Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: How to refine a pitch to woo investors and score retail distribution

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Whether it is trying to raise money, build brand awareness or convince a buyer to stock your product on store shelves, knowing how to successfully pitch your company, and yourself, to potential business partners and consumers is essential. 

But what does it take to do this effectively? What information needs to be delivered first and what information should be withheld so as not to overwhelm or distract listeners from your key message? How do you engage with potential partners both professionally and personally? Should you have a slide presentation? Handouts? Samples?

Paula Savanti, a consumer food analyst at Rabobank, offered a few answers based on her experience as a judge for Rabobank’s high-profile pitchslam FoodBytes! She says the competition brings in between 80 to 120 applications each time it occurs depending on where and when it is held, but ultimately only 20 finalists will be selected to present either a 3.5 minute or a 60-second pitch.

Those presenting at the next competition held Sept. 26 in Austin, Texas, will represent the cream of the crop – and a cross section of some of the hottest trends emerging in the food, beverage and agricultural industries, according to Savanti.

So, what does it take to make a great pitch and the cut for FoodBytes!? Savanti says it takes five things:

  1. Does the company have a sustainable business model with sufficient potential to scale?
  2. Does the company have a new product or technology that helps solve an existing problem?
  3. Is there traction – even if still early – that demonstrates sales or potential?
  4. Does the product or technology offer a positive impact for the planet or have a social or environmental component?
  5. Is the product or technology innovative?

These elements also are often what potential investors and retail buyers are looking for, and therefore are pivotal to almost any pitch.

While Savanti says she sees plenty of winners when combing through the applications, she also sees many avoidable mistakes that are off-putting to the judges and which also could cause and investor or buyer to step away.

For example, she advises companies to “avoid making very broad or grandiose claims without anything to support them. … We get a lot of ‘we are a game-changing company,’ ‘we are going to disrupt this market,’ and that is fine” but if a company says it is the only one to do something it better be sure it is ‘because we have seen a lot of applications so we know actually if it is the only one doing something or not.”

Reviewing hundreds of FoodBytes! applications a year also has given Savanti early insight into several emerging trends and key themes that later will play out in the food, beverages and industrial segments in big ways.

She says reducing food waste, vegan, plant-based proteins, seaweed-based products and ways to improve the efficiency of farming are common characteristics of finalists and winners of FoodBytes!

Several of the finalists for the upcoming Austin FoodBytes! competition check these boxes, but they also reveal other trends, according to Savanti. She explains many of the finalists in this bunch focus on particular lifestyles such as vegan or ketogenic. Another common trend in the applicants this round was around improving ecommerce and connecting consumers directly to products they want.

While the applications Rabobank receives cover a wide range, Savanti says the judges would like to see more in the areas of improving production at the primary level, such as how to expand organic production, and in food service.

Fine-tuning the pitch

But FoodBytes! is about more than just getting up on a stage, it also is about learning essential skills for making it in a highly competitive industry.

“The day before the event that is open to the public, the companies get a chance first to make a mock pitch” and gather feedback from the actual judges to improve their chances the next day, she said.

Savanti says there are two categories of feedback judges tend to give participants to help them improve their pitches – one is related to presentation skills and the other is related to the presentation content.

For example, some entrepreneurs may talk too fast or lack energy to engage with the judges. In addition, she says, entrepreneurs might present too much information and overwhelm the panel so that the judges can’t fully understand the value of the product or technology.

Beyond helping companies refine their pitch the day before the actual pitchslam, Rabobank offers finalists one-on-one access to mentors who help them dig deep into different areas that are equally essential to a company’s success. The mentors cover everything from legal advice to insight on the broader competitive landscape, Savanti said.

“I am not going to say winning doesn’t matter, but I am going to say it is actually very valuable for most of [the finalists],” she added.

Those who want to see how this all plays out live on stage can attend the FoodBytes! Austin event later this month Sept. 26. They can buy tickets online at http://bit.ly/FBAustinTix. And given everything that is going on in Texas right now, attendees can also feel good knowing that 50% of the purchase price of their ticket will be donated to the Red Cross to help with hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

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