A Candy Entrepreneur’s Sweetest Marketing Advice

Marketing in the B2B space presents distinct challenges. But these 4 strategies could take your business to the next level.

Torie Burke, CEO of Torie & Howard, founded her business in 2010 (launched in 2012) with her business partner, Howard Slatkin. The company sells USDA-certified organic candies via distributors and retailers, with a small portion of sales going directly to consumers via the company’s e-commerce site. Their ultimate goal? To clean up the candy aisle by offering delicious, better-for-you treats that even people with food allergies can enjoy.

When my business partner and I set out to start a healthy, organic food company, the only experience we had in the industry was personal.

Prior to discovering our food-related entrepreneurial dream, we had both worked for 25-plus years in the design industry, designing and managing high-end residential projects all over the world. That meant we often traveled — and ate — together. Being foodies, however, ended up hitting us hard in different ways.

Howard set out to lose more than 100 pounds by focusing on healthier eating habits and making sure every calorie he consumed was worth it.

I, on the other hand, experienced a late onset of food allergies and found that overhauling the ingredients in my diet presented a huge challenge, especially when it came to keeping my sweet tooth happy. At the time, gluten-free cakes were not as good as they are today.

These experiences led us to crave a healthy, organic snack — one we also wanted to bring to consumers. After some market research, we landed on candy. But how did we, with no business connections or experiences in the food world, break into an entirely new industry?

Key factors

Because both Howard and I had built companies before, we knew the importance of understanding and mitigating our risks, especially while breaking into a new industry. We countered early these entrepreneurial risks by hiring an experienced food industry consultant and by working with a reputable insurance provider.

Our consultant helped us build and execute our overall plan, which included introducing us to strategic partners and vendors, as well as guiding our conversations with potential packaging and ingredients suppliers.

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Even if you don’t sell directly to end users, you still need them to want your product.

Her direction helped us greatly while planning everything from trade budgets to promotional programs.

We also knew that securing the right small business insurance would help us move forward with more confidence, especially while building our brand. So, finding a respected insurance partner was an important factor early on.

Building a marketing foundation

Beyond getting production up and running, we needed to build a strong foundation for our marketing efforts. We learned that before launching into sales and marketing efforts, it’s essential to define your company:

  • Value proposition.This statement should include the unique benefits your business provides and for whom.
  • While creating your strategic plan, identify both short-term stepping stones and long-term milestones, as well as an overall mission.
  • Ideal customers. These become your marketing targets. Think of them always: while considering where and when to advertise, developing brand messages and even writing social media posts.

Our company sells a consumer product, but not directly to consumers. Instead, our customers are primarily distributors that sell to retailers that then sell to consumers. Marketing to and supporting our customers presents distinct challenges.

Here are four strategies that have worked for us:

      Focus on trade marketing efforts that fit your ideal customers.

Be where your customers are. We’ve found, because the bulk of our sales comes from distributors, that advertising in and offering interviews to trade publications, as well as attending industry trade shows, is our best bet for reaching our target customers.

Torie & Howard aims to clean up the candy aisle by offering delicious, better-for-you treats that even people with food allergies can enjoy.

Now stores are requesting our products, which is the pull we all want.

If you have a product that needs to be demonstrated or, in our case, tasted, make sure your trade show booth provides an easy avenue for these activities.

We know that every person who visits our booth is a potential customer, so we show up with enough samples for every attendee. In fact, that’s how we met one of our ultimate brand ambassadors. He works with Oprah and helped us land a coveted spot on her 2015 O List.

      Support your customers’ sales and marketing efforts.

If you’re like us and don’t sell directly to the people who use or consume your product, you can still help your distributors drive retailer demand. Some ways to do this include:

  • Supporting your known retailers by driving social media followers to their stores, especially during promotional periods, which helps drive consumer activity.
  • Planning sampling events for retailers to promote product trial in their stores.
  • Getting involved in retailer anniversaries and grand opening events.

You can even take part in their community outreach programs, environmental efforts and corporate runs. We do this by supplying product for sampling during the events.

      Work with a network of brokers who share your values.

Feet on the street are extremely important. Why?

These team members are representatives of your brand and help ensure that your agreements are being executed as designed. Brokers whose values align with yours are the likeliest people to represent your business well.

      Finally, don’t forget about marketing to your end consumer.

Even though you may not sell directly to end users, you still need them to want your product. After all, if they don’t buy it, your distributors won’t want it.

Discover which marketing channels speak to your end users and use them to consistently communicate your value proposition. The social media channel that has performed best for us is Instagram, so that’s where we most often directly interact with our candy fans.

Our success is closely tied to growing consumer demand for better-for-you food alternatives that still taste amazing, so developing a connection with the people who eat our candy is paramount.

This is also a great way to get consumer feedback on our products and hear why our customers enjoy them — both of which guide our brand messaging.

Each time a mom thanks us for creating a healthier alternative to conventional candy — and one that her children love — it feels great.

We’re proud to be the answer when people search for organic, kosher-certified, gluten-free, dairy-free, non-GMO candy that’s also free of artificial flavors and dyes.

Providing delicious organic candies free of the big eight allergens — really just helping people find a little great-tasting joy — is tremendously satisfying.

Images courtesy of Torie & Howard.

This article was developed in partnership with The Hartford. Check out their blog, Small Biz Ahead, a destination where you can discover insights and advice to help you manage and grow your small business.

Torie Burke is the co-founder and CEO of Torie & Howard, a producer of organic candy designed to satisfy consumers who crave healthy, yet indulgent, snacks.

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