De-Platforming Your Brand

The Summer Fancy Food Show recently wrapped up for 2022. This famous show regularly features, literally exhibits, one of the most common strategic mistakes that the professional dataset in my book warns ambitious founders against if your goal is scaling on a reasonable timeline. 

Platforming products across multiple categories/departments is a common specialty food growth strategy. It has various origins, but one of them is the worst: risk aversion. 

How? By spreading your UPCs around different categories, you are hedging your bets like an index fund. You’re quietly terrified of choosing a hero category, OR you simply don’t have enough sales data and market research to make an educated choice. 

Or, a broker/distributor has correctly informed you that the U/S/W movement of your original UPCs is too slow (e.g., 1-2 U/S/W) to rely on just one category for enough annual sales volume in the specialty food world. 

This bias originates historically from the bias of specialty food brokers/importers and how they do business. They need an administratively simple approach to managing distribution for small businesses, lots of them. So, they pursue a large door count spread to quickly deliver ‘results’ to the client in America’s ~3,000 specialty food outlets. And they simply present a catalog of the client’s offerings for distributors and independent stores to shop from. They don’t push any particular UPC mix. The goal is to use a broad mix of UPCs to increase the odds of a store saying yes and generating a PO. It’s the essence of non-strategic selling because there is little to no intent to support the development of a brand symbol with consumers built around some hero UPCs. The Fancy Food Show is an excellent example of a pure B2B selling strategy.

If your goal is to develop a stable export business to the U.S. in the seven figures, a platform strategy can work (if you can manage the complexities of a multi-category supply chain spread across co-manufacturers). 

But when foreign companies rely on brokers/importers, they generally are disappointed very quickly. And those failures never get revealed in the trade media. 

Platform distribution-led growth is a risk-averse strategy that entices European founders who refuse to locate an operational office in the U.S. and to spend time here to develop the business as a consumer-led movement. 

It is a remote-control, outsourced strategy for growth in the U.S. that seems to be the only way to do business.

I have nothing against selling products in 2-3 categories initially in the U.S. But this has to be seen as an experiment to find a hero category as soon as possible; if you want to grow exponentially.

One way to do this is to sell here online first so that you have some access to consumer feedback (e.g., Amazon reviews, Amazon polls). Even better is to sell here in specialty retail and execute field marketing in one home city to witness your ability to increase velocities firsthand. 

Once you have a hero category identified, you must lay out a plan to pivot the sales team’s focus to supporting it and letting the rest of the business remain stable.

It’s critical not to continue to push the non-hero UPCs because, on a small scale, with experienced brokers, you can easily see growth in your non-strategic UPCs. All this will do is sow doubt that your long-term pivot was wrong. 

Deplatforming, folks, is about creatively killing part of your existing business but doing it in a way that does not sabotage cash flow, overall growth, or retailer/distributor relationships. It’s an act of strategic neglect that your partners overlook. Why? Because you’ve focused them on the hero UPCs and they’re doing well. 

Once the new core of the business performs well, and you can scale it to 2-3x the size of the prior base business, you can begin shutting the latter down through de-listings carefully in a strategic manner. Or, if you have enough dry powder, you can move quickly once you have vital KPIs from the hero UPCs.

Dr. James Richardson

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