Vol. 127 - NO. 39

Blog Startup CPG

SINCE 2019

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Jenna Movsowitz is a Deputy Editor at Startup CPG. In this piece, she sits down with Erica Liu Williams, founder of Gr8nola, to talk about the tradition of collaboration in the Startup Food & Beverage industry.

2020 marked the fifth consecutive year that Big Food lost market share to smaller food brands — a staggering $12.1 billion, in fact (FoodDive). Many factors may have contributed to this continued underdog success over the past half-decade, from unique product innovation to altered consumer retail habits and preferences. But there is one not-so-well-kept secret that may just be the ultimate small guy shortcut to success: collaboration. For Erica Liu Williams, founder of gr8nola, the supportive community of CPG founders helped her grow from a first-time entrepreneur who “didn’t know what she was doing” to the proud founder of a product on the shelves of natural markets across the country.

“The natural foods industry is very open and communal.” Erica says. “We’re all trying to make the world a better, healthier place.” Having a shared mission means that every founder benefits from another founder’s success in this community — and everyone has something to contribute. “No matter where you are in your founder journey, there’s always something people can learn from you.” Now, Erica is paying it forward through supporting other small brands and aspiring entrepreneurs. Here’s how you can do the same.

Erica’s Top 3 Tips to Support Small Brands

  1. Reach out and build relationships. “This is always a two-way street — reach out to brands that are both bigger and smaller than you.” Erica says. Join groups that allow you to meet other founders, like StartupCPG’s Slack community. Take the time to hear other founders’ stories and learn from their successes and failures. “When you join a founder community, you’re essentially raising your hand and saying you’re willing to share the responsibility to help others when you can.”
  2. Cross-promotion. Think “promotional multitasking.” You’re already featuring your own brand on your Instagram, why not showcase others you admire in a multi-brand giveaway or gift guide? You each get more visibility and introduce your loyal followers to brands they’re bound to love. For Women’s History Month, for instance, Erica teamed up with 9 female-founded brands for a huge product giveaway. Erica also recommends newsletter swapping as an effective give-get tactic. For Black History Month, Erica compiled 8 Black-owned food brands for a blog feature, which she then promoted in her newsletter and on social media.
  3. Co-Op Commerce. If you’re already selling your product through Shopify, Co-Op Commerce has made it stupidly easy to promote other brands. This Shopify plug-in works its magic at the end of the purchasing funnel — once a customer already has checked out, Co-Op Commerce populates the Thank You page with other brands the shopper might like. You can choose which products to include or exclude, so you’re only promoting brands that share your values. The plug-in is brilliantly designed to be a give-get system; every time you use it to support another brand, you get an impression on someone else’s page.

Erica entered the food space without connections and quickly discovered that other founders may be one of her greatest resources. Now, she is grateful to be able to help uplift the community herself. “Being in a position to help inspire other people and brands is an unexpected reward of entrepreneurship. It’s both altruistic and self-serving at the same time. I can count on other people supporting me, and I always strive to pay it back — and forward.” Erica says. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

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