Ideal Phase 1 Launch Channels for 2023

I get this asked about this a lot because most early-stage startups are in Phase one, like ~80% of them. Where do I start when ‘big’ premium chains like Whole Foods totally ignore me?

Looking ahead to next year, here’s where I stand (which you should consider an update from my book if it differs) on Phase 1 selling:

Stay local. Did I mention local? This allows you to develop multiple impressions among an early audience as quickly as possible (the golden rule of all advertising)

  • in-person events/farmer’s markets, local gift shows
  • health food independents
  • catering insertions for beverage brands (find large, elite wedding planners
  • upscale cafes, coffee shops (not Starbucks, a tier above with decent foot traffic)
  • upscale C-stores (e.g., Foxtrot, the one-off in an affluent zip code; Manhattan has over a hundred of these alone)
  • office parties (yes, they’re back and probably more important than ever)
  • ‘fresh’ tier supermarket sub-chains: Kroger Fresh Fare, Sobeys Urban Fresh in Toronto
  • local specialty retailers (1-10 stores selling both processed and natural products)
    • Seattle: Met Market
    • LA: Erewhon, Bristol Farms
    • New York: Eatalay, Fresh Direct (yes, the website)
    • Toronto: McEwan Fine Foods, Pusateri’s

If you’re Canadian, you’ll want to focus even more on event sales and cafes since specialty retailers are not easy to find. 

None of the above (except fresh-tier supermarkets) have a ton of weekly foot traffic compared to Walmart or Target, or even a local Safeway. But, the % of shoppers OK with a price premium and primed to explore and browse is very high. 

If you hustle to get into a bunch of these channels in 1-2 years, folks will start to remember your brand. These are also channels where you can begin with premium pricing near the artisan level and see what happens when you bring it down (e.g., from 200% over category unit average to just 100%, assuming your unit economics support this move).

Finally, I always encourage folks to combine event marketing/selling with traditional retail sales so that you can interact with fans and iterate based on feedback.

Dr. James Richardson

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