CPG

DIRECTOR OF CX: ELI WEISS

Background:

OLIPOP is a healthy alternative to soda that is between 35 – 45 calories per can. OLIPOP comes in flavors like Strawberry Vanilla, Vintage Cola, Orange Cream, Cherry Vanilla, Classic Root Beer, and more.                                                                            

How is customer experience tied to the future of CPG goods? 

As CAC (customer acquisition cost) has gone up across the board, marketers are realizing that it’s imperative to be able to create brand promoters and retain customers for more than one order. 

Retention is quite simple. Customers stick around when brands meet (or at best, exceed) expectations throughout the customer journey. 

Aside from Customer Experience (CX) teams being the eyes and ears to see where expectations aren’t being met, great CX teams also create brand moments that keep customers around long-term and create brand evangelists. 

When OLIPOP is purchased at a physical store or online third-party retailer, I imagine some of the customer experience is lost compared to a direct purchase from OLIPOP’s website. How can brands like OLIPOP overcome this and build a relationship with the buyer even when it’s not being purchased directly from your website? 

This is a million-dollar question and definitely something I think about often. 

As a can on the shelf, we’re just that. We’re a pretty can with fantastic nutritional value, but we don’t have much control of the experience when someone purchases us from a Whole Foods or Sprouts. Of course, they can always find us on Instagram (or our website) and familiarize themselves with our brand from there, but it’s not the same as someone buying direct to consumer (DTC) where we have control over every customer touchpoint. 

While I don’t think there’s a complete solution for this at the moment, I do think having a large DTC presence is helpful for that matter. The DTC-retail flywheel is real. 

You are really trailblazing an entire new career category. What stereotypes exist in CX and how are you dismantling them? 

You’re far too kind, thank you!🙏  

When I started in CX, I was baffled at the stigma around support and experience roles. On one hand, I was seeing Zappos and Chewy famous for being massively customer-centric and seeing other brands transition their businesses to that model, but on the other hand, I was seeing people outsource CX for $5 an hour and it being the “entry-level” role on every job board. 

I by no means can take credit for single-handedly changing the perception and I think there’s still ways to go, but I’ll say this: 

Companies are realizing that doing good for the customer makes them love your brand, and it’s a sustainable way to build your business and brand value. 

Old-school customer service was a cost-center. New-age CX builds brand lovers and is part of marketing. 

A couple of stereotypes I’ve been doing my best at dismantling:

1) CX is a cost-center. 

This is toxic thinking because it’s only a cost-center if you don’t take it seriously. Outsourcing the front-line communication with your customers is wild. Keep it close to heart. Build brand promoters and watch your business and word-of-mouth grow 10x. 

2) CX is for anyone and everyone. 

Candidly, I’ve worked at early stage startups and worked every single role besides design and finance. CX was the hardest – by a damn mile. It’s exhausting mentally and can suck the life out of you. You need to be empathetic and for the same reason, it consumes you when you can’t make it right. Very few are good at it. 

3) CX teams should be lean and working non-stop. 

This thinking is super common. Brands will say they view CX as a marketing tool but will have 22 folks on growth and 3 in CX. 35 sales folks and 2 in CX. 

If your team is swamped, they’ll never get past the inbound tickets.

The outbound proactive outreach is where the magic happens. Aside from that, if your team is swimming in tickets, they’ll burn out in days or weeks. Down time is prep time. 

What strengths do you need to succeed in CX? 

Some of the core strengths to work in this industry are empathy, the ability to read between the lines, and out-of-the-box thinking. 

See, the notion of “the customer is always right” isn’t true IMHO. 

Pretty often, we find consumers to be unfair or unreasonable. When that happens, I encourage my team to dive deeper. Sometimes, that person may have just had a hard day, but oftentimes they’re annoyed because this isn’t the first time this happened or whatever, but it’s so important to listen deeply. 

What will CX look like a few years from now? 

As a collective population, you’re seeing less consumers go for mediocrity when it comes to choosing brands. It’s either Amazon for convenience, or a DTC brand they really vibe deeply with. 

Consumers are voting with their wallets, and brands that don’t deliver a great experience will suffer. From speedy delivery to great return policies, behemoths like Walmart, Target, and Amazon have raised the bar. 

Delivering a fantastic customer experience is becoming more and more important. Zappos and Chewy lead the pack 10 years ago, I think we’ll see many more like that in the next 10 years. 

What do you think the future of grocery looks like?

I think the future of grocery will be much more intertwined with the web than it is right now. Much more cohesive and immersive brand experience than just a can on the shelf… and I’m excited for that future! 

FOUNDER: CHRIS TIFFIN

Background: 

Aisle is a grocery cash back platform AKA get venmo’d for your favorite groceries. 

How did you come up with the idea for aisle? 

Everyone has this core problem: they have no idea who their in-store purchaser is.

To solve this problem, I decided to create a cashback app that lives in your text messages and plays off instant gratification and fun. 

All the person has to do is send a picture of their receipt and then they’ll get cashback. 

Ultimately, aisle as a cashback app is a stepping stone to building personalization at scale. No one has cracked the code for chatbots and text based communication. If you text a chatbot, you know you’re texting a chatbot. I want to create a chatbot where you have no idea if you’re talking to a human or an individual. 

What makes aisle different from other cashback apps? 

None of these CPG brands have time to personally respond to customers, so they turn to aisle to create a direct relationship with the customer via our texting cashback app. 

The brands give us brand guidelines (i.e., how to talk about the product) and we make sure to stick to them, but aisle has real humans responding to customers. We create a direct customer relationships through texting. 

Imagine if a brand says we’ll send you two bucks right now if you take a selfie with our product. Imagine if you got paid for trying a new flavor. You’re likely going to be very attached to the brand and also tell all your friends about it. 

What products are on aisle? 

Everyone eats and drinks. Grocery shopping is for everyone. I think it’s on us to make sure we have products on our platform for everyone. We have the products from Coca Cola, Pepsi, Mars, etc but we also have other brands Ithaca Hummus, Fat Snax, Snacklins, Clio,

We really have something for everyone. 

What data is aisle collecting? 

When you submit a receipt, we know a lot about you. I can tell if you’re gluten free, vegan, or buying from a household. The amount of data we get is incredible and brands love really knowing who their customer is. 

We take data privacy seriously though. We don’t ask for anything other than your first name and phone number (because we are a text based platform). We don’t ask for your email or your bank account – you know the platforms that connect with your bank account can truly see everything you purchase, and I think that’s crazy. 

FOUNDER: ISABEL KHOO

Background: 

Noodie is a better-for-you instant ramen that comes in three flavors and has 290 MG of sodium, 9G of protein, and non-fried noodles.

How did you start Noodie?

I was at business school and the cafeteria had two options: salad and burgers. I decided to order instant noodles.

One day I was procrastinating and researching instant noodles/ reading the nutrition labels on the package. I was horrified by what I found. If I’d just been eating instant noodles 2x per week the instances of heart disease, diabetes, or cancer was supposed to be over 60%. But I was eating instant noodles 2x per day…

I connected the dots and realized this is why my brain function has gone down and I don’t want to study. I went to Whole Foods and other grocery stores to see if there were healthy instant noodles, but there are just no healthy options in this category so I decided to create one.

Noodie was in the Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab,  an in-house startup accelerator that provides capital to post-seed to Series B startups led by women and multicultural entrepreneurs. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Prior to B-school, I worked at Morgan Stanely and I actually started that program & our early stage VC fund. 

An investment bank makes money from handling an IPO, m&a activity, and collecting fees on that transaction. To win that business, the bank needs to be an early investor or have built a relationship very early on. It’s becoming increasingly more competitive to do so. 

Investment banks’ solution is to get involved with companies earlier and earlier. When a company IPOs or there is m&a activity, the bank can say “pick us to do the work because we’ve been with you since day one.”

Who is Noodie’s customer? 

People love instant noodles in a completely crazy way.  Instant noodle enthusiasts are definitely our customers, and people who loved instant noodles but stopped eating them because it isn’t healthy. 

Actually an interesting customer we have is parents who feed Noodie to their toddlers or babies because it’s a great way to introduce them to vegetables, green foods (Noodie has green noodles), and it’s easy to prepare/eat. 

Noodie is a gateway to eating green food. 

Noodie uses innovative food technology. Can you discuss this a bit more?

Instant noodles are typically fried, so we’re using a technology that provides that fried texture but doesn’t actually fry the noodles. 

Noodie’s broth is also a concentrate and we boil it down to a really thick stock which reduces sodium and provides a richer flavor profile (as opposed to having it in traditional powdered form). 

We also have a vegetable cube that’s freeze dried. Typically instant noodles have these tiny bites of vegetables that lack texture and flavor.  Freeze Dried technology allows us to maintain the integrity of the vegetable so it has the taste and texture of steamed kale, broccoli, etc. 

Noodie is manufactured in Asia due to this technology. Why do you think Asia is ahead of the US in food tech? 

There’s more cool, new food technologies being developed and deployed in Asia because the dynamic there is slightly different. 

For example, in the US you have these huge powerhouse CPG companies that own and manufacture everything. For these companies to innovate (i.e., changing a recipe) or create new products, they have to create a minimum of 16 million units. If you’re going to change the recipe, you have to commit to changing it and then also selling the product. Legacy supply chains that are so massive make it very difficult to create something new. 

In Asia, there are a lot more smaller manufacturers and family run businesses that can handle and are willing to take on smaller orders. Noodie can come in and say lets do a smaller production run and test that and see how customers respond. If they don’t like it, we can easily go back and adjust it. I mean we tried 1000 soup recipes and 500 noodle varieties!

FOUNDER: CAMERON MCCARTHY

Background: 

WeStock is the crowdsourcing platform where users can discover and request emerging food and beverage brands.

What does the future of grocery & retail look like? 

I am a strong believer that we will be moving more towards smaller store formats that are more focused on curation and consumer experience. Everyone keeps promising faster delivery or cheaper prices, and that is a race to the bottom. I think stores like Foxtrot and Neighborhood Goods are positioned to succeed and more retailers will follow. 

What do food&bev brands need to understand about the psychology of consumer purchases in physical stores? 

That the old playbook doesn’t work anymore. Demos and promotions are just part of the equation, but you need to make sure the customer is looking for your product before they go into the store and that relationship happens first online. 

You wrote a blog post on why CPGs need to embrace NFTs (can read here). Is this a long-term strategy?

Yes, I think that NFTs and Web3 are picking up steam and should at the very least be understood by CPG brands. It still might be a bit early, but the foundation is being built right now and the brands that are working to understand it will be positioned well. NFTs will allow brands to grow their community, and that’s a huge benefit. 

What do the most successful food&bev challenger brands have in common?  

They have processes in place, understand their vision, and religiously stick to the roadmap to get to that vision. 

The brands that are unprepared, or try to do everything, are the ones we see fail the fastest. 

BRAND PARTNERSHIPS MANAGER: CHRISTINE WATERS

Background:

Neighborhood Goods is a new type of department store that works with over 100 hand-selected brands from major international names to DTC startups. Neighborhood Goods has both an online and brick-and-mortar presence in cities like Austin and New York.  

How do you evaluate brands to partner with? 

I manage all of the brand partnerships in our home, services, and CPG categories. 

The CPG category is a newer initiative and acts as a bridge between our restaurants (Neighborhood Goods also has two restaurants Tiny Feast and Prim and Proper) and the retail floor. 

In terms of selecting brands to work with it comes down to a few things. Number one is that we get a lot of inbound requests from brands of all shapes and sizes, so we constantly review those. 

First and foremost, we rely on our experience and kind of existing relationships. I’ve been buying now for about 12 years and I have a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t. 

What is your background in buying? 

I worked at Goop in the home & kitchen space. I worked with several hundred brands there, and these are relationships I’ve been able to bring to the other companies I worked at. 

For example, when I managed the home category at Verishop by the time I left we had 350 brands in the home category. 

Being in the industry, travelling, going to tradeshows, connecting with people, social media, etc this is how you discover brands. My eyes and ears are always open. Also, always keep an open mind!

You mentioned you get a lot of inbound at Neighborhood Goods. What stands out in a good inbound message? 

It sounds silly but just fill in the basics: who are you, who is your target customer, what’s your brand mission. 

Sometimes the mission is very clear and specific like “we’re simplifying kitchen tools to the 5 essentials and taking away all the guesswork.” You get that right away. 

Other times, brands will describe their products with lots of descriptors and filler words. There isn’t concrete detail and it’s hard to really understand what they’re doing. 

Always provide a link to the website or landing page that best represents your brand. Make sure the photography is strong and updated. Maybe link it to the bestsellers page. 

Besides checking out the website, what else goes into selecting brands to work with? 

I think it’s so helpful to be able to touch, feel, and see the product in person. Traveling to source products was so helpful and so necessary. You can request samples, but going to a showroom where you can understand the range of the brand’s products and the aesthetic they’re going after makes such a difference.