Investing in the Future of Food: Mintel Disruptor provides startups access to much-needed data

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Mintel Immunity coronavirus Investing in the Future of Food startups Entrepreneurship

“Gut feelings” often form the foundation of startups, but to scale a business successfully, especially in times of crisis, entrepreneurs need more than that – they need data that shows where their brand fits in the competitive landscape and where consumers are headed so they can pivot as needed to remain relevant.

In many ways, the uncertainty created by the coronavirus and the pandemic’s uneven impact on food and beverage brands of different sizes underscores the urgency of this need and how timely and relative consumer insights can be make or break for a business.

But data can be expensive, and analyzing it can labor intensive – two hurdles that Mitel Disruptor is helping new companies overcome by providing them access to key datasets, reports and services through partnerships with accelerators and incubators, including most recently The Hatchery in Chicago.

“Their gut can only take them so far”

While great ideas often “come from the gut,” ​Caleb Bryant, associate director of food and drink at Mintel says they need “good data”​ to reach their full potential.

“Most of my experience working with food and drink entrepreneurs what you hear time and time  again is that they operate on their gut. And you can’t disregard the importance of that … but these entrepreneurs quickly learn their gut can only take them so far, and they need good data to scale their business moving forward,”​ he explains in this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Investing in the Future of Food.

Specifically, he says, data can help entrepreneurs move the “front of the pack”​ when negotiating with buyers, investors and distributors because they can show how their product not only carves out space – and market share – in busy categories but also adds value to make the segment more profitable for everyone.

To do this, Bryant says, startups need three basic types of data: their sales data, the broader category sales data for context and consumer data, including what shoppers want from product – all of which savvy entrepreneurs can be attained for free to an extent.

He advises young companies to compare their sales data to trade spend information, observational information they have gathered from talking to consumers of all stripes – not just friends and family – and from looking at the packaging and marketing strategies of other players in their segments and adjacent spaces.

At some point though, investing in data can help young brands level-up. And to make it easier for them to do this, as well as better understand the interplay between new and established brands, Mintel created its disruptor program.

“A few years ago at Mintel we heard from some our big CPG clients that they were losing marketshare to the ankle-biters of the world. These little companies that were just slowly chipping away at their sales. … From Mintel’s perspective internally, we were also noticing an uptick in the smaller companies we were capturing products from around the world every single day,”​ Bryant said. “So, Mintel Disruptor was created to just better understand what is happening with food and drink and startups, [including] how do they operate differently from the big CPG companies, how are they better able to connect with consumers, what are those products that they are launching and how can those insights help our traditional clients who happen to be the big CPG companies.”

Mintel Disruptor doesn’t just help the established players though, it also helps startups by partnering with incubator and accelerator programs across the nation to give startups access to Mintel reports, the company’ Global New Product database and sometimes involves adding startups’ products into Mintel’s purchase intelligence tool, which is an online tool which real consumers provide feedback on new food and drink products that are launched in the US, Bryant said.

“For some startups who are not part of an incubator program, I would encourage them to visit the Mintel website where they can learn more about Mintel, they can access the Mintel store, which has our reports that are available for purchase and also our Mintel blog features insights that cover different categories … that can apply to various businesses,”​ he added.

Three areas of growth

Currently, much of Mintel’s free data and insights are focused on the swift and broad impact of the coronavirus on the food and beverage industry, which Bryant says is an excellent case study of how a deep dive into data analytics can help companies quickly respond to changing market forces.

“The pandemic is certainly reshaping the food and drink industry almost day by day, it seems like, and even more so than before it is very challenging for startups, but we think there certainly are opportunities for startup companies and larger companies as well,”​ he said.

For example, he said, companies offering products that can comfort consumers, provide a sense of familiarity or nostalgia will be rewarded by shoppers.

“We have also seen consumers interested in their own communities. With so many businesses such down right now, folks are wanting to invest in their local community or that local support and also they want their own home economy to be performing strongly,”​ Bryant said.

This means that brands and companies that highlight their local connections will resonate well with consumers now.

Finally, from a claims-based perspective, products that tout immunity support, physical and mental health benefits and preventive care will perform well through the pandemic, he said.

Ultimately, Bryant says, the uncertainty generated by the coronavirus in every market and at every level highlights the need for all companies to use data and consumer insights smartly and quickly to help them build or maintain their business until the economy recovers and a new normal is established.

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