The smartest thing you can do before you embark on your big dream journey is interview people who are already a success in the industry you want to be a success in and solicit their advice.
Sometimes, (if you are lucky, and have an online platform) a publicist will reach out to you and offer such an interview. I was lucky enough to land an interview with Chris Cornyn of the new Lifetime show, Supermarket Superstars.
Supermarket Superstars is a reality-based television show featuring aspiring food entrepreneurs, who pitch their food-product inventions to a panel of industry experts and mentors, with the winner receiving a nationwide product launch in a major grocery-store chain. Chris Cornyn is one of the mentors on the show.
Cornyn began his career at Doner Advertising working on the Klondike Ice Cream Bars, Betty Crocker Brownie Sundae and Yoplait Frozen Yogurt accounts. He continued on to become creative director and strategist at a number of advertising agencies before founding DINE, The Food and Drink Agency. (Source: Lifetime)
I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris by telephone. He was fun, kind and very informative. For anyone who wants to be conscious of what they are eating from supermarkets, Chris is definitely the guy.
Here’s my Supermarket Superstar interview with Chris Cornyn:
1. When did you realize [Food Branding Guru] was your life’s passion?
Financial disaster struck and it caused me to do some soul searching. I had a business, and the economy took a turn which was the genesis for DINE. Clarity found me.
Very few things we put in our mouths are emotional and personal. It was rich territory to make it a profession. To make people pull the trigger and buy food products.
2. What would you like people to know about packaging and branding? I know many are confused about all of the different brands and packaging thrown at them.
In any given supermarket, there are close to 50,000 products to choose from so it’s very confusing. There are stores that are less confusing. If you look at Trader Joe’s, they only have about 3000 products on their shelves.
Trying to figure out what is better for you is an ever evolving process. Americans don’t necessarily know the difference between organic, natural, non-GMO, and so on. Fortunately, our government understands and is desperately trying to help consumers understand.
3. What are the common mistakes you see people make with brands?
The main thing is: not having a reason for being. In the food business, there are three key words:
And that can mean a lot of different things. It can mean–a new brand that people have never seen or a new packaging format. It can also mean a new category, or a new category that has been asleep at the wheel for years.
That would be the yogurt category.
For decades, it was Dannon and Yoplait then here comes Chobani Greek Yogurt and eats their lunch. Not that it was genius, but the category was sleepy and someone said, “I’m going to come up with something else!” and BOOM, it caught fire.
4. What do you think of today’s food trends throughout the USA?
When the food industry looks to trends, they look at restaurants and food trucks. Lots of great ideas bubble up from chefs. Look at the cupcake. It has become huge, although it is probably declining a bit. It also did’t start with, “Oh, I’m going to open a cupcake store.” It probably started on a pastry chef’s list where they were serving it for fine-dining and it caught fire.
One of the trends we are seeing with big companies are healthy, better-for-you foods.
The second one is convenience. We’ve become a ‘snacking culture’ and people are looking for foods to fit their lifestyles. That could mean many different things.
Everyone wants to be gluten-free now, but when you look at the people who are actually gluten intolerant, it’s less than 5% of the population. But it seems that every year, there are another 10,000 gluten-free products.
5. Do you think there is a food brand that is doing everything right?
Wow. That is a loaded question. I think there are some really terrific brands out there. I was just on the phone with a company and I haven’t eaten a lot of their snacks but the company’s name is Way Better Snacks and the CEO believes in it with his whole heart. He wants to provide better-for-you snacks. He wants people to live better. He is being true to his mission and there are a lot of those out there.
On the flip side, I can say we work with big companies like Frito-Lay who are trying to produce a better-for-you food. It’s difficult when you’re huge to turn on a dime, but I have several prototypes from huge companies that are healthy and convenient.
Yeah, there’s still a lot of crap out there, but on the whole there are a lot of companies who are trying to do good and produce good food.
6. What is your favorite food?
I have a lot of favorite foods. Unlike the rest of America, I love carbs and do not try to avoid them. I’m a pasta fiend and a bread fiend. Italian food, I have a passion for.
When it comes to buying things in a supermarket? I think there are a lot of great dips. I love the unique twists on dips. Then, of course, I still have those perennials when it comes to ketchup. I’m going to go with Heinz. No private-label for me.
7. What do you do when you’re not being the Food Branding Guru?
I have two kids so part of what I do is observe them and what their lives are going to be like with food. I also fight the chicken tender and pasta addiction and expand their palates. You go to any restaurant and the kid’s menu is the same. That’s how it is in America.
I also try not to turn into a fat slob so when I’m not working. I try to get out and exercise a bit.
8. When you were a young boy, did you have a dream of doing something other than what you’re now doing?
I wanted to be a sculptor–an artist, and now I’m creating food packaging — if you will. It isn’t the same. I thought I was going to go to art school and thankfully, my father said, ‘If you’re going, get a four-year liberal arts education.’ I started writing in school which led me to writing ads for commercials for food products. It’s sort of related. I’m not sculpting anything, but I’m creating things that people can enjoy (hopefully).
When I was a kid, I thought Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli was the BOMB! It was the best thing ever. My culinary beginnings were humble at home. No one cooked, so Campbell’s Tomato Soup and Chef Boyardee was it for me. I went away to college and discovered restaurants in N.Y. and things changed quite a bit.
9. What is your advice for people who want to fulfill their dreams and are hesitant to take the necessary steps?
I have dreamers who call me everyday. The dream of what they think is the best food product in life and sharing it with every single American household. It’s a great dream.
My advice to those dreamers are twofold:
First, get it into someone else’s mouth other than your cousin, your grandmother, your mother and your friends because they have no reason to tell you the truth. That may be as easy as going to a farmer’s market, setting up a table and getting real consumer feedback.
Second, learn the business. As romantic as the food business sounds, nine out of ten food products fail and it takes on average, three years to become profitable. Don’t quit your day job. Don’t empty your retirement fund. Learn the business. Go about it slowly and methodically.
10. Do you have any advice for dreamers who want to do things that may seem unimaginable? Who have many fears and doubts?
You can’t find clarity. Clarity finds you.
You can watch Chris in action on “Supermarket Superstar,” Thursday nights on Lifetime, at 10:30|9:30 Central. You can follow Chris on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/SupermarketSuperstar.
I want to thank him for the great call and for the dream advice. His great advice can be applied to any dream, even if the dream isn’t putting a food product on the Supermarket shelf.
Here’s to your food dreams, however they are packaged.