looking at something, what is the first thing I do? I check on Amazon to see how many stars they have and if there is a review”​ to see how a product performs, Haydon said.

Gather instant feedback & pivot if necessary

Haydon recommends that brands mine reviews and online comments to discover what consumers like and dislike about their product.

For example, she read reviews to find out if consumers liked nutpods’ French vanilla flavor, if they wanted it to be more floral or more or less intense.

Brands can use this feedback to fine-tune products until they feel confident that taking the product to a brick-and-mortar store will be worth with the investment in distribution and retailer support.

Gather social proof

Finally, she said, online reviews and e-commerce allow brands to gather “proof”​ that their concept resonates with consumers and will sell if a company continues making it.

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