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Outsider Insights from the 2020 Winter Fancy Food Show

As an agency, Warren Douglas is not in the specialty food industry, but we have clients who are. Our attendance at the 2020 Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco earlier this week was for the purpose of supporting clients, like BRIANNAS Fine Salad Dressings, while also networking and noticing industry trends. As outsiders, it’s often easier for us to see generalities and business trends to which insiders may be blind. These are our takeaways from the floor of the show.

Crowded Categories

We saw many new brands in the ice cream and jerky categories, making it a highly competitive space where it will be vital for brands to distinguish themselves in order to succeed. Surprisingly, though, we saw fewer meat substitutes than we expected. The only one we saw was mushroom jerky, giving it an automatic distinction among the jerkies.

Clean Eating

While there weren’t as many meat substitutes as we anticipated, there were still lots of plant-based foods represented. Plant-based, non-GMO, and Keto exemplified the flood of “clean” foods being showcased. Because healthy food choices are a popular trend among consumers, and because (to our knowledge) the FDA has yet to provide a definition of “clean”, this term was a popular descriptive.

It was also interesting to note that organic foods are no longer limited to just premium brands, meaning they are becoming more mainstream. There are many players riding the coattails of those who pioneered the category in years past.

Consequence-Free Indulgence

Perhaps the best way to summarize the trends we observed is to say that consequence-free indulgence is on the rise: products with natural sweeteners like monk fruit and honey, plant-based ice cream, and “craft” water, for example. The most unusual thing we encountered was cricket powder sprinkled on popcorn to add protein. Yes, you read that correctly: dried, ground crickets… on popcorn.

Cause-Driven Products

Brands with products that contained honey trumpeted the importance of bees, while brands selling meat products underscored the fact that their suppliers treat the animals humanely (ex. grass fed, free range, etc.). The passion brands exhibited for these products was the direct result of their passion for the cause. This wasn’t merely a money-making venture; it was a purposeful mission. That leads directly into our next observation.

Startups with Great Passion, but Limited Marketing Abilities

The tradeshow floor was full of startups looking for distribution opportunities. Many of these brands exhibited a big gap between their brand story and the passion they have for their product. Marketing seemed to be an afterthought. In reality, marketing can help launch a brand. Start with branding, and then move to using digital to reach your target audience. Digital marketing has the highest ROI and can build brand awareness. Brands don’t have to choose between brand awareness and low-funnel, digital marketing.

Similarly, as mentioned above, brands need to do a better job of articulating what makes them different or better than competitors. Supporting a cause is no longer a differentiator when multiple players in the category do the same. A cause does not drive brand loyalty as well as a good brand story, because causes are often driven by trends. Those trends only provide a small window of opportunity for brands without a good brand story.

Passion is great, but it needs to be founded on marketing and a great brand story.

For help transforming your passion into a great brand story, give the Warren Douglas team a call.

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