I am excited and honored to be a mentor at the three FoodBytes! events in North America this year. I was interviewed by the FoodBytes! team prior to the first event in San Francisco on March 1st. It was an interesting conversation that I felt was worth sharing.
Mentoring is an invaluable part of the FoodBytes! platform. Before the Pitch Day, the selected startups participate in a mini business school boot camp. They get one-on-one access to industry experts in fundraising, PR, branding, consumer trends, legal, distribution and more.
First-time FoodBytes! mentor, Elliot Begoun, is a principal at The Intertwine Group where he helps triple bottom line food and beverage startups build and execute go-to-market strategies that create brand growth. We chatted with Elliot to learn more about his approach to working with startups and the common pitfalls he sees them face. “There is too much focus on getting on the shelf and not enough on getting into the consumers' carts”, he says. Read on to learn more about Elliot’s unique approach to velocity and distribution, as well as why he believes forward-thinking entrepreneurs are so critical to building a more sustainable food future.
Our interview has been slightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Tell us more about you and The Intertwine Group.
At The Intertwine Group, we are focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow. With an omnichannel view, we design and execute customized route-to-market and go-to-market strategies that build velocity, gain distribution, and win share of stomach. We help small companies become strong regional brands and help strong regional brands become powerful national ones. We work internationally with companies who wish to bring their brand to or expand their presence in the North American market. Our clients come to us with products that are innovative and disruptive. They have great stories to tell and a passion for what they do. They’re committed to the triple bottom line - doing what is best for people, planet, and profit. We combine our clients' innovative products, stories, passions, and triple bottom line focus with our proven process, industry knowledge, and omnichannel experience to create growing brands that are sustainable and investable.
You’ve worked with 100s of food brands in your career. What are some of the most common challenges you see them face, and how do you think new entrepreneurs can best overcome them?
This road is hard, bumpy and most don't succeed. Therefore, you really need to want it with every fiber of your being. Even with that, I see some common challenges:
1. Too much focus on getting onto the shelf and not enough on getting into the consumers' carts. Distribution is not the sign of a brand's success. Rather it is velocity. Velocity is the measurement of a brand resonance with its consumers. So, I encourage young brands to focus on building velocity first.
2. Not spending the time to truly understand who your ideal consumer is and how and where they shop. Data alone doesn't explain behavior. You have to approach your consumer with empathy. Understand their lives, challenges and habits.
3. To know what you don't know and reach out to those who can help. Too many founders try to do it all and look at spending money to get the needed help as a cost rather than an investment. It's important to surround yourself with those who can guide you around some of the potholes and traps that lie ahead.
The Intertwine Group works with FoodBytes! Austin alum and TERRA Cohort II company Know Brainer. Can you tell us more about why the brand was a good fit for Intertwine and what you’re looking for in other FoodBytes! pitch companies as potential clients?
For us to engage there must be a few key elements present. The first is a great product that is innovative, disruptive and in growing category. The second is founders that are passionate, committed and who embrace the creative abrasion that comes with a truly collaborative relationship. Finally, we must have a real connection. We don't operate as advisors or consultants. Rather, we become stakeholders. Our involvement is intimate; our success is inexorably linked. We're in a relationship, and for it to work there must be real chemistry.
With Know Brainer Foods, that's exactly what we have. We met and built a relationship first. I deeply believe in the product and recognize that the $3 billion creamer category is ripe for disruption. But most importantly, I believe in Shari and Greg, and they believe in me. It's an awesome partnership.
You’re a contributor at Huffington Post, FoodDive, and other publications. Which of your pieces has resonated the best with the food entrepreneur community and why do you think it did?
I feel lucky to have a platform to share my voice and the story of others. It's funny because I am the worst at predicting which piece will resonate with my readers. One that did was a recent article that I wrote for New Hope titled "Build a Case Study Before You Build a Brand." I think this struck a chord because it was somewhat contrarian. In it, I encourage brands to go slow in order to grow fast and that is not a message they typically receive. Another was an interview I did with Peter Rahl of RXBar. It came out weeks before the acquisition by Kellogg’s. So many were hearing about the size of the exit, but the interview really focused on the struggle. One other is a piece I wrote for FoodDive. In this article, I wrote about the fact that getting on the shelf is hard but translating that into the consumers’ carts was the real challenge. I think readers recognized some of their struggles in that message.
Rabobank’s foundational mission is to feed the world more sustainably by 2050? How do you think the startup innovation community will help make this happen?
This is unsolicited, but I am so grateful for Rabobank's leadership and for the FoodBytes! platform. To feed 9 billion people sustainably by 2050 is going to take massive disruption and change. Big companies, government, and bureaucracies are not well suited to lead that type of change. It's up to the entrepreneurs. It's this community that finds the solutions. It takes guts, grit, and creativity. The companies that stand up at this event - they are our future. Like Rabobank, I want to do everything I can to help them succeed.