An Increasingly Level Playing Field for Smaller Brands

Another challenge for major CPG makers

Author: Andria Cheng

June 13, 2017

If you are in the market for Fruitchup, a new tomato ketchup sweetened with real fruit and no added sugar, Amazon, not Whole Foods or Walmart or Kroger stores, may be your best bet.

That’s because the maker of the condiment, Santa Monica-based Not Ketchup, sells its line of fruit-based condiments mostly online, with Amazon being its largest sales outlet. The brick and mortar retailers that stock its products are mostly smaller boutique stores.

“I’ve been approached by large retailers,” said founder and CEO Erika Kerekes in an interview. “At this stage of my business, focusing more on online sales has been beneficial to me. (Retail) shelves are really crowded. You need a lot of marketing budget to support demos and coupons and charges for shelf placement. Online, you have the ability to stand out.”

The story of Kerekes, who first started the company in 2014 and relaunched it end of 2016 with a line of fruit-based barbecue sauce and other condiments with no added sugar, is not only about online’s growing share of consumers’ CPG purchases. It reveals the growing challenges facing large CPG manufacturers and traditional retailers: small manufacturers are benefiting from consumers’ desires for more natural food items, and from alternative channels to promote and sell their products and connect directly with consumers, bypassing the traditional sales channel.

The availability of online discovery and purchase platforms...level the playing field.

It’d have been “much, much harder” for a small brand like Not Ketchup to get noticed and thrive in major traditional brick and mortar stores, she said. “The availability of online discovery and purchase platforms like Hubba and Amazon, as well as social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., do a lot to level the playing field for small emerging brands like mine.” 

“Small manufacturers are traditionally beholden to large retailers,” said Ben Zifkin, founder and CEO of Hubba, a network that aims to allow emerging brands like Not Ketchup to be found by retail buyers. “Getting into big box retailers is not step one in their playbook. If I’m an organic small pet food brand, the best thing that ccould happen to me (traditionally) is Walmart or Petsmart would do a 10,000 order for my product. Nowadays, (brands) want to get to the 10 most interesting pet retailers but do 1,000 each. They can get to scale that way.”

Changes in consumer tastes, coupled with the new ways for emerging brands to get connected to retailers and consumers, has helped drive a share shift in the CPG space.

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The 16 largest food and beverage CPG manufacturers, with combined sales of $233 billion, saw their collective share of the US brick-and-mortar market decline to 31% in the 52 weeks ended April 15, down from 33% five years earlier, according to Nielsen data tracking actual sales at physical retailers including supermarkets, supercenters and drugstores. In comparison, about 16,000 smaller manufacturers, with annual sales of at least $100,000 each and combined sales of $145 billion, saw their total share of the market rise to 19% from 17%, which is equal to about $2 billion in sales, during the same period. 

Small brands’ average annual growth rate over that time is 4.8%, contributing to more than half of the market growth, according to Nielsen. The growth also has translated to increased shelf space: Nielsen said 88% of the about 900 food and beverage items that have been added to US store shelves the past five years came from small and medium sized companies.

Meanwhile, stronger consumer demand has also meant that fewer promotions are necessary to stoke demand: while two-fifths of large food and beverage manufacturers’ dollar volume sold have come from promotions this year, 27% of sales for small manufacturers rely on that, Nielsen’s data showed.