Malin Eklund and Lisa Agerman Of UN’SWEET: 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand
You don’t have to be a sommelier to know what you want to drink! So trust yourself, even if you are diving into a new field, you might have a unique and special viewpoint that consultants might not have.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Malin Eklund and Lisa Agerman. Scandinavian PR-pros, Malin Eklund and Lisa Agerman, Co-founded UN’SWEET, alongside Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles star, Tracy Tutor. Both Eklund and Agerman bring a business mindset to the brand, weaving their PR expertise into the business strategy for the brand.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
We are two swedes, Malin and Lisa, who grew up in Stockholm, Sweden. Our third founder is Tracy Tutor who is an entrepreneur, real estate agent, author, and star of Bravo’s hit TV show “Million Dollar Listing”. Tracy joined Un’Sweet as ambassador and co-owner.
All three of us have always been super driven and have always had that entrepreneurial spirit, ever since we were super young, this is what led us all to start working together. The dynamic between two Swedes and a Beverly Hills real estate agent is something different and so fresh!
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food or beverage brand you are leading?
Our ah ha moment was when we went to go wine tasting in Malibu. We were so shocked to learn that not all wines are vegan and that pretty much any wine can have up to 60 different additives without disclosure of what they are. Some wines have a super high sugar content and to test this theory, we went into one of the most exclusive grocery stores and they didn’t even know what sugar content in their wines, but they didn’t have any problem disclosing all ingredients in their yogurt for example. And right then and there we saw a need for a transparently labeled brand that doesn’t require you to compromise your health with the taste of a good wine.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Being two women who grew up in Europe, we had no idea that every state in the US had different laws, regulations, and selling patterns. Every state is different and because we sell a product with alcohol content, you also need a specific license to sell in every single state. Because of this, we had to start selling our wines only in California, but we saw a huge interest coming from all over the country so we are very happy to say that we found the right partners and are now able to offer nationwide shipping!
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food or beverage line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
We think that one of the most common mistakes is to start with too many products and too much stock. We started with a small local California batch and slowly added on more products as time passed and as we saw what our customers loved and wanted. So start small and add on as you go and learn!
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
The most important thing is to know what will make your brand unique and how will you make it stand out in a crowd. Especially if you are looking to get into the beverage industry. Finding the perfect producer that fits you and your brand and have an innovative and clear marketing strategy. People love to know about a brand’s personal story, they want to find that one thing that will create a personal connection between you as a customer and you as a brand. So don’t be afraid to share your personal story, of you as a founder and who it is that’s actually behind the brand.
Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?
Just do it. But you need to be able to put in the amount of work and hours that it actually takes to build a brand from the ground up. Decide what you can to yourself and where you need to outsource and where you need a partner. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it!
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
We did it all ourselves, and we are both from the fashion and PR industry. So the fact that we are NOT from the wine industry gives us a new look at the wine business that can be quite traditional and pretentious. You don’t have to be a sommelier to know what you want to drink! So trust yourself, even if you are diving into a new field, you might have a unique and special viewpoint that consultants might not have.We think that people underestimate their own competency and sometimes overestimate expensive consultants.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
If you can keep as much of your company without selling shares, the better long term. If you are using your own capital and don’t have a lot of extra to spare, we would recommend keeping another part time job to minimize the risk until your startup is lucrative enough to depend on. This to avoid the constant economic pressure that could be when starting a new company.
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
We started the trademark process 6 months before launch, this takes a long time and especially for us since we started during the pandemic. But make sure to start in time!
Having good ingredients is extremely important. We had a super clear brief that we sent out to all potential producers before choosing the one to work with through the whole process. One of the most important things for us was to have flexibility and to find someone that would grow along with us. We decided to start selling our products only online, this to have full control over our products, communication, and most importantly customer satisfaction. We wanted to have full control over the whole chain from start to finish
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. An amazing product and a super clear USP.
What is the need for your product? Why would someone choose to purchase your product and not another? Make sure that you have a product that you love and find the USP that will set you aside. And stick to it, in your marketing, communication, so the customers know what you offer and why your product is the best alternative.
2. A producer that you can grow and work closely with.
Find someone who you trust and that shares the excitement about your brand. This will take you very far and save you a lot of time and money!
3. Find the right person to partner with.
This is the luxury of being an entrepreneur, you get to decide who you want to work with.
4. Avoid expensive consultants and spending hours on background research.
TRUST YOUR GUT! Usually, you are the best possible customer yourself.
5. You don’t have to break the bank on marketing expenses.
Use all the amazing and free platforms to create awareness for your brand. Create creative content and the stories will spread organically.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
If you absolutely love and believe in your product, that will work and others will love it as well. But, if you as the founder isn’t crazy about what you are selling, no one else will either.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Democratising healthy wines. Healthy wines don’t have to be expensive. We want people who think wine is prestigious to think it’s fun and easy. Again, you don’t have to be a sommelier to know what you want to drink.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
We think that the current discussions regarding guncontrol and abortion rights and extremely important and we stand behind those movements.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.