How often do you head to the grocery store and forget to buy something on your shopping list?

It’s frustrating as a consumer, but it’s even more of a nuisance to the brands who sell those products you intended to buy but didn’t. With grocery stores designed to influence how and what shoppers purchase, what’s a company to do to get customers to buy its new products of the shelves?

Just ask today’s guest, Wendy Goldner, the VP of Marketing for Made in Nature. Wendy has been marketing new food products for most of her career which has really helped in her in all the great things that Made in Nature, and their new brand Telula, have accomplished in the way of huge growth and sales in massive retailers across the country like Costco, Target, Whole Foods, Safeway, and now Walmart.

In this episode, we talk about:

  • What you should be focusing to effectively market food products
  • How to make your brand stand out on the shelves
  • The psychology behind why consumers buy what they do

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Alex: You’ve done marketing basically your entire career. What is it that made you gravitate towards the marketing field?

I actually was a psychology major in college. I think that was the pull to me – just really understanding people and people’s behavior. I really didn’t know anything about marketing when I went to school. It wasn’t on my radar at all. But when I got out into the real world and started working, it actually found me.

The VP of Marketing at my first company pulled me out of the Human Resource Department (we were trying to hire somebody for a marketing position for him). It had taken about six months and he finally came up to me and said, “You’re the person I want. I want you to do this.”

And I honestly said, “I don’t really know what marketing is.” He explained it to me and he said “I think you have a talent for it.” He brought me on, and I loved it. That was it.

I started working with our ad agency and about a year after that, I ended up working for the ad agency.  I really spent the first ten to fifteen years of my career in ad agencies, which I highly recommend for people in marketing and communications. It’s a really great way to learn a lot of different skills, to get your feet wet in the whole array of the mix, and to learn really quickly by working hard.

Alex: What were some of the bigger take-aways that you gained from working in an agency?

The answer “No” doesn’t exist…that everything is possible. Everything can be done today in about twenty-four hours. I remember (this is a true story) the first day I walked into my first ad agency, the receptionist wasn’t there, all the offices were empty, and I walked around. When I looked down the hall, about twenty people were shoved into this tiny little room and I asked “What’s happening?” and they said “We’re getting our first fax!” and it took twenty minutes for the fax to come.

Those were the days when you made an ad and you used to have to set the type, and if there was a typo, you would cut out an ‘A’ and put it back into the ad. An ad took about eight to twelve weeks to create, and as we all know today, I could make an ad while you’re doing this interview, right now, in five minutes. So, that speed at which you can actually provide things is so incredible.

Maybe we’ve lost a little bit of the planning and strategy and the long-term execution, because anything can be done quickly, and you can respond to every opportunity immediately. A really important thing is to have balance there, to not get so caught up in the immediacy of everything and to remember it’s a long-term play. You have to have your soldiers lined up for the long-term.

Alex: You’ve been in marketing leadership for a number of years. When it comes to people in my generation – the more digital-savvy, who maybe don’t have the hard skills employers are looking for, how do you train or instill that mindset of forward thinking, implementing strategy and the psychology that you’ve got as a foundation, as opposed to always being reactionary?

That’s a really good question. You really have to remember and think about your consumer and where they are today. That’s probably one of the most challenging things in any company, is getting, not just your team (the marketing team), but the whole company really thinking like consumers. People underestimate the complexity of the consumer’s thought process and how many different messages they’re getting every day. The fact is that they’re really not thinking about your product.

marketing new food products

People underestimate the complexity of the consumer’s thought process and how many different messages they’re… Click To Tweet

Even if they love your product, even if they love you, and if asked, they would tell wonderful stories about you and regale all of your lusciousness. They’re really not thinking about you, and even if they were thinking about you, even if you’re on their list at the store, (I’m talking about a food product now), they might even forget about you when they’re in the store because something else has grabbed their attention.

It’s really important just to remember that deep complexity of what’s going on in their lives and to really understand how you fit and how you can be of service to them.

If you really think about those things and you lay them out, you’ll see that they’re so numerous. There are so many things that you have to tackle. It really forces you to have that media mix and the different opportunities…to think about different benefits…to think about your features…to think about where you’re going to interact with this person. There are just so many different points that you have to touch consumers on.

If you remember that, then you understand everything can’t just be immediate. You can’t always be in the moment. You have to plan for other events and how you’re going to chip away at that bigger block. That just takes time. That’s an ongoing process and you just have to keep at it.

Alex: Can you take us through the process of how you guys visualize the buyers’ journey and how you research and dig into that psychology, and then tune your content accordingly?

To go back to your original question, one thing that I learned really early on (and this was actually when I worked at the Sterling Rice Group here in Boulder) we did focus groups. I worked on the Earth’s Best Baby Food account and we talked to mothers almost monthly. We were constantly having focus groups and not always the super formal, really expensive kind where you have to go out and hire a research firm, but we talked to our consumer all the time.

In this case, one of the really great things was that it was new moms, and there’s nobody more passionate in the world than new moms. It was such a joy to talk to them – they cared so much.

That’s not always the case. Sometimes you have a product that people just don’t care that much about. There’s just not a high degree of passion. In all honesty, that’s really why I’ve chosen to make my career in organic and natural foods, because there is so much passion there.

For me, it’s so important to find that and to figure out how you can really ignite that passion within your consumer – how to constantly be giving them things that they can be excited about.

It goes back to understanding them, so you have to meet with them. You have to talk to them, and that could even be at an event, it could be at a show. For us, the Natural Products Expo, even though that’s a trade show, most of the people in that environment (there are seventy-thousand people there) are natural products consumers.

For me, one of the most fun things of the year is going to that show and just having our new products and interacting with thousands and thousands of people. Getting to hear what they’re seeing, what they’re liking and what’s interesting.

It just goes back to that; you have to really know your consumer. You have to know your target audience, and you have to look for that thing…the rub or friction – the place where they’re just not able to satisfy some of their needs. If you can find that, then you really need to find an interesting way to communicate to them. It has to be authentic and transparent.

I’m sure at one point you’re going to want to talk about millennials. Everyone is focusing on marketing to millennials right now: we’re focusing on millennials. They’re the largest consumer base in the world right now. Their spending power is increasing. You have to be authentic when you talk to them. There’s no faking that. You need to know them really well so that you can have an honest conversation with them and provide them with something that they’re really going to value.

Alex: Have you ever read the book Unconscious Branding?

I have not read it but I have heard of it.

Alex: The basis of the book is essentially what goes on in our brain and what we actually say aren’t necessarily the same. There was an example where they asked a focus group if the type of car that they drive really influences their own self-worth,or their assessment of self-worth. And every single person, for the most part, said “No, it gets me from Point A to Point B”. Then when they actually did a brain scan and showed a similar car to what they drive versus a sexier or higher-end vehicle, the brain scan showed the complete opposite. How do you diffuse through that?

That’s a fantastic observation and that’s absolutely true. We were talking about putting together a focus group around something we wanted to understand, and I said “There’s no way we can do a focus group on this topic because nobody will admit to this. And when that first person makes a false statement, everybody will rally around them.”

That’s absolutely true, which is why it just has to be a constant connection with your consumer. You have to really understand them.

Two of my favorite authors are Malcolm Gladwell and Oliver Sacks. You might not see the connection there, but they both tell stories about humans out in the world, how their brains work and the complexity of it all. It’s critical to actually (as I said earlier, I was a Psych major) be able to understand human behavior, not just what people say, but what they do.


Alex: Do you spend any time actually observing in stores where your consumers are making a purchase of your product?

This year we started working on some shopper marketing programs. That’s exactly what we do to think about the entire experience from the time a person leaves their house until they go out into a shopping experience.

  • What is it like for them when they get into the store?
  • What they experience when they’re actually shopping?
  • What takes them off of the path they thought they were going to?
  • How do they feel when they get home?
  • What is it like when they unload their bag?
  • What things give them joy?
  • What weren’t they able to provide for themselves?
  • Where do they have to look elsewhere?

One study that I was just reading recently (actually this was from Whole Foods) is that, on average, consumers only read two pieces of material on each trip to the store – just two pieces of signage. Whether it’s a sale sign, a shelf tag or you’ve got new packaging, there are two things that a consumer will actually read when they’re in the store.

That’s how much information is being slammed at them and how bombarded they are. When you think about that, you really understand what it takes to stand out and to actually communicate with someone.

You put so much time into the copy on the back of your bag, so much time into the color, so much time into the size and so much time (obviously) into the product inside of it.

The reality is, it’s highly unlikely, if it’s a new product that you’re going to get somebody to actually stop and look at your product on the shelf. You just have to really creative and, again, authentic.

I talked a little bit about experiential. One of the things we’re doing is we’re actually sending some brand ambassadors out on some of the best trails here in Colorado to hand out snacks to people when they’re hiking because that’s when they’re in the act of doing the thing that they love, when they feel the best about themselves, when they feel healthy.

And it’s really hard to get snacks that compliment that lifestyle, so we’re going to try to meet them there, actually on the trail.

Again, just back to that word (it’s so overused but) ‘authentic’. If you’re really just having fun and you do have something that’s good that you can enjoy that and celebrate, (and that all comes through in your packaging), that’s the key to being able to cross over those imaginary boundaries, be it age, gender or education. We all enjoy something that’s fun, so at the heart of our brand is fun.

Alex: That’s definitely reflected in the fact that you are finding these ambassadors to go out on hiking trails where people are already having fun. How did you find those ambassadors?

I’m working with a really great events manager at Made in Nature, and she’s been doing this for a really long time. It’s actually someone I’ve worked with in previous jobs. I was lucky enough to have her come work with us at Made in Nature.

There are a couple of events companies in town (Boulder, CO). That’s always difficult, there’s good and bad of all of them. They can really help provide staff – sometimes training is great, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you’re one step too far away from that brand ambassador, and it can be challenging.

We have a couple interns this summer. Summer seems to be a little bit of an easier time to really get some great brand ambassadors because of all those college kids that are looking for work. We have a really great intern and he brought some of his friends along so that we were able to do one-on-one training with them.

It’s really great when you can sit down with them and get them pumped about the brand. When they’re excited and they’re right in your target, they can just go out and share all the love.

Alex: It sounds like the ambassador program is off to a great start. You have successfully rebranded and it looks great on the shelves. What are some other successful strategies, maybe not just with Made in Nature, but with Telula or Good Belly (the time when you were VP of Marketing there)?

Marketing New Food Products

What are some of there, or maybe a strategy, that you can look back on and say, “That was probably the most successful, innovative strategy that we’d actually done”?

There are a couple of things. I’m going to go all the way back to Earth’s Best Baby Food again because it’s something that I notice I repeat a lot. Maybe it’s just because it was an early lesson for me.

Earth’s Best Baby Food was one of the very first, if not the first, organic food brands to make it out of the natural channel and into conventional. It really helped to revolutionize organics and was the beginning of the whole organic movement, making organics more accessible to more people.

One of our core disciplines was a geographic roll out. We were a small company. Like many organic companies, we didn’t have a lot of resources. We knew that we had to educate consumers.

As we grew out of just that natural channel, we had to make sure that we were educating people and they understood what organics meant, what the benefits were – especially for these new moms who were hungry for information.

We had a program that we put together, it was the ‘Family Plan’, where we reached out to all new moms, which luckily that’s a really great target because you can actually buy lists of new mothers from hospitals. Finding moms wasn’t difficult but we knew our customer.

We knew that education was more important than income (which, to this day, that’s another lesson I’ve validated over and over and over). When it comes to healthy snacking, when it comes to organics, it’s always education over income.

There are people who make very limited amounts of money but understand the fact that what they put into their bodies is medicine and it’s health. They just wouldn’t eat any other way. That’s just how they eat – they eat healthy. They eat real food, and that’s doesn’t have anything to do with how much money’s in their pocket. That’s how they’re going to eat.

That was an early lesson that we learned. We constructed this program where we would reach out to new moms. We had these newsletters (you can tell how long ago that was, they were printed and we mailed them).

Couponing was not that important to them because it wasn’t about the money. It was about understanding the difference between food and what they were feeding them.

It was a very intensive program and we could only do it to a certain number of people. So we were very, very careful about where we launched the product. We took it to the markets where organics were the most common concentrated.

We started in Boston (because the company at that point was located in Vermont, so there was some advantage to just the proximity there) then went to California. We were in San Francisco, we were in Portland. It was step, by step, by step.

We were making sure that we were using the resources we had in a way that we knew they were going to impact sales – that we were creating new customers who were loyal. We were driving loyalty, we were deepening that at every phase.

We only moved on with distribution when we knew that we had done our job. It was a direct marketing play so we were constantly testing. We were always testing headlines – which one was better? Which one got a better response?

We were constantly doing groups. We were talking to moms, we were learning. It was incredibly disciplined. I’ve never been able to recreate that discipline ever, since then. It’s almost impossible today.

Alex: Why would it be impossible today?

The demands are so much higher now, everything is faster, the returns have to be bigger, more investors playing on the field. Slow is not the mode anymore. Slow and easy just doesn’t seem to really cut it anymore.

We could do a whole interview on that one, I’d have to think about that one a little bit more. That just seems to be a very, very difficult discipline to follow. I try to remember about that lesson and think about ways that we can have discipline and stay focused, making sure that our objectives are defined, that we are measuring something.

We’re not just playing catch-up and living in the moment, but looking down the road and really trying to till fertile ground and let things grow with  time.

Alex: Just a few wrap-up questions and coming back to your point in regard to planning…What are some of the productivity hacks, if any, that you use on a daily basis to help you knock out what needs to be done, and be able to focus on that long-term strategy?

I don’t go into the office until nine-thirty every day. I need time at home in the morning with my coffee and my dog before the day goes crazy. I know it’d be immediate chaos if I walked into the office at eight or eight-thirty (we have a lot of people that come in really early, that live in Denver, so our offices are pretty much full from eight o’clock in the morning until six or six-thirty at night) … and I just need that space.

I find that I do a lot of great thinking in my sleep (I tend to wake up in the morning with some really, really good ideas). So I like to always have that space in the morning before everything else has gotten kinda crazy and out of my control to regroup.

I revisit projects that I was working on yesterday, just get ready for the day and be really be organized, so that when I come in, I feel really solid and grounded. By then, I’ve gotten a bulk of my own personal work done so that I’m available to support the team and keep things going and on track. That’s what works for me.

Alex: Maybe it’s exploring the subconscious, whatever you want to call it. Waking up and maybe having a realization about an idea the next morning, that digs into maybe a little bit of what Malcom Gladwell and Oliver Sacks are really writing about in their research and their books.

Is there a book, or are there books that have influenced you thinking around marketing?

The Tipping Point was a great book. I really loved that. All of Malcom Gladwell’s books are fabulous. It’s so important to think about what’s going on in a person’s mind, what their life experience is like, what’s happening in the culture around them, what’s influencing them and how that plays itself out in the larger context.

If you get too micro and start to just look at tiny little pieces, and you don’t look at it as part of the bigger whole of what’s going on, you’re missing so much about human behavior. I am, if nothing else, a student of human behavior. I just love it, hence the Oliver Sacks books, too.

It’s funny that you mention that, I hadn’t really thought about it, but I do have an immense amount of respect for sleep. I absolutely have woken up with some of the best ideas that I’ve ever had. I don’t know where that comes from, but you have to have a lot of respect for that pause in our logical behavior and our thought processes.

When we think we’re quote-unquote “working”, sometimes we’re not. We’re just running on the treadmill. The best time to really let your creativity come is when you step away from it for a minute and just let all of the observations that you’ve had come together form a unique idea.

I try to create space where that can happen.

Alex: That was the last question but it just made me think of another one. You’ve been in leadership and marketing roles and managed people in a marketing department. With the knowledge that creating that open space allows for creativity, how do encourage somebody in today’s environment where everything is “now, now, now” to step back and really let their creativity take hold.

I’d like to answer that by telling you that on our calendar, on Monday, we have blocked out time to read and take a walk and do all these things. But in reality, that has popped up on my calendar every Monday for the last six weeks and we haven’t done it – so that’s not working.

Honestly, just by having fun. I really try to have fun. I love my job, I love what I do. I love the people that I work with and I really try to (at least with the people that I come in contact with) make sure that it’s fun.

A lot of times people don’t like the marketing department, or we have that halo of “Oh, we’re just having fun”, but honestly if we weren’t having fun, how could we possibly communicate to our customers that we have a product that’s worth engaging in?

It has to start with us.

I try to have fun and I hope that that helps keep people engaged and excited and keep their minds going. Just having open conversations with everyone, trying to really reduce the fear factor. Making sure that people feel that they’re empowered and that their ideas are worth discussing.

That goes back to early, early days of learning about brainstorming and “no bad ideas”. Just trying to make it a safe environment for people to explore their ideas and express themselves. That’s usually where the best ideas come when we all talk together.

It’s very rare that someone blurts out the perfect answer. Somebody blurts something out and somebody else hears something in that, and if you’re having fun and you bat it around, it can become a really great, executable concept. J

ust creating that space where people can do that, that’s the best thing you can do.

Alex: Well thank you so much, Wendy. It’s been a pleasure to get to peek inside your mind and what makes you tick. You’ve got a lot of lessons to teach everyone else. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Thank you so much, Alex. That was really fun. I appreciate it.


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