NatchBytes: How nutpods Used e-Commerce to Spark a Dairy-Free Creamer Revolution
Madeline Haydon made a huge splash in the dairy free creamer market when she launched her natural, wholesome creamer, nutpods, on Kickstarter in 2013. This lactose intolerant mom was fueled by her dissatisfaction with the heavily-processed conventional creamers available, so she took her kitchen formula to market. She believed that consumers wanted and deserved a better option, and the marketplace has responded with an overwhelming YES! Today, nutpods provides customers with a delicious, natural and additive-free alternative to half-and-half–– in four yummy flavors and available both online and nationwide in stores.
While nutpods has an increasing brick-and-mortar footprint, e-commerce sales still account for 50% of the company’s revenue. In our interview with Madeline, she shares how e-commerce, coupled with a quality product (built specifically for e-commerce) and an authentic brand story helped her disrupt the dairy free marketplace and grow her business to what it is today.
Q: What inspired you to create your product?
I’m lactose intolerant and had been waiting for someone to come out with a commercial alternative to half-and-half that was dairy free, actually creamer and something that was was unsweetened. I had been using my own kitchen formula and was commiserating with many people in my circle who were diabetic, vegan, plant-based, gluten-free, Paleo, and more. One commonality was how unsatisfied we all were with the heavily processed, artificial conventional creamer that was loaded with added sugar.
I decided to stop waiting and take my kitchen formula to market. In 2013, I became a mom-preneur and founded nutpods while I was pregnant with my second child, Claire. In fact, I delivered Claire (the original nutpodling!) in the middle of our Kickstarter campaign. Looking back, it was such a special time in my life because our customers connected to this pregnant lady, passionately trying to bring a wholesome creamer to the marketplace. And today, they relate to a consumer-turned-food-entrepreneur who is raising a brand and young children at the same time.
Q: How important is e-commerce to your company’s strategy?
Very important. Our e-comm business is now about 50% of our revenues! One thing our sizeable competition has been slow to react to is the growth of e-commerce. Today’s consumers value flexibility and they want to be able to buy nutpods in their favorite grocery store as part of the weekly run, and they also want to be able to buy nutpods and have it conveniently delivered to their doorstep. E-Commerce also allows social proof of our brand to come through. A consumer looking at nutpods for the first time will take comfort in the thousands of positive product reviews. Those same reviews also give us an opportunity to hear which features customers love about our products and what new products they’d like to see in the future, such as bigger sizes or new editions.
Q: What digital channels and strategies are “mission critical” to you and why?
Social media & Amazon.
For our first three years, we chose a primarily online channel strategy because we wanted market proof that we had a winning product before investing in the route to retail. We knew it was critical for us to stand out and be discovered online, which is no small feat in our noisy digital world. So we built a cult following through influencers and social media that shared our brand story with consume and utilized a niche marketing strategy. Because our products are non-GMO project Verified, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Kosher and Whole30 Approved, those are the demographics we reached out to and targeted online. We learned that when leveraged with an authentic brand like nutpods, social media is an incredible way to generate awareness and word of mouth for your brand. We knew consumers don’t want to hear food brands talking about themselves; they want to hear about products from people they follow and trust. Influencers meet at the intersection of brand and consumer and can amplify a brand voice. The trick is to find the influencers that are sincere fans of your products and your mission. We would much rather find ten micro-influencers that love nutpods and what we are doing than to work with one big splashy influencer.
Amazon has also been key to growing our sales and brand. Within 18 months of launching, we were one of the top-selling SKUs in grocery. We were right up there with national brands like Cheeze-its and Fuji Water! It was crazy. Amazon is unique in the fact that even if consumers will buy your products somewhere else, they will first go to Amazon.com to find out about the product and look at the reviews prior to buying. It’s one of the most efficient shopping engines in the world, and the consumer trust in that platform and their scale is sizeable. We utilize ads within Amazon, we keep up with what we are often purchased with, and then we sometimes create brand partnerships with those products. We also participate in Lightning Deals and Prime Day because we want to reward our customers. Lastly, we pay attention and respond to negative reviews because we want our customers to know that we listen to them and not just when they are happy with us. Amazon often gets a bad reputation of killing small businesses but it’s been the exact opposite for us at nutpods. They supported and enabled us to be a multi-million dollar brand, and helped us successfully compete with much larger brands by leveling the field with what should matter most: a superior product, stellar customer service and a clear brand story.
Q: Amazon’s Vendor vs. Amazon’s Seller Central — who wins?
Seller Central, hands down. You control your listing, your price and your inventory. As a new brand, it’s important for you to establish your market price and being a Seller allows you to control your prices and you can resist any downward pricing pressure. When you sell to Amazon as a Vendor, you relinquish that pricing control as Amazon can price your product to whatever their pricing algorithms think best. And if you sell on multiple platforms, those same pricing algorithms will crawl the web, search for the lowest price and then match or beat that price so it’s critical for brand owners to control their price point when they first get started. Plus as a Seller, you are paid Net15. As a vendor, you are paid Net60. That’s a huge impact to your cash flow when you are a start up and every dollar counts.
Q: What online tools and software do you use when it comes to managing your digital marketing business? What can’t you live without?
Hootsuite. We build out our editorial calendar months in advance and manage our multiple social media platforms using one dashboard. And a good graphic designer that can help you create content online is also a valuable asset.
Q: The digital landscape is constantly changing for natural and organic products. What do you think is going to happen next?
Natural, clean ingredients are now the standard and now that the bar has been raised, trends won’t revert back to artificial flavors, colors, and processed ingredients. Natural and Organic products used to be found in specialty retailers and today, e-commerce allows consumers anywhere, including food deserts, to access these natural and organic products. The era of faceless companies has peaked. Today’s consumers don’t want to just buy products from companies, they want to buy into companies they connect with. So share your company values, what you believe in, and where you give back to let your customers get to know you more.
Q: If you were advising a new natural products company on where to invest their time and energy for online sales and community growth, what would you tell them?
I suggest that any brand with an e-comm friendly product should launch online; you can scale, get proof of concept, and tweak your pricing all before diving into brick and mortar. Leverage Amazon and influencers. Amazon’s reach is second to none. The right influencers for your brand are the ones who are genuinely excited about your products, not those with the biggest following or the highest pay for a sponsored post.
I would also tell them to craft a unique, authentic brand story that they can use to educate consumers on what sets their brand apart. Invest the time to know what makes your products, brand, and company different from the competition and be able to convey that.