In many respects, specialty food providers occupy an enviable space. The $140 billion industry represents some of the most dynamic terrain in the greater food industry. But there are pain points in the industry that can be tremendously uncomfortable—pain points that threaten even the most savvy of startups, that can hamper the most persuasive of grassroots marketing groundswells.
I recently spoke to Cameron McCarthy, Co-Founder of WeStock, to find out more about a company and a platform engineered to address these pain points in the supply chain; to connect consumers, suppliers, and buyers through an easy-to-use interface; and to allow suppliers to articulate demand and retailers to pivot nimbly to meet that demand.
“WeStock is a free app for users to discover and request emerging food and beverage brands,” Cameron explains. “We have a product feed for new customers to discover brands and then a search option so loyal followers can easily find and request the products that they love. We then collect all of those requests, and we put them into actionable data sets for the brands and their sales teams, so they can see which markets are requesting their products and articulate to the buyer how many customers in that area have requested the product and where, particularly, those customers shop.”
Through WeStock’s simple-to-use interface, buyers are able to access consumer data they would otherwise not be privy to, consumers can voice their demand for emerging brands’ products, and those brands can clearly articulate the upside of stocking their products.
Alongside Co-Founder Dmitriy Shumayev, an experienced hand at creating software for retail with a focus on product recommendations, search, and creating flexible company-specific customization, Cameron is working to make early adoption simple and lucrative for brands, stockists, and shoppers alike.
As Sales Director for one of the fastest growing hummus brands in the U.S.—Delighted By—Cameron came face-to-face with many of the issues emerging brands face.
“We were able to get Delighted By products into about 5,000 stores in less than three years. It was a great company to be a part of, a great brand to be a part of, and a great team. At the same time, it brought up a ton of pain points in the industry.”
Though the company offered a unique and sought-after product, a nationally-known name having appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, and traction with hundreds of thousands of social media followers from throughout the U.S., Delighted By was still plagued by several challenges as it made its way into stores throughout the country.
“Whenever we launched in a new region, a new location, or in a new retailer, our social media followers weren’t wishing us congratulations; they were asking: ‘Why aren’t you in California?’ 'Why aren’t you in Texas?’ ‘Why aren’t you in Canada?’” Cameron said. “I felt kind of helpless as a sales director because I couldn’t really get the product out there fast enough to service these customers. And anytime I reached out to buyers from those areas it felt like I couldn’t really articulate the demand for the product, and I couldn’t really show how many people in the area were requesting our product.”
Once the hurdle of adoption was overcome, Cameron told me, struggles with velocity and with access to data followed. As enthusiasts for the product waited for Delighted By products to touch down at a store near them, they lost enthusiasm, and access to data proved to be a huge financial burden the dividends of which remained opaque in some respects.
“It was maybe two or three months down the line, and it was really hard to get those customers who had been requesting our product into the store and motivated. We sent out messages to our email list, make posts on social media, but we didn’t really know if we were targeting those customers effectively, so we suffered from low velocity and sell-through in some regions because of that,” Cameron noted. “And, once we got to that 4,000 store mark, we really started getting pressure to present data to buyers. Some buyers were telling us don’t come to the media without it. When we were quoted almost $12,000 as minimum price for a package from SPINS, we were just kind of shocked that that’s what it cost to be on an even playing field with some of the larger brands.”
Cameron began to conceive a solution to these pain points, conceptualizing what would eventually become WeStock.
“We aim to do three things. One, we put new brands in front of potential customers every single day. Two, we give those same customers a voice in terms of which products make it on and off the shelf. And three, we manufacture data for much cheaper by making it a monthly subscription and processing data in our app,” said Cameron.
In addition to making actionable data available to brands and retailers alike, WeStock also notifies consumers who request products of when they’re stocked in their area, allowing consumers to immediately engage in buying and feel their impact on the process.
“Once the product is stocked, we send a notification through the app letting them know which store stocked the item in an effort to help get the consumer in the store and make them feel like they were the reason the product made it on the shelf,” Cameron explains. “During the onboarding experience, we capture the customer's zip code and preferred store so that the brands can see both which regions and which retailers to focus on, but we only send out a notification to the user for the first store that stocks the item. We want to motivate retailers who move quickly to identify and bring on new products.”
WeStock’s officially launches this month, the week of January 14, at the culmination of Winter Fancy Food Show. And by pooling the reach of the brands that are signed on to WeStock and the retailers that are using the app to process requests, WeStock expects to have an impressive immediate reach.
“We’re going to touch over a million people in our first week alone. Our smallest brand is getting ready to launch this January; it has an email list of a couple thousand people. Our largest brand is in over 5,000 stores and has an email list of 250,000,” Cameron explained. “We’re going to build a community through our partnership with the brands. All of partners are going to send out an introductory email and a social media post that explains that followers can download the app today and start requesting products. Some of our partners like Dean & DeLuca are going to be putting POS material throughout stores too.”
For more dairy, deli, bakery, and specialty food news, keep reading Deli Market News.