Emerging brand navigates change at the speed of a SpaceX rocket launch
Over the last five years there has been an unprecedented shift in food culture to favor new and emerging food brands. These new brands have found traction by reinventing existing food and beverage categories or creating new ones with elevated recipes, higher quality ingredients and an ethos to go with it.
When the pandemic suddenly descended like a quick-forming Hurricane headed on-shore, we watched in earnest to see how these bright upstarts would weather the storm. On the one hand, these new businesses often fulfill the desire for healthier options right out of the gate. On the other, as young organizations without the deep cash reserves of legacy counterparts they can be vulnerable.
Among the new brands Emergent has been following is PREVAIL jerky. PREVAIL was founded and is guided by Glen Kohn in Chicago, a financial services investment expert (understands the balance sheet) who had a personal penchant for jerky making that turned into his life passion.
Answering a prevailing trend of higher quality, better for you
PREVAIL has reinvented the jerky category with a truly clean formulation that rids the meat-centric snack option of unwanted preservatives, horrific sodium levels, added sugars and ingredients that food allergy sensitive consumers can’t stomach. What’s extraordinary is the taste and eating experience, an uncanny ‘secret sauce’ ability of Glen’s products to deliver a jerky sensory bite but without the toughness often associated with dried meats.
We wanted to find out how Glen and PREVAIL were faring as COVID-sponsored upheaval sent shockwaves through many businesses that are in early stages of their development and growth curve. Glen graciously answered five questions intended to gauge the impact of the pandemic. We include our observations and insights following Glen’s answers.
Five Questions for Glen Kohn and PREVAIL Jerky
- In the last 60 days much has changed for emerging food and beverage brands. How has the pandemic impacted your business and what changes have you made in how you go-to-market?
Glen Kohn: “Many of our retail locations such as hotels, health clubs and coffee shops closed down at the start and some remain closed. Given what was happening around us in retail channels, we knew to retain our momentum we needed to pivot to online. On the ingredient supply side, we believed that beef prices would likely go up, so we got out ahead of the possible challenge in April and purchased 100% grass-fed beef to control our costs.”
Emergent: What’s evident here was the quickness and resolve Glen and his team showed to get ahead of the shifts and do their best to keep the velocity moving. Especially important was the supply chain decision given the significant escalation in beef prices.
PREVAIL sells at a premium to other traditional category jerky brands. While the value proposition justifies the extra cost, in an uncertain economy, it is possible for price premium acceleration to hit a ceiling and generate resistance from users. Wisely Glen avoided the pricing meltdown. He also sidestepped taking a hit on slender margins by banking his supply.
- What specific shifts, changes have you created to your sales and marketing strategies?
Glen Kohn: “We quickly shifted to go after more e-commerce retailers, corporate snack boxes, and B to B online platforms. We also saw a spike and increased interest in Affiliate programs. Dollars that were allocated to retail channel tastings and events were shifted to bolster PR and social media spend.”
Emergent: Food retail industry watcher and guide Brick Meets Click recently published a report showing online grocery transactions were up 18% from 62.5 million in April to an astounding 73.5 million in May. Also in May, household penetration reached 33% as 43 million consumers shopped e-commerce channels for food and beverage. This is way ahead of earlier food industry studies that forecasted household penetration on a much slower ramp, and offers proof that the pandemic has caused an inflexion point with online ordering. Out of necessity consumers have become more comfortable with this shopping behavior. Glen’s pivot to emphasizing e-commerce was a smart move.
Trust is at a premium these days and now more than ever, people rely on the recommendations of other consumers to inform their brand selection decisions. Social proof is the most important mechanism to validate what Glen wants the world to believe about his product efficacy and to encourage trial.
- How have investors reacted to the COVID-19 situation and what do you think they’re looking for now from brands like yours?
Glen Kohn: “Food is definitely king now. As evidence, shelf stable, healthy snacks are booming. If anything, now is the time to invest in food and beverage brands while other industries such as travel and hospitality wrestle with systemic challenges to their business model post-pandemic. Investors will spend their money on businesses with strong ongoing sales traction.”
Emergent: Equity investors often point to company leadership and their business skills as a primary driver underneath their investment decisions. Glen approaches the business not just as a guy with passion and a great recipe, but also a business brain who isn’t hesitant to make decisions in the midst of uncertain conditions. Combined with better jerky category relevance and salience, you can see why Glen should continue to attract operating capital as he works to scale the enterprise. Stay-at-home conditions and protein snacking make great bedfellows.
- How do you see consumer priorities and behaviors changing as a result of the economic uncertainty and lifestyle impacts of the pandemic?
Glen Kohn: “Consumers are increasingly turning to healthy foods during the pandemic. The food industry is one of the only industries to surge during this time. People are snacking more throughout the day and they are looking for healthy alternatives that the whole family can enjoy.”
Emergent: The pandemic has ushered in significant transformational changes in consumer attitude and behaviors. In our recent article, “Health is the New Wealth” we outlined the sea-change in the reshuffling of priorities and needs for people. The COVID-19 event has dramatically demonstrated how ‘out of control’ the world can be, upending every single aspect of life, lifestyle and career. What is the one thing people can control in a seemingly uncontrollable world? Their investments to enhance their own health and wellbeing through what they put in their bodies and active efforts to take better care of themselves.
A healthy immune system is at a big premium these days. Brands that actively partner and help guide consumers on their journey to healthier living have an extraordinary opportunity to build a lasting and sustainable relationship. Glen sees this and his company is positioned to take advantage of it.
- What guidance would you offer to the founders and investors of new emerging brands that will help assure their continued development? What are the top three things you believe they should do to help ensure continued growth?
Glen: “From what we have heard and seen it’s best to diversify channel strategy and watch behavioral changes. We have seen brands that were primarily in one retail channel and were crushed when the country shut down.
- Be nimble.
- Cash is king.
- Don’t be afraid to take a chance.
- When the timing feels right be a first mover.”
Emergent: During uncertain times when the future appears to be unpredictable and changes are occurring around you at unprecedented speed, occasionally fear can set in that causes businesses to turn inward and go dark as they “ride out the storm.” We have ample historical evidence that this is a recipe for disaster. Brands that continue to invest in their growth, in communication with consumers, that remain present and work quickly to adjust to the changes going on around them are likely to emerge in much better condition than those which retreat.
You can’t cut your way out of a recession. No question cash management and burn are fundamental business issues to address. That said, it is more important than ever to be a builder and as Glen says, a first mover.
A brand name that inspires consumers during uncertainty
PREVAIL is an interesting and compelling brand name. On a very visceral level it is aspirational to the consumer experience. People want to prevail over what looks at times to be insurmountable odds. This brand as guide, coach and expert authority can take the journey with consumers as a trusted source and resource.
The characteristics and drivers of successful brand building have changed as consumers seek deeper meaning and shared values with the brands they prefer. Equally, brands need to position themselves as partners in helping improve their consumers’ lives.
To help them prevail.
Emergent is expert in helping build new and emerging brands and businesses. If you’re looking for fresh ideas and perspective, let us know.
Editorial note: Emergent would like to express our heartfelt thanks to Glen Kohn for participating in this story. We appreciate his time and efforts to help inform the industry.
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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.