What do you do when you have a combined 50-plus years of expertise in the food industry? How about start over? That's exactly what Mike Senackerib did.
Senackerib has combined his own history of senior-level positions at food giants like the former Kraft Foods (as senior vice president-general manager) Campbell Soup Co. (chief marketing officer) and Herr Foods (on the board of directors) with the industry experience of Kay Allison, former chief executive officer of The Energy Infuser, a consulting firm that worked with consumer packaged goods companies including Mondelēz International and PepsiCo.
The pair joined forces to create Farm & Oven Snacks, Inc., a new company born out of consumer-driven demand. Farm & Oven Bakery Bites are moist, sweet snacks that contain 40% of the recommended daily intake for vegetables, lots of fiber, and more than one billion probiotics per serving. The snacks are available in four flavors: beet dark chocolate, zucchini lemon poppyseed, carrot cinnamon, and pumpkin maple pecan.
The company launched in May 2017 and began shipping product in November. Farm & Oven is laser-focused on its official mission to help consumers "find the joy in healthy." The mission guides “our consumer, customer, product and social actions,” says Senackerib, who serves as ceo.
Both executives have had past experience in commercializing and launching multiple $100 million platforms from concept through in-market success, which “is an invaluable experience for starting a new business from scratch,” he says.
For example, Senackerib led Mondelēz's successful launch of 100 Calorie Packs and Toasted Chips, the latter of which Allison helped position. “We have a very clear sense of the steps needed to get the business up and running, as well as what is required to scale up and succeed as a larger enterprise over time.”
In early December, the company announced that its products were available through Amazon — no easy feat for any new brand. CGT took the opportunity to catch up with Senackerib to learn how he's done it so far.
“Knowing that more consumers are buying food online is changing the industry,” Senackerib says, noting that, first and foremost, he intended to stay on top of several consumer trends that are transforming the industry. The goal of Farm & Oven is to “be part of driving that transformation.”
E-commerce allows Farm & Oven to deliver a more personalized consumer experience, and provides real-time data feedback. That feedback acts as a guide to help the company adjust its marketing activity to drive sales.
“We are already adjusting our marketing programs based on which messages, marketing channels, and audiences are most profitable,” Senackerib says.
Perhaps most valuable is the simple fact that e-commerce is an easier channel for a start-up business to crack. Consider this: Start-ups born out of e-commerce don’t need a sales team, brokers, or distributors. They can ship directly to consumers (or Amazon), keeping the logistics manageable during the early stages. In addition, the cash flow cycle is shorter, which is great for fledgling business.
For Senackerib, the biggest differences in moving from a large, established organization to a small, start-up company are the focus, speed and hands-on action:
- Being singularly focused on a mission provides great clarity and lets Farm & Oven operate with speed.
- Teams can be very nimble, make decisions quickly and implement actions immediately. “We keep all of the relevant marketing data at our fingertips, so we are ready to adjust our strategy swiftly to impact sales.”
- From manufacturing to sales finance and logistics, every one of the handful of full-time employees is hands-on in every aspect of the business. “I have a great appreciation for the functional experts on my previous teams,” says Senackerib, although he believes being intimately involved with every action helps him to fully understand what is working and what needs to be adjusted.
Another key enabler for this start-up business is technology, which Senackerib explains “makes the many complex interactions manageable for just a few people.” Technology, in a case like this, is the back office: e-commerce website, logistics and accounting platforms, and “the connections from each of those to help manage inventory.”
The heavy reliance on shopper data for near-real-time feedback lets the company react within hours instead of weeks. “This includes analytics for our marketing programs, specific ad channels, website, Amazon and CRM initiatives," Senackerib says. "Having the right tools to quickly analyze marketing ROI by message, audience and channel is already paying dividends."
Farm & Oven is “delighted” for now with the early consumer feedback on its products and will focus on broadening availability to reach more people through trial. Over the next year, the company hopes “to keep up with the consumer demand” by moving into a larger, full-time manufacturing facility. (It currently operates out of a shared facility, renting shifts and equipment.)
Senackerib notes that Farm & Oven will ultimately expand into more channels, “both non-traditional and traditional outlets, including brick-and-mortar.”
“In five years, we would like to see that we have made a significant, positive impact in people’s eating habits, with millions of consumers eating the recommended three to five servings of vegetables every day and enjoying it,” Senackerib predicts. “That would be the fulfillment of our mission: Finding the joy in healthy.”