Emerging brands go direct-to-consumer as retailers pause demos, resets amid coronavirus

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty
Source: Getty

Related tags coronavirus COVID-19

Still smarting from the sting of pivotal trade shows cancelling due to the coronavirus, many natural and better-for-you brands are pivoting to deliver their message of healthy eating straight to shoppers rather than relying on retailers to communicate their benefits to consumers.

“We are … challenged with the full-stop of halted trade shows and sales meetings, which hinders our ability to develop new business. While we are having great conversations virtually, we feel that does not compare to the visceral [experience of] face-to-face interaction [within] our team and our brand,”​ said Mark Masten, CEO of Joolies, which sells organic medjool dates and related products.

But, he added, “we’re going to absolutely make the best of it and still do what we can.”

Like many other Americans navigating our new virtual reality, this includes Zoom meetings, virtual pitches and sample shipments to buyers working from home, but it also means focusing more on connecting directly with shoppers.

“We are exploring any and all e-commerce channels to get our product into the hands of consumers,”​ Masten said. “For example, Joolies just partnered with Imperfect Produce – the produce and CPG delivery service.”

In addition, “on the consumer front, our social media, influencer and digital efforts are the foothold of brand awareness. We believe now more than ever, as our target audience spends more time on their phones. Social media will continue to be the channel to solidify brand equity.”

Social media is the natural go-to for connecting with consumers during the current pandemic, agreed Matt Weiss, founder of the dried fruit brand RIND Snacks.

“We are leveraging RIND’s strong presence on social media, particularly Instagram, to announce uplifting messages, updates and provide customers with additional value during these times,”​ such as free shipping and more frequent discounts, he said.

He added this strategy is paying off as many consumers are looking for ways to feel in control, and one way they can do that is by adopting a healthier diet.

“While we can’t control our ability to be outdoors and live our normal active lifestyles as much, we can control what we snack on and believe the current environment favors smart, nutritious choices that maximize taste and minimize waste,”​ which are the cornerstones of RIND Snacks, Weiss said.

“Having a ready supply of vitamin-rich and high fiber fruit snacks is one small, but important way to maintain a healthy diet for everyone in the family,”​ he said.

John Boyd, founder of Buddha Teas, agreed that the current environment has helped consumers become more curious and open-minded about the impact of food and diet on their health – creating an opening for the company “to be able to introduce a wider public to the benefits of plants to prevent and heal disease.”

He said his company is doing this through “regular, informative emails, which helps educate about the power of plant medicine.”

Like RIND Snacks, he added that, he is trying to make Buddha Tea more accessible by offering discounts.

“We want our customers to know that we’re proud to be a part of this ‘war effort’ by bringing immunity and anti-anxiety teas to everyone, in as affordable manner as possible,”​ he said.

Building good will

Several brands also are building awareness and directly supporting consumers who might not be able to afford their products through donations.

“With tremendous out-of-stocks at grocery right now and increasing delays of online shipments, we’ve made it a priority to donate RIND to food banks close to our supply chain to help provide nutritious fruit snacks to families in need or facing shelter-in-place restrictions,”​ Weiss said. “We’ve been doing this in the Bay Area and will be doing this near our online fulfillment center on the East Coast as well.”

The co-founders of recently launched Go Big, which makes plant-powered energy drinks, also are supporting those in need, even as their new brand struggles to gain shelf space and brand awareness during the current crisis.

“We feel for those getting sick and those helping them. We’ve seen what has been happening in Italy. … It’s heartbreaking. We want to help where we can, and there’s no doubt that first responders to the pandemic are going to need energy and focus for long, difficult shifts,”​ company co-founders Vivi Mullen and Ben Koren told FoodNavigator-USA in an email.

They added that is why “we recently announced that we will be donating 10,000 energy shots to hospitals to help healthcare workers.”

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