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Building a successful food brand: How to stand out and get noticed

  • 5 min read
Image containing food brand logos Covered Bridge Potato Chips and Sonora Foods Ltd.

Small- and medium-sized food processors need to refine, test, re-test, optimize and then head to market with their product.

Consolidation continues to be ever-present among food processing and manufacturing businesses in Canada. Despite this, small- and medium-sized companies keep popping up coast-to-coast and bringing with them innovative ideas, agile decision-making and fearlessness.

Every company hopes to get to a point where just its name conjures up its products in the minds of consumers. However, that can take time, effort and money. Here is how two food and beverage manufacturers stood out on their own to build their brand to success.

When Sonora began its food journey in Canada in 1993, it was drastically different from today. The company began as a straightforward Mexican food and ingredients wholesaler, primarily used by restaurants and hotels.

Over the years, the company became interested in reaching consumers directly.

As the Canadian culinary consciousness shifted, so did the opportunity for Sonora, which now is fully consumer-facing with 15 different SKUs, concentrated on quality tortillas.

Good isn’t always good enough

But simply having good products wasn’t good enough. Sonora’s chief operating officer Frank Luengo was told a hard truth by one category manager: his product can’t be listed just because it’s good. It must stand out and be different enough to justify itself.

Somewhat dejected, Luengo and team went back to the drawing board and within three months had a new product to show. Their tortillas were now free of artificial flavours and preservatives. That was enough for the category manager, and it helped Sonora begin its journey to national distribution.

“It was a good feeling. It was one of those things where we’d done the leg work and already had a distribution partner who could do direct-to-store distribution and guaranteed sale, which is another way to stand out. A supermarket doesn’t want to take a new chance on a new brand.”

Bring the taste to consumers

Sonora also sent staff to do as much in-store sampling as they were allowed. It quickly made a difference.

“We experienced a significant amount of growth, just having customers try it,” he says. “We’ve had lots of growth to date. We felt strongly we had to invest in innovation.”

Part of that innovation, along with unique lines of products that range from authentic Mexicana to GMO-free options to ultra-trendy tortillas like beet and cauliflower flavoured wraps, meant a proactive plan.

Be proactive

“We put together an entire communications plan, and a 52-week plan, already set up for a whole year,” he says.

Part of that strategy is leveraging TikTok and Instagram on social media and more traditional means such as QR codes and traditional online marketing, even original recipes posted on their website.

Beyond the outreach strategy, the company rebranded and created a new logo with vibrant colours and edgy packaging.

“Before we did $1 million in retail, we had $30 million in foodservice,” Luengo says. “That’s how we leveraged the brand, the heritage of it. We have know-how but took a humbler approach.”

It’s a food manufacturer’s dream – a food product that is plentiful, easy to source and has a differentiating factor that won’t break the bank.

Covered Bridge chips are a distinctly darker kettle chip. That’s because Ryan Albright uses his family’s dark russet potatoes grown on their family farm. Covered Bridge Potato Chips is the only chip manufacturer in North America to use dark russets, so he truly is in a league of his own. That chip uniqueness is enjoyed across Canada, parts of the U.S. and even in non-North American markets.

“When they open the bag, they’re meant to see that dark colour and distinct flavour – that’s really our claim,” Albright says. “We’re trying to create value for the store and then something different for the consumer, so it drives more dollars.”

Small means agile

Even though the company has been in business well over a decade, they’re still small potatoes compared to other dynastic companies. And that doesn’t bother Albright. While big players stick to traditional-looking chips, Albright’s decision to zig instead of zag has helped him carve out a niche.

In fact, he uses words such as agile, nimble and innovative to describe his 110-person company. Those adjectives give them an advantage over multinational snack food companies.

“When you look at large companies — whether billion-dollar companies or not — there’s a lot of process, and decisions have to go up the chain to make a new product,” he says. “For us, because we are smaller, we can make those decisions in a day if we want – an hour.”

Create strategic partnerships

One way they make those lightning-fast decisions is through opportunities that unexpectedly pop up. Albright’s company has participated in multiple co-branding initiatives, including one with East Coast Lifestyle, another Atlantic Canadian company. The ECL logo appears on the chip bag along with Covered Bridge Potato Chips, and both companies can get in front of one another’s customers in a new way.

“You both play on each other’s customers, and you’re marketing it through them,” Albright says. “You’re getting a bigger, wider range of audiences. When you have two smaller companies that can co-brand together, it’s very easy, very nimble, much less paperwork and much more flexible.”

Both companies leveraged their social media channels from traditional Facebook and Instagram to newer avenues such as TikTok.

As COVID-19 found many shoppers at home, Covered Bridge Potato Chips saw their online sales go through the roof. Albright explains the fact that they already marketed that way helped them seamlessly transition into increased online sales as the trend of purchasing from home exploded. Their typical order volume increased 20-fold.

Create an experience

A huge draw has been the company’s experiential aspect. Because it’s a family-owned company, they make all the rules, and, in normal circumstances, they receive and welcome 40,000 to 50,000 guests a year in their factory. Patrons go through a guided tour, watching as chips are made and at the end, they get a fresh warm bag of potato chips.

Bottom line

There are tremendous opportunities for small- and medium-sized food manufacturers and processors in Canada. Understand that your company’s smaller size is a large advantage as you can swiftly react to changing markets and opportunities that present themselves. Companies that embrace new-school marketing avenues like emerging social media platforms also stand to gain, and at virtually no cost.

Article by: Trevor Bacque