ARTICLE / THE MAKING OF... SERIES The making of...
Foodpreneurs Festival.


Having seen firsthand the issues CPG brand (consumer packaged goods) founders and investors face when going to market, it was refreshing to hear of the Foodpreneurs Festival. Things got even better chatting to the event’s founder, Chelsea Ford. If you’re in a battle to get your CPG the attention it deserves, this is for you.

 

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The making of... Series

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CPG, consumer packaged goods, founders, festival, events, Sydney, entrepreneur, investors, Australia

Welcome to The making of... blog series. Ok, to get things rolling, could you give a little background into who you are and where you’ve come from?

Hi there, I’m Chelsea Ford, founder of Sydney’s Foodpreneurs Festival

I am a business growth expert, entrepreneur and advisor to consumer packaged goods (CPG) businesses. My mission is to firm up Australia’s global position as a thriving, innovative CPG hub. Helping brand owners realise their dreams, I advocate for purpose-based business objectives whilst encouraging entrepreneurs to put more money in their pockets for every product they sell.

 In 2017, I was recognised as a Top 50 Small Business Leader by Inside Small Business Magazine. Prior to that, I gained 20+ years of senior executive experience, leading teams at Kellogg, Nestle, Spotless, Douwe Egberts (Sara Lee Coffee & Tea), Dyson and Staples.

I also host the 5-star rated Foodpreneur with Chelsea Ford podcast.

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Chelsea Ford, founder of Sydney’s Foodpreneurs Festival

That’s some fantastic experience and we totally align with your mission. Got to say, we’re also fans of your pod. Could you tell us a bit more about where the inspiration for Foodpreneurs Festival came from?

One misconception many founders have about launching a CPG is that everyone will love it and buy it from launch. 40% of the time, products are developed from a personal need such as their child’s nut allergy or their own gluten intolerance. Often, rigorous market research is not completed and a market bigger than friends and family is not formally identified. These issues coupled with market structural problems, the domination of two major grocery brands plus a disparate and relatively small population, means it can be difficult to scale and be profitable. 

Having helped hundreds of brand owners identify and overcome these roadblocks, behavioural patterns became obvious as mistakes were repeated over again. To reduce the challenges brand owners faced as they built the new wave of emerging and challenger brands, I saw a gap in the market to gather them collectively so they could proactively support one another. 

Foodpreneurs Festival is the physical embodiment of this collective. Far from being a trade fair, it’s a year’s worth of sales opportunities under one roof that guarantees the right eyeballs, including retail buyers' and distributors', land on a brand owner's product.

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Knowing the rollercoaster ride most CPG brand owners face going it alone, a supportive collective is a solid idea. Obviously with your background, you’ve got a deep understanding of their issues. What other insights did you lean on in your research?

From experience, I knew what challenges brand owners faced. 

What was missing from the Australian CPG landscape was industry people helping industry people. Foodpreneurs Festival represents the reality and the aspiration of business owners who want to scale their brand so they feel empowered and less alone whilst doing so.

Foodpreneurs Festival is built upon this foundation of brand owners helping each other. We’re not event planners, we’re brand owners and business builders. I gather those who are in the trenches, fielding the same questions from retailers, seeking support from the same distributors and searching for funding from the same channels. I invite all of these like-minded people together to help them land more accounts, get more products out there and put more money back in their pockets.

 

We know you’ve got your second edition of the festival coming up but what was the first iteration like?

The inaugural Foodpreneurs Festival in May 2023 was an outstanding success. Tickets sold out and we received a 97% Net Promoter Score. Brand owners travelled from all over Australia and everywhere in between. 

We had 27 experts speaking and providing advice; 78 retail stockists represented from all across Australia; and an incredible 80% pitch submission acceptance rate.

 

An 80% pitch submission acceptance rate is unreal. So, when it came to funding, what was your approach? 

Running a high-vibe, inclusive event requires a lot of resources with the biggest expense being venue and audio visual hire. Thankfully, Investment NSW helped fund those elements. I then spoke to my existing network and industry community to generate word-of-mouth, building awareness and driving involvement through ticket sales or by becoming a Festival Partner. 

However, any gaps in funding are covered by my back pocket. My company has multiple revenue streams and my coaching and consulting plugs the gaps, but it's not sustainable. As we grow, and more industry partners want to access the community, they need to pay to access those contacts. I’m doing the hard-work of community building so those values-aligned industry players can speak directly to this niche segment of the market more easily, and it will only grow.

We feel you. From experience, running any sort of regular event is hard work, stressful and expensive at the best of times. What about branding the event? How did you approach it?

Building a brand is multi-faceted and I’ve always focused heavily on building purposeful ones that have great impact for CPG brand owners. I also believe Brand is not only about the ‘pretties’, it’s also how customers experience your offer with every interaction. I think deeply about every layer, from typefaces and colour choice to naming protocols. As the Foodpreneurs Festival is an in-person event, I also developed tactics so people feel a certain way about the brand before, during and after the event.

 

Getting a consistent brand essence across every touchpoint is key when growing your audience but you’re right, unfortunately a lot of brand owners miss that part. How about awareness? How else are you growing your audience?

Building Australia's biggest community of emerging and challenger CPG brand owners takes time and resources but you must start with solving a problem people care to have ‘solved’. In the case of Foodpreneurs Festival, we focus on helping CPG brand owners land more accounts, get more product into more consumers hands and put more money in their pockets. 

I think a lot about the values we hold dear and try to do business with those whose values align. The Australian CPG industry is small and we generally all know about each other. I like to connect with others who solve problems for CPG brand owners, not just feather their own nest. Being a CPG brand owner takes courage and time to become a success, so anyone I collaborate with must want the best for a brand owner. I work hard at vetting everyone I do business with before I share their offer with the community.

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That makes sense. An invested, aligned and engaged core audience is gold. What about your future challenges? What is on your horizon?

Our challenges are two-fold.

1. Taking care of all stakeholders to the utmost level.

I have high expectations and want everyone involved or attending the Foodpreneurs Festival to experience a return on their ‘investment’. I look after many stakeholders to make the event a success. Each is as important as the other, but their requirements differ. As such, I’m swapping ‘hats’ constantly. One challenge we face is affording and finding talented team members with the right attitude and experience,  so I can hand over some responsibility.

2. Financing an event at scale.

As we grow, I will need to fund bigger costs associated with running an event. There is no big event company behind me, I'm an industry person supporting the industry, and I will find a way to continue to do so. If someone reading this wants to become a Festival Partner, they can contact me via our website. I would welcome that.

 

Thanks for sharing your story. We have one final question we always like to end on… from your experience, what last bit of advice would you give all entrepreneurs setting out on their startup journey?

One thing that I’m learning more about and consider the most important aspect for scale, beside cash flow, is messaging. Getting cut-through requires clever communication. I want to see more brand owners do a better job at knowing their target market and avatar, their USPs, proof points, positioning, competitors, message pillars and be able to deliver a compelling elevator pitch.

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