Hitting The Mark

Hitting The Mark

Conversations with founders and investors about the intersection of brand clarity and startup success with your host, brand strategist and author Fabian Geyrhalter.

Join Fabian’s monthly mentorship circles while supporting the show.

Fabian

EP047 – Matt Cohen, Co-Founder, Kidfresh

Strategic Clarity

Just in time for ‘back to school’ (albeit a strange and unusual one for most kids and their parents this year), I had the chance to talk with the Co-Founder of Kidfresh, a brand of healthy frozen meals for kids. Matt Cohen was appalled when he saw what kids in the U.S. were eating so he set out on a journey to change it by hiding all the healthy stuff in the type of meals kids actually crave. 

 

Today, the Kidfresh line is available in all major U.S. supermarkets and Matt’s mission of creating better food for kids has been fulfilled. We discuss how moving just a little bit away from the core DNA of a brand might quickly result in a flop, how a pivot from retail to wholesale created brand clarity, and what happens when kids realize that they’ve been tricked into eating healthy foods all along

Notes

Learn more about Kidfresh

Support the show and even get on monthly mentorship calls with Fabian. Join here.

Full Transcript:

F Geyrhalter:

Welcome to the show, Matt.

M Cohen:

Thank you. Nice to meet you.

F Geyrhalter:

Absolutely. So in your bio it states, “As someone who was interested in how brands connect with consumers, Matt was looking to develop a concept that would really connect to people’s lives and be meaningful.” Now, this statement alone got me so excited to have you on the show. You actually went from being a management consultant at Accenture to a COO at a consulting practice that got sold to Omnicom, which those in the industry know, that’s the big one, and now you’re hiding veggies in frozen meals for kids with your brand Kidfresh. Tell us a bit how and why you started this brand.

M Cohen:

Well, I’m still wondering every day. I don’t know. I had a career, everything was fine, and then one morning I woke up and I’m like, “What kind of bad food…” excuse my French “… kids are being fed here in the US?” Basically what happened to put it simply is, I became a parent. I became a father. And as such, I started to experience what kids eat in this country, and I was absolutely horrified. So coming from France, I could not understand and even accept that kids were fed with such junk food. That’s how it started.

F Geyrhalter:

And as far as I understand, Kidfresh started as a retail store in New York City, serving freshly prepared wholesome meals for kids, right?

M Cohen:

That’s right. Our initial idea was to create a retail concept, a chain, a little bit like a Starbucks for kids, but with freshly prepared foods and other grocery items for kids, all natural and organic. That was the initial idea, so we created a store in Manhattan on the Upper East Side, initially.

F Geyrhalter:

And what happened? What happened to the store versus going with frozen food?

M Cohen:

So what happened basically is that… First of all, the store really established the brand, and it was really great because when I started the business with my partner I was being bombarded by requests for interviews from all over the world because the concept had really resonated everywhere. So, I mean, literally, I was on the phone doing interviews with the Radio Tokyo, and then being interviewed with Canadian newspapers and then Middle Eastern radio, these type of things. I was like, okay, well, maybe that’s it. Maybe I made it in America, but more importantly what happened also from a business standpoint is that this attracted a lot of other retailers and other brands that were always coming to the store and exploring what we were doing, right? Essentially the most important one for us initially was Whole Foods.

M Cohen:

They came to the store, we had a great conversation, they were like, “Okay, hey, why don’t we bring your products into our stores?”

F Geyrhalter:

Interesting.

M Cohen:

… and, “sure.” And so we started doing that in New York City first. First in one store, then in all the stores in New York City, and then we had other states that were interested in carrying our line, and so we quickly realized that the opportunity was actually outside of the store much more than with the store, and that we would have a much greater impact and a much faster impact by going wholesale versus than going retail, one store at a time, brick and mortar and all that, all the capital expenses and resources that it required. Demand came from other retailers and we’re like, “Okay, let’s flip the switch and go wholesale.”

F Geyrhalter:

And did Kidfresh… was that the brand name for the store that transitioned over to frozen?

M Cohen:

Yes, absolutely.

F Geyrhalter:

That’s amazing.

M Cohen:

We kept the same… Yeah. Yeah.

F Geyrhalter:

And I have the feeling that given your very different background, the management consulting life, it must have shaped your first year running Kidfresh.

M Cohen:

Oh yeah. I mean, I thought everything happened on PowerPoint and Excel when I came in. [inaudible 00:04:52] consulting and then I realized that real life is somewhat different. So it was a big learning for me, for sure. But what did help me was to at least have some sort of framework of processes and organization and structure that needed to be put in place for any business. Right?

F Geyrhalter:

Right.

M Cohen:

… Rules and responsibilities, accountabilities, who reports to whom, systems, structures. So that really gave me a framework that I still carry with me today as I continue to grow the business.

F Geyrhalter:

And on top of that, it sounds like that your background always flirted with branding, right? I mean, you were always just a degree separated from branding, from marketing, and I’m sure that that influenced you too in finally launching your own brand.

M Cohen:

Oh, absolutely. I mean, particularly when the company that I worked with before was sold into Omnicom, I was completely immersed with other agencies, and being on the account side, managing accounts, and really looking at it from the branding and communication side of things. So, that brought me even more, a sense of what can make a brand succeed, basically.

F Geyrhalter:

And coming from that background and working with agencies and being surrounded by agencies, did you invest in branding immediately? When you started the first retail store, did you actually fully invest in, let’s get this set up the right way? Or was that something that came a little bit later and you were winging it more in the beginning?

M Cohen:

It’s the former. We really started with branding. We really started with finding the right name, first and foremost, and we did some surveys and we did some analysis and so on and so forth to really find a name that we felt resonated. Right? When you think about Kidfresh, it seems obvious, but it didn’t exist. And so we explored lots of different names, and then we hired a branding agency from the get-go to really develop our brand positioning, our identity, and all our entire brand book from logo to colors to fonts and all the other attributes that make a brand as such.

F Geyrhalter:

That’s music to my ears. How do you think that impacted you? How do you think it helped you versus taking it slow and bootstrapping the branding aspect?

M Cohen:

I think it really helped us get immediate credibility. We looked bigger than we were, and as such we conveyed more credibility and also more trust because it’s a business where you provide foods to children, and it was important that we established trust with parents from day one. And so we went very much into branding with a sense of, this is a way for us to get our name and our idea out there in a way that will engage the consumers in a favorable way.

F Geyrhalter:

Absolutely. Absolutely. What does branding mean to you now that you’ve been with Kidfresh for a while and given your background, what does that term branding mean to you? Because it’s such a misunderstood term. People just think it’s a logo, but it’s so much more, what does it mean to you?

M Cohen:

It is several things. It is first of all, an identity, and it’s as much an identity for the consumers than it is also for yourself, your employees, your teams, your third party partners, right? You have a name, you have a look and feel, you stand for something. Right? So, that’s very important. And then secondly, I think it’s also an emotional connection with our consumers, right? We mean something, our name means something. When you buy a product Kidfresh, you know that’s not going to be junk food, that it sounds and feels good for you. And that’s what we stand for. Right? So it’s not a lie. It’s actually to the contrary, it’s very much all promise. So, an identity and an emotional connection with a promise behind it. That’s what branding stands for.

F Geyrhalter:

Very well put. One comes to think about like, when you started this brand of creating food, in the beginning, regular food and then frozen food once you went past retail into the actual retail stores, not your own store, how do you create food? Someone who doesn’t have that background, did you have a co-founder that came from the food background?

M Cohen:

Yes.

F Geyrhalter:

Okay. Okay.

M Cohen:

Yeah. My co-founder had experience at Dannon for many years…

F Geyrhalter:

Perfect.

M Cohen:

… [inaudible 00:10:22] surrounded ourselves with experts. We started with a pediatric nutritionist from NYU. We visited childhood obesity pediatric units in hospitals in the Tri-state area in New York just to understand what was going on. We had retail experts. So I think building a team of experts that fill the gaps is also critical. Going back, maybe to your point about management consulting, is really creating an advisory board, helped us a lot initially.

F Geyrhalter:

That is really, really good to hear, and that’s not always the case with today’s startups. I absolutely, hundred percent agree with that. I surround myself with experts all the time, because that’s why they’re experts. And just a couple of minutes with an expert can save us hours and weeks of time, sometimes. So very much [crosstalk 00:11:17]. You’re also very data driven. It sounds like you get a lot of input, you do a lot of questionnaires, you get a lot of answers. Was there ever a moment where you got a lot of ideas back and you get a lot of customer data and you felt like, “You know what, thank you for that, but I’m actually going to go a totally different way with this.” May it be a certain product launch. Even at the beginning of Kidfresh, was there ever a time where you did a crazy brand move just based on your gut instinct, where you felt, “You know what, this is my brand, this is my baby. I want to go that route even though everyone says go to the other direction.”

M Cohen:

So, it’s very interesting because we’ve been bombarded with ideas and opportunities to go in so many different directions, which in a sense is a good thing because it shows the brand resonates and has legs beyond what we’re doing. But one key area where we were really solicited very much by consumers and also retailers to go into snacks, dry snacks, right? So that we had more portability and the Kidfresh brand name could extend in portable, nutritious snacks for kids. And we started to play with it quite frankly, but then we realized that it would be so big and distract us so much from our core, right? Our core being food like meals, cooked meals, that even though there was a legitimate demand and certainly a potential in the business, if we were to go that route, it would be too risky for the overall company as a whole. And so [inaudible 00:13:09] said, “No, not for now, but it’s certainly in the back of our mind, but not for now.”

F Geyrhalter:

And I think it all comes back to your positioning and to your purpose, right? Because you can always point back to that and say, well, our purpose is not to have snacks, but our purpose is actually to have real meals that have the hidden veggies [crosstalk 00:13:28] Right. Exactly. So, that’s one of those big advantages to have that purpose nailed down early on, and it’s kind of like your guiding light that you can always use for a brand and you don’t get sidetracked to saying yes to all these amazing opportunities, which they are all amazing opportunities. Right? So on the flip side, was there ever anything that you did with your brand, may it have been a campaign or may it have been a new launch or a change of colors or logos or anything where you felt like, “Oh, that totally went off the rails.”

M Cohen:

I would say… You know what, going back to snacks and handheld products, when we were exploring the snack idea we were like, well, maybe there are some snacks that you can do in frozen. Right? And we tried that, we did some frozen burritos and things like that, but realized that this was too much of a departure for the consumers in terms of their habits and what they knew, and it didn’t work out as we had planned. Yeah. That’s a line of products that we felt, “Hey, let’s try to do some frozen snacks.” but were not… It’s not what we expected.

F Geyrhalter:

And it’s just a couple of degrees away from what you usually do and it already didn’t resonate. Right? It’s so interesting how consumers are so… Your brand means something so specific to them, and even if you just go a little bit the other way, it’s already too much for them. To me, that’s fascinating.

M Cohen:

It is. But it speaks also to the relationship and the connection we have with the consumers, and that’s a great asset for us really. It’s a unique element of our business, and we have the highest loyalty in the category. So, our consumers want us and want us to stay who we are.

F Geyrhalter:

Besides obvious sales, but how do you feel that loyalty? Do you feel it on social media or do people write to you? What are some of those messages you get as a brand that makes you feel like, “You know what, people really have our back. They absolutely love us.”

M Cohen:

Well, we have actual data. We have access to data that shows that a consumer that did not buy Kidfresh before, and that tries it once, will repurchase it over, and over, and over again. We have the data, it’s very clear. We have the highest loyalty rate in the industry, over 60%. And then that translates also into messages and things that are more sort of content, if you will. People share stories or they talk to their friends or they refer the brand, but the data is the data.

F Geyrhalter:

Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

M Cohen:

It’s very clear.

F Geyrhalter:

Absolutely. So you started your retail store, you got all of this amazing press and suddenly Whole Foods came knocking. Was that the moment where you felt like, “You know what, we have something here.” Or was there another big breakthrough moment for the brand where you were in a certain amount of stores, or did something happen where you felt like there was one day where Matt sat back with his glass of Bordeaux and said, “You know what, this is it. We have a brand.” ?

M Cohen:

Well, I mean, certainly the initial conversation with Whole Foods, for sure. But then we started to branch out of the store in different ways. For instance, we had a little refrigerated kiosks to JFK airport at the JetBlue and American Airline terminal [crosstalk 00:17:25] where we were [inaudible 00:17:26] travel lunchboxes for kids. And that was sort of branching out of the store in the first way. Then we had the Whole Foods [inaudible 00:17:40], that was the second thing. And then we were also doing a lot of catering, but branded catering for the FAO Schwarz store in New York [crosstalk 00:17:49], Build-A-Bear store in New York. We were their catering operation.

M Cohen:

So, at the end of the day, there’s a point where you do so much more business outside of the store than in the store that really you understand that that’s where you need to go, right?

F Geyrhalter:

Yeah. Yeah.

M Cohen:

The store being such an operational sort of weight, if you will, to carry every day, at some point you cannot do both. You’ll have to make a decision. Am I a wholesale operation or am I a retail business? Right? And I clearly remember that day. It was like one of these days that is like a total nightmare, you cannot even see the light, and you’re like, “Okay, we just cannot do this anymore. We have to pick and decide who we are.”

F Geyrhalter:

Yeah. So instead of this being a celebratory moment, it was actually a moment of anxiety because you had too much going on and too many opportunities, and you just had to create some clarity?

M Cohen:

In a way. In a way. But after that anxiety came also a relief.

F Geyrhalter:

Right. Right. Right. Right. Right. Absolutely. If you would look at the Kidfresh brand today, and if you would look at the positioning of the brand, of the values of the brand, of what you really stand for as a brand, you would put this down into one word, I call it your brand DNA. If you would be able to describe Kidfresh in one or two words, what would it be?

M Cohen:

Two words. You want two words, I’ll give you two words. Kid and fresh.

F Geyrhalter:

That took some pondering.

M Cohen:

No, but really, I mean, it’s really about kids’ food. So it’s really about children and making sure that they have foods that they like, but they also bring nutrition and taste and value. Right? And then fresh is really the freshness of our product, our ingredients. It’s real chicken, it’s real tomatoes. Everything is real and fresh. So yeah, kid and fresh.

F Geyrhalter:

Which I think is amazing after all those years, right? That it goes back right to that name, and that’s why it’s so crucial to get the name right in the beginning. Right? I mean, that is just so important.

M Cohen:

So crucial. Absolutely.

F Geyrhalter:

And something that was in the back of my mind entire time we were talking, and I think now is a good time to ask, obviously, what is so great about Kidfresh is that you’re basically tricking these kids of eating mozzarella sticks with a dipping sauce but in reality, there’s actually cauliflower in them as well. Right? You hide these vegetables in a smart way, so that kids actually eat healthy, but they feel like it’s still fun, and it’s still their kind of food. What happens at the time when the kids turn… I don’t know, what age do they turn when they suddenly start realizing that they’ve been fooled all along?

F Geyrhalter:

And what happens? Is it a revolution?

M Cohen:

No, but we actually do not recommend to fool the kids. Right? We’re sneaking vegetables, yes, but we want vegetables to be part of the conversation as opposed to not. So just to be able to say, “Hey, you like this chicken nugget? Well, hey, there’s a little cauliflower that’s mixed in. Let’s have another one.”

F Geyrhalter:

Yeah, yeah.

M Cohen:

We want to be honest and transparent. So, my hope is that when kids find out and realize that there’s cauliflower or chickpea or butternut squash blended in the product, that they don’t see it as a betrayal, but like as a [inaudible 00:22:05] why not actually, as an enhancement.

F Geyrhalter:

Right, right. And I mean, at that point, you already got them so hooked that they’re fine with it anyways.

M Cohen:

Yeah, it’s already too late. It’s already too late.

F Geyrhalter:

It’s too late. It’s too late.

M Cohen:

They’re going to try another chicken nugget and then they’re going to come back to ours.

F Geyrhalter:

That’s right. That’s right. That’s hilarious. Obviously you’ve made it as a founder of a very successful startup that’s very purposeful. A lot of young founders are looking up to people like you who have achieved what you have achieved. Is there any brand advice that you want to give to kind of finish off our interview, just something that you’ve learned over the years where you would advise other founders as it relates to your brand, or even just regular entrepreneurial business advice where you say, “Look, here’s something that I learned that I think I want to share with other entrepreneurs.”?

M Cohen:

I would say, be patient and determined. It’s a lot about being tenacious, fighting every day and believing into your product, into your brand, into your team and resources, being really steadfast into what you’re doing. That would be my advice. Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race. We all want to go fast and be the next big thing overnight, well, in most cases it takes time, and that’s okay.

F Geyrhalter:

I like that. I like that. Yeah, absolutely. So listeners who want to turn their kids into Kidfresh fanatics, where can they go? Where can they find your frozen treats?

M Cohen:

In most grocery stores throughout the nation from Vons in Southern California where you are to Walmart, Target, all the Kroger banners, Publix, Whole Foods, most retailers for the nation.

F Geyrhalter:

Can they order online too? Or are you in all retailers [crosstalk 00:24:25].

M Cohen:

Yes.

F Geyrhalter:

Okay. Okay.

M Cohen:

No, they can make an order at kidfresh.com or go to Amazon as well.

F Geyrhalter:

Perfect Matt. Well, listen, thank you for your time. I really appreciate it. This was really educational and appreciate all your insights.

M Cohen:

Thank you Fabian and take care.

F Geyrhalter:

Absolutely, you too.


0 COMMENTS

Add a Comment


*

(never displayed)