From Product Launch to Retail Shelves in Less Than a Year: Fichi Fig & Nut Bites 4/11/2022
Fichi Fig & Nut Bites didn’t exist a year ago.
Now, it’s two products, Fig & Walnut Bites and Fig & Almond Bites can be found on the shelves of Grocery Outlet, which placed a 12,000-unit order after meeting with Co-Founder Steven Tripoli at ECRM’s Plant-Based Food & Beverage session this past October. The brand has sold so well already that the retailer has already placed another order.
It's exceedingly rare for a product to go from concept to completion to the shelf in such a short time frame. Indeed, most grind for years before landing such as big deal. But Tripoli is a prime example of how careful planning, testing, research, with a laser-focus on the numbers and a powerful yet concise buyer pitch can make it happen.
I had the privilege of speaking with Tripoli to unlock some insights on how he was able to accomplish this feat (see video below for the full interview). Here's what I learned.
A Classic Italian Treat
Tripoli’s family is from Italy, and growing up, they would send him regular care packages of different products, including olive oil, cookies, and his all-time favorite, fichi con noci – figs with nuts – that were made from a recipe handed down over generations. As a CPG veteran, he felt that there would be a demand for such a specialty item here in the U.S.
“It hits a lot of notes that are compelling for the current environment of buyers and consumers,” says Tripoli. “Now more than ever before, people want realness when it comes to the foods they are eating. They want transparency in the ingredients, and of course they want a delicious product.”
He didn’t want to make a bar, which would mean he’d have to compete against all of the existing bars that were already on the shelves. He felt it should be more of a specialty item.
“From a strategic perspective, the specialty part of the store generally commands a higher price-point,” says Tripoli. “So that allowed me to position this product as a specialty item in the cheese section and the deli section to be paired with cheeses and meats and crackers. We’d also be piggybacking off of a lot of success that dates have been seeing over the last five to 10 years. Plus they are a great binder. So we settled on two SKUs: Fig & Almond Bites and Fig & Walnut Bites, and the only ingredients are figs and almonds or figs and walnuts. That’s it.”
Digging Into the Numbers
In June of 2021 Tripoli started working to develop the brand concept and piecing together some of logistics and costs to see if it was viable business-wise. As we’ve covered in a recent blog post, determining your true costs and pricing is a critical part of launching a brand, one that many new brand-owners can find challenging.
Tripoli spent two months working on a spreadsheet, researching different raw materials and components to determine a price point that would work on the shelf, taking into account what the retailer needs to make, what the distributor needs to make, and how much profit he will make. He also researched local stores to examine the price points of similar products to what he was envisioning.
In August 2021, he began working in a small commercial kitchen space in New York’s Westchester County to start making the products. “At that point, our costs were still relatively high, but it forced us to become more efficient,” he says. “You have to really focus on margins and cost efficiencies because there is a misperception out there that your costs will significantly come down as you continue to grow. This is true for the most part, but it doesn’t take long before you hit a point where you’ll only shave off a couple of percentage points; you are not going to see 10 percent or 20 percent reductions of cost against what you are charging. And if you don’t have the margins right off the bat, it is going to be tough.”
This is especially true at a time where the cost of raw material components are skyrocketing. Fortunately for Tripoli, figs and nuts have so far been immune to a lot of the cost increases, and as they are from California, he doesn’t have to deal with the increased costs of transporting them via container ship. Still, he wanted to make sure that his margins would help him deal with any cost increases without breaking the bank. Within just a couple of months, Fichi Fig & Nut Bites was born.
Once he had the products developed, it was time to give them a test run. Tripoli reached out to DeCicco & Sons, a local specialty foods market with 10 locations in New York’s Westchester Country and sent them some samples. “I know from my previous brand experience that buyers love working with local brands,” says Tripoli. “It’s a million times easier to get a response from a retailer when it’s under the premise of a local product.”
Following a successful pilot with DeCicco’s, Fichi was onboarded with a distributor which enabled them to further test the waters and validate the concept. With his product and distribution capabilities now in place, it was now time to cast a wider net. Enter ECRM.
Prepping for Successful Buyer Meetings
Having participated in ECRM sessions with his previous brand, Tripoli was very familiar with the ROI these sessions deliver, particularly for emerging brands with limited resources.
“With my previous brand, I’ve been to Expo West, and you might spend 10 times what you spend at ECRM and not walk away with a single deal,” he says. “There is some value of course with in-person meetings, but in terms of ROI and really getting stuff done, the practicality of and the cost of virtual meetings can’t be beat. I flat out would not have been able to do in-person with the resources at had back in October. This was a cost-effective opportunity that works out to maybe $100 per lead.”
'There is some value of course with in-person meetings, but in terms of ROI and really getting stuff done, the practicality of and the cost of virtual meetings can’t be beat.'
Tripoli registered for the 5-minute Discovery Hub meetings at ECRM’s Plant-Based Food & Beverage session, so he knew his pitch had to provide maximum impact in the shortest amount of time. As ECRM curates a list of appointments matching the buyers’ category needs and objectives to the suppliers products and capabilities, he was provided a list of his upcoming buyer appointments in advance, which enabled him to conduct extensive research to prep for his meetings.
“I went through every single account,” says Tripoli. “I checked out how many stores they had, who the buyer is, what their deal is. I would talk to industry acquaintances who may have dealt with these buyers to learn more about the stores and how they operate, because each behaves differently. For example, some want to be first-to-market with a brand, while some would rather let it play out in other regions first. I also leveraged LinkedIn to gather information and connect with buyers as well.”
Once he had his intel, he crafted his presentation. He wanted to make it concise and easily digestible – just five slides – so that he could tell his story in the first minute and then leave the remaining four minutes for discussion and Q&A with the buyers.
All of this prep definitely paid off. In addition to the Grocery Outlet win, Tripoli is in follow up conversations with several other retailers that he expects to result in additional business shortly.
The Power (and Speed) of Virtual
Participating in ECRM’s virtual session – especially with his long experience with in-person tradeshows – was an eye opener for Tripoli. In addition to the cost-effectiveness, he also experienced how digital actually accelerates the sourcing process for buyers.
“I’ve always found that with in-person events everybody is so exhausted, so follow up can take weeks,” he says. “With virtual, everyone is in the comfort of their own home or office. So when you have a great meeting, they are emailing you five minutes afterward to ask for samples and a follow up. It’s much quicker, and much more efficient.
“Plus, the level of quality increases because more buyers are participating, so it creates a really awesome environment for everyone involved. The buyer can do their job of continuously finding compelling brands to deliver value to customers, and the brands can easily show them that we can deliver that value to the retailer. It’s a win-win across the board.”