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America has a strong love affair with the hamburger. Half the country reports eating a burger at least once a week. 90% of people eat at least one burger a month. Hamburgers are among the biggest and most competitive food markets in the United States. In 2012, the “Better Burger” market grew by over 20%.

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Smashburger is an American chain of fast casual burgers restaurants that originated in Denver, Colorado in 2007. The company was founded by Tom Ryan. The name Smashburger refers to the process by which its 1/4-pound, 1/3-pound and 1/2-pound burgers are made. It begins with a ball of raw Angus Beef, which a grill cook “smashes” with a handheld steel mold on to a butter-brushed grill for ten seconds, giving the patty a caramelized sear to lock in the juices. Every burger is made fresh to order. Smashburger offers unconventional toppings including avocado, fried eggs and garlic mushrooms. The typical meal at Smashburger costs $10-$12, $2-$4 more than a meal at McDonald’s.

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Every market has specialized burgers created for and sold only in that market. In the D.C. market, for example, there’s the Capital Burger, which isn’t made with lettuce but baby arugula. It’s also has grilled onion, aged Swiss cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, tomatoes and mayo and is served on a brioche bun. Or, there’s the Brooklyn Burger which is topped with grilled pastrami and served on a pretzel bun with yellow mustard. Smashburger also sells sweet potato fries, chili cheese fries, and the house-specialty Smashfries, which come tossed with rosemary, olive oil and garlic.

Smashburger has experienced rapid growth. It is estimated that Smashburger will end the year with over 250 locations. Their goal is to build 400 new units over the next six years. When Smashburger opened its first unit in 2007, the better burger category was just starting to take off. Six years later Smashburger is an industry leader. Forbes magazine ranked Smashburger as America’s most promising company. Smashburger has also made the Inc 500/5000 list an exclusive ranking of the fastest growing private companies for three consecutive years.

Smashburger marketing has relied heavily on social media and generating word of mouth. Smashburger focuses heavily on events, such as when it offered a free sandwich to anyone with “burger” or “berger” in their name on National Cheeseburger day, he said. Each time it enters a new market, it contacts social media trend-setters like restaurant bloggers and “mommy” bloggers who influence where consumers eat. Then, before the restaurant opens its door, it invites the bloggers in — as a group — to demonstrate how the food is prepared.

The other key differentiator is the in-store environment and customer experience. The stores have a cool look. The food is brought to the table, so consumers  don’t have to stand around and wait. The burgers are served in a stainless-steel wire basket with a real knife and fork not plastic.

Have you eaten at a Smashburger location?

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I enjoy stories of entrepreneurs who follow a passion and start a business. I am also a fan of specialty candy stores and wrote about one of my favorite stores Harbor Candy in Ogunquit, Maine earlier in the year. I discovered Sugarfina in a story about the 100 Most Creative People in Business in 2013 on fastcompany.com. I was intrigued so I decided to dig a little deeper into the story behind their success.

Sugarfina is an online luxury candy boutique that offers a selection of the finest candies from around the world. Sugarfina is designed for adults not kids. Sugarfina is attempting to reinvent the candy category by targeting “foodies”. They offer the highest quality candy with an emphasis on premium all-natural ingredients. Sugarfina was founded in 2012 by Rosie O’Neill and Josh Resnick who dreamed of opening a candy boutique ever since their third date. That night they attended a screening of the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

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Sugarfina’s gourmet candy collection is unique. They offer exotic candies such as Champagne Gummy Bears, Matcha Green Tea Caramel, Licorice Cubes and Dark Chocolate Coffee Toffee. They offer more than 140 different candies. Sugarfina’s candies are sourced globally from artisan producers in the United States, France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden and beyond. Many of the products that Sugarfina sells are exclusive to them in the United States.

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One of things that differentiates Sugarfina is design. Each candy is packaged individually in transparent cubes and neatly packed into bento boxes inspired by Tiffany.

Sugarfina has been described as a “pleasure” as opposed to a “guilty” pleasure. The candies contain ingredients that are good and good for you. These ingredients include nuts, green tea, all kinds of fruit, high cacao chocolate and coffee beans.

Sugarfina has received a lot of positive press. Sugarfina made the “O List” Food Edition in Oprah Winfrey Magazine in August. Sugarfina has also been featured in a number of magazines including InStyle, Martha Stewart Weddings, Brides, Forbes and Travel and Leisure to name a few.

In January, Sugarfina became the first candy partner on Facebook’s gift platform. Revenues are expected to top $1 million in 2013.

Have you tried Sugarfina premium candies?

CircleUp is a fund-raising platform for consumer products companies. Founded in 2011 by two Stanford MBAs, CircleUp helps accredited investors invest in high-growth consumer products companies with annual revenues of at least $1 million—mostly food and retail companies.

They created the CircleUp 25 to honor brands that are starting to change the way we live our lives – companies that influence what we wear, what we eat and what we use every day of our lives. These are true innovators. Each has a unique story to tell. CircleUp excluded from the list any companies that they have worked with to avoid any appearance of partiality. The list was recently published on Forbes.com.

A number of the companies on the list caught my eye. It is exciting to see so many new and innovative brands emerge in categories dominated by big companies. One brand that caught my attention was Suja Juice which is based in San Diego, California. Suja was created by Eric Ethans and Annie Lawless from a passion to help people transform their lives through nutrition.

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Suja juices are cold-pressed and feature 100% organic ingredients. When juices are cold-pressed, rather than using the centrifugal juicers commonly found at juice bars, it prevents oxidation and helps keep the enzymes and nutrients in tact, so you get more nutritional bang for your buck! Also, Suja sources their organic produce locally, allowing their company to maintain low-carbon footprint.

What makes Suja juices especially unique, is their shelf life. Unlike most cold-pressed juices, which must be consumed within 3 days, Suja uses a High Pressure Pascalization process that uses pressure, rather than heat, to preserve their juices and extend shelf life. These juices may last up to 30 days when stored in the fridge! This is a huge advantage if you can’t manage to make your own juice daily, or find the time to run to your local juice bar.

Suja juices are a unique combination of fruits and vegetables. Products feature names like Fiji, Fuel, Glow, Green Supreme and Lemon Love. Fiji includes apple, celery, cucumber, spinach, kale, collard greens, lemon and ginger. Each bottle has 2-3 pounds of fruits and vegetables inside. For years, I have drunk orange juice and cranberry juice from the supermarket. Combining fresh fruits and vegetables into juice is a new experience for me. This juicing on a whole new level.

Suja Juices are available in most Whole Foods stores.

Have you tried Suja Juices?

For NFL Fans, the month of July signals the beginning of a new season. Football is back even though it’s nearly always on fans minds. As usual, their will be a number of great stories and surprises. Most training camps start within a week. The start of the regular season is not far away.

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Last Monday, Forbes announced its 2013 list of the world’s 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams. Thirty NFL teams made the list of the top 50. The Dallas Cowboys (5), New England Patriots (6), Washington Redskins (8) and the New York Football Giants (9) made the top ten list.  Only two NFL teams the St Louis Rams (51) Jacksonville Jaguars (52) failed to make the top 50. This speaks to the power of the NFL Brand and the strength of individual team brands. The NFL is clearly the most valuable sports league in the United States.

The NFL’s success is the result of strong brand management and ongoing communication with their fan base. The NFL has made a six-month season into a 12-month business and branding effort. The draft is a key part of the strategy as it bridges the gap between one season and next. It generates a huge amount of media and fan talk value. The draft has also become a huge revenue generator. Once the draft is over media attention shifts to signing the players, filling out the rosters and mini-camps. Football talk is always in season.

The NFL Brand has its challenges. Player concussions are a serious issue. The Aaron Hernandez case and other player arrests have created negative publicity for the brand. However, the brand is skilled at overcoming short terms challenges and continues to thrive and grow in value. There are many reasons for the success of the NFL Brand. I can’t possibly highlight all of them in one post. Listed below are some the reasons why the NFL has built a strong relationship with their existing fans and expanded to attract new fans.

  • Football is extremely advertising friendly. The game has natural stops and starts, a 60 minute game lasts three hours, leaving plenty of space for television advertising.
  • The league has created a major event with “Super Bowl Sunday” that attracts the largest television audience of the year.
  • The product is limited, there are only 16 regular season games. Your favorite team plays only once a week. Whether your teams wins or loses, most fans can’t wait till next Sunday.
  • The NFL owns Thanksgiving one of our country’s most important holidays.
  • Football is an exciting experience. From watching the games with friends and family, to the NFL’s website, NFL Mobile and the Madden NFL Games, the brand creates an interactive experience.
  • The NFL creates memories that span generations. NFL Films allows fans to re-live past games. Giants fans love to re-live our Four Super Bowl Championships. We never tire of watching David Tyree’s catch in Super Bowl 42.
  • Fan’s love the game, not just their team. Fantasy Football and fast paced highlight shows have helped make the games fun to watch even if your team is struggling.
  • In recent years, the league has seen women grow to become over 44 percent of its fan base, with 60 percent of females over the age of 12 identifying themselves as NFL fans.

I have witnessed the NFL pass Major League Baseball as the most popular sport in the country. In many ways, it has displaced baseball as the sport American’s love. The NFL has a brand that means something deep to many football fans, whether they realize it or not.

Are you excited for football season to start? Who is your favorite team?

 

In a December post, I expressed concern that the Yankees under the leadership of Hank and Hal Steinbrenner did not understand the importance of the franchise as a Global Sports Brand committed to winning. This is an update to that post. Over the past three months, the Yankees situation has gone from bad to worse. They have experienced a rash of injuries to aging stars, free agents have departed, questionable players have been signed and Mariano Rivera, one of their true icons announced his retirement. The Yankees growth as a sport brand is tied to their ability to continually engage their demanding fan base with a winning team. The baseball landscape has changed in the post steroid era and the Steinbrenner Brothers and Brian Cashman have been slow to respond the changing model.

The Yankees did get some good news yesterday. For the sixteenth straight year, the Yankees are baseball’s most valuable team and brand, worth $2.3 billion according to Forbes. An article last year on forbes.com also named the New York Yankees as the most valuable sports team brand in the world. However, I believe that their brand value is at risk because the new leadership team does not understand the essence of the brand.

This brand equity was built on a single-minded focus on winning. The brand’s core purpose has been to win the World Championship every year. Anything less was viewed as a failure. With 27 World Series Championships, the Yankees are the most successful professional sports franchise in history. Under George Steinbrenner’s leadership, the Yankees aggressively pursued championships and built a powerful brand. He spent whatever it took to put a winning team on the field and business and sports success followed. The Yankees global fan base has become accustomed to winning while generating huge revenues for the brand.

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However under the leadership of Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees new fiscally responsible approach to business is putting the brand equity that their father built at risk. Their core purpose has shifted from winning world championships to running the team as a business first. While improving the short-term bottom line, they risk long-term revenue growth and brand equity by fielding a good enough team. They are expecting that their long time loyal fans will accept this approach. It has been suggested to me that the Steinbrenner brothers plan to sell the team in the near future. If this is their approach, I hope they do. If George Steinbrenner were alive today the actions of the team’s leadership would not be tolerated.

I am a long time Yankees fan who has great memories and stories from watching games at old and new Yankees Stadium. I have witnessed two World Championship Games live, countless Yankees-Red Sox battles and Aaron Boone’s famous home run. 2012 was the first year in memory that I did not attend a Yankee game at the stadium. I felt the 2012 team was flawed, built to be competitive, but not win a championship. Unlike previous years, I am not excited for the baseball season to start on Monday. I fear a return to the mediocrity of the late 80’s.

This off-season the Yankees have sat back and watched the Blue Jays, Giants, Angels, Pirates and Red Sox all invest to improve their brands and teams. This has been hard to watch. The Yankees have been outbid for players they would have never lost in the past. A team with a great history of catchers that includes names like Dickey, Berra, Howard, Munson and Posada is going to battle with Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart as their catchers. The San Francisco Giants have passed the Yankees and become the model franchise in Major League Baseball winning two world championships in the past three years.

What do you think of the New York Yankees short and long-term prospects for winning a championship?