Why Can't Some Companies Innovate?

According to The Digestible Brand’s Eric Kiker, maybe they’re just telling the wrong story.

See what started the Conception to Consumption (C to C) podcast on the inaugural episode, featuring Principal Erik Kiker of To Love The Brand, formerly The Digestible Brand. Drawing from decades of experience in the food and beverage, as well as marketing, industries, this proven thought leader breaks down tips and strategies that can help CPG startups and veterans alike innovate.

Having worked with bigs names, like Naked Juice, Atkins, Perfect Bar, and more, our guest knows the importance of transparency when it comes to differentiating not just your products, but also your brand story. Learn what other companies have done well—and what blunders they’ve made—to either build or erode brand loyalty. Together with CEO Gary Nowacki, you can explore his philosophies on transparency, food education, ethnographies, and social media by downloading or streaming the full episode.

Listen Now

Gary Nowacki: This podcast is produced for informational purposes and does not constitute any scientific, legal, or medical advice. The views and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are those of the guests alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and positions of the host or any other entity or organization. Listeners are encouraged to listen with an open mind and form opinions of their own. 

Welcome to the Conception to Consumption podcast. My name is Gary Nowacki and I’ve had the great pleasure to talk to so many leaders in the food supplements and CPG industry over the last 15 years. And I finally thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to interview them on a podcast so they can share their thoughts and leadership with a larger group?” 

We plan on doing these podcasts monthly, so look for a new one around the first of every month. Whether you’re directly involved in the industry or, like all of us, are a consumer, I hope you find some value in your busy day.

[music] Welcome to this episode of Conception to Consumption. My guest today is Eric Kiker, a leading brand innovator and thought leader for food and CPG. Eric, let’s jump right into it. Why do some food and CPG companies struggle so much to innovate?

Eric Kiker: I don’t think they understand people. I don’t think they understand what their consumers want. And I think the biggest problem with understanding what people want is that they don’t know what they want themselves.

Gary Nowacki: So Eric, let’s go back and talk about your background and career. You are with a firm called the Digestible Brand.

Eric Kiker: Yup.

Gary Nowacki: Can you go back—fill people in, how you got into this business and what makes you tick?

Eric Kiker: Well, The Digestible Brand is really a confluence between my 30-some years as a marketer, as a writer, as a brand strategist, and the last seven or eight years or so of my life where I feel like I, through trial and error, found the secret to what to do and what to eat and who to see to get my body to behave. So, I mean, that in a nutshell is sort of like why I’m doing what I’m doing. 

I really do believe that people in general, they don’t know what to eat to get their bodies to behave. And when I say behave, the big one is weight. Most people don’t know how to get their weight to come off if they want it to come off. People don’t know how to de-stress. They don’t know—sometimes in many cases, they don’t even know how to poop. And so that’s what I mean when I say getting their bodies to behave. And that’s really sort of what I’ve spent the last seven or eight years figuring out for myself. 

And I feel like food brands are in a unique position to help people get their bodies to behave if they will take the time to help them, instead of just like, “We got a guilt-free snack for you,” or, “We’ve got a miracle ingredient for you.” Healthcare is not really going to do it. Government’s not going to do it. I think food brands, especially packaged food brands, are in a unique position to do that for people. 

So that’s what The Digestible Brand is all about, is me counseling food brands on tips and strategies and ideas about how to de-commoditize themselves, how to get sort of up and above the guy next to them on the shelf, and how to actually help people so that they can gain loyalty and have an even better brand.

Continue reading the transcript:

Gary Nowacki: So, you worked in the industry. You worked for Naked Juice, which was later acquired by Pepsi, very successful brand. Talk to us about that experience and what your takeaways were from that.

Eric Kiker: Well, it was cool. My agency has been around for 51 years, but Naked, which came along just about a little over a decade ago, was the first time we ever worked for a brand that sat on a shelf.

We had lots of national business, but it was from clients like Hunter Douglas, who makes window treatments, and Janus Capital, who does investing. So Naked was really cool because we could tell people, “Hey, we’ve got this awesome thing that you’ve seen at your supermarket.” And what we discovered in terms—we built the brand sort of from scratch.

What we discovered was Odwalla, who was the 800-pound gorilla—and Naked was out to sit next to Odwalla in every cooler in every market in America, which 18 months later we were able to help them accomplish. Odwalla put sugar and/or preservatives in half of their SKUs. And Naked, we would say, “All we add is a bottle and a lid.” And that was really the truth.

And so, we came up with this, what we thought was a great brand position at the time, which was nothing to hide. And it was based on the functional, but it very quickly became emotional because the people that were paying 3.50 or whatever for a juice, we could say to them, “Hey, you should have nothing to hide. You should show your vulnerabilities, and you should show your passions, and you should grab a Naked juice and go out and show the world who you are.”

And I think that leading with the functional and turning it into the emotional, was what helped the brand move across the country so fast. I mean, 18 months from pretty much a SoCal brand to a national brand that was acquired by Pepsi. That’s fast.

Gary Nowacki: It really is. And so when you talk about people not knowing what they want, consumers not knowing what they want, was that the case with Naked Juice?

Eric Kiker: That we were talking to people who didn’t know what they want or that we were giving or helping them understand what they wanted?

Gary Nowacki: Yeah. Did you turn on the light bulb for some of those consumers?

Eric Kiker: I think in some instances, Gary, yeah, I mean, on some level. But I think part of the problem is if you think about the communication that food brands have with people as a tree, right, nobody’s getting up into the canopy. Everybody’s talking to everybody sort of like six inches off the ground.

“This is a guilt-free snack,” or “This is some single ingredient thing that you can take that will help your cognitive ability,” or some other sort of like miracle thing where we talk to people in a way that doesn’t get to their higher order emotional problems, right? So, sure, Naked did as good of a job as anybody in terms of like telling people, “Hey, put something pure into your body if you want to get pure things out of it.” And I think sort of trying to inspire people to get up above.

What great brands do is they have a purpose that transcends the ingredients in the bottle or the container, right?

And I think that was sort of what we did with Naked. And I think, yeah, in a lot of ways, we can help people. We can inspire people a little bit. It was still a bottle of juice. It wasn’t a plan for the day or a plan for the meal or a plan for their lives that could help their bodies behave. But that was long before I figured any of this stuff out, so.

Gary Nowacki: So, I was at a conference in San Francisco last month called Future Food-Tech, and there were a lot of great presentations. One of them was by the founder of RXBAR. And what you’re talking about here, Eric, reminds me of his story, because he actually showed the audience early-day labeling of the RXBAR.

It was bad. It looked boring. It just looked boring. If it was one that contained dates, it had pictures of dates. If it had apples, it had pictures of apples. It looked like any other pedestrian brand.

And he said his aha moment was when then they took their very small list of all-natural ingredients and made them the label. So the ingredient list became the label, and that sounds like an example of what you’re talking about here.

Eric Kiker: It was brilliant. I mean, I first saw RXBAR in my CrossFit gym, and those guys were CrossFitters or are CrossFitters, and they built that bar. It was sort of like the same story that people tend to have. We couldn’t find blank that blanked, and so we made our own.

But they went out to the CrossFit community, and CrossFitters are taught from sort of like day one, “Yeah, the fitness is really important, but the food is more important.” So when my wife and I started doing CrossFit eight years ago, first thing we heard about was the Paleo diet, ancestral eating or primal eating, whatever you want to call it. And it sort of opened our eyes to the idea that food really, really, really matters in combination with fitness.

So what the RXBAR guys did spoke to us because it was so simple and it was just what you saw was what you got. And we loved it. And I’ve loved that brand ever since. And I worried when they sold to Kellogg, and I still worry a little bit, but I believe that if they don’t screw it up, they could put that brand name RX—and they’re dropping the bar because they’re doing nut butter pouches and they’re doing oats and things like that. They could put RX on anything in the store and they could show people that transparency of this is what you’re getting in this package.

And I think that is sort of like for people to understand what they’re eating, the first thing they need to understand is what are they eating, right? And the more whole the ingredients and the simpler the ingredient panel, because people don’t really turn it around. And when they do turn it around, I think it’s really easy to get confused.

So, I think what RX did was brilliant, and the fact that you’re seeing a number of other brands do the same sort of thing. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as they say. And you could get upset about the fact that they’re sort of knocking off what they did. But in terms of like doing something for the consumer, I say, go for it, help them. And that’s what people need. They need help.

Gary Nowacki: It seems like a shift. I remember a time—and maybe some brands are still doing it, but I remember a time when what lots of brands were doing is they were making food with a lot of junk—artificial ingredients, lots of sugar, artificial colors, all sorts of things—but then they’d find the one good thing that was in that box of sugary cereal for kids. And they’d say something like, “Oh, this will get your kid all the vitamins that you need.” And I don’t know who’s still doing that, but it seems like a real shift now to clean and transparency.

But if I’m a brand, how do I take that to the next level? How do I not be just one more brand on a shelf that says clean or all-natural or organic or whatever claim you want to make? How do I take that to the next level? How do I get, as you say, to the top of the canopy of the tree?

Eric Kiker: Yeah, thanks for remembering that little analogy. I made a video last week or the week before, and I talked about how we should be using—I’ll just use Instagram as an example—better. What I believe brands need to do—and I say this all the time in what I write and what I record—is you got to go beyond the product.

Everybody just wants to sell what they’ve got in their package. And you look at the Instagram feeds of most food brands, and they’re interchangeable. There are overhead shots of the food. There are some yoga poses. There’s generally somebody holding a sandwiched sort of pile of cookies or whatever dripping chocolate. We know that Instagram was invented sort of to share pictures, but these guys are taking it too far.

It’s like if you interspersed some of that cool photography of your food brand with some tips on how people could use that food brand to make a meal, use that food brand to make a perfect snack, which means to me, what a perfect snack would be is a snack that is balanced in terms of the three macronutrients—we only have three: protein, carbs, and fat—has either fruit or vegetable matter, and has some fiber.

So, if brands would sort of get outside of what they’re doing and stop acting like this is the only thing that there is, I think people would go, “Oh,” the light bulb would come on for people, and they would be more likely to buy that brand when the guy next to him is on deal. You know what I mean?

It would increase the loyalty, and they would say, “Thank you for helping me get out of my own way and understand without boring me, without lecturing me, just keeping it simple for me but showing me how to balance what I’m doing so that every meal, every snack, works harder to get my body to behave.”

Gary Nowacki: Eric, in your blogs and your videos that you share on social, you’ve talked about don’t guilt the buyer, figure out the buyer, and figure out what your product and mission is and then connect those things. To me, that makes total sense, but it’s complicated, right, especially if the buyer doesn’t already know what he or she really wants or needs.

If I’m a research chef, if I’m working on the bench, if I’m in marketing, how do I connect all those dots? What kind of guidance can you give those people?

Eric Kiker: I think you’ve got to start by really understanding your consumer. One of the things that we do on the agency side of my life is we use a lot of ethnographic research, which really, for me, is the gold standard of a way to get to know a consumer because it doesn’t start with—

It’s not like a focus group where you do five minutes of sort of like, “Who are you? And what are you doing?” and yadda yadda, “Now, let me show you some concepts,” or, “Let me have you taste something.” You really start by talking to people about their lives. What’s the big picture? What are you worried about? What are you excited about? What gets you turned on?

Gary Nowacki: And sorry to interrupt, but how do you do that? If I’m in marketing at a leading food company, how do I do that? How do I get these people in a room and get them talking about…?

Eric Kiker: Well, you don’t get them in a room, first of all. I mean, ethnography is in a classic sense, you would send a moderator to a person’s home, and you would spend the better part of the day one on one with that person.

If you were doing research for a food brand, you would start by talking about life in general, and then you would sort of—then you would go down to food in general. You’d go look in the pantry, right, because in their own homes, they can’t tell you a fib about what they’re eating and what they’ve got in their pantry or their fridge.

So you go, “Look.” And then you might take them to the store on a shopping trip and say, “Let’s go to the nut butter aisle,” if you were doing some research on nut butter, for instance, “How do you shop this aisle? Show me how you pick what you’re going to buy, you know what I mean? But what that whole—by looking at that person as a whole person, by looking at that entire spectrum, you’re able to talk to them in your marketing about things that are more than the guilt-free snack.

I don’t think brands—I’ll go on record right now. I think everybody should stop saying guilt-free snack because when you say guilt-free, the first thing people think about is I’ve got guilt about all these other things, about—I think food has gotten to the point where people are actually, on some level, afraid of the stuff they put in their mouths because they don’t know what it’s going to do.

We’ve got so many conflicting stories in the media and bloggers don’t help either because they’re looking for clicks. So, we don’t really know what to trust.

But back to the point, that’s how I would try to approach understanding my consumer in terms of what to say to them in marketing, how to help them, right? It would drive innovation because I could ask this group of people, once I sort of got them, “What do you need based on these sort of higher order emotional problems that you have, or hopes and dreams?”

And for me, again, it comes back to, man, I wish I could sleep without taking a bunch of stuff. I wish I could look at my body and say, hey, let’s drop five pounds before the reunion next week and do it in an effortless way that’s actually healthy and not gross.

Gary Nowacki: And so this process that you just described, are food and CPG companies doing this, or is this a rare exception?

Eric Kiker: I don’t know for sure, but every food brand that we talk to and every food brand that goes through this process with us—and we figured out a way to do ethnographies remotely. So, we have a network of consumers that have been pre-vetted across the country.

They’re not professional survey takers or focus group attendees. They really are interested in helping food brands and the other brands that we work on do better. So, we will send a packet out to 30 or 40 people after we’ve done a hand raiser and said, “Here’s the project we’re working on.” And vet them a little bit to make sure they fit the demographics and the psychographics, right? The attitudinal stuff.

We will send them a packet that they complete on their own. And they’ll give us four to six hours over a weekend, which is when we try to field these things so that they have time and they’re well paid. They might be paid three to five hundred dollars. And the cool thing about it is, once we’ve got this particular group of people, we can go back to them for another piece of research for that same brand and say, “Hey, remember when you helped us with this? Well, now we’d like you to help us innovate.” And we can get them to come up with ideas.

So, every food brand that we’ve introduced this concept to has looked at us with open eyes and gone, “I ain’t never heard nothing like that.”

Gary Nowacki: So if you were to step back and go up to 30,000 feet, Eric, based on all the companies you’ve worked with in the food CPG space, what are some attributes you can share on companies that have been really successful with innovation and new product launches? And what are some attributes you can share on companies that haven’t been so successful?

Eric Kiker: There’s some cool stuff going on in plant-based, right? I mean, plant-based has become a buzzword and a trend. And I think that trend—a lot of food brands think trend is a good word. I kind of think that trend is a bad word because I think when you jump on that trend, if you’re not getting to that sort of higher order problem that your consumer really has and addressing that, you’ll die when the trend does.

Having said that, guys like—all the meat guys or the—I’m putting “meat” in quotes, air quotes, plant-based meats, like Impossible. I spoke to one of the higher-ups at that company the other day and had a nice little interview with him and got the idea from them and their founder that they’re not going for vegans. There’s always been vegan or vegetarian-based burger patties, right? Going back to Garden Burger or Boca Burger. I’m dating myself horribly.

But they’re going after meat eaters. They’re trying to get meat eaters to switch over to something, at least part of the time, that is better for the planet, right? I mean, we all know that feed lots are a semi-terrible thing. I would even take the semi out, right?

Cows can’t digest corn, which causes all kinds of problems, which causes antibiotics, which causes all this—and that’s, even aside from the methane and the carbon footprint and all that, that’s messing up the planet. So Impossible is doing a cool thing. I think Beyond Meat is doing a cool thing.

I think [Eat] JUST is pretty cool. I mean, making eggs out of mung bean, I mean, essentially, that is a cool thing for people who—I mean, you might have evolved into a vegetarian or a vegan, but we all started way back when, as meat eaters. And so I think that sort of—that is, maybe genetically—I don’t know anything about genetics, but I don’t know if that’s just sort of part of us, which is why we do want those analogs, even if we’re trying to be more plant-based. So, I think those are really, really cool things.

I can’t think of a brand off the top of my head that’s doing a really awful job. I mean, most brands that you end up seeing, if you see them for any period of time at Whole Foods or any of the other sort of natural channel places that you shop, they’ve got it going on. I think what is true about all food brands is, man, I think that the average consumer would look at you as the owner of a food brand and think you’ve just got it made.

But I don’t think they do. I mean, I think food brands are running on thin margins. I think that they are paying an awful lot in slotting fees. I think they’re paying a lot in marketing. And so that’s what makes it, I think, tough for any food brand to break through.

But some of those guys—and RX, we already talked about them. I think they’ve done a great job, and they’re doing an even better job. There are some small guys that I know of. There’s a guy named Mark Samuel who runs a brand called IWON Organics. It’s all one word, I-W-O-N.

But he’s basically taking things like tortilla chips and puffs and breakfast cereal, and he’s putting a good quality plant-based protein because and one of the things that I talk about a lot is, we eat too many carbohydrates in general, which is how we get our bodies to not behave us. And what the world does is it says, “All right, we’re eating too many carbs. Let’s get rid of them. Let’s just get rid of them, man. Let’s not eat any of them. Or let’s eat 20 grams a day.”

But somebody like Mark is taking a carbohydrate-based food, or a high-carb food like a chip or a puff, and putting protein in it, and therefore balancing those macronutrients, and making it okay to eat. I think your body understands those three macronutrients when they’re balanced.

Gary Nowacki: So it’s interesting that a couple of the brands you mentioned, they’re Impossible, Beyond Meat. Just, you said, use the word analog. And that’s sort of interesting, isn’t it?

That all three of them have said to a consumer, “Hey, you’re not going to give up mayo. You like mayo. But maybe if you’re a vegan, you want a good tasting mayo option without eggs. Maybe if you’re a meat eater, you want something that’s really close to a beef burger, but you want to do your share to save the planet or to have a lighter footprint.”

So it’s kind of a stepping stone approach, right? It’s getting inside the head of the consumer and saying, “How can we give you what you want, but maybe in a baby step format?”

Eric Kiker: I think that’s what it’s all about. I mean, it’s what I talked about earlier, about using your Instagram to sort of get some little tips and tricks to people. My brand is called The Digestible Brand. And digestible, of course, as you would probably guess, is a double meaning.

It’s about food, but it’s about something you can understand. And consumers are busy. I think we’re easily confused because we get so much sort of conflicting information when it comes to food. “Eggs are good,” then, “Eggs are bad.” “Coffee is good,” then, “Coffee is bad.” We don’t really know what to trust.

There was a study that I read about where a bunch of people—and people that shop the Natural Channel. And people were asked, “What’s the difference between non-GMO and organic?” And the majority of people thought they were the same thing.

So they’re not. I mean, there are definitely shades of gray differences. And if you learn about Non-GMO Project Verified, you discover that—I don’t know, something—they use the stat of 80% of all foods that are genetically modified or done so to make them impervious to herbicides. Right?

And so right, there you go, “Oh, well, there’s something in common with organic because if you’ve got organic, you’re not using herbicides, right?” But the fact that people don’t know the difference, the people that if you asked—speaking about non-GMOs, if you said, “Are non-GMOs good or bad?” I think people would say one or the other. And then you’d say, “Why?” and they would just go blank on you.

So, it’s all about baby steps. It’s like, “How can I give this person that I want to be loyal to my brand—”, because it’s cheaper to hold onto somebody than it is to try to get somebody new. “How do I give them a little bit of information at a time, which doesn’t put a tremendous strain on my marketing budget, for one? And secondly, is understandable and usable by that person, so that next time they’re talking to a friend at a cocktail party or at dinner, my name might come up. My brand name might come up as somebody who gave them a tip that is helping them.” I’m a broken record when it comes to that. So, yeah, it’s baby steps.

Gary Nowacki: I’ll tell you a funny personal story. My wife is a vegetarian, has been for about 15 years. And so, I remember in the early days of her being a vegetarian, she would miss a juicy burger or bacon or something like that. But slowly, she became grossed out by these things.

So, lately I’ve been trying Impossible Burger. I’ve been trying Beyond Meat. They’re fantastic products, and as a meat eater, I feel really good eating them because, for all the reasons you mentioned, about farm-raised meat or factory-raised meat. But in the case of my wife, she won’t touch them. She won’t touch Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat.

Eric Kiker: Why?

Gary Nowacki: They look and taste and feel too much like real meat to her.

Eric Kiker: Right.

Gary Nowacki: So, she would rather stick with her old-school veggie burger, some of the brands that you mentioned, than experience something that’s too much like meat.

Eric Kiker: I get it. I was a vegan for a year. And I did it because I—out of curiosity, but I think secretly, I was trying to lose some weight. And I think that drive is one of the things that maybe is driving people to try the plant-based air quote, “meats,” because I think that’s sort of like a thing that drives well, two-thirds of us, right, trying to lose weight.

But I became a vegan not because of ethical concerns. I mean, I still was cool with honey and leather and things like that, but it was the same thing. I craved that analog. And so, what I ended up doing was eating a lot of soy-based “meat” kind of products, again with the air quotes.

And they’re all right, but then I was eating an awful lot of soy, and the jury’s kind of out on soy. But soy is also one of the most genetically modified crops. So, I was kind of glad when CrossFit came along and they said I came into the gym and proudly pronounced that I was a vegan. And they were like, “We’ll give you two weeks.” And they were right.

I think it was 10 days before I started eating meat again. I just couldn’t handle the load of the fitness methodology. But yeah, I mean, it’s complicated when it comes to that. Is it so much like meat that it reminds me that there are animals that we’re using for food, and in many cases, they’re not being humanely raised?

Gary Nowacki: You think there are other opportunities out there for food and CBG companies to innovate along the lines of these analogs? Obviously, plant-based protein is scorching hot right now. Beyond Meat just announced they’re going public. I’m sure Impossible is not far behind.

Eric Kiker: Right.

Gary Nowacki: So that horse is out of the barn there. But are there other analogs that you think food companies ought to be looking into?

Eric Kiker: I think anything that you can do, it’s either an analog for something that maybe could be made better because it’s hurting the environment or I think of analogs is just somebody who took something that was a staple or a commodity, if I want to be a little bit pejorative about it and made it better.

I think of Justin’s, right? I mean, for decades we had Jiffy—or Jiff and Skippy and that was kind of it. And Justin Gold came along and said, “I can make this better.” And it was a classic, sort of like—he was a college student, I think, at the time, when he invented the stuff and he couldn’t keep it in the apartment because his roommates would eat it all.

So, there’s a guy—I mean, that’s an analog, isn’t it? I mean, it’s a nut butter and whoever had cashew nut butter or honey almond nut butter—I think anything in the store that has been made in a way that—it’s kind of a little bit of a diss—it’s a big diss on big food where it’s been cost contained to the point and filled up with ingredients that you can’t understand that some entrepreneur is going to come along and say, “I can make this a little bit better.”

I did a video not too long ago, and I posed this sort of hypothetical situation. I said, ‘What if you decided you wanted to double the price of your product, but you can’t change anything about it? All you can do is provide some additional value to the consumer. What would that value be?’ I left it open-ended.

And I think that’s what the smart food brands are doing. They’re few and far between right now that are going beyond the product. Health Warrior is a brand that I know and love, and I worked on for a while, and they’ve got a section on their website that starts to talk about what to eat, and they go beyond chia seeds and pumpkin seeds and the things that they make.

So, I think those guys are doing a good job, but I think anything in the store that could be uncost-contained, is ripe for what you’re talking about. I mean, certainly anything that has to do with an animal product, we’re going to see analogs, plant-based analogs, right? I mean, that’s the big difference. Is it an animal or is it a plant?

Gary Nowacki: So, when you look at the really big food and CPG companies, and you look at their struggles to innovate –you deal with a lot of companies, Eric—how much do you see these companies breaking the mold, and how much do you see them being in this mode where there’s just not a lot of innovation until they just decide to go acquire a small, disruptive company?

Eric Kiker: Yeah, it depends on the big company. I mean, I think you’re starting to see sort of like you’re starting to separate the—a sexist analogy, I guess, but the men from the boys, right?

Some brands like Kellogg, they go out, and they get RX. And, yeah, RX is taking some heat for letting some people go—I gave them some of that heat—but, yet, they’re leaving these guys alone to the point where they’re still able to innovate this brand, and they’re doing what a big brand should do.

They’re giving them access to capital, they’re giving them access to distribution, manufacturing, and in terms of what they’re doing and how they’re talking, they’re staying the hell out of the way. If your processes are so big and laborious that you get in the way of the people that are really thinking about that stuff, you’re going to fail, and you’re going to be back to cost containing and, right, putting crappy stuff in there, so you can make more money to satisfy your shareholders.

Gary Nowacki: It’s interesting. I’ve been involved with technology for the food industry for over 25 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more stress and demand to innovate than what I’m seeing today.

You look at what’s going on at Kraft Heinz, you look at what’s been going on at Campbell Soup. Shareholders are not going to just let these big brands go along and maybe produce good financial results and maybe not produce good financial results. Are you seeing that in the clients you’re dealing with, too, Eric?

Eric Kiker: We deal with smaller brands on purpose, and we’re a smaller agency. I mean, we’ve got 35 people, so Kraft Heinz is probably not going to come to us. Conagra is probably not going to come to us, but a smaller brand would, that wants to make a difference, that wants to innovate.

And it’s funny, because we live in a bell curve society where the majority of the people that are shopping for food probably aren’t clamoring for innovative new natural channel superfood, you know, da, da, da, da, da. Yet that’s where the food industry seems to be wanting to go.

And I think what—they’re picking up on something, it might be through some research or it might be just through the air, that people do want to do better. The stats vary based on who you talk to, but I’ve read as high as 96% of people say they want to eat healthier, right? Who wouldn’t want to eat—who would say, “Yes, I want to eat less healthy, I want to be diseased or overweight and sad and miserable.” Nobody’s going to say that. I don’t know what those 4% were thinking. Yet they just don’t know how.

So, I think in terms of your original question about innovation, innovation for me—and I’ll predict it right now and see if anybody goes along with it. Innovation is going to come less from what goes in the package and more from the information that is shared with the consumer about how to do exactly what I just said, how to eat better, how to get my body to do what I want it to do because it ain’t doing it.

Gary Nowacki: Do you have any brand examples of that? I mean, is RXBAR an example of that? Because—

Eric Kiker: I think RXBAR is a potential example. I think by being really transparent about what’s in the package, you’re helping people.

But if you just eat a serving of nut butter, for instance—I mean, using my theory, and this is part of how I’ve gotten to where I feel like I have the secret about what to eat—and everybody’s different, so this is just for me, I may be stray data. But nut butter is high fat, very little carbohydrate, very little protein, right?

So, what RX could be doing is saying, “Here’s how you make this nut butter a perfect snack.” By adding some carbohydrate and adding some protein from some other brand, some other product, right? Go get some Applegate humanely raised chicken and eat it with the nut butter. Maybe get some blueberries or blackberries that have some fiber to throw in there and all of a sudden, you’ve got a macronutrient profile that again, for me, is balanced.

Your body knows what to do with it, and RX has then helped somebody. RX don’t make blueberries or blackberries, you know what I mean? They’re being a little altruistic.

Gary Nowacki: I’m here with Eric Kiker of The Digestible Brand. Eric’s a marketing and innovation thought leader.

Eric, once a company has innovated and they’ve got a good product that is selling well on the shelves, what sort of tips or thought process do you have to out market and get the word out about that brand?

Eric Kiker: Well, most brands are—when it comes to marketing budget, most startups especially are cost-constrained, right? They don’t have a lot of budget constraints. So, I think the best way to do it, man, is social. I mean, social is a great way to talk to people about what the brand is all about if you will go beyond the product.

Again, I think that demos are a great way to do market research with people. Most people use demos as a way to get somebody to buy it off of the shelf right then and there. And I don’t think that’s a great way to use demos at all. I think that’s a complete waste of time. I think a demo is the perfect spot to talk to your consumer, show them the package, get them to read some of your romance copy, get them to look at your ingredient panel, ask them what is drawing them closer to you and what’s pushing them away, and then fix it. You know what I mean?

I think that’s a great way to market a new brand. I think using social, just as I’ve already said, instead of pretty pictures on Instagram, start to tell people what’s really different about the brand and how it can really fit into their lives. You can knock the competitor a little bit if you want or not, but I think it’s pretty cool to let people know what they’re buying and sort of like what the other guy is doing, that maybe we’re doing a little bit better.

I think the story is something that most people just completely ignore. We couldn’t find a nut butter that did this, and so we made our own. Come on. I mean, that’s good. It may be true, but what is it that the best story for me is a story that says we’re putting our fist in the air on behalf of you because we understand that you, blank.

I mean, what comes after that? I’ve said consumers would love it and be more loyal to you right off the bat if you just said, “We understand that you have a hard time understanding what to eat to get your body to do what you want it to do, we understand.

Gary Nowacki: And when you say you can knock the competitors a little bit, you’re not talking about going at them full frontal like the beer corn syrup wars. You’re not talking about that kind of idea.

Eric Kiker: I don’t think when you’re a startup, you can really do that because I think you need to be a little bit nicer. I’m a startup. I’ve got lots of opinions about things, but I try to be nice about it because I don’t have all the answers and I don’t feel like making anybody angry.

So, I would rather just sort of like, put an opinion out there and see who gravitates toward it and then I can have a conversation with them. I think that’s what a brand can do to a food brand. See who gravitates to your message.

If you start with an advocacy position for your consumer, right, and I’m making a fist, and I do that a lot. Put a fist in the air on behalf of your consumer, and it’s more than just, you need a guilt-free snack, and I can find a snack that I can feel good about in every aisle of the grocery store 100 times. Right?

Put a fist in the air on behalf of those bigger problems that I have. I don’t know how to sleep. I’ve talked to three people in the last week who said, “Yeah, I’ve got insomnia.” And they just kind of laugh it off, right. Talk about weird stuff like food sensitivity testing. It doesn’t matter if I’m eating a whole bunch of organic, non-GMO project verified tomatoes, if those fruits actually cause an inflammatory response in my body.

So, I think that’s another thing that food brands could talk about, is a little bit of the new science around, sort of like, what sets us off from an inflammatory perspective. And that would help me if I didn’t know about food sensitivity testing. I bet 5% of people even have heard the term.

Gary Nowacki: Now, you’ve talked a lot about connecting to the consumer and really problem solving, advocating for the consumer. Got to understand them first, obviously, but filling a niche, solving a problem for the consumer.

On some of your blogs and videos I’ve seen, you also talk about the story-based aspect of this. So when I think of a brand having a story, I think of maybe Bob’s Red Mill or Dave’s Killer Bread. So how does that play into all of this?

Eric Kiker: Well, yeah, it’s huge. I think that having—I’m a comic book fan, so origin stories for me are always big. They’re always with superheroes. So why can’t a brand be a superhero brand?

Dave’s Killer Bread has that kind of story. Perfect Bar, who are friends of mine that I worked with years ago, they have an amazing story. Eight siblings piled into an RV by their dad, who was the vice president of nutrition for Jack LaLanne, who you and I are old enough to remember Jack LaLanne. Most people don’t.

And he was the original. Had a TV show, wore a unitard, and taught people how to exercise back when it was called calisthenics. And they just drove around Southern California, and their dad, because he wanted them to get good nutrition and they wouldn’t eat their vegetables, he dehydrated vegetables, ground them up in a mortar and pestle, and mixed them with honey and peanut butter. And that’s a great story.

That’s something that people could gravitate toward. And those siblings are still running the company. You go to Expo West and you meet Bill and Lee and all of their brothers and sisters who are still running the company.

So, I think a story, we love stories. We call them human interest stories when they’re on 60 Minutes or the news or whatever. So why wouldn’t a prospective consumer love your story, too? Especially if at the end of that story, it’s like, “Man, I solved a big problem for myself, bigger than I needed a snack, and I want to help solve that problem for you, too.”

It leads to a greater conversation. It leads to a conversation. Like most brands put up an Instagram page or a Facebook page, who do you think ever goes there? I mean, people ought to be going there because you’re giving them information and inspiration that can help their lives.

Gary Nowacki: I want to thank my guests on the podcast today, Eric Kiker of [The] Digestible Brand. Eric, thank you so much for being here.

Eric Kiker: Thanks, man.

Gary Nowacki: And what’s the best way for people to get in touch with you if they want to?

Eric Kiker: Thedigestiblebrand.com is my site, and so I would love for people to see that. I would really love for people to go to my new fledgling YouTube channel and subscribe, and that way you can get all the videos that I’ve and doing uninterrupted. And then look for me on LinkedIn. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

Gary Nowacki: Excellent. Well, thanks so much again, Eric, for being with us here today.

Eric Kiker: Thanks, Gary. It was fine. [music]

This podcast is produced for informational purposes and does not constitute any scientific, legal, or medical advice.

The views and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are those of the guest alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and positions of the host or any other entity or organization. Listeners are encouraged to listen with an open mind and form opinions of their own.

This podcast originally aired on May 1, 2019.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This