James S. Tonkin, Joe Jacober, and their team have more than 100 years of experience working in the CPG industry. Together, they’ve developed Innovation Brand Accelerator, a unique business accelerator program that helps high-potential CPG companies take their brands to the next level in just 18 months.
“We’re different from an incubator,” Tonkin told ForceBrands. “We embed ourselves to build the processes and systems that help companies play big.”
Newly launched, Innovative Brands Accelerator aims to evolve concept-proven brands and improve business practices. We caught up with Tonkin and Jacober to learn how they’re leveraging this unique program to help small CPG brands scale in 2019 and beyond.
ForceBrands: You both have incredibly established careers and are industry veterans in CPG. Tell us about your individual backgrounds.
James S. Tonkin: For more than 44 years, I’ve served the private sector as a brand and marketing development professional and Founder and President of Healthy Brand Builders. I direct the building and design of national infrastructures for food and beverage industry clients. I’ve successfully created and implemented business and financial strategies for domestic and international players focusing from production to branding, marketing through sales implementation and distribution, to include exit strategy. I have experience with branding initiatives in soft drink, bottled water, functional foods and beverages, and non-carbonated “new age” beverage verticals. My extensive hands-on expertise has stretched across many sectors including domestic cheeses to natural potato chips; bottled waters for people and pets; and nutraceutical-functional-cosmeceutical enhanced beverages.
I also enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise in speaking opportunities where I cover new beverage trends, and successful branding insights.
Joe Jacober: I’m a traditional CPG operator with more than 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur and brand revitalization authority. I serve as the CEO of Innovation Ranch, a brand revitalization and consulting company focused on emerging consumer products and brands. I’ve led a variety of interim CEO CMO roles within the industry. I was formerly the President of China Mist Tea Company where I was responsible for restructuring this iconic global tea company that led to more than 20 percent growth and resulted in its highest revenue and operating income in company history, plus achieved significant improvement in all operating and financial metrics. I served as the founder and CEO of Innovative Brands where I led the acquisitions of Pert Plus and Sure brands from Proctor & Gamble. I was responsible for building the company from acquisition and infrastructure to a $100 million business with a 22 percent EBITDA margin leading to the successful sale of the brands. I was also a member of the senior management team of UTI, Inc. during its successful IPO and led other successful startups including Belae Brands, a $90 million consumer company. At The Dial Corporation, I launched Liquid Dial hand soap, the category’s first antibacterial liquid hand soap which became the No. 1 brand that generated more than $250 million in annual revenue and ushered in a wave of new consumer products with antibacterial properties.
FB: What makes Innovative Brands Accelerator unique? How is it different from an incubator?
JT & JJ: An incubator primarily supports the startup or product development phases of a company. The Innovative Brands Accelerator is an 18-month program specifically designed to support proven brands to accelerate their growth in the market. While we provide support for product development, we do not build from scratch. It is a tough and competitive marketplace today and we bring the elements of a successful CPG company (sales, finance, marketing, operators, logistics, etc.) via a shared resource model to support the rapid growth, scale, and expansion of brands. We step into these companies early in their growth stage to help accelerate that growth. We bring the elements of rigor and discipline that successful CPG firms use to help speed growth, avoid pitfalls, and build a successful platform that includes ERP systems, reporting and managing and preparing for major growth, expansion and potentially cash infusion.
FB: Describe your selection process for identifying brands that are most qualified for the accelerator program.
JT & JJ: It’s pretty simple. First, we look at the leader(s) to ensure they are capable of leading a team and then examine the products and categories in which they will compete. If the product brings new or added value to a category and is capable of growing to become a $50 million business in a category that can handle the impact of new brands, they are a good candidate to be successful in our program and exit with a major cash infusion.
FB: You’ve mentioned that you help companies “play big.” Describe what it means to ‘play big’ in today’s CPG world.
JT & JJ: “Playing big” is simply being competitive in an extremely competitive marketplace. With retailer consolidation and shelves dominated by major CPG companies, small CPG operators must know how to manage in a “big brand world.” Knowing how to connect with consumers, differentiate product attributes, and meet the strategic needs of category buyers enables small companies to effectively compete. It’s a metric-driven world today and you must have the experience and knowledge to compete with companies with more resources. We help companies “play big” by helping to institutionalize tried and true processes and tools in the marketplace.
FB: What makes this 18-month intensive program so rewarding? What are some of the most valuable learnings brands will take away from it upon completion?
JT & JJ: The most important outcome for a participant will be leaving it with a platform built for successful expansion and growth. From our ERP system that can be transferred upon completion, to having the processes and systems that will better enable them to operate more quickly and efficiently (and with a better view of their company, product, and category), they will have all the tools to support their growth and avoid the many landmines that affect dozens of CPG businesses each year.
FB: At ForceBrands, we build the teams that build the brands. How would you describe your team and its culture?
JT & JJ: Our team is success driven with purpose. Everything we do we do with an eye to the future and with the goal of engaging consumer and customers to build win-win relationships. We believe in the power of teamwork to achieve extraordinary results and the power of the individual to make a better team.
FB: What are some key qualities of a winning CPG team?
JT & JJ:
- The “Speed of Trust” is critical to obtaining a competitive advantage. When a team trusts one other and knows that they are working toward common goals, consumers, and customers, then decision-making is faster and discussions are more meaningful. This leads to better outcomes.
- Teamwork. Great teams drive great results and when a great team comes together to drive outcomes, it is the most powerful aspect of any company. The ability to work in a team environment is critical to the success of a CPG company today.
- Ability to listen. Consumers change, customers change, and new ideas are surrounding us daily. When you are open and listening at all times, you gain new insights and advantages that give your business leverage.
- Creativity and discipline. Creativity with discipline always wins. Being able to balance great ideas and thinking with a process that can engage and add value is what makes good companies great.
FB: As industry insiders, what future trends do you anticipate dominating the CPG landscape in the next 5-10 years?
JT & JJ:
- Small companies will drive innovation and growth in nearly every major category.
- Being small will lead to better advantages in creativity and the ability to personalize CPG products to meet the changing demands and needs of consumers.
- All CPG business will be multi-channel.
- Retailers will look to innovation to bring unique value to their categories and attract new users as shopper experiences continue to evolve.
Interested in working in CPG? Visit ForceBrands, the leading recruiting firm for the CPG industry.