In the run-up to FamilyFarmed’s 15th Anniversary Good Food EXPO — March 22-23 in Chicago— we invite you to meet Steve Gaither, a longtime friend of FamilyFarmed who is CEO of the JB Chicago branding and creative agency. Steve describes his company’s approach to marketing and its recent merger with C.A. Fortune, a sales and marketing company with national reach.
Hear more from Steve on an EXPO Good Food Trade Show panel, “Attracting E-Commerce Customers,” Friday, March 22, 4 p.m. at the Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum on the campus of University of Illinois at Chicago. Ticket information is at the end of the article.
FamilyFarmed: JB Chicago is described as an
integrated agency. Please describe what that means.
Steve Gaither: It means we are a holistic branding and creative agency as well as an agnostic marketing agency… we don’t care what works as long as it works!
FamilyFarmed: Your new partnership with C.A. Fortune
is a big deal. How will this benefit JB Chicago and its clients?
Steve Gaither: We’re an independently run, wholly owned division of C.A. Fortune. So, this means we have:
Access to their BUILD sales incubator
Access to in-depth CPG/category data and analytics, as
well as their full analytics team
Access to each retail buyer group (Austin – Whole Foods
Market, Cincinnati-Kroger, Bentonville, Arkansas-Walmart, Phoenix-Sprouts, etc.)
An awesome partner that wants to add value to JB and our client
C.A. Fortune’s privately held culture and level of client
service mesh very well with JB’s own values, making this a seamless and beneficial
move for both parties
Notes from C.A.
This latest transaction with JB Chicago helps solidify
C.A. Fortune’s place as the nation’s leading lifestyle brand agency for
consumer products. With offices across the U.S., the company offers its clients
a holistic solution from brand incubation and sales management to marketing and
branding, retail services and beyond.
Much more than a sales agency, the C.A. Fortune team is
constantly looking to evolve and redefine the CPG brand sector via
comprehensive and high-quality service offerings from those most knowledgeable
and experienced in the industry.
FamilyFarmed: Your client list is a mix of food and
non-food companies/organizations. Do the marketing and advertising needs of
food clients differ greatly from those of other clients? If so, how?
The discovery and branding process is
the same. We unearth the key insights to craft the story of the brand through
the lens of the customer, regardless of the vertical
The creative platform is similar: the
look, feel and voice of the brand. But the main deliverable for food and beverage
is the package design — the ultimate 1.5-second punch in the face
Tactics may be similar, but in
different priorities based on the stage of the food and bev company
The block and tackle are first — the
tactics that don’t drive ROI [return on investment] but are necessary for ROI. The
website, pitch deck, sell sheet and tradeshow booth.
Typically, the earlier stage companies
should focus their efforts on their own e-commerce, Amazon and trade spend for
Once they hit a critical mass of
distribution, they can start focusing on social, digital, experiential and
other mass mediums.
I always argue it’s more cost
effective to catch the fish in the pond (at the point of retail) than to drive
fish from another pond into your retailers.
FamilyFarmed: As you know, FamilyFarmed works with many early-stage entrepreneurs through programs such as the Good Food Accelerator, EXPO, and Financing & Innovation Conference. For startups seeking to develop a go-to-market strategy, what first steps should they take (besides becoming a JB Chicago client)?
Steve Gaither: Any early-stage company should have a
multichannel approach and focus on velocity and sales with margins over
Their own e-commerce/Shopify: There is
a cap on the amount of revenue, but margins are in your favor
Amazon: Work with a quality third-party
vendor. Weigh the difference between retainer-based and commission-based
Alternative foodservice: QSR
[Quick-Service Restaurant], hospitality, airport, office delivery, etc. Higher
distribution cost, but lower trade spend
Retail: Velocity over distribution.
Start small and see what works to increase turns between packaging, pricing,
placement and display.
A correct package design is usually
the cheapest, most impactful lever on velocity.
Basically, shoot bullets, not
FamilyFarmed: One thing you hear a lot from
entrepreneurs is that they don’t know what they don’t know. You have worked
with a lot of early-stage businesses. If you can generalize, where are their
learning curves steepest (and are there places in which startups generally know
what they’re getting themselves into)?
Focusing on distribution over velocity
Not listening to the consumer or being
willing to pivot
Oversimplification of other companies’
path to success: It’s hard to rinse and repeat the online rise of the food
unicorns of the recent past
RXBAR and its gym approach: Founders Peter
Rahal and Jared Smith were brilliant at hitting the gyms and grab and go’s, but
the distributors now own those relationships
Online (Amazon/Shopify/Etc.) are
necessary paths, but the Amazons, Facebooks and Googles of the world have
turned it into a bidding war with diminishing returns
Trade spend needs to be thought of
“above the line” with distribution and brokerage, and you need to have a
placeholder of 20-30 percent for free fills, slotting, demos and promo pricing.
Any product requiring consumer
education is DOA. Creating a category is impossible, stealing from a few are
much more effective.
FamilyFarmed: Optional bonus question: You have
participated in many of FamilyFarmed’s Good Food EXPOs. What would you say are
the biggest advantages for small businesses in exhibiting at the event?
Exposure to the panels of experts and peers
that have “been there, done that”
Access and introductions to buyers and
Not just for distribution and dollars;
more for their needs and problems they need to solve
Access to consumers and customers
The ultimate focus group that doesn’t
cost you $20K for qualitative research
The FF gang is a talented and
To learn from Steve Gaither and other great experts at FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Trade Show on Friday, March 22, please purchase your ticket on the Good Food EXPO website. The Good Food Festival on Saturday, March 23 is free, but pre-registration is requested.