Lost in the Supermarket

A Plant-Based CEO Reveals the Secrets to Success

June 17, 2021 SupermarketGuru
Lost in the Supermarket
A Plant-Based CEO Reveals the Secrets to Success
Chapters
Lost in the Supermarket
A Plant-Based CEO Reveals the Secrets to Success
Jun 17, 2021
SupermarketGuru

Brad Charron is CEO of Aloha, an employee-owned and operated company committed to making the healthiest, best-tasting plant-based protein products on the planet. A classically trained CPG operator, Brad has worked on powerful entrepreneurial brands including Chobani, Under Armour and KIND Snacks.

Show Notes Transcript

Brad Charron is CEO of Aloha, an employee-owned and operated company committed to making the healthiest, best-tasting plant-based protein products on the planet. A classically trained CPG operator, Brad has worked on powerful entrepreneurial brands including Chobani, Under Armour and KIND Snacks.

Phil:

Welcome to Lost in the Supermarket. The best interviews that I get, or those from entrepreneurs that have really had a broad width of experience that they've not only started maybe in the marketing department or as a bagger, and then elevate themselves to the CEO position. Uh, Brad, Sharon is one of those people, the CEO of Aloha , uh , that joins us today , um, a new plant-based product, a new plant-based category. That's really changing the way consumers are shopping and eating, and the way supermarkets are merchandising these products. So it's a very timely conversation. Um, and Brad, welcome to lost in the supermarket.

Brad:

Thank you. I appreciate you having me.

Phil:

So let me start with the most uncomfortable part , um, the pandemic. So how has Aloha had to shift during the pandemic and what changes if any, have you had to make and how do you see the industry changing as a whole?

Brad:

Yeah. Uh , it's a great question. It's something obviously we're still dealing with , um, even as we come out of the pandemic. Uh, and so the next question is, okay now , uh, so we went before the pandemic, you know , w we're a small company we're relatively lean. Uh, we operate very efficient. So some younger companies or startups having a home run mentality where they're just going to go for growth at all costs, and they're going to make it work. And as an operator of classically trained operator, as someone who I'm always thinking about the risk reward, probably propositions , uh , that wasn't really my Motto , and so we were lean coming into the pandemic. So we didn't have to take all this growth that we were planning for the growth didn't materialize. And then you cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. To try to survive. Uh , we were already well-positioned the category did not do well. The categories we play in of of protein bars and protein drinks did not do well in the pandemic consumers weren't on the go, they weren't out being active. They were hunkering down. Uh, I'm always looking at the proportionality of sales of healthy products and like protein bars versus alcohol and alcohol. Certainly one , uh , even in my own household alcohol one. That's great. Um, but, but the category didn't despite them because of some of the trends of plant-based organic clean , um, the consumers were still looking for them . Now, if you find a brand that embodies that, but also has great tastes , great texture, great kind of food design, which is the hallmark of any good brand in the supermarket. Uh, we were able to survive and thrive. And now the question is, how do we take some of that great repeat that great brand brand story and bring it out to the world where consumers are now active and anxious to go back to , uh , an exterior , uh , really validation slide .

Phil:

So you've had senior positions at Chobani and Kind of other major food companies. Um, what was probably the best learning for you having gone through that , uh , school, if you would have CPG when you went to start Aloha?

Brad:

Well, you know, and even before that, I was trained up i n Frito-Lay, u h, a s part of PepsiCo, the most entrepreneurial division o f m edicine, u h, down in Dallas, Texas, where, whereas where I went after I got my MBA and I learned really from a great management team down there about product availability, product positioning, product supply, and retail m ap. Y ou k now, I think a lot of young companies forget retail, math c omponents, the job of any startup is to stay in business so you can scale and grow a lot of people forget that. U h, and so I learned that, u h, freedom, u h, I learned about how do you, how do you make a PNL and how do you design product innovation t hat, that can grow as part of your portfolio, as opposed to bring it all down? Um, I learned a lot at Chobani when I went into there, there was no marketing department and it was largely reading product and marketing. Um, and it was the, it was a story about the founder who was incredible. It should be a source of inspiration for any entrepreneur to be perfectly candid. Um, but it was a story about him and it wasn't as much as story about the brand new product . At that time, we had , uh, all the attention of your play and Dan , uh , they were aware of us by then. This was not some young fly by the seat of your pants off start, but you didn't need to pay attention to their hemorrhaging share and the reasons it was a better product , uh , it was a better product than what they were making at Aloha. We have a better product, you know, they, so they have yogurt and all yogurt's healthy. They had Greek yogurt and all these all Greek yogurt, the same. And the answer is no, it's not same with plant-based same with organic. It's not all the same. Consumers have an appetite of drawers . A choice is an opportunity to choose whatever they want, but at Chibani I learned not to be afraid of the firefight when everyone's guns are aimed at you. Uh , you take that as an opportunity to differentiate and to showcase why you're special and different and not be intimidated by their scale and their size. So when, when I hear you talk about, you know, the lessons learned, if you would, and the fact that a lot of food startups , um, have not gone through that, and a lot of them , um, last , um , as long as their bank accounts last, and then they're out of business because they don't have that long-term strategy.

Phil:

Um, let's talk about plant-based because there's been a lot of innovation and startups in the plant-based space. Um, you've explained why Aloha separate yourself from those. Um , and certainly with your experience, that's an easy one to see , um, how big of a trend is plant-based and were , where do you think going, and what's the kind of innovation that plant-based really needs. Yeah. Look, I think it's a, it's a great question. If I knew all the answers, we'd be doing everything right, and we'd already be huge. Uh , I do very, very little right. And I have a good team of people that keep me on the straight and narrow , um, which is, I guess, another good lesson is surround yourself with people much better than you are. And I'm fortunate to have that kind of team of people. Um, look, all plant based is not equal.

Brad:

What's going to be positive about plant-based . Look, there is a non dairy , all dairy alt protein trend. It's not a fad. It's not a drop in the pan , uh , beyond meat, impossible burger, hopefully they ain't going away. Um, the consumer is saying, look, there's, there's many reasons why I want to have and try plant-based , uh, we'll talk about the barriers to them in a second, but what are the benefits of it? Sustainability, a sustainable agriculture , um, better bio biochemistry. I'm , I'm a hockey player, not a bioengineer . And so , um, I don't know much about stop, stop the puck. It's not the pocket, the puck out of that . I know that, but the body does better with , um, with, with good plant-based nutrition, which is why some of the NFL teams are buying directly from us now for their players. And it didn't just start at that movie game changers on Netflix. Um, there's really good science behind it. Uh , and then the third party identifiers people certifying that this plant-based is the traditionally superior. Um , it is sustainably raised. It, it does have the absence of negatives that consumers are looking for when they check off labels on the back of their ingredients, or they look at what the brand and the product stands for. There are check marks that make them think and make them believe that they're making a smart decision because they are, what are some of the obstacles? In my opinion, a lot, largely sensorial, I think, taste and texture. Um, I don't know if you've ever had, I mean, I was a big diet Coke drinker 20 years ago, and going from a regular pop to a diet soda , uh, was a big change until you got used to the aspartame, pretty much in it. Consumers have to come and graduate from dairy and way to , um , to plant-based. Now there are companies like a brave, brave robot yogurt that are alt protein that are taking fungi or whatever. And the smart people do to take protein and not animal protein and make it taste like animal protein. Um, we've been able to solve for texture and taste largely versus some of our competitors in the protein bar and certainly the protein drinks space , uh , that taste and texture portion of plant-based is something that brands need to have addressed. Otherwise you're only going to get the most loyal, the most dedicated, the most of the consumers willing to sacrifice the most, and you'll lose some of the mainstream appeal that I think Oatley and some of the other brands have been able to capture in their specific categories.

Phil:

So just a week or so ago , uh , if it issued a report about plant-based versus dairy based in particular, as it relates to yogurt, as you've mentioned, a mil cheese and so on. And if you look at the customer , uh , the shopper that's buying plant-based, it is skewed 18 to 34 year olds. It really isn't hitting the 40 year olds. The 50 year olds, the 60 year olds. You think that's going to change or with this new generation, that's how plant-based grows versus really converting a 65 year old person who grew up on milk to a plant-based alternative .

Brad:

I think like many categories out there it's the next generation of consumers are defining the new reality and the new better for older consumers. Um, I think younger brands have more sensibilities and willingness to go off and have messaging and communication that speaks to new audiences as opposed to trading through methodology and benchmarks. That what they've done before we saw that at Under Armour, when I was an underwriter meet where the brands and the next generation of that let the older athletes have Nike, God bless them. Adidas, Reebok, knock yourself out. We were going to capture every 15 year old kid wearing a big logo under Armour hoodie , waiting for the school bus, waiting for their chance to be the starter. When in high school football team, that was the mindset. Why different ensued ? What w why not? Um , there's a reason why my wife uses pickup now is because my 13, 11, and nine year old dollars do that's great. So what do we have consumers that stretched the gambit of why plant-based, why Aloha? We have consumers. We have direct feedback being a digitally first company. I mean, I answer personal emails. We have a system where I go in every morning and decide which of the emails we get to care.com. I personally answered . Sometimes it's someone that had a bad word . They wanted to replace. I'll handle that. Some people say, I love what you stand for . I'll handle that. Some people say, Hey, tell me about your , your , your commitment to sustainability. Tell me why you're a B Corp. I'll handle that too. So it's that interconnectivity, that relationship driven approach that I think really resonates with younger consumers who are very active, socially minded, conscious of what's going on, not afraid to speak their mind. Um, I'm not surprised that this next generation of consumers is leading the next iteration of innovation when it comes to food and beverage. So when, when you look into your crystal ball, where's the low haha in 10 years from now alive and kicking , uh, um , give me more of that. I remember what it was like feeling , carrying the bags around and deciding which vendor we were going to pay on which day. I mean, I remember being a startup . I told my team last week, we're no longer a startup. Now we're a growth company. Does that mean we forget about what got us here? No, we remember the hard moments. The pain points, the two steps back. Remember being told, no, you're not ready or no, we don't like you or no, you're never going to be a big thing. So we remember that we also celebrate the wins by the way. And people have told us that they like us , uh , 10 years from now, hopefully a , well , I still stimulating the plant-based revolution. It's still on the right side of food design. Uh , and progressiveness, when it comes to food design, it's still a B Corp. Obviously it's still about sustainability. It's always about transparency. It's giving back to the community, especially communities where we have the most authenticity. Um, and it's something that we all we who are started this company , uh , can be proud on to say, yeah, we created that. And now it's doing more and more good because it's scaled up.

Phil:

Well, congratulations on , on your success. Um, I can't wait for 10 years. Um, and hopefully we'll before that, you know, allow Alohas and everybody's refrigerator cupboard , uh , everybody's home in the U S thanks.

Brad:

We hope so .

Phil:

And thanks for joining us on Lost In The Supermarket.

Brad:

Thank you.