February 2020, I was on a flight to a food trade show in Vancouver and I was finalising my work travel plans for the summer. 4 continents in the space of 4 weeks ‘ for a business that had started just a few months prior (November 2019), it was an intense and exciting time! I couldn’t wait to introduce the world to Karma Bites ‘ everything was finally coming together. I got back from Vancouver, had a week in London and I was enroute to Heathrow (headed to a show in the US), when I was told that the show itself had been cancelled. Even then, I (like the majority) didn’t comprehend the magnitude of what was happening and importantly what was to come.
Alarmingly quickly, it felt like every opportunity and platform I had to promote the brand and grow the business was being cancelled. There’s an abundance of information and experience I had tapped into when setting up Karma Bites, but there was no template on how to navigate a pandemic. Even though, I had been through and survived the financial crisis. It was day 1 on the MBA programme and Lehman Brothers was giving a recruitment talk all the while, their company was folding. Having completed an MBA in the midst of a recession, I thought I had the resilience to survive 2020, but that template and those tools didn’t work here. All the strategising and planning that was done when setting up the business, suddenly became redundant.
Like any business owner this time 12 months ago, time was not on my side. I had to completely rethink the strategy ‘ focussing on where the brand could gain traction, outside of the usual channels of trade events; visibility in bustling city centre stores etc. It was less about just surviving the ‘here and now’ ‘ it became about really thriving to ensure long-term success and growth. Survive and thrive took the following form:
Expand focus from the UK to international markets
While the UK is and remains a key market for us, at that time it was imperative that we explored other territories where lockdowns were less severe, where life remained somewhat normal. This had always been part of the plan, but we implemented it far quicker than anticipated, and it has been the lifeline for Karma Bites. Australia for example, is now a significant customer base.
Maximise the potential of digital
Thank goodness for online! As a start-up, the budget was small to say the least. So, social media and our digital presence became our shop window, so to say. The nature of the product, popped lotus seeds, means we were introducing a completely new product, therefore we leveraged social media to educate consumers about the product and its many health benefits.
Focus on our brand / product, everything else is noise
In the midst of adversity, there were some positives too. Once the initial panic of March and April had subsided, and we were making headway in new markets, there was suddenly more time. More time to really examine our product ‘ the taste; the packaging; the messaging. Were all the elements as good as they could be? Were there changes we could make? More time to look at the branding ‘ how were we positioning ourselves in the very busy snacking sector; were we effectively communicating our differentiator of having so many health benefits versus other similar products? In non-COVID times, we would not have been afforded these moments of contemplation, and they helped to refine our offering from a number of perspectives.
Move with speed and agility
There are limitations for a small business, but one of the main advantages over larger entreprises, is the ability to be quick and nimble. A decision can be made, and activated, sometimes in the same day! With the constantly changing retail landscape of the last 12 months, being able to react quickly has saved the business.