Mark Olivieri is a brand marketer on a mission to connect with consumers in an authentic, real way. As president of OWYN — a vegan plant-based company that produces protein products from plant-based protein sources, including peas, organic pumpkin seeds, and flaxseed — he’s passionate about building a culture on truth and transparency.
We caught up with him to learn more about OWYN’s unique mission, how he’s helping consumers better understand the world of nutrition, and why 2020 will be the company’s biggest year yet.
ForceBrands: You began your career in finance and have since held multiple marketing roles in CPG. Tell us a bit more about your background and how you arrived at your current role, as President of OWYN.
Mark Olivieri: I’ve always been data-oriented, which is why I chose finance out of school. However, when I entered my MBA program, I learned about brand marketing. Prior to b-school, I naively believed that if I entered a career in marketing, I would be in a creative role — production, video, graphics, etc. What I learned in b-school was that brand marketing is truly the hub of the cross-functional wheel because at the heart of any decision needs to be the consumer. Consumer drives formulation, procurement, distribution, communications, innovation, pricing, etc. Since b-school, I spent more than a decade in various marketing roles from Hain-Celestial to PepsiCo. During this time, I learned a few things:
• I love building brands from scratch. At PepsiCo, I had the opportunity to build a brand from scratch including overcoming all of the complexities of launching emerging innovation in a large DSD environment. This also means I have an understanding of how to set up a brand for successful integration in a large scale DSD system.
• My proclivity toward data has led me to be P&L oriented. Early on in my career as an ABM, I actually enjoyed the AOP forecasting process in the classic CPG environment (which BTW, most ABMs despise!). As I’ve grown and gained exposure to the full P&L, my passion for general management continues to blossom. This partnership with all areas of the organization results in true team cohesion.
• All sustainable, profitable, and predictable businesses begin with good strategy. The challenge of mid- to long-term business planning, war gaming, white spacing, etc. is some of the most exciting work to me.
FB: What do you find most rewarding about the work that you’re doing now?
MO: I believe that a brand is not defined by a design, a name, or a product. A brand is defined by a culture. All great brands are built on great culture. Good brands become great because of culture, or good brands become mediocre because of culture. Our culture at OWYN is heavily rooted in a mission to deliver truth and transparency across everything that we do. This mission is near and dear to my personal philosophy. For decades, our competitors have been misleading consumers with confusing information: Single source plant-protein lacks efficacy; high protein that comes with high sugar is not healthy; vegan but trace lactose is not vegan; milk yet non-dairy is confusing; etc.
Coming to work every day with the team that we have and being fired up to spread our mission and create a movement is the most exciting aspect of my job, because movements result in a legacy.
FB: It’s no secret that the plant-based food and beverage sector is booming. How do you predict this sector will continue to grow and evolve? Are there any new innovations or trends you foresee emerging?
MO: Food is becoming commoditized and better-for-you does not necessarily mean good-for-you. I believe plant-based is here to stay because food is now seen as medicine. Most millennials do not visit a doctor regularly, but they are willing to spend more of their disposable income on good-for-you, plant-based options because an investment in their body today will result in longevity. As consumer awareness of plant-based trends continues to grow, it is my personal belief that demand for the validation of truly plant-based options will grow. For example, vegan milk that tests positive for trace lactose and delivers a reaction to those sensitive or intolerant to lactose will and should be unacceptable. A vegan certification does not mean much without properly testing final production lots to be free from dairy.
Similar to how non-GMO Project Verified certifications came to be, I believe we will see the same for the top eight major food allergies. Nearly 35 percent of U.S. households are managing a food allergy or sensitivity. This number balloons to 65 percent globally, for dairy alone. We are in the middle of an epidemic. I believe out of sheer necessity that retail sets will soon include allergy-friendly destinations, strategics will expand their innovation and M&A strategy to include allergy-friendly brands, and industry certifications will evolve to meet a third of Americans and two-thirds of the world.
FB: How is OWYN different than other brands competing in the space?
MO: OWYN tests every single ingredient before manufacturing and every single production lot after manufacturing by two independent third parties, to validate that we are free from the top eight food allergies. This means no dairy, no soy, no gluten or wheat, no egg, no peanut, no tree nuts, no fish, and no shellfish. This is our way of authenticating our mission of delivering truth and transparency across everything that we do.
The best part about it? We do this while delivering exceptional taste. This is not like most plant-based nutrition where you need to power through to acquire your nutrition. You will enjoy OWYN. And through our early success, we know this is true for most consumers. For example, not even a year into most of our global retail authorizations and we are the No. 1 VPO brand in the RTD liquid protein category in the Natural Channel, overriding No. 2 by 16 percent. We are the No. 1 driver of growth in the Specialty Channel, delivering more growth than mainstream and natural brands. We are the No. 1 vegan protein RTD on Amazon. And we have one of the highest loyalty rates in the industry.
FB: Who is your audience and how are you targeting them?
MO: I don’t believe in marketing toward a demographic and gender — I believe mindsets stretch across any age, gender, race, or income bracket. Our bullseye consumer is an Informed Enthusiast — they get their information from primary sources (doctors, medical journals, nutritionals, etc.). The Informed Enthusiast is loud and vocal and because of our success with this consumer, our message and brand has been amplified to mainstream audiences.
We are an omnichannel brand with nearly 30 percent of our Gross Revenue coming from e-commerce. Because of this, we invested in people and tech to ensure we can continue to drive more efficiency behind our lifecycle efforts for the benefit of all channels.
FB: In what ways have you helped rebrand protein drinks through OWYN?
MO: Prior to OWYN, the protein shake category was dominated by masculine, aggressive, and intimidating brands. OWYN was designed to be approachable yet empowering. Although we never intended to build the brand for females, we are seeing mostly millennial females purchasing OWYN. This is important for two reasons:
- For the first time, the female consumer now has a protein brand that resonates with them.
- Millennial females are a great customer because they own the pantry, refrigerator, or shopping list. Because of our credibility and relationship with this consumer, we believe we can access other members of the family.
FB: At ForceBrands, we help build the teams that build the brands. How have you approached team building and sourcing key talent?
MO: ForceBrands has been an unparalleled partner for us when identifying candidates across any function. We approached ForceBrands to help build out our DTC functions and fill a regional sales manager role as well as marketing positions. We decided upon these roles due to our growth objectives and organizational needs. Top candidates were identified for each role very early into the search.
FB: What does it take to be a successful marketer in today’s competitive and ever-changing landscape where consumers are demanding unique, omnichannel experiences?
MO: The key challenge is to stop thinking about acquiring and retaining consumers by constantly flooding them with messaging and offers. Start thinking about your consumers as humans with needs along a journey. Set unique KPIs based on expected outcomes for different places on that journey.
Tell a story, pursue a mission, and have a point of view on the world. Products solve problems but brands take sides! Lastly, remember marketers: optimizing a campaign based on dynamic creative testing results in hacking a transaction — not building a brand!
FB: What excites you most about the year ahead?
MO: Through early hard effort, sound strategy, and focus on culture and mission, OWYN is set up for continued success and 2020 will be our biggest year. What we accomplish next year will be 3-4 times what takes other beverage brands 10 years. At OWYN, we approach all new revenue and opportunities carefully, applying rigor and analytics behind any and all decisions that we make to ensure continued focus on P&L, not just revenue. We are accomplishing this growth smartly.
With all of the outstanding success, the brand has realized, our legacy counterparts like Muscle Milk, Core Power, and Orgain are really hurting. OWYN continues to gain share while accelerating velocities because our brand speaks to the modern consumer’s needs and wants. Frankly, today’s consumers don’t want confusing, sugary, bulk-up protein. This is why OWYN will continue to succeed and why even our retail partners continue to replace these legacy competitors.
Interested in working at a dynamic beverage brand on a mission to sread transparency and truth? Explore our BevForce division.