Small businesses are shutting down at record rates in the pandemic’s economic fallout – already about 80,000 are estimated to have closed their doors permanently between March and July, according to Yelp. But amidst all the bad news, success stories abound. Many entrepreneurs and small business owners are uniquely equipped to create new opportunities – despite more limited resources – by continuing to think and act like a start-up.
Adaptability can be the key to survival. As supply chains have shifted to accommodate retail closures, shelter-in-place orders, skittish consumers and public health warnings, the rise of e-commerce escalated dramatically. Three companies that work with GS1 US to uniquely identify their products with authentic U.P.C. barcodes provide good examples of successful “pivot” strategies. Each one is led by an entrepreneur who found new opportunities to survive and thrive by keeping pace with rapid changes in consumer attitudes and behaviors brought about by the pandemic.
Silver Spring Foods was selling primarily to grocery stores and restaurants before COVID hit. Much of its market was in foodservice sizes (gallons and quarts) of horseradish, mustard and other condiments. When restaurants shut down, that segment of Silver Spring’s business dried up, so they moved quickly to expand their online sales channels and increase their retail capacity to make up the difference. They also began selling more “portion control packets” – condiments packaged in individual use sizes, such as for takeout foods and now used by restaurants to eliminate sharing of containers.
The pandemic has inspired many consumers to eschew dining out in favor of cooking at home. Silver Spring’s retail sales have done well in this environment – with sales increasing 30-40% in March – as aspiring home cooks looked for ways to spice up their meals with flavors. Additionally, Silver Spring’s online sales have grown 100-130% during the pandemic.
Portion control packets are often included in subscription-service meal kits, whose growth has also accelerated during the pandemic. Silver Spring’s ability to sell through multiple channels, shifting to more online sales, and change packaging options to fit the needs of the moment have been key for this company, helping to recover sales that were lost in the foodservice slowdown.
Bite Me, Inc., a small wholesale cookie manufacturer based in Lakewood, Washington, sold its cookies in bulk to high-end grocery stores, where they were sold by the pound under private label, pre-COVID. Social distancing requirements put an end to that practice as shoppers opted for more prepackaged snacks. When business slowed down, the company took a moment to rethink its strategy.
As grocery-store bulk options went away, the company added a new line of Bite Me branded products in retail packaging and shifted their bulk sales to prepackaged, branded products. Bite Me also partnered with a third-party delivery service to provide bake-at-home frozen cookie dough, catering to the increase in home cooking. In addition, the Bite Me website was redesigned to focus on mail-order cookies for direct delivery, helping people “share the love” from a distance.
Looking to the future, Bite Me is focused on developing new products for retail and on creating a strong brand that will continue to satisfy consumers – many of whom discovered the brand during this time of transition – for longevity.
As a new emerging brand, Greenjoy, a Bluffton, South Carolina-based maker of superfood salad dressings and salad toppings, recognized early in the pandemic that an accelerated shift to online sales and promotion would be critical. They reviewed their offerings and decided to make some changes that would engage consumers more directly to elevate their brand for direct sales. For example, Greenjoy noticed that consumers were more open to exploration, and created multipack varieties to stimulate trial through e-commerce channels. The company is experiencing tremendous growth in website sales each month, while partnerships with dietician-curated marketplaces continue to drive trial and sales.
The Greenjoy team’s agility enabled them to make this shift almost overnight. The company also made positive contributions to their community by donating food to children who were no longer receiving free or low-cost lunches with schools closed. Nearly $300,000 in Greenjoy superfood snacks were donated through non-profits serving those directly affected by the virus.
Each of the companies is thriving despite a global health and economic crisis. Monumental changes in consumer behavior and attitudes are happening faster than ever before, and these small, entrepreneurial companies are making it work for them. Their success shows how a healthy dose of inspiration, coupled with a knack for discovery and adaptability, can deliver incredible value.
Angela Fernandez is the Vice President of Community Engagement at GS1 US and is responsible for driving broader adoption of GS1 Standards, the most widely used supply chain standards in the world, to help industry achieve their goals for improved product traceability, product information transparency, and data quality. GS1 US is a not-for-profit information standards organization with more than 300,000 members and a source for authentic U.P.C. barcodes. Follow us on Twitter @GS1_US.