Under the Hood: Max from Nowadays
How Nowadays differentiates itself in the crowded, alternative meat category and growth strategies that have been critical to their success.
We welcome Max, founder and CEO of Nowadays: A vegan chicken nugget D2C.
Welcome Max! What did growth look like from day 1?
Starting with day one, Nowadays focused on the velocity of learnings rather than top-line revenue. For those first six months growth was defined as:
- Velocity of learning
- Determining product-market fit
- Ensuring all messaging resonated with our target consumers
- Getting rapid feedback from customers
Once we got healthy indicators from the D2C channel (i.e.,product-market fit, messaging that resonates with customers, a delicious product that solves a pain point). Growth was about scaling that D2C business nationwide and going omni-channel as quickly as possible.
Today that means leveraging our D2C business and prioritizing other channels for growth strategies specifically foodservice operators and traditional retail.
What are some challenges with being in traditional grocery stores?
Plant-based food has a strong need to drive trials, and it's especially hard to drive trials for frozen food like Nowadays. This means we need to have a robust sampling strategy when launching in any retailer or grocery store. For foodservice operators, we want to get on restaurant menus so chefs can create delicious menu items based on our plant-based meats, which ultimately introduces people to the Nowadays brand.
I imagine your product is quite expensive to ship given that it’s packed in dry ice. Is D2C your preferred method of retail?
Different channels have different trade-offs and benefits. Our channel needs at Nowadays vary based on our objectives as a business which evolve over time. D2C is a wonderful channel to launch a product because it's a really great channel to optimize for feedback, learnings, and insights. Eventually, your brand and product portfolio needs to move beyond just optimizing for learnings, insights, and customer feedback, and you need to focus on scale and growth. D2C isn’t the optimal growth channel to scale Nowadays.
That being said, I love the access that D2C provides. For example, we’re launching in Whole Foods this summer, but not everyone lives near Whole Foods; however, everyone should have access to our delicious, nutritious plant-based meats. Some of our values are harder to measure but are near and dear to our hearts, and D2C solves them. Access is one of them. That said, of course, the double-edged sword of access is that absolute price points are significantly higher than other channels because we have to ship directly to your doorstep with insulation and dry ice. Those unit economics are challenging, but we're willing to make those kinds of trade-offs. In the long term, I think brands need to have D2C distribution as well as other sales channels and understand how to use different channels for different objectives.
How did you determine product-market fit and get feedback in the early days?
The nice thing about food is that people always want to eat it, and your customer is theoretically everyone; whereas, other CPG products may have a much more limited segment.
You can kind of convince anyone to try a food product which makes it easy to get great, relevant, immediate direct feedback. My piece of advice is to just literally stand on the street and give out samples. Find anywhere you can to hand out samples. Nowadays was in a local commissary kitchen ( licensed commercial kitchens where foodservice operators can prepare and store their food) & early-stage company incubator in the Bay Area in California, so we would do sampling with other food makers and food brands at that facility. We gave Nowadays to anyone and everyone who was willing to try the product.
The real takeaway is that you can really find anyone to try food, so sample early and often. Of course, it's much better if you have very defined customer segments you’re going after. This will inform where you go to hand out samples. Parents are a great customer segment for us, so it would make sense for us to go to soccer games, the local ballpark, the farmers market, etc.
It’s a lot easier to find people to sample your food than you think. The challenge becomes incorporating that feedback quickly and effectively and using it to create a foundation to scale and find customers.
Does Nowadays own their R&D facility?
This is a very crowded category composed of many brands that have contract manufacturing or other people to make alternative meats or finished products. Nowadays has a strong belief that the companies that will succeed in the long term have proved defensibility around their product.
While we do that, we also have a proprietary platform that enables us to create whole cuts of clean label, plant-based meat. That means that we have been investing and partially vertically integrating the production process. We have a patent on our ability to manufacture these whole cuts of plant-based meat using pea protein. We have an extruder that's in our own R&D and production facility. Then we leverage existing finishing lines across the value chain to take our whole cuts of meat and then to bread, fry, and freeze it.
Could you tell us a bit more about the plant-based manufacturing arm of your business?
Totally. For example, a brand that currently sells chicken products can come to us for alternative clean labeled chicken that's made from plants. We’ll make it for them and then they can incorporate it into their own line of products. Many food service operators that we speak to don’t want a finished product (i.e, a breaded, fried tender or cutlet). They want alternative chicken they can make their own whether it's grilled or battered and fried with their secret recipe.
This is more of a B2B approach to food service because unless you own the right to manufacture alternative chicken products from start to finish then you can’t really service that B2B customer.
On the brand side of Nowadays, where are most of your consumers coming from?
We’re starting a broader affiliate and referral program, but right now, most of our customers come through Instagram. We have a strong repeat purchase rate of 30%, so a lot of our customers tend to be repeat customers. I think when you're a customer from a brand that’s been in the market for less than a year, you’re an early adopter. I believe there’s a special affinity that people have towards very early-stage brands that they know and love.
We're investing more heavily into creating content and programming to ensure that our initial, loyal customer base continues to not only be loyal customers but also brand advocates. We want them to refer us to friends and family and help us extend our reach. Ultimately, these early adopters help demonstrate the markets in which we will thrive, and they become nodes in much larger networks.
What is one tool you can't live without?
The tool that we love is Source Medium. It's a data analytics platform that we use all the time. It's really, really important particularly at an early stage to have a great grasp on the data analytics involved in all of your channels. Source Medium has been an incredible platform that provides great visibility into all of our mediums. If an affiliate or an influencer runs a campaign, not only can we track the first direct purchase from the conversion that was created, we can see months out whether X influencer continues to drive repeat purchases with their early conversions versus others. Sometimes a big influencer can drive an upfront push in the campaign but the customers end up dropping off quickly. Whereas, a smaller influencer with a highly engaged community drives more repeat purchases. There are different ways to analyze success and determine what type of partners we want to bring on board, and Source Medium is a great tool for that.