Trish tells us about trends in CPG & how she evaluates a brand’s performance.
Today we speak with Trish Wesevich, founder of Capital Kitchens, and now a founding partner at Brand & Mortar Group, a boutique style consultancy for CPG and Restaurant Brands. She explains who should be using a shared kitchen, how to get early traction as a CPG product, and the questions you should be asking yourself if you want to grow your CPG business.
Step By Step Questions To Ask Yourself If You Want To Grow Your CPG Brand:
- What does our social media look like and how active it is? Social is key to driving in store conversions
- What sort of promotions are we are running and how often? The brands that increase their velocity are constantly doing product samples statewide.
- Who is analyzing our sampling strategy and making our insights from these promotions actionable? Many brands are just doing sample promotions and going home. That data should be analyzed and the information utilized for feedback to direct marketing strategy.
- How does our product ingredient list stand up to our competitors? Customers are reading labels now and it’s affecting buying behavior.
- How does our product look on the shelf compared to competitors? Does it stand out or is it just noise? Packaging that stands out and is effectively descriptive is key to attracting buyers in the aisles.
- Can we spend a bit more on slotting fees to get better positioning on the shelves? If we aren’t at eye level, we are already at a disadvantage. Would it be smart to move some budget from elsewhere to slotting fees?
- What are customers saying about our product and our branding? The best brands are constantly looking for feedback and iterating.
Chris: Trish, can you tell us about yourself and how you came to understand Food & Bev and CPG so well?
Trish: I moved to Austin in 1985, from Lake Charles, Louisiana. I was a private chef, and caterer for many years. After being a one-woman-show for almost a decade, I thought the grass would be greener if I worked for someone else and let them handle the bills. I joined a restaurant group here in Austin and helped them establish a restaurant concept. I learned quickly that after working for yourself, taking direction from someone else is really difficult.
However, during that time, I developed a deep understanding of building out kitchen space, going through permitting with the City of Austin, and all the challenging aspects of this journey. This knowledge along with my unwillingness to be managed, led me to open a shared kitchen space, Capital Kitchens. I basically had resigned and a friend of mine walked in and asked how my job was going. I let her know I had just put in my notice and she asked if I wanted to help start a shared kitchen. I was all in right away. Capital Kitchens exposed me to so many amazing brands as they were starting, launching, and getting traction, that it gave some incredible insight into F&B and CPG.
Chris: What’s your biggest piece of advice for business owners who are about to get involved in the permitting process?
Trish: Don’t buck the system. Take it seriously, be polite and respectful. Ask for help. If you do these things, they will help you navigate the complexities of the process.
Chris: As small business consultants in Austin, we are lucky that our business owners can use shared resources like co-working and shared kitchens. Can you explain who should be using a shared kitchen?
Trish: There are a lot of variables but if you’re a consumer product good and you’re launching a product, and you’re not financially prepared to immediately build out a kitchen or launch with a co-packer, then a shared kitchen is a good affordable option to get you going. It can also be a collaborative space in which to gain knowledge from others who are farther down the road. I still remember, when we started, our first client was Michi Ramen. They had a Japanese chef who would come in for 12 hours at a time to make broth. An hourly kitchen rental was perfect for them.
Our second client was Good Seed Burger. They are my favorite vegan burger on the market. Back then, we didn’t use the term CPG. It was these young brands that wanted to experiment and get really good at production without big capital costs. Shortly thereafter Daily Greens came into Capital Kitchens to launch with a very small footprint. Then we knew we had product market fit. Capital Kitchens was for restaurants and CPG brands that hadn’t raised crazy amounts of capital and needed to experiment with production and prove market fit.
Chris: What else does a shared kitchen provide to early brands besides flexible contracts and low cost?
Trish: Well, Capital Kitchens was in a converted building and our anchor tenant was a large tech company who catered meals out of our kitchen to their staff downtown. This was a great way to offset high rental rates for the startups. Ultimately, all my kitchen tenants became partners. We were experimenting, testing, and constantly sharing. It was more of a co-working space than a kitchen and so I coined the prhase in 2014 Culinary Co-Working Space. Ultimately, brands would graduate from Capital Kitchens as they scaled, increasing our reputation as a place to launch and making space for the next few CPG startups.
Chris: You also started the Austin Food Trailer Chamber with a few other folks. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Trish: It was four of us and we started the Austin Food Trailer Chamber to support food trucks in Austin. Before the chamber, you just had a list-serv of a bunch of food trucks. Someone managed and ran the list-serv and then they would get out of the industry and the list would get old or lost. So Joel Paprocki from Insure My Food got four of us together and we began having meetings and figuring out if we could help each other sell things, coordinate places to park, red flag certain landlords or challenging spots, etc. It’s free to join and there are something like 1,300 food truck members.
Chris: So tell us about Brand & Mortar Group. What is it? Who should be speaking to you?
Trish: Brand & Mortar Group is a female boutique-style consulting group that services the restaurant and consumer product goods industry. There are four of us and we each have specific skill sets that compliment each other. We also all have a lot of experience operating in Austin so we have insider information that can help make things easier for our clients.
Because of our experience, we are able to work with early brands that are finding their position in the market either as a CPG brand or as a restaurant, but we are also able to add value to existing brands and restaurants that need a refresh or a new direction. A lot of our clients are restaurants who are wanting to take a product idea and sell it in retail. They don’t know how to do that: what packaging they need, what the FDA will require, who to target for selling, etc.
We also get a lot of clients who need re-branding, a brand refresh, or a line extension. Liz Berry is one of our partners and she has done incredible graphic design work and branding for some big names in town, including Stubb’s.
We get a lot of restaurant concepts from out of town that want to get into Austin but aren’t sure where to start. We help them avoid the locations that never do well, the landlords who aren’t easy to work with, the positioning that they would do well in re: Austin’s competitive landscape. One of our partners, Natalie Gazaui has worked with so many restaurant groups in Austin. She is also an incredible pastry chef. All this hands on experience helps us plug into the management team of a new concept really quickly. They can also come to us for product quality testing, taste testing.
Finally, we are often consulted to give feedback on a new concept or idea. We can do that quickly and effectively and get an idea really far in a short amount of time based on our collective experience and knowledge of the Austin market.
Chris: You’ve mentioned the “infrastructure for Texas consumer product goods”. What does that mean?
Trish: There is a ton of infrastructure in Texas for CPG but it’s not easily accessible and in one place. That’s one of the things we are working on with a client. For example, if you have a beverage product, it’s hard to find all the bottlers in Texas. Or you have a food product, it’s hard to find all the co-packers in Texas. Then once you find all these people, you have to interview each of them to find out their minimum order quantities, their packaging requirements, their financing terms, etc.
Chris: What are the trends you are seeing in CPG?
Trish: The obvious ones are: vegan, plant-based products, cleaner-label ingredients. innovative packaging. With packaging, fortunately, people are starting to consider how much waste is involved. We actually just met with a company that has a complete zero waste concept in their packaging.
Chris: As small business consultants in Austin, we are constantly facing the fact that resources are scarce. This leads us to constantly look for ways to get traction. What strategies are you seeing CPG brands use to get traction more quickly right now? Same with restaurants looking to go CPG?
Trish: Usually, if you have a restaurant, you have a built-in following and a lot of people already know your brand. In this scenario, you are going to want to start selling to your own customer base first and get feedback quickly. The goal is to use this initial customer base to build word of mouth, get reviews, and build a larger audience. It’s also best to start in the smaller retailers like Wheatsville CoOp or Central Market. They are relatively easy to get into. I think it’s also a great idea to apply for the HEB Quest For Texas Best. Winning that or competitions like that makes it a lot easier to get onto shelves and get in front of customers.
Chris: If I’m a CPG brand and I’m stagnating or stuck in the million or two revenue range, and I want to get to the next level, what questions should I be asking myself?
Trish: First, I’m going to see what their social media looks like and how active it is. Then I’m going to look at what sort of promotions they are running and how often. Promotions are expensive but they are key. You’ll notice that a lot of the winning brands are in stores, year after year, doing product sampling. Next thing you know, they are in more and more retailers and then all of a sudden, they’ve been acquired. I believe you have to be in stores, sampling products statewide. Then I would look at your sampling strategy. Who is analyzing the sampling strategy? Who is gathering our insights from these promotions? Then I would start looking at competition and asking how our product stands up to the ingredient list compared to our competitors? How does our product look on the shelf compared to competitors? Can we spend a bit more on slotting fees to get better positioning on the shelves? Then I’m going to be asking about customer surveys and feedback. What are customers saying about our product and our branding?
As you can see, if you have gotten traction and are asking these different questions, then you need people on your team dedicated to these different questions. You can’t do all of this as a one-person show. You need a team or at least some advisors who are willing to step in and help.
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