A Tough Nut to Crack: Nutrition Marketing for a Rapidly Expanding Brand

How Justin’s Nut Butter achieved massive expansion, while staying true to their roots. How can you apply these lessons to your brand?

There are brands people like, brands people love, and then, those that tap into the most coveted rank of consumers: the brand obsessed. Justin’s Nut Butter has managed to do that from the beginning — winning over consumers with their farmer’s market roots, simple ingredients, and addictive flavors.

But, this could have become a riches to rags tale when Hormel Foods, the Skippy Peanut Butter giant, acquired the company in 2016. When I heard the news I thought it might be the beginning of the end of the Justin’s tribe. I waited to see if their cult following of athletes and health-conscious moms would be torn apart by the usual rapid growth formula: cost-containing, product expansion, and worse, the loss of the people who invented the beliefs of the brand.

What followed was a case study in how a grassroots nutrition brand can achieve massive success and expansion while retaining the people and the values that made it great. I had the chance to chat with Justin’s Director of Marketing, Penny Andino, about being authentic and how other food brands can follow their lead. Here are my main takeaways:

  1. Love Your People

Just take a glance at the name “Justin’s” and you’ll get it — this brand is about people. Not just the easy-going, hippy-haired founder, but the team that bought into his vision early on and helped the brand soar. Three years into the acquisition, Justin Gold and his folks are still at the center of the company, a rare occurrence.

According to Penny, “Our company culture is rooted in our core brand values. We help and respect one another, we work hard while having a few laughs along the way, we volunteer together, and we never stop seeking ways to improve.”

Justin’s personal touch continues to be the centerpiece of their marketing efforts.

  1. Live the Brand

It’s an age-old adage, but one that still goes unheard by many: Don’t sacrifice your beliefs on the way to the top. With a big manufacturer at the helm of rapid expansion, there will be talks about being more efficient and possibly even *gasp* cost-containing (the practice of replacing original ingredients with cheap alternatives).

Justin’s stuck by their guns and even made improvements to their product line. Penny told me, “In 2017 we underwent a major product renovation, upgrading almost all of our sub ingredients to organic, because it was the right thing to do…”

  1. Embrace Your Challenges

If you’re a small brand hoping to get noticed, keep focusing on what you have going for you —not what you don’t. Did you know, small brands are likely to be seen as more trustworthy? Being small has its own advantages and playing to them now will help you get noticed and grant you opportunities to scale later.

Here’s what Penny had to say: “Getting adoption and being heard are always a challenge, even as a brand scales…brands have to be scrappy and creative, typically with very limited funding. Being differentiated, authentic, having a high-quality product, and a great team behind the brand were all key factors to success. As we like to say, you can’t make nut butter with just one nut.”

Could your brand be the Justin’s of your category? It’s time to start putting a plan into action. One that will see your mission and vision ingrained into your story and your company — so when the time for growth comes, you’ll be ready.

If you have any questions about how to accomplish this for your brand, let’s chat.

Be digestible. And thanks.

Email me at eric@thedigestiblebrand.com if you’d like a copy of my guide that outlines the steps brand new and established brands can use (or not use) to succeed while others just keep right on slugging it out with the guy next to them on the shelf.

Eric Kiker: Speaker

Author of The Digestible Brand: The Secret Sauce for Marketing Nutrition to the Confused Consumer

Agency Principal/LRXD

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