Everyone’s got to start somewhere but starting a food and beverage business in 2021 looks a lot different than it did in 2020.

Competition is fierce, e-commerce is exploding and ways of discovery are coming fast and furious. All this proves that launching and growing a food and beverage product is still not a linear journey and there will never be a one-size-fits-all approach.

Yet in looking at this dizzying landscape, another tried-and-true adage stands out: You can’t be everything to everyone. As Todd Carmichael, founder of La Colombe Coffee, once said, “It’s really hard to make food and beverage for everybody. Kurt Vonnegut wrote for his sister. When I make food and beverage, I have one or two people I think about."

And that sort of thinking is what Cason Crane, founder of Explorer Cold Brew, has kept in mind as he launched his line of cold brew coffees.

Cason knew he wanted to launch a food or beverage product in 2020 but when the lockdown hit, he wasn’t quite sure what that product would be. So he went about testing and trying over a dozen ideas. But he wasn’t simply waiting for inspiration to strike. He was logically thinking about what kind of product would have the right ingredients, if you will, for success.

A spaghetti squash instant ramen was his favorite idea but at the same time, he knew coffee would be a lot of easier than other food and beverage products since there are so few ingredients. In Explorer’s case that’s coffee, water and some chicory root.

“That’s an important consideration people should have when they are starting a project,” he said. “To what extent are they reinventing the wheel versus. can they provide a unique value add without reinventing the wheel"? More simply put, "It doesn’t have to be crazy complicated to still be a good product," he said.

He also discovered what was missing in most cold brew coffee lines—the ability for consumers to choose their level of caffeine. Hence, Explorer Cold Brew sought to fill that hole by offering a range of 2 oz. cold brew coffee bottles ranging from no caf, low-caf, reg-caf and extra-caf. Finding out what’s different about your product from the others out is essential.

“With your core product idea, be clear-minded about what it is that is specifically different,” Cason explained. “Before you highlight the differences and how to market them, just be really clear on what is the difference.” That sounds simplistic, he admitted but it’s harder than it looks.

Nailing down the right iteration of a product can be time-consuming and costly. When it came to testing and trying out iterations of his cold brew, Cason used his lessons on efficiency learned from his background in consulting to speed up the process. Working with a master cold-brewer and coffee experts from around the world, he worked quickly to identify the right brews.

“I don’t want to waste time trying one a time, so I said let’s try five at a time,” he told his cold brewing partner, thus allowing him to go from an idea in May to an actual product for sale by August.

Once you’ve nailed your product and hit on its difference, the next step is communicating it clearly. Yet while you might know the difference, your communication of it might not resonate. Which is why Cason stresses collecting data from people early on (both consumers and potential consumers) and to keep that going through the process. “That will help refine the difference or illuminate a new difference,” he said.

As for building general awareness about the brand, Cason said he would talk about Explorer wherever and whenever he could. He also began a Substack newsletter as a way to keep his friends and family filled in on his journey but also as a way to cultivate support and feedback along the way.

Everyone has setbacks. For Cason it came in the form of digital advertising on social media.

“I stopped advertising on Facebook and Instagram because I knew enough of the benchmarks to know I was spending way too much money,” he said. “That was a great lesson though because I’m very confident in my ability to run this business but that also means recognizing that I can’t do everything and I can’t necessarily do everything well.”

Sorting through the noise in the forms of advice, sales channels, expectations and more, is one of the great challenges according to Cason, but it's also one of the great privileges as a founder of having different strategies to explore.

Having sold out of his cold brew lines twice in 2020, Cason is working on putting out more runs of Explorer bottles but also experimenting with different sizes and offering flavor elixirs to elevate the at-home coffee experience, without all the expensive machinery. Explorer also has a few partnerships in the works and is eyeing a spot on physical shelves as well. 

In short, 2021 will have elements of 2020 for sure, but staying laser-focused on your goals will be more important than ever.


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