Growing a Healthy Foods Brand on Amazon

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • How BetterBody Foods has built a thriving Amazon business and expanded its customer base online
  • Royce Hackett explains how his company stays true to its mission while remaining competitive in the healthy food space
  • The impact of COVID-19 on BetterBody Foods’ e-commerce business
  • Royce talks about his process for collecting customer data
  • How BetterBody Foods handles issues related to Amazon categories and keywords
  • Royce discusses how his company leverages Amazon product reviews
  • The food distribution challenges caused by Amazon and other e-commerce platforms
  • Up and coming food trends that brands need to pay attention to
  • Royce’s advice on encouraging picky eaters to eat healthier food

In this episode…

There are a number of components that entrepreneurs must look into before launching a food brand on Amazon. From the type of ingredients to use, to the manufacturing and production of the products, to the marketing and advertising of the listings, each element is extremely important to a business’ success.

Luckily, once you have taken your products to the market, you can start to receive critical feedback about these components from existing and potential customers. According to e-commerce expert Royce Hackett, consumer-based surveys are one of the best ways for a brand to learn more about its customers, increase its market share, and stand out from the competition. So, how can you start collecting consumer data that helps you boost your brand to success?

In this episode of Buy Box Experts, host James Thomson interviews Royce Hackett, the Vice President of Ecommerce at BetterBody Foods, about the importance of customer surveys when growing a food business online. Royce shares his strategies for building the e-commerce side of your business, scaling on Amazon, leveraging product reviews, and more. Stay tuned.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

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The team works with marketplace technicians using a system of processes, proprietary software, and extensive channel experience to ensure your Amazon presence captures the opportunity in the marketplace–not only producing greater revenue and profits but also reducing or eliminating your business’ workload.

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Learn more about Buy Box Experts at BuyBoxExperts.com.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:09

Welcome to the Buy Box Experts podcast we bring to light the unique opportunities brands face in today’s e-commerce world.

James Thomson 0:18

Hi, I’m James Thomson, one of the hosts of the Buy Box Experts podcast. I’m a partner with Buy Box Experts and the former business head of the selling on Amazon team at Amazon, as well as the first account manager for the Fulfillment by Amazon program. I’m co-author of the book “Controlling Your Brand in the Age of Amazon”, and the co-founder of the Prosper Show, one of the largest continuing education conferences for Amazon sellers in the United States. Today’s episode is brought to you by Buy Box Experts. Buy Box Experts takes ambitious brands and makes them unbeatable. When you hire Buy Box Experts, you receive the strategy optimization and marketing performance to succeed on Amazon. Buy Box Experts combines executive level advisory services with expert performance management and execution of your Amazon channel strategy. Go to buyboxexperts.com to learn more.

Before I introduce our guests today, I want to send a big shout out to the team at Disruptive Media. For off Amazon advertising. disruptive advertising offers the highest level of service in the digital marketing industry, focusing on driving traffic, converting traffic and enterprise analytics. Disruptive helps their clients increase their bottom line, month after month. Go to disruptiveadvertising.com to learn more.

Our guest today is Royce Hackett, VP of e-Commerce at BetterBody Foods. Royce manages the omni channel strategy for this brand’s rapidly growing online business. Royce also is in charge of designing, launching and analyzing survey research for BetterBody Foods. Earlier, Royce worked in the US and Australia for the survey software company Qualtrics. In full disclosure to our listeners, our firm Buy Box Experts currently works with BetterBody Foods. Royce, welcome, and thank you for joining us today on the Buy Box Experts podcast.

Royce Hackett 2:06

Thanks, James. Happy to be on.

James Thomson 2:08

So let’s start by talking about your company. You make healthy food products that compete with larger national brands. Tell us how your brand has specifically approached the process of building an Amazon business in a category that is otherwise dominated by well established national brick and mortar brands?

Royce Hackett 2:25

Yeah, no, that’s a great question. So I started with BetterBody Foods about three years ago, and it really came from the CEO, he had this vision that they were in, you know, Costco, and Walmart and kind of mass media retail. And he just kind of saw the things were shipped even for grocery online. So you know, he hired me to really kind of fulfill his vision, you know, and grow the e-commerce business, you know, and even people internally didn’t really agree with him. But you know, after this year, you know, they’re, they say, Well, you know, couldn’t have done anything different. That has already been a good year. For us, you know, which, you know, we feel bad. There’s a lot of people that have had a really tough year but luckily for grocery and for e-commerce were two categories I’m in, it’s been a good year.

James Thomson 3:16

When you think about larger national brands that have retail distribution, you’re a smaller, upstart brand, you’ve been around for a few years, but you’re still in a position where, from a brick and mortar perspective, quite often the national brands have distribution, I wouldn’t say locked up, but they have access to an awful lot of physical retail space. How do you make yourself known and get customers at least trying your product, when you may not otherwise have the coverage that some of these larger brands do have?

Royce Hackett 3:50

Yeah, and that’s been one of the really nice things about being in e-commerce is that we’ve been able to launch new products online, get reviews, there’s some you know, minor review programs. Walmart has a review program with bazaarvoice. So we can test really quickly. And so even before we launch a brand I often do consumer research surveys that I handle, and it makes sure the branding is right, how do we look to our competitors? And what are their thoughts and we make tweaks along the way. So a combination of surveys and just getting the product out there and, you know, we get their views back and then we’ll make changes quickly. So I think that’s one aspect where we’ve been able to be nimble, more nimble than some large brands. Before working at

James Thomson 4:33

Amazon, I had the opportunity to work with large CPG brands as a consultant. I certainly know how much money and time goes into doing surveys and focus groups. And quite frankly, I saw situations where it would take them two years to get enough data to finally take one step forward to be in a position that they could make a change. It is exciting in e-commerce that you can move so quickly and try things out and if they don’t work after a few weeks, okay, make an adjustment. So I’m sorry So, I hear you loud and clearly on that, let’s talk for a few minutes about some of the changes that you’ve seen take place online over the past few years, as companies have jumped into the healthy food space, how does your company stay true to its mission, while making sure that it can compete with so many competitors online, often lower price competitors?

Royce Hackett 5:21

Yeah, and that’s one of the things that’s been nice about our company is, you know, even from the beginning, the mission was, we want to bring healthy and nutritious alternative foods to the everyday person, you know, not to be specialty shops that far away, too. So that’s kind of been the goal from the beginning before I came on to the company. So being able to take that and then launch that on e-commerce has been really helpful. Because, you know, we still have, you know, high quality standards and very rigorous slps, but good manufacturing processes, but we can still have great pricing.

James Thomson 5:56

So maybe you could take a moment and tell me about what it means to be a healthy provider for mass markets. And I’ve been into specialty shops, and you go in and I don’t know, half the ingredients that are being sold to me. But what we’re talking about is a broader audience that may not be as informed about this component ingredient, or that component agreement, or how the product is actually manufactured? What, what makes a company, a health product company, but also one that’s available to large general audiences.

Royce Hackett 6:27

Yeah, and we try to look for products that you might have something already, but here’s just a nice switch out. So like, for example, you can cook baked rice, but we also have chemo that we sell. Yeah, that also has nutritional benefits. So we tried to do swaps for products, okay, um, you know, not really anything kind of crazy new, or we just want to make it easy for people to be able to cook with, and not have to, you know, have some type of degree in nutrition or something.

James Thomson 6:58

Right, right. So when COVID hit, your business took off fantastically, in part because consumers started buying more of their groceries online. But how did your business evolve internally to keep up with a sharp increase in demand? What decisions had you made prior to the COVID crisis happening, that you believe those changes helped you better scale quickly?

Royce Hackett 7:22

Yeah, I mean, proceeding up to COVID, you know, we kind of had this two and a half years of, you know, building our online presence making, you know, all the foundational elements, our listings look good. You know, we had reviews coming in, we have their product images, we’re doing Amazon live teaching our customers about our products. So when COVID hit, you know, we’re already up there at the top for some products close to the top. And so then they just converted like crazy in April.

James Thomson 7:53

The process of shipping more inventory sounds all very nice and easy. But you’ve got to have inventory ready to go and talk to me about as demand doubled, tripled, very, very quickly. How did you turn on the pipes in order to push more product through to have it available for retailers like Amazon to carry?

Royce Hackett 8:14

Yeah, so we are a manufacturing facility. So luckily, we can be pretty nimble when it comes to you know, choosing what to produce, and, you know, going with the ebbs and flows, but yeah, we were not, you know, we did not have in our plan, the the number of IPOs and Amazon placed, you know, which, you know, they kind of do, from time to time panic, pios. And, you know, over the years, and I definitely panic p owed a lot of products. And we didn’t have to cancel some, you know, we couldn’t fulfill everything. But, you know, even you know, the marketing and sales team, we were in the warehouse, we were in production, you know, feeling PV fit products, just to get it out the door. So we, we all just came together as a company, it was really amazing.

James Thomson 8:56

Were there certain particular products that you were surprised to see increase as much as they did relative to other products in your catalog?

Royce Hackett 9:03

I’d say the biggest one was our Sim. So no, I think there’s been some reports that oatmilk was like number three to toilet paper and hand sanitizer in April. So we were not expecting that much oatmeal, you know, a milk alternative. But it makes sense because it’s shelf stable, and people are going to the grocery store. And you know, it made a lot of sense, but we were definitely not expecting that.

James Thomson 9:31

So we talked about manufacturing the food, but you still need packaging, you still need trucking, you still need all these other aspects to get the product to the end to the retailer. Were there other aspects of that that led to other challenges for your company where it wasn’t just about making the food?

Royce Hackett 9:51

Yeah, they definitely were, you know, challenges in the warehouse. Yeah, we have a warehouse facility and yeah, there’s a line of trucks you know, just waiting for the pickup product from me. On, great problem to have, but you know, they want the product right then. And oftentimes you’ll get charges, you know, if you don’t meet their demands. So we did, we did have some delays with that. But we have good partners when it comes to, you know, our products and raw materials, and even the packaging the boxes, you name it. We’ve a pretty nimble company and have good partners. Yeah, there were some products that we couldn’t fulfill that just, you know, just kind of ran out. So we had to turn down pios. Which unfortunate, but

James Thomson 10:33

Yep, yep. Did you end up having to make big changes, like having the warehouse run to three shifts or having to get more trucks? We were there’s some things that fundamentally, now you’ve got, you’ve tested the limits of your operations, and you realize your company can support certain types of growth. If it comes suddenly.

Royce Hackett 10:54

Yeah, we are taking a new take on our long term planning. We did have to hire new people and new managers and adoption for production. And that will continue through the end of this year into next year. As we expand for sure.

James Thomson 11:12

I want to shift gears, I want to talk about the survey data, the kind of work that you do. So Steve Jobs at Apple was famous for ignoring customer research data and building on his own ideas. You’re actively collecting customer data. So tell me how do you anticipate what customers’ unmet needs are when customers don’t always necessarily know how to express them? Or your survey tool is limiting its ability to get customers to talk about things they don’t realize they need? Yeah, talk to me about that. Because you have a lot of unusual products, as you’re, as you’re talking about swapping things out. consumers may not realize, Oh, I could use this product and swap it out for that product. So how do you think about some of these issues of identifying things that consumers don’t know how to describe to you?

Royce Hackett 12:00

Yeah, and I’d say when it comes to picking new products, we haven’t done a whole lot of survey for the actual product itself, that’s kind of more come from internally, our sales team, our CTO, and I’ve been out and out and about in the industry, and, you know, just noticing trends. But once we’ve actually picked the product and felt good that, you know, might not be huge now, but there’s good growth for the future. That’s when we start to do the survey research and say, Hey, if this was on a shelf next to these competitors, would you pick it up and look at it, you know, or you know, what, what kind of health benefits would you want in a product like this? So can we fine-tweak the unique selling points on the product or how the packaging looks when it comes to our surveys?

James Thomson 12:43

Have you had certain products that you’ve launched where, quite frankly, on Amazon, there were good places to sub categorize it. There weren’t the right kind of keywords yet in place in the catalog to say, we actually do XYZ? And there’s no keywords for that? Hmm,

Royce Hackett 13:01

yeah, I’d say, on Amazon and other retailers as well, I think that’s definitely it. Amazon’s not too big of a problem. But when you get to other smaller retailers, that’s a bigger problem. Probably the biggest one I’ve noticed recently is cows, there’s usually not a market for count the cocoa, you know, which is cows basically just kind of a nice swap for cocoa, but there’s not really a cow on some of these other retailers. So it does make it tougher when you’re trying to put it in the right category, and then bid on keywords when no one really is at the moment, or they’re kind of small.

James Thomson 13:39

So how do you do that on Amazon, when the keywords don’t exist? Or you don’t have enough of the right kind of organic search terms? How do you build your business quickly? Are you simply relying on consumers to do organic search of exact terms?

Royce Hackett 13:55

No, yes, we definitely do kind of more broad, broad terms. And luckily, we have over the years built out your products so we can piggyback a little bit on other products. We like having the product at the bottom of our product listing page, you know, you can put different products that you own kind of a swap out. So we do what we do. We do Amazon live. There’s a bit of an educational piece when it comes to these newer products. But then kind of relying on maybe what people are more used to like kick kick, kick cow, or Coco and then kind of breaking trying to break into that market.

James Thomson 14:33

on your website, you have a lot of recipes, you have a lot of helpful information for enabling consumers to get the most out of the products that they’ve bought from you. As you think about non grocery categories, companies that sell on Amazon in durables, or what have you. What things have you learned from being in the business you’re in today that you think are useful learnings? If you were to go and work for a company that has absolutely nothing to do with grocery.

Royce Hackett 15:03

Yeah, nothing, you know, and when it comes to grocery, we they’re looking at, you know, kind of any company are looking for new customers or you’re looking for repeat purchasers. So when it comes to the grocery on repeat purchasing, you know, we’re trying to teach them, okay, and here’s how to use it, here’s a blender in a smoothie, you know, add water to it, you know, oftentimes things can be bought thrown in the pantry, and then they forget about it till it’s probably about to expire, and then they’re involved again, you know, so it’s, it’s kind of helping them to adopt the product into their life. I think any kind of company, you know, has to, there’s that kind of learning curve, you know, awareness, teaching, you know, but also making it easy enough where they can add it to their lifestyle and not make drastic changes.

James Thomson 15:51

So let’s, let’s talk about some of your pre BetterBody Foods experiences with data. Was there a turning point for you, when you realized you were good working with data, good at taking the data and turning it into insights to help drive the business? When did you realize you were good at doing that particular type of skill?

Royce Hackett 16:11

Yeah, I think just always, always been interested in math and science. And then I went to college and wasn’t quite sure what to major in. But I heard about statistics and wanted a little bit better than in accounting, to me a little bit more interesting. And not necessarily just straight math. So I picked statistics, and quickly just kind of picked that up. And I really enjoyed it. And then so when I went to Qualtrics, you know, that’s where I was able to use it more and really learn about the survey research aspect of it. And then you know, now suppose Qualtrics, apply it to BetterBody Foods. Okay.

James Thomson 16:51

One of the fascinating things about survey data, and I had the opportunity to do this for a few years, we’re really good at getting customers to answer the questions we ask. But sometimes we don’t know how to ask certain questions. And I’m curious, in your experience, how have you been able to get consumers to tell you things that you didn’t realize you had a blind spot on?

Royce Hackett 17:14

Yeah, that is definitely a tough one. I’d say we have two avenues we use for that one, we definitely look at the reviews we get on our e-commerce channels are often the things that we didn’t think about or realize was an issue, that they were pretty good at letting us know, if there’s any issues. And then when it comes to the surgery research, you know, it’s hard to get people to answer open ended questions. But we always do add open ended questions to our surveys, just the gauge, you know, usually, people like to share their opinion. So we’ll get some feedback. But we, there’s definitely some blind spots where you can’t ever really survey out, you just kind of have to be in the industry and be intuitive.

James Thomson 18:00

So we’ve talked to other folks in the past about the importance of Amazon product reviews and using it as an almost real time data source. How does your company leverage reviews in a way to feed into the general research that you’re doing?

Royce Hackett 18:17

Yeah, I’d say we’ve launched several products, and we’ll get the 30 reviews, you know, from Amazon with a review program, and we like, Oh, this is actually an issue, people are upset about the title of the product, or it’s, it’s missing something. So we’ll, we’ll go back to the drawing board and, and do a new label, yes, in a couple months to fix that. And then we’ll change the messaging online and let everyone know, in their reviews, you know, that we appreciate the feedback and we’re gonna make these changes. We’re pretty quick at you know, noticing trends and making adjustments.

James Thomson 18:53

That’s, that’s really cool. What’s interesting about your category, unlike so many of these digitally native brands on Amazon, there are very specific manufacturing requirements that you have. And because you are the manufacturer, gives you a little bit of an advantage and a little bit of a moat around your business. If I was making Bluetooth speakers or making vitamins, lots of people can jump into categories like that really quickly. When you look at the types of products you make today, what are some of the products that you see as being very difficult for others to jump into just because of the manufacturing or distribution restrictions?

Royce Hackett 19:32

A harder one is oat milk, you know, is the kind of shelf stable milk, you know, that is more expensive to get into. We had a lot of brands this past year jump into it. You know who a lot of bigger brands are, so that one is more expensive, you know, startup costs, as opposed to cinnabar, some of our other, you know, wet lines and dry lines. Yeah, yeah, we’re we kind of already have the capability and, folks probably one of the tougher ones For us as a company,

James Thomson 20:02

and you’ve got regulatory groups that have to evaluate the safety of your products, how do you work through those groups, but at the same time, you got to keep Amazon happy with all of their regulations on food and expiration dates and so on. What are some of the challenges that e-commerce and Amazon specifically have brought to your ability to manufacture and distribute foods?

Royce Hackett 20:24

Yeah, I’d say the standards we have already are really high, you know, with BetterBody Foods. So applying this to e-commerce has been easy. It does become more difficult when it comes to expiration dates. That was probably the hardest one. And even even Amazon. Yeah, we give them the lock codes. And yes, expiration dates, but they don’t really look at them. They just kind of file them away. And yeah, forget they exist, you know. So that makes it tough. If we ever had to pull products back. Next, you have to pull back everything. Which is, you know, we work with basically every retailer. And that’s the only one where we have to do it in that fashion. So that definitely makes it difficult if we ever need to pull back product. Yes,

James Thomson 21:03

yes. To talk to me about some of your favorite third party software tools that you use today online, to help drive your business. Are there tools that you’re using that you find pretty much necessary to get your job done every day?

Royce Hackett 21:18

Yeah, I mean, we definitely use helium 10. And I’ve always used Jungle Scout as well. It’s nice just to see, you know, rankings and kind of the bestseller rank or, yep, now there’s some tools as well, that can evaluate review reviews, you know, I don’t think a lot of consumers use those. But it’s kind of nice to see like, you know, if your competitors’ reviews that they’re getting are accurate or not, it’s kind of nice to check on some of those things.

James Thomson 21:47

That’s great. So if your brand continues to grow quickly, you’re making inroads with online consumers in your space, are there up and coming brands or trends that you’re seeing that we should all be paying attention to?

Royce Hackett 22:01

I mean, the biggest thing is just plant base, you know, and it seems like COVID accelerated that when there were issues with big suppliers of meat passing products, and more people were moving to plant based. And that’s kind of as a company, we’ve always, you know, you’ve been plant based. But even, you know, last year, we launched a plant based dressing and spread line called plant junkie. So we see that continuing to grow, just people moving away from meat.

James Thomson 22:32

So I have one final question for you, rice, I have two kids that are extremely picky eaters. When you look at your business of feeding people healthy foods, how do you solve the problem of getting kids to try new foods?

Royce Hackett 22:46

Now that’s definitely a problem. You know, kids are very picky. I think we’ve all been picky kids at some point too. And I mean, was nice. One of our products, we have a blending line. And that’s kind of what’s nice is maybe your kids don’t like certain vegetables, and they’re really hard to get them to check jack. You can add these superfood blends into a smoothie, you know, and they won’t even know that it’s actually good for them, you know, because it’s just blended in. So we find that’s probably the easiest way you do these blends, or you can bake you can even bake these blends into any type of dessert, but a health bar or a brownie or muffin, you know, and then they don’t really know they’re actually getting healthy food.

James Thomson 23:36

Sounds like maybe I should be paying attention to that too. Because I eat a lot of stuff that’s probably not considered healthy. But I sprinkle it with some healthy stuff mixed in then all of a sudden, well, there’s protein, there’s vegetables mixed in there. Exactly. It’s a little bit better for you. It’s great. Rice, I want to thank you for joining us today. For those of you interested in learning more about BetterBody Foods, please visit Betterbodyfoods.com. And now to finish today’s podcast I’d like to share some final thoughts. For third party sellers to be successful on Amazon. A critical lever will be soliciting feedback from customers. We at Buy Box Experts are really big fans of the team at eComEngine, and its tools that help Amazon sellers to simplify the process of messaging customers of Amazon orders. To learn more go to ecomengine.com. And with that, I want to thank you for listening today and I look forward to joining you next time on the Buy Box Experts podcast.

Meet the Speakers

Royce Hackett

Vice President of Ecommerce at BetterBody Foods

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