G. Steve Cleere|Food Startup Innovation and Food Supply Chain Disruptions in the Age of COVID-19

Steven Cleere is the Founder and Chief Brand Developer of Nexxt Level Brands. For over 30 years, he’s been actively involved in marketing, advertising, and promotion disciplines, and in 2014, he founded NexxtLevel Brands, a consulting group aimed at helping small and medium-sized businesses to scale and to grow especially those in the food and CPG areas. He has helped by introducing new systems such as Revel Systems to these entrepreneurs.

Steve previously worked as Co-founder and Managing Partner at Trade Marketing Inc., aka TMI Group, which is a retail marketing agency. He’s also worked in grocery, drug, mass and specialty real retailing, software development, promotion evaluation, and key account profitability. In 2019, Steven and his wife, Deborah, combined their backgrounds and created Kitchen2Shelf, which is an educational service that provides online courses and in-person workshops for food and beverage entrepreneurs at all stages of growth.

Available_Black copy
Available_Black copy
Available_Black copy

Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Learn:

  • How having a podcast has impacted G. Steven Cleere and his business
  • Steve talks about COVID-19 and what his clients have been doing to survive
  • Why some companies are thriving in e-commerce while others are scrambling to get into the industry
  • The future of grocery delivery services and how the attitudes of e-commerce sellers towards Walmart have changed
  • Steve’s thoughts on the growth of the ‘fake meat’ market segment and the growing trend of innovations in the food industry
  • How food consumption rates in the US have changed in light of COVID-19
  • The motivation behind Kitchen2Shelf and how Steve helps food startups innovate
  • The people G. Steven Cleere acknowledges for his achievements

Resources Mentioned:

Sponsor: Rise25

Today’s episode is sponsored by Rise25 Media, where our mission is to connect you with your best referral partners, clients, and strategic partners. We do this through our done for you podcast solution and content marketing. 

Along with my business partner Dr. Jeremy Weisz, we have over 18 years of experience with B2B podcasting, which is one of the best things you can do for your business and you personally. 

If you do it right, a podcast is like a “Swiss Army Knife” – it is a tool that accomplishes many things at once. It can and will lead to great ROI, great clients, referrals, strategic partnerships, and more. It is networking and business development; and it is personal and professional development which doubles as content marketing

A podcast is the highest and best use of your time and will save you time by connecting you to higher caliber people to uplevel your network. 

To learn more, go to Rise25.com or email us at [email protected]

To learn more, book a call with us here

Check out Rise25 to learn more about our done-for-you lead generation and done-for-you podcast services. 

Right Click here to download the MP3

Click here to subscribe via iTunes

Advertise on the Smart Business Revolution Podcast

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:10  

Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution. John Corcoran.

John Corcoran  0:40  

All right. Welcome, everybody. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of the Smart Business Revolution podcast where I talk with CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs, authors, speakers, and many you know founders and CEOs of companies and organizations like YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, Lending tree, Opentable x software and many more. I’m also the co-founder of Rise25 where we helped connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. 

And today I’ve got a great guest. It’s my friend G. Steven Cleere, the Chief Brand Developer in Nexxt Level Brands. He helps extensively food and consumer packaged goods companies. And for over 30 years he’s been actively involved in marketing, advertising and promotion disciplines. In 2014, he founded Nexxt Level Brands, which is a consulting group aimed at helping small and medium sized businesses to scale and to grow, especially those working as I said in the food and CPG areas. 

He previously worked as Co-founder and Managing Partner at Trade Marketing Inc, aka TMI Group, which is a retail marketing agency. He’s worked in grocery, drug mass and specialty real retailing, including software development, promotion evaluation, key account profitability, and all those different areas. And so we’re going to be talking extensively about what’s going on in the food supply chain and what’s happening with food makers and manufacturers. Finally, in 2019, Steven and his wife Deborah combined their backgrounds and created Kitchen2Shelf, which is an educational service that provides online courses and in person workshops for food and beverage entrepreneurs at all stages of growth. 

But first, before we get into this whole discussion here, you know, I wanted to let you know that this episode is brought to you by Rise25 Media, which is my company that I Co-founded with my business partner, Dr. Jeremy Weisz. We help b2b businesses to get clients referrals and strategic partnerships and an ROI with done for you podcasts and content marketing. If you’re listening to this, and you listen to podcasts from time to time, have you ever thought, should I do a podcast? Well, we absolutely say wholeheartedly. Yes. I’ve been doing it for 10 years. One of the best things I’ve ever done. And Steve, you know, we’ve helped you with your podcast, and you are a podcaster. Talk a little bit about you know what impact it’s had for you doing the podcast. 

Steven Cleere  2:53  

Yeah, actually. So I started podcasts last summer and a weekly show the Nexxt Level Brands podcast. And basically the idea was to reach out to people within the CPG industry large or small, but particularly to talk to founders who’d had some success and whatever else. Well, first of all, number one, it’s been like the most fun you can possibly imagine. That’s the first thing. It’s been absolutely great. And secondly is I’ve learned so much from doing the shows myself. It’s been full of education. And third for relationships and stuff with people it’s been, I don’t think I could find a better tool or a better use of time. Not only great relationships, but I have two people who became clients and two more people that we’re talking to right now about working together. none of whom would have happened without them being on the podcast. That’s excellent.

John Corcoran  3:50  

I love to hear that love to hear that. It’s so gratifying and you know, personally I’ve been to people’s weddings, who I connected with through podcasts I’ve been on vacation together has So many great meals. And so there’s so many great relationships that really come out of it and I’m really glad to hear that. So anyways, if you’re listening to this if you listen to podcasts from time to time, if you’re curious about it, give us a call or shoot us an email at [email protected]. All right, Steve. So I do want to dive into your background. 

We can talk some more about the podcast as well, but I do want to dive into your background. But I want to start because we’re recording this in the beginning of May 2020. The Coronavirus pandemic is still underway. There’s talk of it less lightening up and people you know, being able to move about a little bit more freely again. But top of mind for everyone has been our food supply chain. And food companies are one of the few companies that are really essential for the most part because we can’t live without food Of course. So what has the experience been like for the last couple months with you and your clients and you know what they’re doing to survive? You know, let’s start there.

Steven Cleere  5:03  

Okay. Well, certainly there has been a profound change in the consumer packaged goods industry. So there’s been a change in the fact of the way people buy stuff, what they can buy, what they decided to buy when they were going to start hoarding

John Corcoran  5:18  

the paper and

Steven Cleere  5:20  

write key weeks now. Now, toilet paper takes a bad rap. But the truth of the matter of toilet paper is in industry jargon. It cubes out too quickly, meaning it’s too bulky, right. It takes up too much room. It doesn’t have much profit involved Pac 12 toilet paper pennies, right? Nobody keeps this stuff. Your store doesn’t keep it in the back room. That takes up too much space. Yeah, right. Even the manufacturer, basically just in time, so as soon as we got hit was like you would walk into the store. And the two things that were gone were there was no toilet paper and there was no Top Ramen. But there were stacks of baby back ribs in every cooler in the store. 

So it’s taken a while to kind of get that around. And now we’ve obviously had supply chain hits. So the Meatpacking plants and whenever and that’s affected pork to a certain extent chicken probably going to affect beef pretty shortly. But it’s people say, Oh, well the supply chain is broken Well, it’s not really broken. It’s just under a lot of stress. First of all, because consumers can’t figure out what they want to buy from week to week. And when they do they buy 10 instead of one, and so that the supply chain wasn’t built around that supply chain built around efficiency. 

And that means getting the right amount of stuff to the right amount of places and that’s it so we’ve confused the heck out of it. For the manufacturer side. Wow. It just depends on the business. You’re in John. So the manufacturing side if you are if you’re campbell soup, oh my goodness, what a quarter you had, you know, absolutely. If you’re an air freshener No, no Lysol. Oh, yeah, absolutely. I don’t know whatever coffee filters, maybe coffee filters, no. Okay. But it’s just that thing of where you are in the spectrum of what people are buying. And it’s been absolutely crazy as for clients that I work with, the divide has been swift and that is those who are well developed in e-commerce for the most part are thriving and going crazy. And those who were relying 100% on retail or on local sales, whatever, are struggling or some even on hiatus at this point, they’re just going to wait until the smoke clears.

John Corcoran  7:34  

Wow, that’s amazing to think that some food makers are on hiatus because the perception is that that’s one of the industries that has continued going.

Steven Cleere  7:43  

Yeah, in the spectrum of, you know, food ranges, everything from you know, $20 a pound chocolate, you know, down to, you know, private label cereal and private label zero is doing really well. Chocolate not so much but they’re both in the Fitbit.

John Corcoran  8:01  

So what are the companies that he mentioned ecommerce and e-commerce? There’s been, you know, a big movement in the industry for CPG companies to move into e-commerce, but some have dragged their feet. And so you mentioned that, you know, some companies are thriving when they’ve embraced e commerce. Others are some scrambling to get into the industry now or to get into e-commerce. And is it even possible to pivot on a dime and do that?

Steven Cleere  8:27  

Right, so one of the things that’s changed a little bit in the last four weeks, five weeks was Yes, initially, Amazon in particular, because that’s the big big guy in the ring. I shut off any new types of products, period, then they started opening up a little bit to products that are considered which most of the food stuff is you and I might not consider it essential, but they can’t draw those lines. So they just say, okay, ketchup, new ketchup, great, that’s fine, that’s essential. And so they have opened As a matter of fact, they’ve opened up to, I think, become more efficient at the process of vetting companies that want to be on Amazon, to the point where they’re doing like video presentations now instead of more lengthy form stuff. And that’s going to have an effect. So you can get on. I have actually had a client who got on within the last two weeks. But it was a scramble because they weren’t prepared for packaging. You know, those kinds of things? what was going to happen? Were they going to fulfill it themselves? Were they going to fulfill it on Amazon? How is that all going to work? So it’s definitely been a challenge, but those who are already in and had products that were non perishable, in particular, started doing business equivalent to Black Friday sales, like about March 12. And really, it hasn’t led off yet, which is probably the one of the more profound changes in the industry is that people have people who never bought food online. have purchased food online now, those that were already purchasing food online are, you know, ramping ramping up their purchases. 

And those people who never bought anything online are also coming in. So Amazon had the best Prime membership run in March that they’ve ever had. I mean, just people signing up for prime. So that’s probably not going to go back. First of all, if your product is not widely available in retail, but it is online, that consumer walks when they go back into the store on a regular basis, your products not going to be there, they’re going to continue to buy it online. We’ve also gotten used to getting used to the convenience you know, so it’s, you know, I don’t. I don’t think that we’re going to buy fresh carrots and celery or ground beef anytime soon. Although maybe who knows. But certainly anything that is a brand, anything that comes in a box or a package. It’s the same in the store as it is within the Amazon truck, so it doesn’t make any difference. Right, right.

John Corcoran  11:02  

And, you know, grocery delivery services like you know, instacart and Safeway has their own and Amazon, of course, have been growing in popularity and in recent years and and you think that this is going to be a leap forward where everyone’s going to be, you know, doing grocery delivery from now on, or do you think there’ll be some retraction?

Steven Cleere  11:27  

I, you know, my best guess is there’ll be a slight retraction because I think, you know, there is a lot of panic reaction still going on. But when it settles down to whatever the new normal is, I think those players that are doing delivery are going to be very well placed. I think the other aspect of the business is what we call click and collect, which is you buy online, for instance, at Walmart, and then you know, at four o’clock in the afternoon, you drive down into the parking lot, they come out and they load back your car. So not only is that really easy, but I think that You know, that has really started to grow and now I think it’s gonna, you know, everybody Kroger Albertsons, everyone’s going to be doing that it’s gonna be a major part of their business. Yeah, but those guys who have ecommerce arms so walmart.com, Kroger, calm albertsons.com a tremendous amount of effort is going to go into solidifying those businesses based on what consumers are showing that they’re going to do which is shop online for food.

John Corcoran  12:25  

Yeah, yeah. We have a fun one that we’ve been participating in in perfect foods. It was originally called imperfect produce, which I’m sure you’re familiar with because it’s originally a bay area company. We did it about three or four years ago. Then stop doing it and now with like the limited availability over the last few weeks in the San Francisco Bay Area of grocery delivery options Safeway was taking weeks to get delivery. Same with Whole Foods. We went back to it and we love it. They do a once a week delivery, huge box of food, some good deals because they’re Miss shape. In apples, but they’re perfectly, you know, good, that sort of thing. So that’s an interesting option that we’ve enjoyed.

Steven Cleere  13:06  

Yeah, there’s all kinds of you know, and there’s also people like thrive that do organic. There’s the box, people that do large quantities and they just got, you know, hit like crazy. There’s a whole bunch of others in between. And I think all of those are going to do well, I don’t think any of them are going to match. Amazon. I mean, certainly. But what’s going to be interesting from an industry observer point of view is, is that Walmart is very, very serious about walmart.com becoming a player to Amazon. And they have maybe not quite as deep a product pocket is is Amazon does, but they sure have money to spend, and they’re going to try to find out what can we do that Amazon can’t do And right now, the one thing they can do is they can tie in the physical stores easier to ecommerce, then Amazon can to Whole Foods because there’s there’s a lot more wholefoods, and they aren’t necessarily in all the places where Walmart shoppers are. So I think that’s going to be a big deal. And I tell my clients, you know, if you’re on both platforms there’s a lot of my clients are. This is like a battle between two elephants, and we’re a little ants running around on the ground. We just don’t want to get stepped out of the way, let them do what they’re gonna do. Be nice to everybody.

John Corcoran  14:24  

It has been interesting, though, because I know a lot of e-commerce brands and sellers are in e-commerce. A lot of their attitude in the last few years has been like I’m crushing it on Amazon. Why should I bother with Walmart? Because Walmart is such a in terms of e commerce is such a small piece of the market. Do you feel that those attitudes are changing?

Steven Cleere  14:46  

I think so. I think that the two things you have to uphill battles with Walmart one way is do I want to be on an e-commerce platform that doesn’t represent as great a potential as Amazon does. And that’s fair. That’s a fair shot. Secondly is a number of people that are in those more upscale brands, whatever else, they don’t really know if they want to be in Walmart or not. And I try to understand when people say, you know, but I don’t agree with that at all. Because first of all, it walmart.com is not Walmart, the store. And you should be pretty much if you’re a manufacturer, pretty much agnostic about where people buy your product. So if Walmart wants to sell my product on Walmart, calm, I’m more than happy. And I tell my clients, you want to be there because they’re going to spend money and they’re going to spend money promoting, right, the business and the products that are on it. And if you’re unique, you’re going to be one of the ones that gets promoted. They don’t need to promote, you know, frozen potatoes, because they know everybody knows what they are. But if they can point to things, I think it’s an opportunity that a lot of people are going to miss just like they missed Amazon. Yeah, but I would be there Unless I had a really brand strategy thing that told me, no, you don’t be associated with Walmart,