Food and drink start-ups: Five marketing pitfalls to avoid

Food and drink start-ups: Five marketing pitfalls to avoid
Susanne Currid
Susanne CurridThe Loop Digital Communications Ltd

Posted: Wed 23rd Aug 2023

If you're looking to get your food and drink start-up off the ground, there are some common strategic marketing issues you'll want to avoid.

Here are some typical issues and alternative strategies to help you get back on track.

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1. Weak product or market fit

One of the main causes of business failure in the UK is a lack of customer demand. According to a survey conducted by the Insolvency Service in 2018, 14% of businesses in the UK cited a lack of customer demand as the primary reason for their closure.

So, first and foremost, your marketing activity has to be based on promoting an offer that meets a genuine market want or need. Be sure to research your customers and understand what they're looking for in your product.

The potential size of your market also needs to be large enough to support a healthy level of sales at the price point you're proposing.

Develop an in-depth understanding of your marketplace, establishing its size, forecast growth, competition and routes to market before you invest significant time and resources in your venture.

2. Lack of competitive advantage

In a marketplace awash with new product launches and innovation, it's become increasingly hard to stand out from the crowd.

It's almost impossible these days to come up with a product that is totally new. And if you have come up with something innovative, it's likely that you'll be dealing with copycats before long.

However, savvy SMEs know that competitive marketing advantages are more wide-ranging. For example, can you accelerate access to customers with celebrity tie-ins or innovative partnerships with more established brands?

Do you have a large personal professional network that can help you reach sales decision-makers more quickly? Do you have a real-world sales base such as a farm, retail or hospitality outlet where you can sell in a less competitive environment?

Finding ways to harness several competitive advantages is often the key to success. And if you don't have any existing competitive advantages, what can you do to create some for the future?

3. Product-led brand

Many start-ups fall into the trap of leading with the promotion of a product rather than a brand. In some instances, the brand name may be intrinsically tied to the launch product – Betty's Biscuits, for example.

In time, this branding strategy can start to constrain growth as it makes it more difficult to market anything beyond the core product range. A more flexible brand identity will give you more scope to diversify and cross-sell complementary products to your customer base.

As an example, the independent drinks brand Dalston's Soda Co. originally started life as The Dalston Cola Company. An early rebrand rectified the issue, so all is not lost if you need to make the same course correction. But considering the broader scope of your brand in the planning phase can help you avoid the issue from the get-go.

4. No clear hero product

Launching with a range of products can make it hard to cut through with your PR and wider marketing promotions.

Decide early on which product is going to be the star of the show, as it'll be the one you focus a significant part of your marketing around, especially when you are looking to acquire new customers.

Remember, simplicity and impact always win out when selling something new. It might be a way of packaging your product, for example, an introduction sample box, or a version of your product that uses a very popular ingredient.

In time, this product can become an all-important 'cash cow' or customer winner, dependent on your growth objectives.

5. Overreliance on social media

While social media is important, don't let it be your principal focus. Sampling is an essential marketing approach for any food or drinks product whether that's at targeted stores, events or exhibitions.

If you're selling directly to consumers via e-commerce, email marketing is a cost-effective and targeted approach to nurturing customer relationships and triggering regular repeat sales.

Start-ups often neglect marketing to trade customers, but this is essential for creating awareness and interest from retailers and hospitality buyers.

Keeping trade buyers in the loop with regular dedicated email communications, trade show interactions and trade PR also helps you to build relationships with industry partners and influencers who can spread the word about your brand.

By avoiding these common pitfalls, you'll be well on your way to building a successful food and drink start-up. Good luck!

Relevant resources

Susanne Currid
Susanne CurridThe Loop Digital Communications Ltd
Susanne Currid of The Loop is an experienced marketing advisor who works with ambitious independent food & drink brands, the creative industries and other business service providers.

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