Johnny Meatballs: A Case Study in Branding & Launching A Business

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There has NEVER been a better time to pursue your entrepreneurial passions than TODAY.  

Back in the Old School it was hard to create awareness, branding and communicate a message.  It was all about good old fashioned elbow grease and generating word of mouth buzz. Some call it HUSTLE, one of the top traits from the Old School.    

Today’s New School technology affords everyone the opportuntiy to…..

  • Live your passion, and share it with like minded people

  • Build an audience

  • Replicate your message to thousands or more…..assuming it’s worth spreading.  

Everyone has the opportunity to create a Brand, both personally and for their business.  And like all things worthy in life, it takes real, hard, consistent work.  It’s not easy, but it’s within everyone’s grasp.

Here’s a great example I discovered over Superbowl Weekend:  Johnny Meatballs.

I’m biased, he’s a NJ boy and building a business on one of my favorite foods.  And I wouldn’t bet against him.  Enjoy the videos and I think you’ll see why.  


The lead up to a big event, Superbowl and “big announcements.”

And great Superbowl press coverage

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Does Price Really Matter?

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Price will always play a role in the buying process.  But effort and thoughtfulness are also considerations when your buying gifts. Consumer psychology is challenging because it all factors into the decision process.

Tn. liquor stores should take a page from the wine merchants in the great state of Florida.  They worry about competing, keeping customers happy and controlling what they can control.

While on vacation in Atlanta, I had the pleasure of re-connecting with a great friend for dinner.  In preparation, I killed 2 birds with one stone, taking a long walk and finding a great bottle of wine to bring to their home.

Stop #1, the local Publix Supermarket where wine is sold.  Publix is one of the southeasts top retailers, catering to a slightly more affluent shopper than the average retailer.  They had a full aisle wine, probably about 60′ long, 6 shelves high.  That’s 360 linear feet of wine selling space, no small amount amount of square footage by any measure.

Publix Atlanta Wine aisle

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What did I see?

  • Practically every major national, well advertised brand known to man.
  • Great prices.  Did not see any bottle that was “higher” than the best price I can remember in other outlets.  Not cheaper, but certainly not higher either
  • There was simply 0 “point of purchase” material other than clearly marked prices.  Anybody that shops for wine is used to “Wine spectator points” or other informational literature by multiple bottles of wine.  You could not distinguish this aisle from the salad dressing aisle.
  • Surprisingly, I don’t remember seeing one bottle of wine over $20 per bottle.  Seemed nearly impossible that with that much selection, not ONE bottle pushed north of this threshold?  I almost picked up a bottle of Coppola Red for $20, but decided to pass.  I left the store.

Publix has a formula for selling the brands with the biggest national ad budgets (and consumer awareness as a result).  It is safe and I’m sure it’s effective for them.  But for me, on this purchase occasion, I needed “something extra.”

Exactly 3 stores down what did I stumble upon?  You guessed it, a wine shop: Ansley Wine Merchants.

Ansley Wine Merchant Atlanta

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  • This store was not radically more appealing to the eye.  Stacks of wine and liquor everywhere, although it did have a unique organization structure with country flags designating each section of the store with the varietals organized under that country’s flag.
  • Point of sale everywhere!  Want facts and interesting tidbit?  You’ll find them.
  • Service!  And if you need a hand, the guys behind the counter are willing to lend it.  They will even throw the bottle in a gift bag.
  • And if you want to spend between $5 and $1k, you have your place.
  • And there was a Yelp promo offer if you bought 6 bottles.

Needless to say, I purchased my bottle from Ansley Merchants, NOT Publix.  Not just because Publix was “too cheap”…..I’m from the school of thought that fantastic bottles can be found in EVERY price point.  But unique, “interesting” finds were simply not present at Publix, at least in my eyes.  And I felt like I was buying a bottle of salad dressing vs. learning something about my purchase.

There is always a way to compete.  There are consumers who value things beyond price.  If there are enough of them, you can be fancy and call this group of buyers a “segment.”  Pick a segment that matters and over-deliver and you can compete with the 800lb gorillas. Even when they are 2 doors down…..


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Smart Innovation: 2 CPG New Products That Work

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Innovation is the life blood of a CPG company.  It gives the salesforce a reason to see their buyers and generates consumer interest at the point of purchase.  Ultimately, smart innovation drives profitable incremental $ sales.  It “margins up” a brand for the manufacturer and the retailer.  Innovation is also critical to driving market share gains, one of the critical “missing” P’s of marketing.”

Too often however, new products simply cannibalize existing products.  Why?

  • Appearance:  Same Old, Same Old.  They LOOK exactly like the base products
  • Form & Function are nearly identical to base offering.  The closer the form to the base, the more likely for switching to occur within the franchise
  • Overall, it’s simply a “tweak” off the existing product.  Different flavor.  Marginally better formula.  New Size.

By definition, the further away from the base, the more likely the incrementality of the new product.  Risk also increases.  Like investments, risk is usually correlated with reward in the new product arena.

Here are 2 examples from Billion $+ brands:  Campbell’s & Pringles.

Campbell's Skillet new product

Pringles Stix new product

Why would I consider this “smart innovation?”

  • Fits with their brand equity, they have “license” to extend into these areas.
  • They are sufficiently different from base offerings
  • They bring something substantially interesting to the consumer.  Usage, packaging, ease of use, health benefits.

Campbell’s is clearly the riskier proposition of the two.  Both brands compete in big categories, but if I were to bet, this product line would generate greater total (and incremental) sales vs the Pringles Stix, also probably requires more investment than the closer in Pringles product.

I’m sure Campbell’s did their research, but my first instinct was that the choice of all black packaging, with no reference to their nostalgic “red & white” can may be too far of a reach?  Again, only the insiders understand the testing, consumer feedback and goals, so this is not a second guess (just an observation) as I’m sure they did their homework.

One observation:  While doing a simple Google search on “Cambell’s Skillet Sauces” and reviewing the first page results, it seems like their was a 10:1 ratio of price promotion (store deals, coupon offers) to product reviews, blog offerings.  While this is not uncommon for a new product entry, I did see one fantastic blog review with great product shots, opinions and  instructions (link below).

It begs a key question:  Which communication is more valuable to the brand owners, the trial incentives or the blog review?  What if the 10:1 ratio of incentives vs third party reviews was flipped on the front page of Google, would this thrill the brand team or disappoint them?

If the answer is the former,  did the product intro budget and resulting objectives reflect this desire?  If not, why?

Would love to hear your thoughts….

blog write-up of campbell's skillet


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