The SnackNation Recipe for Success with CEO Sean Kelly
CEO and Co-Founder Sean Kelly shares advice on how to grow a successful food & beverage business.
SnackNation CEO and Co-Founder Sean Kelly started his business in 2014 to provide the sort of curated, better-for-you snack options that companies wanted in their vending machines. That concept has since grown into a marketplace serving hundreds of thousands of employees at firms from Amazon to Apple to Visa.
Pivoting for Remote Customers
The business has fared well during COVID-19, too. SnackNation was already piloting a work-from-home snack box, something that they were able to rapidly expand and accelerate to meet the shift to remote work. The company has also avoided supply chain issues by forging relationships directly with partners.
“We need lots of bodies to develop those relationships, but it proved to be worthwhile,” Kelly says. “We didn’t run into any of the distributor shortages that a lot of people ran into.”
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The company’s robust direct-to-employee snack business has effectively balanced out the drop in B2B sales.
“Right now we need to shift all of our focus and resources and strategy to what’s working,” he explains. “The fact of the matter is that you and I can play amateur epidemiologists, but nobody really knows when people are going back to the office.”
That said, Kelly believes that employees will eventually return to their desks, at least on a part-time basis. And SnackNation will be there to serve its clients’ needs, whatever and wherever those needs might be.
Part of the company’s mission involves a social purpose. Each SnackNation box donates 10 meals to a family, with 6,143,237 donated so far through Feeding America.
It’s a cornerstone of the business, yet Kelly warns other entrepreneurs against overemphasizing this type of partnership: “This is controversial to some, but I think that for many consumers — most consumers — a social cause is a hygiene factor. It’s not a differentiated factor.” This means that customers might like the fact that your brand is committed to a particular charity or mission, but they might not pay more for it. This makes it crucial to pick a cause that motivates yourself and your team on a personal level.
That advice is the kind of information listeners will get from Kelly’s podcast, Brand Builder. One powerful tip he offers to fellow F&B owners is to market strategically to set yourself apart in a crowded sector.
“First and foremost, my priority as a first-time entrepreneur would be absolutely crushing it with brand story, brand positioning,” he says. “What we primarily see in F&B is so many products but so few brands. It’s important to have a brand story that resonates — that is sticky and inspiring.”
The best way to tell that brand story is through a sustained content strategy. Succeed there, and the ROI will exceed that of any influencer campaign or ad buy.
“One of the only things that delivers a declining cost of acquisition over time is content marketing,” he says. “If you have a good brand, you need to deliver content.”
Patience is a necessary component, however. Kelly says any content marketing effort will likely take at least six months to show results.
SnackNation has also been recognized for its commitment to company culture, with Inc. magazine naming it one its Best Workplaces in 2018. Much has changed with the shift to remote work, but Kelly is confident SnackNation’s team will stay tight-knit and motivated. The key is to hire empathetic managers who maintain what he calls a “high care quotient.”
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“We’re constantly testing new things,” Kelly says. “We’re having virtual spirit weeks with prizes. We’re having a Zoom olympics. We’re making sure that people make space and have a time where you connect on personal levels. There can be an hour of nothing, where you’re all out walking as a team speaking about things that you miss. Make that space that used to happen in person so you don’t become robots.”