At Evolve Brands, Strategy is Everything

In Edible-Alpha® podcast #47, Tera interviews Frank Jimenez, Managing Partner at Evolve Brands, a Jackson, WI brand portfolio company with mindful snacking brands Supernola and Gorilly Goods. Frank worked in a variety of roles at Hershey’s before venturing out to support emerging food brands. Evolve Brands acquired both Supernola and Gorilly Goods in March 2018, taking advantage of Gorilly Goods’ unique manufacturing facility and existing distribution to continue to grow both of those companies.

Evolve Brands’ products stand out in the competitive snack food category by “checking all the boxes” that many modern consumers are looking for. This includes producing only organic products, 0% waste, running on 100% renewable energy, not manufacturing with common allergens like gluten or peanuts, and not having processed/refined ingredients. They low-temperature dehydrate products rather than bake them and soak/sprout many ingredients to aid in digestion and flavor, allowing them to further stand from competitors. They don’t emphasize all of the parts of their brand to consumers right now, but having multiple points of differentiation that they can draw upon allows them to stay resilient in the face of a changing competitive market. Evolve Brand’s control over its manufacturing processes has allowed it to produce unique products at a consistent quality and at the scale they need.

In physical stores, Evolve Brands strategically chose to pursue a single-serving product strategy to open up both placement possibilities in store as well as distribution in non-traditional channels where snacks are prominent, like convenience stores. Given the growing and strong consumer interest in health and wellness, convenience stores and other non-traditional channels are starting to become avenues for healthy products. Because of this channel shift and because many other product categories have developed healthier product sets, Frank sees the consumer continuing to demand more healthy snacks in more places.

Evolve Brands creates many touch points to engage their target consumer. In the digital space, in addition to a social media calendar to drive engagement and build relationships, they also have targeted 15-20% of their sales to be online (compared with an average of 5% for most food companies), including through Amazon Prime as well as through individual sales and subscriptions through their website. All of these avenues require fully dedicated staff (or contracted partners) and marketing spend to be successful.

Positioning within the store is always a challenge for snacks, since they can be placed in multiple places within in a store and because they are often an unplanned or impulse purchase. Snacks that have health or other claims, like the ones in Evolve Brands’ portfolio, could warrant placing them in an unexpected place for the consumer, further complicating placement. Evolve works to position their snacks next to traditional snacks because that is where the consumer expects to find them.

As a growing company, strategy is everything at Evolve Brands. Since the snack category is crowded, they have focused their efforts on sales and marketing to build and continually support a strong distribution footprint of around 2,500 independent, natural and co-op grocery stores. From that position of strength and with valuable data to support their strategy, they can evaluate opportunities in more traditional retail channels.

Each type of retailer needs a different marketing and sales toolkit to collaborate on successfully getting the product off the shelf. The Evolve team approaches retailers with a fully loaded promotional calendar with sales targets, proposed spending and tactical descriptions supported by data to help make the case for why partnering with Evolve will be successful.

For Frank, working in an emerging business is much different than working for Hershey’s. While Frank enjoys the choice and autonomy in how he delivers on business goals with Evolve Brands, he acknowledges that the risk profile in being an entrepreneur is not for everyone, advocating as well that every entrepreneur needs to know when they should walk away. Unlike Hershey’s, the brands in Evolve Brand’s portfolio don’t have name recognition yet and thus, their sales team can’t get meetings or phone calls returned as easily as at a more established company. The selling cycle for younger companies is also longer as a result, necessitating building relationships with bankers and other funders to finance growth and regular operations.

Fortunately for Evolve Brands, their funding group invested for long-term, sustainable growth rather than simply having a goal of flipping the business in 3-5 years. As a portfolio company, they do plan to acquire or create complementary brands in the future, likely in the healthy snack category. Now that they have been gaining traction, they are able to better define and evaluate success as they continue to grow their brands and the business overall.