Startup Spotlight

[Video] ELAVI's journey to Costco and reinvigorating its brand

By Deniz Ataman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Startup CPG Gut health Cashew Costco

Participating in Costco’s RoadShow and interacting directly with consumers to sample its gut-friendly, cashew dessert spreads gave WOC-founded startup ELAVI insights that would have “cost thousands of dollars” to acquire elsewhere, allowing it to make its brand more accessible, according to founders Michelle Razavi and Nikki Elliott.

[Editor's note: FoodNavigator-USA's Startup Spotlight Series highlights innovative products and enterprising entrepreneurs who are reshaping the food and beverage industry, and seeks to share lessons learned and different approaches to common challenges facing new and emerging brands. If you are new to the scene and have a breakout product, stubborn problem or savvy solution, let us know.]

The founders, who leveraged their experience as fitness instructors and corporate professionals to build ELAVI, have pursued a boots-on-the-ground approach. From cold-emailing potential buyers to visiting retailers for direct customer feedback, the brand's Costco Roadshow participation allowed them to test the performance of their cashew spreads​ during demos in store locations across southern California.

“You can do consumer focus groups and surveys, but until you see the sales, until you see someone putting their dollar down to buy your product, nothing means anything. For us to tangibly see, what is our top flavor after sampling them? What is the customer looking for? What do they not like? What do they like? What are their frequently asked questions? That was an incredible experience for us to take back to our team, make iterations on our formula, [and] adapt our flavor names, because people were getting hung up on certain words,” Razavi elaborated.

ELAVI’s cashew spreads are known for its vibrant blue and pink colors in its Blue Spirulina Vanilla and Pomegranate Berry flavors, which the founders believed would be a popular choice in-store. However, they quickly learned that their Chocolate Fudge spread grabbed consumers’ attention for the familiarity along with five grams of protein and lower-sugar (a proprietary blend of low-glycemic sweeteners, monk fruit and dates), compared to other nut-based dessert spreads.

Based on the Roadshow data around Chocolate Fudge and reaching the target goals set by Costco, ELAVI and Costco collectively decided to feature the flavor on shelves.

“Chocolate was the overwhelming winner because everybody understands chocolate. If you can position it as, ‘We’re a healthier version of Nutella but with 20 times less added sugar, no dairy and palm oil-free,’ people [thought] it was great,” she emphasized.

Razavi continued, “For us, that was a very validating experience to see firsthand that our top flavor was chocolate fudge because of the ease of understanding, but also the problem that it solved in households, and for Costco members, specifically.”

Lean on data in retailer negotiations

Reaching those target goals, requires transparent communication between a brand and retailers, Razavi noted. Once ELAVI exceeded its target during the Roadshow, she said the founders knew the next step would be to appear on Costco shelves.

“Be very clear about your goals. That’s exactly what we did. We aggregated all of our data and keeping track of every single flavor that was sold … [and] having our own data analysis of what was the top flavor,” she explained.

Razavi added, “When we did our post Roadshow recap with our buyers, we said, ‘Hey, this flavor ended up surpassing the other two flavors, therefore, based on sales data, we want to present this flavor into the rotation. … It was a very clear decision that we made together … and a great way for us to recap our learnings from being in the field from understanding Costco members.”




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