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In the very early days of The Supplant Company, when we were just getting the details of the “sugars from fiberconcept, it was really not clear what the right route to market might be.
Marketing new food ingredients is not SaaS and there is no fixed playbook. And while there are now a few success stories, there is still nowhere near an industry consensus. There is also no investor consensus. Over the years, we’ve received a lot of different and conflicting feedback about the best way from the idea to the shelf.
As an ingredients company, whether or not to brand a brand has always been a major point of contention. At one extreme, some investors told us, “We don’t care how you go to market, as long as you do it with a brand.” Conversely, others told us, “If you’re going to invest in brand building, tell us how much you’re going to spend because we want to know how much we’re going to waste.”
Different indeed! Over the past few years, we’ve been figuring out for ourselves what we think makes the most sense. Here are some of the lessons that led us to the view that branding is a huge asset for us in ingredient commercialization, not an unnecessary distraction.
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It makes things easier by taking the heavy lifting off the heavy bit
In some ways, the skepticism is understandable. Hard science is hard. Building great brands is also difficult. Doing both at once is the hardest thing of all. Moreover, the types of people who are good at hard science are often not the types who are good at or experienced at building brands. So why make it even harder on yourself? Stick with what you know – right?
The reason I think this logic fails is that even if you’re good at hard science, the hard bits remain very hard. Some problems inevitably take a lot of time, effort and capital to solve. And even the ones that are more easily solvable in principle are often not as malleable as you’d like them to fit with the perceived market orthodies. This is especially the case with hard science problems.
In general, the best way to move forward is not to put too much weight in the business on the parts of the business whose challenges are the slowest to solve. Having a brand can take the pressure off of solving these problems and give the consumer the immediate ability to frame things the right way.
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It means we don’t have to slide into the status quo
Fitting the perceived orthodoxy of the market is a good example of this. New innovations usually don’t fit perfectly into the status quo’s perceptions of what’s right – that’s certainly the case for us. Seems strange? I can see how it could be. After all, we do exactly what the food industry wants: we replace cane sugar in food. So it’s a no-brainer, right?
In some ways, yes. But in other ways we break the mold of what defines success in this matter, at least on a limited reading of it. An obvious example is that we replace sugar, but replace it with a new mix of sugars. They’re low-calorie, lower-glycemic, and prebiotic, but label them (at least in part) as sugars.
Being able to communicate how the ingredient is made and why and how it has the nutritional benefits it has is hugely helpful in avoiding the rest of the company having to conform to the often arbitrary nature of the status quo. Branding is the core tool that makes this possible.
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It allows us to tell more of our story
Not only do new innovations often not fit perfectly into the lens of the current status quo, but there is often much more to be said than a generic approach would allow. This applies to what we do here at The Supplant Company as well as to Why we do it.
We have the health story to tell (fewer calories, lower glycemic, prebiotic), but we have a sustainability story to tell (upcycling agriculture’s most abundant and most underutilized resource) and a food security story (making more food from the same amount of land). ). But the real magic in what we do is the combination of all those benefits and especially how one leans on the other: we make sugars from fiber from fiber-rich and hugely abundant agricultural sidestreams; they are low-calorie because they are made from fiber, low glycemic because they are made from fiber, prebiotic because they are made from fiber, and sustainable because they are made from these (fiber-rich) sources.
The wrong, or at least less impactful, way to go to market would have been to simply say, “We have fewer calories” — there’s a lot more to what we’re building than that. Again, branding is the most important tool to make this possible.
Finally, there is the “Why“, which we believe is important to add even more depth to what we do and help people understand our underlying beliefs. We believe a better future for people and the planet is possible, but it will take a radical rethinking of how things are currently being done, and we know we are well placed to drive this change, communicating this as part of a brand allows us to become visible in the world and connect with others who share the same beliefs, whether that be consumers, retailers, investors or employees.
I don’t want to downplay the amount of thinking it took to get to the consumer story we ended up with – explaining this is clearly not easy. But from our experience, looking back, the decision to build a consumer brand was a no-brainer and certainly an easier experience than not doing so, and it opened up avenues for us that wouldn’t exist if we didn’t. done. In my opinion, any company doing something innovative and difficult that ends up in the food or consumer space in general would be crazy not to think twice about whether a consumer brand could help them.
dr. Tom Simmons is founder and CEO of The replacement company