NatchBytes: How Ka-Pop's Founder Leaned Into Amazon to Grow the Business
Super Power Nutrition, Revealed.
A health enthusiast, fitness-lover, and even greater lover of eating, Dustin Finkel has found a way to bring the joy back to snacking. The craving for mindless munching is real for Finkel, but with his health focus (he’s also a CrossFit instructor) he is constantly torn between tracking ingredients and enjoying eating. Why not have a snack that is truly sustainable, nutritious, and delicious without the empty calories? His long-held enthusiasm for Paleo and its focus on ancient grains led Finkel to found Ancient inGRAINed Snack Co in 2018.
The company’s first product launch, Ka-Pop! chips, is a delicious multi-textured chip with completely clean ingredients. Made with 100% U.S.-grown ancient grains, Ka-Pop! chips are processed in a way to not deteriorate their healthy benefits and are Vegan, Gluten-Free, Top 12 Allergen-Free, and Non-GMO. The product saw 100% retailer acceptance in its first 4 months, reaching 400 stores and becoming a top-seller in many Colorado natural food locations.
Where will Ka-Pop! go from here? While it started in brick and mortar, brand founder and CEO, Dustin Finkel, knows that Amazon is the way forward. After all, Amazon already accounts for over 60% of all product searches. Find out how Finkel plans to scale his business by leveraging e-commerce below!
Q: Tell us about your company and what inspired you to create your product.
There are plenty of better-for-you products in the market but few that are good-for-you. In most cases, competitive products fail to deliver on their promise, are inauthentic in their commitment to health, or just don’t taste good.
The natural food sector is too focused on the “no-no-no.” Snacking is meant to be a joyful experience. Our packaging, marketing message, and multi-textural eating experience are proof of our desire to bring some fun back into the category.
Q: Where did you start selling your product first – online or brick and mortar? Why?
We had a soft launch through online for friends and family then moved quickly to brick and mortar. With Amazon representing over 60% of all product searches, we know that this channel will be critical to our future success. Our initial strategy was to heavily focus on Amazon sales, but there is a steep learning curve to managing that complex channel, so we shifted our strategy to rely more on retail.
Q: Tell us more. Why was Amazon a challenge? What happened?
Amazon, in the scheme of selling channels, is relatively new. There aren’t a lot of people that have a tremendous amount of experience selling in this channel, specifically within the food category. As a result, each brand, with its unique attributes, represents a new challenge. Nevertheless, there are a lot of agencies and consultants claiming to have all the answers. I ended up spending quite a bit of time ensuring I was well-versed in the financial model for Amazon and how it would impact my business. Ultimately, I found that it is important to know the questions to ask and determine who is best suited to support your company.
At this stage I think of Amazon as a marketing investment rather than a profit center. Ultimately, I need to make sure I’m staying tight with Amazon’s changes in cost structure so that I can build a meaningful business on that platform.
Additionally, consider the broader industry perspective: what is going to happen to the traditional brick and mortar shopping experience? I believe there will always be a need for in-store execution, but what that will look like will likely be drastically different than it is today!
Q: What digital channels and strategies are “mission critical” to you and why?
We have invested a lot of time and energy into e-commerce and Amazon specifically. Outside of in-store demos and promotional events, digital marketing and advertising represents all of our marketing budget.
Social media – particularly Instagram – is critical for driving awareness and community for Ka-Pop!. We have been able to create meaningful conversations with our consumers and partner with other startup brands, like GoodBelly and GoodDay Chocolate, to grow our fan base and spread our message.
Amazon is also critical for us as a search engine, it enables customers to find us through related keywords.
Q: When it comes to digital, you can do-it-yourself or hire experts. What do you recommend?
Digital has been a bumpy road, honestly, so I recommend a combination of the two. Hire experts for the areas in which you have little expertise, and then recognize where you can learn quickly and add the most value yourself.
Q: Influencer marketing, yea or nay, and why?
Yea, as long as you know your brand’s value. If your product is good, you don’t need to spend heavily for the “big name” influencers; instead, find passionate foodies who will get behind your brand.
Q: Integrating digital and brick-and-mortar is a hot space. Have you used your digital marketing platforms and data to impact brick-and-mortar sales? If so, how?
We’ve done this in several ways. We have a search engine on our website that helps drive traffic in-store. We raise awareness by connecting to B&M retailers on social media. Finally, we focus our digital marketing efforts to the zip codes where we have B&M distribution in order to drive ROI (Return On Investment).
Q: What do you recommend to those looking to stay on top of digital trends?
I take 30 minutes every week to search the hashtags related to my product, like #vegan #sorghum or #healthysnacks. In those 30 minutes, I’m exposed to global trends related to my product. I learn how consumers are engaging in related content and which emerging trends I need to watch.