The “community first” approach to food and beverage is highly touted by many brand-building experts. However, in a year where physical congregation is severely limited, we have to ask— is community still at the center of the maker-verse?

Back in 2019, community first would have meant bringing your product to a local farmers market, or setting up an in-store tasting at a local grocery store. For Travis Piéd of Lume Granola, he launched his brand by visiting local cafes and handing out samples with the aim of becoming a known name in the San Diego area. Countless makers have done something similar, using neighborhood markets and hangouts to drum up attention.

But in 2021, the reality is consumers are still largely avoiding grocery stores and more and more frequently relying on delivery or curbside pickup. On top of that, the average household already has hundreds of products inside it and you simply can’t expect every buyer to become a product-oriented community member.

You know where this is going. For a maker seeking to build a following, your opportunity is in digital, and there are three clear ways to build community around your product.

But first, it is important to clearly understand what kind of community you want to build. There is nuance here, so figure out where your line is.

For us, community, is quite simply a group of people who form a fellowship around interests, niches, and ethos and help each other understand and solve problems, achieve goals, and learn.

Nerdy Nuts over 6k Facebook Group Members
Nerdy Nuts does a buy/sell/trade program once a month in their Facebook group. Everything from flavor announcements, drop times, and fulfillment center updates are included in this group.
"We think the reason our customers communicate and share so much is because we do. We encourage them to share their stories, reviews and life with our brand. We try to do the same. We are always giving people inside looks into our business, how we’ve become hyper successful and what we are planning for the future. We also know where to scale back and create an element of suspense which gets people talking too. —Erika & Craig, Founders of Nerdy Nuts

Nerdy Nuts has transcended food to full blown collector products that go beyond jars of peanut butter. If NFTs are the new way to store and value cultural energy, it feels like only a matter of time before Erika and Craig launch a Nerdy Nuts NFT — that’s right, we just said there is a better than 0% chance that people will someday buy digital peanut butter.

Other Examples: Ugly Drinks, OffLimits Cereal
Almost a decade ago now Peter Rahal was obsessed with CrossFit, which at the time, didn’t sell any snacks or post-workout fuel in their gyms. So Peter and his co-founder started making protein bars at home that fit the paleo ethos of the CrossFit community.

Fast forward a couple years and RXBAR was doing over $36 million in annual GMV and in late 2017 they sold to Kellogg’s for ~$600MM. Peter found a community he was a part of, served them, and it turned out that community product also appealed to a much wider audience (after a very key packaging change).

"We would rather have a CrossFit customer in California than a local Chicago independent grocery store, because in the grocery store we’re among the sea of competition. Whereas in a CrossFit gym, we were by ourselves. RXBAR was literally engineered and designed for that occasion. It was perfect."—Peter Rahal (on "How I Built This")

Other Examples: Red Bull, Sweet LogicTrust Foods
While most of DTC is piling into Instagram, Clubhouse, TikTok and Facebook Groups, Jing Gao of Fly By Jing chose a different channel to launch her newest community efforts — onlyfans. What? The content and the message is the same no matter the channel — Behind The Scenes (BTS) content to allow your fans and customers to get a more intimate look at your product, your business and you.

The old adage that “nobody wants to see how the sausage is made” has been completely flipped on its head by our digital lives. These days, almost everyone wants to get a back of house look at how you are creating your product. OnlyFans does require a credit card, even if your content is free, which will no doubt create quite a bit of churn. However, it is quite a vote of confidence if your fans are willing to put their credit card in to see your content.
I wanted to have a space to show you all the behind the scenes, answer your question, and experiment with food and flavor. Back when I was packaging every order, one of my favorite things about running the business was getting to talk to people who were as fanatical about flavor as I was — so I hope this can be a space for you and I to connect in new ways. —Jing Gao, Fly By Jing

If you choose the channel you are most comfortable with, then push past the urge to keep everything to yourself, you could be rewarded with a very loyal community of fans that may not only become customers, but also ambassadors.

Other Examples: Explorer Cold Brew, Immi Foods
Both inside and out of F&B you can find a plenty of examples of folks bringing people together, people with aligned goals and values helping each other, digital experiences augmenting, enhancing, and replacing physical ones (thanks COVID!), in and around different verticals. Here are some of our current favorites:

Upcycle Association
Created by a group of upcycled food companies who recognize the power of collaboration in growing a successful food category and environmental movement.

My Climate Journey
A reformed app developer who dove into the deep end of understanding the new climate economy. His podcast and newsletter have launched a paid community for everyone in the climate ecosystem that most recently spawned a rolling fund which invested in Moonshot Snacks (go Jen Berliner & crew!)

The Well
A holistic ecosystem that provides bespoke treatments from trusted world-class providers in both physical and digital environments and how now launched their own line of supplements too.

Oh, hey. 👋We offer our members a private community complete with insights, opportunities, connections and more. All our members are helping the food and beverage ecosystem navigate what’s next. We’ll be continuing this community-building discussion in our members-only Slack group. Come join us!

🍪 Meet a Maker: Priya Mulvihill

YOU AGAIN FOODS: Now you can have your cookies and be healthy, too! You Again Foods founder Priya Mulvihill is making the whole idea of “food as medicine” a whole lot more delicious with her line of good-for-you, plant-based baking mixes inspired by Ayurveda medicine (an alternative medicine practice that is based upon the philosophy that wellness is dependent on a balanced mind, body and spirit.) Read all about maker journey here.

👥 Foodboro Digital Cohort

READY, SET, COHORT: We've filled the spots for March '21 digital growth cohort and are now accepting applications for April. This is an awesome chance for our members to join a new cohort to accelerate their digital growth together, powered by Shopify and our community. APPLY TODAY.

🧠 Reading Roundup: February 23, 2021

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