What makes The Perfect Granola, well, perfect? Ask Michele Liddle, the brand's owner, and she can go on for days.
"Everyone wants to have their purchase mean something," she explains. "Granola is such a saturated market. We are special. We’re nutritionally perfect, healthy, mission-based, and dedicated to community support."
Liddle knows this after years of honing the brand she started in 2016 out of her Victor, New York, kitchen as a way to feed the hungry. The culinary school graduate has since donated thousands of pounds of food to the unsheltered community and continues to donate 5% of profits to homeless shelters, outreach centers, and food banks.
And she's not the only one who thinks thinks highly of her product; the brand is now available in regional grocery stores like Tops and Wegmans, in addition to thousands of Kroger and Walmart stores throughout the United States. At least part of this success, Liddle says, is that retail partners are lured by the brand's charitable tie-in.
"We’re able to support diversity initiatives and their social missions," she says. "Kroger wants brands working to eliminate hunger and support food banks. We take that super seriously."
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Still, these relationships were forged in a very old-fashioned way. A self-described "anti-millennial," Liddle initiated many of her sales relationships by Googling category managers, making cold calls, and scheduling in-person sales meetings.
Those meetings are where she makes her bold sales pitch, one that not only convinces category managers of Perfect Granola's value as a product but also its ability to attract customers.
"How are you going to get that product off the shelf? That’s the number one thing buyers want to see," Liddle says. "A 'yes' from a buyer is step one. If that product doesn't get off the shelf, you’re not going to survive the category review six months down the road."
Much of the retail strategy actually takes place once you're inside the store. Some retailers, including Walmart, allow you to choose where to slot your product on the shelf, which creates an interesting equation for Liddle's brand. It might seem intuitive to place Perfect Granola on the shelf near the Quaker oats, but there's no way her small business can compete with a multinational corporation on price. Liddle's product is more likely to sell on the natural foods aisle, where customers are actively searching for natural, healthful products like hers.
Another big lesson was growing too fast. Liddle was able to secure deals with big-name distributors early on only to discover that her small company might have been overly ambitious.
"We were not big enough to support them," she says of those distributors. "It was a great accomplishment, but I’m not a funded company; I don’t have a million dollars to promote and get on the shelf. The orders came in quicker than I could fill."
Liddle grew from these hard lessons with the support from numerous accelerators and mentorship programs she's participated in, most notably the Stacy's Rise Project that offers expert mentors from PepsiCo.
"Money is helpful but it's nothing compared to mentorship where there's somebody to support you," Liddle says. "I really value having someone to tell I need help or a connection. If you have someone like Pepsi making the call for you, that warm introduction really means everything. What you do with your time is on you, but to get your face out there is important."
Want to learn more about running a Food & Beverage Company? Check out these Hello Alice Guides:
- Diversify Your Food & Beverage Product Offerings
- Scale Your Food & Beverage Manufacturing
- Learn About Food & Beverage Distribution