October 20, 2020

I have a special guest today, colleague, mentor and fellow badass woman helping CPG brands, Alli Ball. If you don't know her yet, she is the creator of Retail Ready and host of the Food Biz Wiz podcast and you definitely want to grab her Retail Roadmap or her free Masterclass for packaged food brands. 

Alli and I could talk for hours about the packaged food industry, but we kept it focused on how to stand out in a competitive category and why you still need a wholesale strategy even if you are moving to more e-commerce. 

This is a must listen to episode that you don't want to miss!


Sari 0:04
I'm Sari Kimbell and I've done just about everything in the food industry. I have helped hundreds of packaged food business entrepreneurs and now I want to help you make your delicious dream a reality. Whether you want to be successful at farmer's markets, online, or wholesale on the store shelves, Food Business Success is your secret ingredient. I will show you how to avoid an expensive hobby, and instead run a profitable food business. Now let's jump in.

Hey there, everyone. Welcome back to a new week, a new podcast. And I am so excited. So excited to talk with Alli ball, Retail Ready, and the Food Biz Wiz Podcast. And she is a colleague and a mentor. And I dare say a friend. So we are going to get into a great conversation about starting and growing your packaged food business today. So welcome, Alli, thanks so much for being here.

Alli Ball 1:10
Oh I'm so excited to join you on the podcast! Thank you for having me.

Sari 1:15
Oh, fantastic. Well, let me just do a quick intro of you for people who might not have heard of you before. And then we'll get right into it. So Alli is a former grocery buyer turned wholesale consultant, and the creator of Retail Ready, which is an online course for producers of a packaged food product in the food industry. And in Retail Ready, Alli has helped over 400 emerging brands understand what it takes to get their products on the retail shelf, and keep them there by sharing the behind the scenes secrets and thought processes of a wholesale buyer as they assess new products for their stores or online marketplace. And you're also of course, the host of the podcast Food Biz Wiz as well.

Alli Ball 2:03
True. And you I mean, I guess this is fun. We're just like swapping episodes here. Because you were a podcast guest for me. About a year ago. exactly a year ago.

Sari 2:14
Yeah, exactly. So episode number 17. If you want to go check it out, I looked it up

Alli Ball 2:20

Sari 2:21
for this. So yeah, so you are? Yeah, you started that I guess a year and a half ago or so.

Unknown Speaker 2:28
Yeah, I started the Food Biz Wiz Podcast in July of 2019. So we are in Gosh, we're at like Episode 63 or 64 at this point. And we're crankin. Yeah, it's been fun. And you know, you and I were talking offline about how excited I am for you to start this podcast. So I just I think there needs to be more food industry podcasts, more people who understand the like small scale food production. And I'm just delighted that you took the leap as well.

Sari 3:00
Well, thanks, you, you definitely were a great inspiration. So I really appreciate you going first. So yeah, I just want to get right into it. And, like let's just talk quickly, we're gonna we have some topics to discuss, for sure. But, you know, some people might be like, why these two people both have an online program, both in the food industry for early stage packaged food businesses. And I know some people are like, scratching their heads like what aren't you guys competitors? And you know, I just want to say like, that is something I so appreciate about you. You've, you've been a mentor to me before you knew who I was. So you know, I found you early on in my journey. And you were a couple years ahead of me. But we have really similar backgrounds, in some ways, both buyers for for grocery and kind of went into this, this online program world and consulting after the fact. But I've really appreciated that your philosophy and my philosophy definitely matchup around competition and also collaborating in the same space. And I think this will tie in nicely into our conversation that we're going to shift back to our audience. But I'd love for us to just address the elephant in the room, that you and I are both competitors in the same food industry space, helping early stage packaged food businesses get started and grow into profitable food brands.

Alli Ball 4:40
Yeah. Oh, I'm so glad that you brought this up. And this is a it's a great place to start, especially as we, as we launched into this idea of are both having food industry podcast too, right? So I can see why I can see why someone might think that you and I would be in competition and I, you know, as you know, there, there are a handful of us women in food, who help emerging brands grow. Right. And there are a few of us who have podcasts and, and at the end of the day, that's great. I want there to be more of us, right? I always think that about being collaborative over being competitive, even though at first glance, we, we might, it might look like we're directly competing against one another. And I think it's important to think about it on a few levels, with the first one really being that we offer different solutions, right? When we offer we have different service offerings, right? The only way, you know this, and I'll just say it for your listeners, the only way that I work with brands is through Retail Ready my online course. I don't do one on one consulting. I don't do you know, I don't know group workshops and things like that, if you want to work with me, it is through Retail Ready. And one of the things that's really important about Retail Ready is that we only work with brands who are already in production. And I think that this is a really key, different different, like, a key difference between the two of us, right? Where you, you'll work with early stage brands like super, super early, right?

Sari 6:20
Right. Just an idea.

Alli Ball 6:20
Helping them to validate. Yeah, validate the idea. Help to figure out like, how the heck am I going to develop this product? What's a UPC? And why do I need one? And then them? Then

Sari 6:32
What? I have to weigh my ingredients?

Alli Ball 6:34
Exactly. You mean, people don't want to just like pay the same price that I'm like charging my friends and family? Um, yeah, people have all of these questions naturally, when they start a food business. And I have really found that my biggest strength is talking about wholesale accounts, whether it is brick and mortar shelves, or e commerce wholesale platforms, like the Thrive Markets of the world. And my my strength is not in product development, or, you know, figuring out the health regulations. I just don't I'm just not good at that. I don't like doing that. And so I so appreciate that we have different service offerings to begin with, right?

Sari 7:21
Absolutely. Yeah, we definitely have different customers. And sometimes there's overlap. But usually we make it we have a nice transitional programs from mine to yours.

Alli Ball 7:32
Yeah. And I think the other thing to think about here, too, and this relates to to food businesses, and I can, I'll make the, I'll make the transition back to our listeners but I always think about it like this, too, that you and I have different styles, right? And that is a great thing. People are going to find me and they're going to find Retail Ready. And some of those people inevitably aren't going to like my approach. Maybe they think that they don't like my teaching style. They don't want to do online learning. They don't want to do group learning. They don't like the sound of my voice, like whatever it is. And they need to have another option. Right? Imagine if the only, imagine if it was me or no one, right, they wouldn't be able to get the help that they need. And so I just love this idea of, you know, when someone's not a good for retail, fit for Retail Ready, there are other people who can be the answer to their problems.

Sari 8:33
Absolutely. Well, that is a great segue to we'll stop talking about us. And when we do by really talking about the listener.

Alli Ball 8:41

Sari 8:42
So so many people are thinking about starting a business or emerging as a young brand early stage brand. Is there room for everyone? Or is there just way too much competition at this point?

Alli Ball 8:52
I think you can guess what I'm going to say here, right? No, I mean, I won't deny that it's competitive, right? It is competitive. Starting a food business is competitive. It's getting more and more competitive, but there's always room for different products. And the key really is setting yourself apart. Right? And you and I can follow our own advice here. But no one needs another cookie cutter replica of Cheerios cereal, right? But if you are a cereal producer who's so passionate about starting your cereal brand that just happens to be in the same shape as Cheerios, but you are providing something totally different for the consumer, you know beyond the shape, go for it right? It's just think about it a lot. I think about it a lot like with with competitive grocery spaces, and realizing that at the end of the day, your brand is really unique. Right? Your packaging your brand voice, your price point, your product formulation, and like what stores you're going to sell it to like who is your audience like all of that stuff that all goes into crafting a brand that resonates with a particular target audience. And so there, there's plenty of people out there who are going to be a potential fit for your product. But you just have to start there and identify them and and find them, right?

Sari 10:16
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I'm getting so many people applying for for my program who, who, in this time, which, you know, you think like why we're in pandemic and crazy things are happening. But I feel like there's kind of a resurgence of innovation and people have been getting creative in their kitchens and maybe had a little more time on their hands for some people. And they're like, you know, I make this awesome thing. I'm ready to start this. But there, you can't just make another salsa.

Alli Ball 10:49
Exactly, exactly. And, you know, I have a theory too, on why, why business is, is busy for the two of us. And I think it's because COVID has shed light on this idea that, that nine to five working for corporate isn't as stable as we thought. Right?

Sari 11:09

Alli Ball 11:10
I think I think there's something magical about this, that idea that this idea that entrepreneurship is, is isn't so risky as we thought it might be.

Sari 11:22
Being able to control your own destiny to some again, even though you're probably going to work harder than before.

Alli Ball 11:30
For sure. For sure. But yeah, I think about it, too. You know, I, I am sure you see this in your group and we see it in Retail Ready, you know, like, okay, like you said in the intro, we've had over 400 brands in Retail Ready, we have this online community of students. And of course, there's a dozen shrub producers in there. We've got a dozen granola makers. We've got so many people making, you know, things with adaptogens in in them now. It's so many CBD producers. And from a surface level. Yeah, you could say their competition. But I think it's really important to realize that it's better to, to see that community, to see those other makers as resources and helping. How should I say this, like helping helping shed light in on the natural products industry? And why it's important to respect that with your particular category. Does that make sense?

Sari 12:29
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I've always said let's grow the pie. And yeah, just try to get bigger piece of the pie.

Alli Ball 12:34
Yes, yes. That's a great way to sum it up.

Sari 12:37
Should I be afraid then that somebody's gonna copy my idea? I mean, we're just talking about competition and all these people. There's 12 shrubs like, yeah, yeah. I mean, I get this all the time. People say like, should you sign an NDA? And I'm like, you know?

Alli Ball 12:53
Yeah, it's interesting. Yeah, exactly. It is interesting. So I see, you know, I see this every week to someone emails me. They say that they want help. And then they want me to sign an NDA because they're afraid, you know that I'm gonna steal their idea or

Sari 13:09
Because you have nothing else going on?

Alli Ball 13:11
Exactly. I literally, I literally had a lady do this last week. I you know, bless her if she's listening. She has a honey mustard recipe. And she was like, Alli, this is such a great recipe. I'm I know that once you once you see it, like you're gonna want to start this business yourself. And I was like, I love that you are so confident in your brand, that you are so confident in your product, but let me tell you, I'm not gonna steal your your honey mustard recipe. And so it the advice that I gave her was one, yes. Like, technically we do sign NDAs in retail ready, where where you can't use other people's. I'm like laughing as I say it, because it's kind of ridiculous. You can't use other people's propriety proprietary information to advance your own business. But the disclaimer that I always say is that if you don't put your yourself out there, if you don't tell people about your idea, if you don't ask people to poke holes in your idea, you're not going to find success, right? If you don't, if you don't shout your idea from the rooftops, you're just launching in a silo. And you're going to launch with this product that isn't vetted that that's irrelevant, and that, frankly, isn't going to work.

Sari 14:29
Hmm. Yeah, that echo chamber can be really dangerous. Yeah, I'm sure you see it a lot. where yeah, and I do too, where it's like, you need more feedback. You need lots of feedback and, and feedback from peers and people in the industry and not just your mom and your sister.

Alli Ball 14:47
Oh, yeah.

Sari 14:48
Right. Your relative but thats a whole other topic.

Alli Ball 14:51
That's a whole other episode.

Sari 14:53
I know right?

Alli Ball 14:54
I think you're you're right here and I understand why people are afraid of other producers copying their ideas. Right? I get it, I totally understand that. But at the end of the day, if there there is going to come a point when you have to share your idea with the world if you want to sell your idea to the world, right?

Sari 15:16
Yes. And let's not start with an unvetted product that you're just launching for the time that you know, a couple of people in your family said was a great idea.

Unknown Speaker 15:27
Exactly. And I do think there is a time and a place to sign an NDA, you know, like we have we have students who sign NDA with their co packers. And that can be important. You know, if you have a co packer who's doing recipe development and production for similar brands, you might have them sign an NDA about your ingredient sourcing or your particular production method. But you wouldn't have them sign an NDA saying you can't produce any other mustard at your co packer because that that's frankly, like what the co packer does, that's their business model. Yeah,

Sari 16:02
Absolutely. All right. So So talking about competition still, and lots of lots of things, lots of the same products out on the market. So how can people set themselves apart from from similar brands and similar products?

Alli Ball 16:17
I love this question. Okay. I've got three things that that I'll talk through the first one, it sounds so simple, but it really starts with asking yourself, why am I different? And what different solution do I provide that isn't already out there? Right? So brands solve problems. That is ultimately what your brand does. It's solving a problem for someone. And so you've got to figure out, you know, again, why am I different? And what different solution do I provide that isn't already out there? Can I give an example here of what that might look like?

Sari 16:51
Yes, examples are amazing to help us help us clarify.

Alli Ball 16:55
Okay, great. So, I have worked with Charlie of Element Shrub, for a long time. And he he uses this example too. So I'm sure he's fine with my sharing it. But he, when he when he and I first started working together, he was convinced that people use his shrubs for as an ingredient in cocktails, you know, he was like, it's great. It provides the acid and the sweet to cocktails, like I'm gonna do like the majority of my social content and my marketing strategy, based off this idea that people use my shrub for mixers, like for cocktails. And yeah, right, like, sure. Great, great theory, great theory Charlie. And then, sure enough, he like goes down this rabbit hole, he starts serving his audience, he figures out, you know, he connects with them directly, people who have literally already purchased his products. And he realizes that 80% of the people who purchase Element Shrub purchase it because they are looking for a non alcoholic beverage. They specifically do not want his cocktail recipes. They don't want to know how you can use it in a cocktail. They specifically are using Element Shrub to solve this problem of what what do I drink when I'm not drinking? Right?

Sari 18:16

Alli Ball 18:16
And, and it was, so it was like a light bulb went off over his head, where he realized that he was saying the wrong thing to his audience. He was providing the solution of here's how you get perfect sweet and acid balance in your cocktails, when the solution that they were really purchasing was this, what do I drink when I'm not drinking? And so it was so important for him to go through this exercise of why am I different? What different solutions do I provide? And realize that he had to change his whole marketing strategy to speak to a different solution to his audience. And so you can imagine what he did, right? Like he changed his Instagram content. He changed his newsletter content. He really started talking about this moment of non-alcoholic beverages and you know what to drink when you're not drinking. And his sales just skyrocketed, because he was finally presenting a solution that that other shrubs weren't, weren't offering. Right,

Sari 19:23
Right. I love that.

Alli Ball 19:24
It was a wash.Yeah.

Sari 19:26
Do you think he could have or should have done more like a paid market research? I have an upcoming episode all about market research. And do you think just I'm just curious what your opinion is, would it have been helpful to pay for some help with that ahead of time? Or do you think that's just something that had to be discovered?

Alli Ball 19:49
It's tricky, right? Like, I think if you have the budget to pay for market research, go for it. Like you and I both know that so much, so much work has to be done before you launch. And the more you can be, you know, thoughtful in, in product development and your your launch strategy, your marketing strategy, pre-production, the more success you'll have. So yeah, if he, if he had had it in his budget to do some paid paid research, I think that would have really benefited him there. But who knows? I mean, it's, it's a gamble.

Sari 20:25
Right? Right. And who knows, you know, you don't know if you would have discovered that or not, but but good for him for not just sticking like, no, this must be a cocktail thing.

Alli Ball 20:34
Yeah, exactly. And, you know, because he likes cocktails, right. And so we so like, the cocktail content was really easy for him to do. You know, he, he's a photographer as well. So he was like, it's really fun for me as a founder to create these cocktail recipes and photograph the drinks and like this is, you know, I love this part of the marketing. But just because he loved it didn't mean that his audience loved it.

Sari 21:00
Yeah, it's such a good reminder that you are not always your target customer. Right? Exactly. You love the product doesn't mean that's who is going to buy it.

Alli Ball 21:09
Yeah, exactly. And I think for Charlie here, too, it's like, Okay, well, Charlie, you can still make beautiful drinks, you can still take beautiful photos, but just leave out the booze part. And you know, you can still do the thing you're passionate about. But it doesn't have to be, and it can, it can be done in a way that connects more fully with your audience. So that was number one, that really it starts with asking yourself, why am I different? And what different solution do I provide that isn't already out there? And again, you know, I know we can say like, well, there are hundreds or thousands of shrub brands in the US that are offering solutions of what, what not to what to drink when you're not drinking. But it's really about, you know, finding that that unique messaging and all of that.


Yeah. So number two, let's, let's keep moving here. So number two, was to go all in with what makes you you and be consistent with it. And so I always I always ask brands, or brand founders, like what are your personal strengths. And again, I guess I'm just gonna keep using Charlie as an example here, Charlie's personal strengths are that he's a great mixologist, whether that's including alcohol or not. And he's a wonderful photographer, right. And so he was like, I'm going to use these two things, and lean in to make sure that my marketing is all about highlighting these drink recipes, you know, non alcoholic drink recipes now. And using really, really engaging photography for my brand. If he was a mediocre photographer, and he couldn't mix a drink to save his life, he wouldn't have pursued that, like gone down that path. Right. So yeah, I think you know, I really think about that here. You've got to, you got to play into your own strengths.

Sari 22:59
But that's it. I mean, yes, absolutely. And, you know, I have people who love I mean, usually most people love the production when they're just starting out, right? Especially when it's just an idea they're starting, or maybe they've been doing cottage food, like, this is that home recipe that they you know, all their friends and family love. And they love doing the production, generally speaking. But you know, maybe the social media and the photography and the bookkeeping, the sales, like there's so many hats that we have to wear when you first start. So do you have any kind of suggestions on I mean, I feel like people, you're gonna have to wear all the hats at the beginning for the most part, it's really hard to yeah, to shed those right away. And I do think that there's a lot of value of like setting up your books

Alli Ball 23:53
Oh for sure.

Sari 23:54
and your your accounting and don't just like hand that over to somebody from day one. Yep. So I agree without 100% especially when you get to a place but where you can, but I just curious if you had any thoughts about wearing all the hats?

Alli Ball 24:08
Yeah, gosh,

Unknown Speaker 24:10
I hear you on that. Right. I did that for years and years in, in my business. And I, again, like I understand why you do it, especially when you think money is tight, and that you can't afford to hire help. Right? And I gosh I feel like you and I talked about this like two years ago, where the the number one piece of advice that I have is to time track your week and figure out where you are spending the majority of your time and what is the value of your time. And so the way I do it is I either literally use like pen and paper, you can use in like a Chrome extension like Toggle is great. The the free version is wonderful. And you essentially break down your tasks into a couple of main categories. So for food entrepreneurs, it might be, you know, production, sales, admin support? And, gosh, I don't know.

Sari 25:11
Social Media.

Alli Ball 25:12
Yes, yeah, something else, whatever else. And you assign an hourly rate to each of those categories. Right. So you might say, okay, like, if I were going to hire someone to do the production, I'm gonna pay them 20 bucks an hour. So this is a $20 an hour task. If I hired like, I don't know, the sales and driving revenue is the most important thing in my business, we're going to exaggerate it a bit here, and we're going to call it a $100 an hour task, you know, the marketing, like only I can do the marketing and my business, like, I'm the face of my brand, you know, I'm gonna make that a $200 an hour test, whatever it is. Admin, like, I could hire an admin assistant for 20 bucks an hour, $20 an hour task. Then you literally time track to the 15 minute interval, it's going to be annoying, but I promise it's going to

Sari 26:07
It's so eye opening!

Alli Ball 26:08
be it's worth it. At the end of the week, you're gonna be like, holy cow. No wonder why, no wonder why I feel like I'm spinning my wheels. I'm spending, you know, 20 hours a week in the $20 an hour tasks. I got to get those off my plate. And you know, I know it's, it's so much easier said than done. But I will tell you, every time I hire, every time we build our team, I feel like I can't afford it. I'm like, jumping in too quickly. And it pays off tenfold. I think you've had that experience too. Right?

Sari 26:42
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you inspired me to start getting help and find an assistant. And now I actually have two part time assistants that also helped me and they Yes, hundred percent.

Alli Ball 26:54
And I think though, the important thing, too, is that, like you just said, it can be part time, like I have, I have a Retail Ready student who hired a five hour a week assistant. They're paying her $15 an hour. And it takes I mean, imagine if you could get five hours of time back every single week. Imagine what you could do with that time.

Sari 27:21

Alli Ball 27:22
It's so valuable.

Sari 27:24
Having somebody help with my social media. And I know that's an area where a lot of my producers, especially struggle, that's not that I have, I have a lot of people who are a little, you know, little tech challenged sometimes which is fine. And so yeah, hiring somebody younger, who like gets the social media. And

Alli Ball 27:42
I think what's really important, and then I'll tell you what my number three is for, for how we can set apart. But this is just what happens when you and I record together. I think the really important thing to realize in hiring is you don't want to hire for the Wouldn't it be nice if blah, blah, blah, right? Like, wouldn't it be nice if we could set up an affiliate campaign and do giveaways on Instagram with other better for you brands throughout the fourth quarter? Like, okay, yeah, sure, that would be nice. But what would also be nice, is if someone replied to your, you know, inquiries on your website. Or if someone finally put together templates for your sales pipeline, or like, you know, whatever it is. Really hiring, to get to take things off your plate as the founder, rather than hiring for all of those "Wouldn't it be nice" tasks, because at the end of the day, that's not taking anything off your plate. It's just adding to

Sari 27:56
It's adding more oversite.

Alli Ball 28:36
your expenses.

Sari 28:52
And yeah, and expense. Yeah, that's a great, great tip. Alright, so number three, in how you set yourself apart.

Alli Ball 29:01
Do something different with your strategy. And don't be afraid to do something different with your strategy. Or like, I'm gonna keep on with Charlie here. Charlie could have said he didn't do this but he could have said, I'm going to be the only shrub brand who pursues only food service accounts. I'm going to be in all of the bars in the DC area as the non alcoholic drink of choice, right? He didn't do that. He has a wholesale strategy and does does retail and Amazon and direct to consumer and stuff but he could have put a stake in the ground and said, I'm going to be the shrub brand who does this right? Um, and so I think it's so important to not just copy your competitors, thinking that if they had success with it, you will inevitably have success as well.

Sari 29:55
Yeah, those being open to different mix of sales channels and what you know what is your best strategy based on your skill set? Like we just talked about, you know, maybe you really want to do Amazon and you enjoy doing that. Or you're, you know, there are a lot of different sales channel opportunities, and you can mix and match. And yeah, I think that's unique to you.

Alli Ball 30:18
I think it's so easy to to think that we have to follow someone else's path. Right? You know, like, say you make a coconut water and you see the way VitaCoco went, and you're like, Okay, clearly I need to do tetrapack and this size, and I need to distribute through these channels. And like, that is the road to success. We don't know that. We're, I mean, it's one example of the road to success. But unless you know, the strategy behind what they're doing, you're just copying, you're copying, like pretty blindly. And there's you know, that's that's just setting yourself up for disaster.

Sari 30:56
Oh, yeah. really finding your own voice, your own strategy, being thoughtful and intentional about it. And I think trying to stay in your your lane and what you're comfortable with and and then adding, you know, I have a lot of people are like, they want to do all of it all at once. Let's get good at one thing. And then let's add the next thing.

Alli Ball 31:18
Yeah. I mean, I even think about it with the two of us to like think one of the one of the things that you and I could do better is being more clear on our differences. And why, you know why someone would want to work with me verse. I mean, obviously not like me, verse you, but like, being really clear for each of us about what sets us apart so we're not just lumped in as, you know, women who help emerging brands, without really an understanding of like, what, what it is that you and I do differently?

Sari 31:48
Wow, there is a lot there. As we're just talking about, like, should you start a food business, right? Love it. There's a lot of gems in there. So you guys will have to go back and listen to it again. No, sure you get all of them.

Alli Ball 32:03
How about we do a follow up episode on on my podcast, we can come back and continue some of these these conversations. That would be fun.

Sari 32:11
Yes. So I would love to switch gears and really pick your brain because, you know, you are in this kind of bigger, more traditional conventional sales channels. And, and, you know, your your background is really in wholesale. And that's kind of what you made your stake in the ground on

Alli Ball 32:33

Sari 32:33
was like how to get into traditional grocery store, food service, that wholesale route. And then we had COVID hit and, uh, you know, everything changed very quickly. And I think, you know, I thought to where everybody was, like, scrambling to try to get their e commerce website up or Amazon. And I even thought for a second like, Huh, what is he gonna do? I wonder what how she's gonna flip it.

Alli Ball 33:06
I'm gonna stay the course.

Sari 33:10
Cuz, yeah, everyone, it's not like grocery stores, we're, you know, accepting new products, or I mean, they were just trying to keep toilet paper on the shelf. And canned soup. So I thought, so just kind of dive in a little bit more on like, what you're seeing and, you know, I listened to one of your podcasts about the myth of e commerce. And so I just would love to dig more into that topic. And, you know, just, I think everybody you know, you know, this, like, people just say, if I just get up a Shopify website, then I'm going to be rolling in it.

Alli Ball 33:47
Yes, yes. Okay,

Sari 33:49
Everyone will come.

Alli Ball 33:50
I'm really excited that we're gonna talk about this because literally, literally, that phrase, if you build it, they will come is the worst business advice I've ever heard. Right? It takes so much strategy and talent and marketing skills and tech skills and, frankly, money to get people to come and shop directly on your website. And so I I'm sure you see this with your clients too. But people like you said think like, you know, ecommerce is all the rage right now. It's going to be really easy to launch a brand online. And I really understand why producers think this right? That is the story that we're getting, you know, we see beautiful branding and beautiful product on Instagram. We see these overnight success stories. And again, we don't know what's going on behind the scenes, right? So I think about I think about, you know, brands like Magic Spoon Cereal and ones that really seemed to like pop up out of nowhere. And then you go digging. So you know, if you're, if your listeners listeners don't know, Magic Spoon is a cereal brand that launched direct to consumer, probably 2019, like pretty early 2019. And they really seemed like an overnight success. They launched on Instagram, they consistently sold out of their production runs. And there was a waitlist for this, like, I don't know, like $12 cereal, right? And, and so brands see this and they're like I all I have to do is follow that path of Magic Spoon. I pay for some beautiful branding, I get up a Shopify store and my Instagram strategy going nd I'm going to I'm going to succeed here. What we don't know and what we didn't see was the team that came in to Magic Spoon, who are veterans in the food industry, who understand exactly what it takes to launch a brand. And who, frankly, like put a ton I mean, we're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars into a digital marketing strategy. Only to then conclude that they're going to start selling in store, because direct to consumer is really expensive to do.

Sari 36:14
I feel like everybody says the opposite. Like I gotta go direct to consumer.

Alli Ball 36:18
Well, here's the thing, like, so many brands have have moved back to or moved from direct to consumer to wholesale strategy. Like, gosh, there's a great quote from Everlane's founder, you know, the clothing company, they started direct to consumer online. And there's a quote from their founder that's like, you know, never like over my dead body, would I ever do a brick and mortar. And then sure enough, like a couple years into the business, he shared some numbers saying that they weren't profitable on direct to consumer. And then they launched their their brick and mortar retail stores. So anyways. Long story short, I understand why it's really tempting to think that I can just throw up a Shopify site, and people will come and and buy my products, right, I totally get that. However, I think it's really important to think about some of the things producers need to know like, as they decide whether or not they're going to do ecommerce. Can we get into some of those things that I want to warn your audience about?

Sari 37:26
Yeah, what do we need to do? What do we need to know we're gonna go down this this channel, which, I mean, it can be the more accessible channel than wholesale.

Alli Ball 37:37

Sari 37:37
For sure.

Alli Ball 37:37
Yeah, and I want to be really clear that I am totally in support of e commerce, I 100%. I'm in support of direct to consumer, and I am in support of ecommerce wholesale platforms. And I'm going to talk a little bit about the differences there. But you realize I did just start this, this part of the podcast saying, you know, kind of, um, you know, bad mouthing ecommerce, and I don't want to give that impression. So it's really important for food producers to think about, again, like going back to who is your audience, but then where your audience is shopping online? And so most food and beverage purchases, are still through wholesale online platforms. So we I mean, we think about it, you can think about it yourself, like how do you how do you shop online? Like, are you going to the coffee roasters website and ordering a bag of beans? Are you then going to the granola website and ordering granola? Are you going to your? I don't know, egg producers, egg farmers?

Sari 38:09
Pretty rare. And I'm any industry

Alli Ball 38:46

Sari 38:47
that I will go and seek out

Alli Ball 38:48
exactly. And so high e commerce like these high e commerce stats, statistics look really flashy, but most of the growth is with online grocery platforms, where shoppers can build one big basket, right? So whether again, like that's the thrive markets of the world, or you know, Walmart.com or anything like that. We we see growth in ecommerce in the same exact way that shoppers purchase in store, right? Like you go into like make one big shopping basket and you check out and say me, I mean, it's the same experience with Amazon, even though it's like that the back end is a little bit different. And then, and then also, like we're seeing these high high econ stats that are a direct reflection of growth through brick and mortar stores, finally coming online with either like click and ship or curbside pickup, you know, with the help of something like Instacart, all of those sales are, are kind of like lumped into the the ecommerce growth that we've seen as a result of COVID. So I say all that because I think it's really important to realize that ecommerce is a really important channel. And it's a really important part of your, your overall sales strategy. But you've got to be really realistic about how people are purchasing food and beverage in particular, when they're shopping online.

Sari 40:20
Right? I mean, it has to be a pretty unique, interesting product that's going to make people want to go over and and you have to invest like, like you were saying, before so much money into the marketing into the flashy Instagram ads and whatnot. I mean, you know, once my, we get them set up, my clients set up on Shopify, and then they burn through their initial friends and family they're like, we're all the people?

Alli Ball 40:48
Yeah, it's, it's really, people don't shop that way. And you know, and, again, it depends on what your product is, and what category you're in. If you are a product that I'm thinking about, like gold mine adaptogen powder, a client of mine from, gosh, almost two years ago, at this point, they, they launched both direct to consumer and wholesale at the same time. And we found that the direct to consumer sales were really strong because they specifically solve a health problem for their shoppers. And so it's not something that you would traditionally buy in a grocery store necessarily. It's not just like a impulse buy an aisle four right? It is something that you are specifically going online, you're Googling, you know, typically, like if you already are familiar with adaptogens, you're like Googling the specific mushrooms you're looking for, like solutions to this health problem. And sure enough, yeah, a direct to consumer strategy is really, really thoughtful there and really successful there. So it depends on the category.

Sari 41:56
Yeah, it does. I'd say like keto and paleo maybe a little more more luck there.

Alli Ball 42:01
Yeah. But if you're just like a granola, that's pretty hard to sell direct to consumer.

Sari 42:06
Sure. So there are a lot of other wholesale are these kind of marketplaces like you mentioned, Thrive, and there's Bubble and Good Eggs. I know it's in your area and alot more coming online on gold belly is another one, a little smaller than like a Thrive. But essentially, I mean, what you're saying is that you're still using a wholesale strategy to go through these platforms, right?

Alli Ball 42:33
Yeah, totally. And I think that I like the way you summarize that, yes. Like these platforms, online sales, like this are still wholesale accounts. And it's really important to remember that when you're selling through a platform like that, there's still a real person making decisions around their categories and their product assortment right like that. Let's say that like refrigerated grocery buyer at Thrive.com has to assess your product and determine whether or not you're a good fit for their digital shelf. Right? That's still wholesale. And so I think, I think, again, like when we look at this wholesale strategy, we think about like, Where is your audience shopping? Like, where am I going to sell my product? How am I going to stand out in that category? How am I going to pitch to that real person, that real buyer? You know, which promotional strategies you're going to leverage to appeal to them? What that sales pipeline looks like. I mean, there's just so many things to think about when it comes to to building the wholesale side of your business, that, that people, people just don't take into account that it's that it's so complicated.

Sari 43:44
Yeah, that's great. I mean, it's such a, I think, a good reframing and not just like, Oh, I'm just gonna go direct to consumer, but you have to think about how people are shopping and then ultimately, it's still a wholesale strategy. We need to have that dialed in and our cogs need to be there. And there's all that good stuff.

Alli Ball 44:03
Oh, the joys of being a business owner. Right. It's complicated.

Sari 44:07
Yeah. So all that said, I mean, we know we know that the numbers are up for for shopping online and buying groceries online. You know, Amazon and but like you said, a lot of it is actually through the grocery stores, as well, not just going to your individual website. So what do you think about brick and mortar? Like what's kind of your outlook right now? What are you telling your students in Retail Ready?

Unknown Speaker 44:31
Yeah, I'm getting a lot of questions on that, like is brick and mortar dead? And the short answer is no. Right? How how we are navigating retail is changing. But the physical store isn't, isn't going anywhere, right? We we look at these big store chains, you know, Kroger and Albertsons and things like that, who are still opening new stores in 2020, which just feels wild right? So when we look at the, at the brick and mortar store, that shopper experience might be different, like they might, again, like not really be going into the store spending much time in the store, maybe they're ordering most of their groceries through for curbside pickup, maybe they're getting delivery through Instacart. But there's still a physical store that is housing the products that people are still visiting. But I think the experience is going to change. We've already seen it changing.

Sari 45:32
Yeah, for sure. And I see some opportunities, especially depending on your category. But if you can kind of fulfill some of those comfort or functional food categories, there is a lot of opportunity there to get into to the store. But people are spending a lot less time in stores.

Unknown Speaker 45:51
Right? Exactly. Like you've really got to figure out how you're how you're going to navigate product discovery. And make sure like once you get on the shelf, how do you get people to pick you up and put put you in their shopping basket? And you know, that's good. That's a whole other episode.

Sari 46:08
That is, yeah, that topic, but and what you what you do in Retail Ready, so for sure. So one sentence or a couple of sentences of advice to someone just starting out what what would that be?

Alli Ball 46:23
Yeah, I've got, I've got two that I'd like to to get here. Once thats

Sari 46:28
You get two.

Alli Ball 46:29
Okay, great. No, I'm like, I'm gonna go off script here. So one of them is more general business advice. And then the other one is really specific for food and beverage founders. So the first one would be that if it doesn't work on paper, it won't work in reality. And I think that this is, this is an important one for people who are just starting their businesses, and people who are so passionate about their idea, who are probably in your inbox right now asking for your help. And they, they haven't run the numbers and done the, you know, Excel doc to figure out what it would actually take to build their business. And so I like, I heard someone say this ages ago, years ago, I don't remember who said it, it wasn't me. But if it doesn't work on paper, it doesn't work in reality. And I think that that's just so so valuable to think about.

Sari 47:31
It's, as I say, it's heartbreaking sometimes, I just got an email from a client who I've worked with, on and off, and he has this passion product, he just loves it takes a lot of time. I mean, and we've tried to make the numbers work and it just kills me because it's such a great product. But he said, You know, I think I need to raise my MSRP, my price, suggested retail price. And what do you think about that? And it's like, oh, I don't know, it was already pretty, pretty high up there. I mean, how can we show a return? And you know, all of those questions, and it's, it can be really heartbreaking. But I would rather have that conversation early on and and see if we can find solutions to it ahead of time. Then like continue, you know, two years, three years, five years. I mean, I've talked to brands that are five years in and they're still not it still doesn't work. And they're still not making any money.

Alli Ball 48:30
Oh, gosh, I say that all the time. You know, people, people say like, well, what if I take Retail Ready, and my business doesn't work? Like, well, I have just saved you hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sari 48:39
Yes. And so much time.

Alli Ball 48:42
And so much time. Exactly. I would much rather have you come in, you know, obviously, I want all my students to succeed in Retail Ready but if you come in and you put in the effort, and ultimately at the end of the day, you decide that it doesn't work on paper, you know, then at least you're making an informed decision. So that was number one, if it doesn't work on paper, it doesn't work in reality. And then the second one that's really, really specific to food and beverage is my advice to go narrow and deep rather than wide and shallow as you start selling your products. And so what that really means is that, you know, I see these brands who are excited to sell, you know, outside of their region or get national distribution or like, you know, we're in California and a great account in New York ask them if they can, they can sell there and I always think it's so important to win over your backyard before you attempt to expand regionally or nationally or gosh, even internationally. You've got to really like go hard in your own backyard.

Sari 49:46
Yeah, I think that's the you know, and people's minds are like put that so much more work and, you know, it doesn't seem as glamorous but yeah, doing the work and really developing that that base and that foundation in your your home area, I think, yeah, so valuable. There's so many reasons why.

Alli Ball 50:04
Totally and that's, I mean, your that's where you're going to learn the most, you're going to connect with your consumer, you're actually going to open those wholesale accounts yourself and have a relationship with those wholesale buyers. And like, you know, they I like mark my words, those are going to be your strongest accounts forever and ever, if you really nurture them.

Sari 50:25
yes, I love that. All right, before I ask you my last question, I would love for you to tell people, how they can find out about Retail Ready, where they can find you. I mean, you you and I both just put out a ton of free content and I think, you know, we both have a mentality of like, I want to give, I want to give a lot of value ahead of time and give people an idea of what it's like to work with me and my expertise. So I love that about you. And I'd love for people to be able to find your work.

Alli Ball 50:57
I was just gonna say I love that about you as well. I think that you and I really wish. That's something that we do share that desire to give give content. So I've got two, I'm going to say I'm going to give three places where people can find me. So the first one you asked about Retail Ready, of course, I feel like we've talked about that a fair amount here on the episode today. So you can find out about Retail Ready at my website, which is just AlliBall.com. And Retail Ready is at backslash waitlist because we currently have a waitlist for the course. We open up enrollment throughout the year, as we have capacity to support new students. So I'm sure that you can put you can put the link in the show notes, of course. And then I've got to other places where you can find me. You can find me on Instagram, that's definitely where I hang our the most. And my handle is just it's at excuse me, it's it'salliball. And if you send me a DM all right back, I would love to give your listeners a follow back. I love doing that. And then finally finding me on my own podcast. I've got episodes that come out every single Thursday. And that's just that FoodBizWiz.com.

Sari 52:07
Love it. Yeah. All right. So my last question that I've been asking all of my guests this year, it's a quote from Michelle Norris that I heard and it just really resonated with me. And so the quote is, let's not strive for normal, let's strive for better. So how do you think that the industry in your in your mind is changing, or will change for the better in 2020, so that we can grow and become a better industry?

Alli Ball 52:36
I think we've seen it change into two pretty clear areas. And the first one is obviously, this idea of the virtual pitch and online trade shows. And I'm really excited about this, because I just feel like the virtual buying meet buyer meeting that online pitch really levels the playing field, you know, what if we think about it from a financial perspective, from a time perspective. Typically people, especially emerging brands, like young founders don't have the means or the time to fly to trade show. The money to fly to trade shows all of that, that um like networking skills to get in front of buyers. And now that we move that online, I feel like that is it levels, the playing field there and I'm so I'm so so excited for that. So that's my number one. Yeah. And then secondly, I'm really, you know, I'm really happy with what the Black Lives Matters movement has done in our food industry. So we historically have been this homogenous white male dominated industry. I mean, even I think about my first grocery buying role. I was like, in my early 20s, I was the only woman at the table like it was a bunch of like middle aged white dudes. And that is shifting and I am, I am just thrilled about it. You know, we we pulled some numbers in Retail Ready, we are right about 50% of our Retail Ready brands are BIPOC owned, which just is it's an incredible indicator of, of where the industry going is going and I'm so I'm here for it.

Sari 54:26
I love that too. I think you and I both probably attract, I would say probably 70% of my my clients and students are are women. And it's so cool to see people in that space. And it's awesome. I think that's a great it's

Alli Ball 54:44
It's about time, right? I mean, right? It's just gosh, yeah, it's about time. You know, I I'm hopeful that retailers have, you know, woken up to that idea that they need more diversity on their shelves and they need to accept those buyer meetings, when somebody walks in the door who looks different than them and you know, that they just need to be, be, you know, have put some initiatives in place for becoming more diverse on the store level as well.

Sari 55:17
Love that. All right, wow. We could, I feel like you and I, we could just spend hours and hours together, we can make a series of podcasts. But this was fantastic. I think two really great topics that really share show your expertise. And so thank you for for being here and for for sharing with all of us all those great examples. And I don't know if I was listening to this, I'd be pretty excited about starting my my food business. So well.

Unknown Speaker 55:49
My pleasure. I just feel like you and I together have this really fantastic one two punch in supporting brands. My ultimate dream is that like people start with you. They get to a place where they're in production and then they come and work with me and you know, together we can really support these brands.

Sari 56:06
I love it. The one two punch. I love it.

Alli Ball 56:10
Thank you so much for having me today.

Sari 56:12
I so hope you enjoyed that conversation with Alli Ball and until next time, have a fantastic week.

Are you ready to start that delicious idea that you make in your home kitchen, or grow your existing packaged food business and take it to the next level? The most successful food business entrepreneurs have support, guidance, focus and accountability to help them make it happen quickly without wasting time or money. Plus, I think starting your packaged food business should actually be fun. Food Business Success is your secret ingredient to creating your food business dream. Please don't go this alone. Check out the private free Food Business Success Facebook group to connect with other foodprenuers, get your questions answered quickly, share your wins and receive special training and tools I only share inside the private community. Just search for Food Business Success on Facebook, or get the link in the show notes. Curious about how food business success can help you? Head over to FoodBizSuccess.com and fill out the application to see if you're a great fit for the program. Together let's make your food business dream a reality.


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