Business development 27 June 2018

How to brand your food startup: 5 golden rules

It’s important to do your research when building a new food brand

No one would claim that launching a UK food startup is easy. For every Levi Roots, Tea-Pigs and Aduna success story, there are countless casualties whose stars never get to shine because they fail to take advantage of the fleeting opportunity they get to catch consumers’ eyes.

Once we’ve chosen to try a food product, it’s that product’s quality and flavour that dictate whether we’ll come back for more. But that all-important initial decision hinges on the product’s branding and packaging, so it’s crucial to get that right.

But how do you do that? Sarah Turner, managing director at Carter Wong Design, offers five expert pointers for branding a new food startup.

Five golden rules for building a new food brand

(1) Get your story straight

Before you do anything else, think about why you’re launching your food brand. Is it because something’s not right in the market? Bear Nibbles founder Hayley Gait-Golding was prompted to start the business because there was too much sugar in the snack market and she was driven to fill that gap. That’s the kind of story that really helps to shape a brand. What’s your brand’s story?

(2) Do your homework

Research and focus groups can run through the whole brand-building journey. It will be necessary during product development; you might use it to help decide between brand concepts; and once your brand is established, research will help you to stress test it. Doing this can give you a view on how your product is being perceived.

Research is a complex topic that warrants its own article, but the bottom line is that, to be of any value, it must be conducted properly and objectively.

(3) It’s all in the name

Your brand’s name is a hugely important asset that will influence many other elements. Many start-ups pick a name they like without thinking about how it ties in with the bigger brand picture.

When we started working with The Different Diary company on the brand purchase of Bio Green, our first thoughts were to find a name that didn’t sound like a fertiliser. It needed to say dairy, so we suggested changing the brand name to Nomadic Dairy to reflect the range’s interesting flavours and products, inspired by traditional recipes around the world.

Once we’d found it, that name shaped the entire look and feel of the brand. Within the brand mark, the boy said Nomadic and the cow said Dairy: perfect.

(4) Design your packaging

We encourage food startups to look outside their own category for packaging design inspiration.

With the African superfoods brand Aduna, forexample, we were looking for something distinctive and premium that worked well with the brand’s Africa-inspired artwork – but it also had to be reasonably economical. The tubular packaging with a lid was inspired by poster packaging, which gave the product a distinctive, up-market look that Selfridges loved. Once that’s decided it can be used to inform other elements of the new brand, such as website, point-of-sale materials, leaflets, events and social media presence.

(5) Decide on your shelf-shout

What’s the single most important message you want your product to get across to consumers from the supermarket shelf? Is it the flavour, health benefits, or its association with some sort of social movement?

For the new range of Aduna Super-Teas, we positioned the health benefits more prominently than the individual flavour profiles or the African heritage of the brand as these are more important to Aduna’s consumers.

Remember, it’s not just consumers you’re aiming to impress with your new brand. Before it’s even reached the shelves, your brand must impress the retailers who stock it and, more often than not, the investors who finance it. Each audience will view the brand slightly differently, and they will almost certainly have different levels of awareness about how branding works. A good agency will help you refine your brand so it’s more likely to appeal to these different groups.

Once you’ve laid the ground work for the brand, it’s time to take a breath and then start to nurture and develop it. Managing a brand is the job that never ends. The best brands evolve all the time – even Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are constantly being tweaked to ensure they stay relevant.

There must be an ongoing cycle of monitoring your brand’s performance, reviewing what’s working and what isn’t and then making the necessary adjustments.

Get these elements right and you will greatly improve your chances of success. The opportunities are there for the right start-ups. Consumers are more inclined to embrace challenger brands than they used to be and, as a result, some retailers are finding ways to nurture start-ups to enrich their offering.

Listen to your customers, give them a reason to love you, be prepared to adapt and there’s no reason your brand couldn’t be the next Aduna or Primal Pantry.

Sarah Turner is managing director at Carter Wong Design

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