As a preview to VitaFoods Europe, I want to share a few thoughts on building consumer awareness for branded ingredients.

The Opportunity

Thought leaders and others in the manufacturing and supply chain sectors of the healthy, natural, organic space are beginning to reach consensus that the best way forward to future growth and market success is founded in a partnership strategy or approach. By that, I mean that true innovation in today’s market space requires R&D focus and capabilities that many smaller entrepreneurial companies do not have at the ready. Likewise, there are a host of ingredient suppliers who either serve as brokers/marketers or simply do not have an R&D pipeline for new product discoveries or technological innovations. So the increasingly logical approach is to share that overall responsibility and combine resources to discover, foster and cultivate new ingredients and technologies with implications for improved human health. This increased collaboration allows brand owners and branded raw material suppliers to mix and match their IP to create something greater than the individual contributions might suggest. Now more than ever, successful product introductions, particularly in niche markets, come from a vibrant combination of expertise where players are less silo-driven and more collaborative. In short, you can play in my sandbox, and I will play in yours. Nowhere is this opportunity more pressing than in building consumer demand and awareness for new products and the ingredients, features and benefits driving them. That is very much a shared responsibility with shared accountability in today’s marketplace and brand owners expect legitimate suppliers to actively play a role in consumer education and building demand at the consumer level. Long gone are the days of selling raw ingredients at $X per kilo and good luck with that. The supplier of the near future must approach brand owners with a much more comprehensive approach which addresses consumer positioning, value proposition, and proposed messaging to support ingredient claims. In addition, growing suppliers are also now expected to participate in consumer education and outreach.

The Challenge
Consumer outreach is not cheap. We all know that. It also requires detailed planning and execution and is often beyond the wheelhouse for many ingredient suppliers who focus on B2B communications. So the hurdle is related to both financial concerns and lack of expertise. Yet the expectation lingers, and smart and savvy suppliers are seeking a way forward.

An Approach
May I suggest that the correct path of thinking for a raw ingredient supplier is to outline a program of cost-effective, guerilla-style tactics that can assist in the brand-building process at a reasonable budget. The primary goal here should be to 1) educate consumers about the branded ingredient and 2) send them back to your brand partners to purchase at retail or online.

Tools for consideration include:

– Social media: Choose 2-3 platforms and establish a presence for your branded ingredient. Create a content calendar and post regularly. Feature your brand partners in posts and send consumers back to your Web site or a landing page where participating brand partners are highlighted with live links to their web sites. You can outsource this function for a few thousand dollars a month. You should also allocate some money to purchase social media advertising, boost posts, etc.

– Event sampling: Pick a few key markets for your brand partner and arrange to sample your ingredient (with a card attached leading the individual to a local retailer where the product is sold). Getting included in goody bags for half marathons, yoga retreats is relatively inexpensive and often the sponsoring organization is looking for samples and will gladly include you at no charge.

– Blogger outreach: There are literally thousands of blogs in the “blogosphere” to choose from. Many of them are focused on health and wellness issues or specific disease conditions like obesity, heart health and diabetes. Reach out to prominent bloggers with an offer to supply them with free product samples to try provided they will post in their blog about the experience. You can also encourage them to plan a giveaway or blog promotion built around your ingredient and it’s benefits. Many bloggers will provide coverage for free if they like the product, and those who charge for a review are usually quite reasonable.

There are other ideas but these will give you a starting point. Give up the idea that you need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on print, online and broadcast advertising which you can’t afford, and start thinking about small ways that you can help get the word out through more localized, guerilla tactics. Reaching the consumer is s joint effort between brand owners and suppliers. Suppliers don’t need to do all the heavy lifting, but they need to actively help share the load.