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Ep. 026: How to Launch in the Natural Products Channel — The Bob Burke Interview

Curious about launching a natural food or beverage product? Want to get your product into Whole Foods Market and other natural product retailers?

This is an interview you don’t want to miss!

Listen to our interview with Bob Burke and get insider tips on finding a manufacturing partner, getting your pricing right so you’re profitable, and working with retailers, distributors and brokers.

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BONUS: Click HERE to learn how to become a supplier to Whole Foods Market. It’s an article written by my friends at Repsly!

Episode Outline:

0:45 – Introduction to Bob Burke, Founder of Natural Products Consulting.

2:00 – A list of companies and brands that Bob Burke has helped launch and grow in the natural products channel

2:45 – Bob shares his areas of expertise when helping people launch and grow in the natural products channel

4:05 – Bob describes the types of projects he works on when he works with clients; he gets involved in all aspects of the business, but most of his projects are writing customized business and marketing plans; “they’re a lot of work.”

6:55 – Bob talks about the types of projects that he’s best suited for, and the specific tasks related to those projects. Additionally, he talks about some of the more successful case histories, or projects/brands, that he’s worked on.

9:52 – Bob talks about the benefits of working with entrepreneurs that don’t have natural products industry experience: “The ones that don’t have the industry experience aren’t weighed down . . . they’re unencumbered.”

11:42 – Bob shares information about his seminars, including his Two-Day Sales Seminar, where he brings in 10 experts in their field (i.e. e-commerce, former Whole Foods Market buyers, distributor and retailer customers, etc.) to educate about selling to this channel. He also offers a full-day Financing Seminar, where they talk about deal structure, terms sheets, etc.

14:56 – What has been the highlight of Bob’s consulting career? Bob talks about his biggest ongoing pleasure of having opportunities to stretch myself in new areas as he gets exposed to new people, categories and projects.

17:09 – Bob shares his biggest frustration since being in this natural products business.

19:04 – Bob helps listeners understand the natural products channel; the roles and players involved. These include large and small retailers (i.e. Whole Foods Market, Sprouts, etc.), distributors (i.e. UNFI, Kehe, etc.) and brokers.

22:00 – Bob talks about the success and failure rates of new products in the natural products channel.

24:12 – Bob explains how he handles situations when people present new products to him that he believes don’t have potential.

26:20 – Bob talks about the top frustrations that new entrepreneurs face in the natural products channel. These include getting your first product into a large retailer (i.e. Whole Foods Market). Another source of frustration includes trying to figure out brokers and distributors. Additionally: trade-spending deductions when working with distributors.

28:41 – Bob shares his thoughts on how often new entrepreneurs need to realign their initial launch assumptions, and thus pivot their product or brand, in order to survive. He gives key examples of companies that have switched directions in order to grow.

34:02 – Bob shares his thoughts on the growth trends in natural products channel (i.e. low-sugar, no sugar, cold-brewed coffees, grain-free products, gut health, etc.).

35:58 – Bob talks about some of the entrepreneurs that have impressed him most over the years. And he talks about some of the characteristics that these entrepreneurs had, that led to Bob’s favorable impression of them.

38:31 – Bob shares his experiences in helping entrepreneurs develop new products.

39:30 – Bob gives his thoughts on the best process for new product development.

41:43 – Bob talks about how new entrepreneurs are finding manufacturer partners to help them produce their product. He continues to explain the importance for new entrepreneurs to focus on doing the most valuable activities to grow the business (which often means “not running a plant”).

44:20 – Bob shares his thoughts about how to best avoid problems when working with a third-party manufacturer. He advises new entrepreneurs to focus on the production term sheet, in addition to the lowest price manufacturer. “Err on the side of flexibility.” Look for a manufacturer that is flexible. And, most importantly, “you need to own the recipe.”

46:41 – Bob offers his advice on how to set the right pricing for your product. It should reflect your positioning in the category. Additionally, consider the pricing of your most direct competition. And, make sure your pricing allows you to make a profit – it needs a healthy gross profit margin.

48:29 – Regarding setting the price for a new product, Bob advises new entrepreneurs to do a pilot test of the product, so there is evidence that the price is working among other key consumer-acceptance factors.

50:27 – Bob talks about the best way to approach distributors and retailers for the first time. Bob advises that new entrepreneurs first work with a broker to help prepare for the product introduction.

53:00 – Bob shares his thoughts about preparing for and developing trade-spending (dealer and distributor marketing) programs, and the budgets needed, to be successful.

58:10 – Bob provides closing advice: He suggests that, in the beginning, to “begin with the end of mind” and think about “what outcome are you looking to shape?” Additionally, he advises the new entrepreneur to align expectations with everyone involved, including brokers, retailers and distributors.

About the author, John

John Benzick is an entrepreneurship coach and the founder of Venture Superfly. He is a Tech Partner at the venture-capital fund of Matchstick Ventures, a Mentor with Techstars Retail accelerator, an Entrepreneur-In-Residence and (former CEO-in-Residence) at the University of Minnesota, and founder and owner in two consumer product businesses. Click the button below to learn more.

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