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When I look at CPG opportunities, my goal is to know the following:
1. Is this product/idea differentiated in the marketplace and how easy is it for the competition to copy/replicate that differentiation?
2. Does the team know what they are doing to grow the opportunity?
3. What’s the plan to get the opportunity to 20% EBIDTA?
To accomplish the above, I need the following metrics for a startup CPG, in this order, with the basis at the product unit level that the end consumer would purchase:
- Current sales in units/door/week by channel;
- SRP – suggested retail price of the item by channel;
- Repurchase rate;
- Retailer margin (%);
- Wholesale revenue;
- Gross margin (wholesale revenue – COGS);
- Marketing costs;
- Sales costs, incl. broker fees;
- Logistics and retailer penalties;
- All other operating costs;
- Cash investment.
The above is structured like a basic P&L. The metrics are less important because in most cases, they will not be to where they should be. What’s more important is the qualitative discussions on each metric to help me get to my 3 goals listed above. With the above metrics and a 30-minute discussion, I can usually know if this is a good opportunity for me.
Sales/Units/Door/Week and SRP by channel
This is a core metric to understand how the product is performing in the marketplace. It will be different for each product category, but a good metric for many grocery categories is 1 unit/door/week. If this is average, does this product exceed that or is it below that? If so, why? If above, is it a unique product different enough from the competition? If above, is the company doing some kind of in-store or external marketing that is driving sales? If below, why? Is the company’s marketing not effective? Is it a commodity product getting lost in the clutter of all other commodity products? Is SRP too high, too low? Why?
These are exactly the kinds of questions category buyers ask in determining whether to take on new products, expand existing ones into more stores, or discontinue them out in favor of another product. Even if a product is meeting sales threshold does not mean it won’t get discontinued. Another better product could come along or one with better marketing. The company needs to know its category and competitors and trends very well to try to position against this.
When I say “by channel” above, I mean I want to know SRP and margins by channel – grocery, drug, mass, club, etc.. Even if the company is not selling in these channels, what would SRP be in those channels, against the retailer margin? Eventually, I would want to see them sell to the other channels to get more growth. This is important to know now because setting SRP relative to margin and EBIDTA has to be done in the context of looking at other channels, because even though it might work in one channel, it will break in other channels, so you want to get that right from the start.
This metric can only be derived with accuracy if the company has a direct-to-consumer (D2C) component (i.e.: sell via their website). And it is very important to know because if the company has a low repurchase rate – and I assume if in grocery stores it’s a consummable product, so there should be repeat purchasing – then the company has a structural problem and eventually it will fail when it runs out of new consumers. Having a D2C component is very important to know information like this. I look at repurchase rate in context of 12-months from initial purchase. Another similar metric is customer lifetime value, but I limit to 12-months.
If only in retail, the best way to gauge this number is through specialty or smaller chains that the company has been selling in for a while. If succeeding, then you might infer that there is a good repurchase rate. However, the caveat there is that the product is not in an impulse-buy store location, like the checkstand area. If so, then be careful.
Retailer Margin (%).
For grocery, the target is 35% – the difference between wholesale and SRP, or the retailers markup. Is it higher or lower than this and why? If lower, then to expand to other chains, it will have to go higher, meaning it eats into EBITDA. If higher, why? Is it because it’s a new product and the category buyer wanted more margin because of the risk? Or, is it because the company is not marketing or not marketing well to support sales, so the category buyer wants more margin?
Usually will be 1-4% for small companies in smaller retailers. It should not be higher than that. If so, why? Dig in to understand what is going on.
For smaller CPG’s in food, selling organic, this figure is easily in the 50-70% range. The key to ask is not necessarily where it is now, but can the company get it down over time with increased volume? They should be able to get it to the 30-40% range – closer to 40 if an organic product. Again, this is for consummables.
On average, for all CPG consummables, its 13.5%. If higher why, if lower, why? What is the company doing to warrant it being higher or lower? It’s almost always higher the first year in a retail chain, then goes down. What are the specific factors in tradespend that is causing this number to be what it is? Experienced CPG people will know how to negotiate this number down over time. Does this company know how to do this? Note: diving into this area will really tell you if the company knows what they are doing or not, in my experience.
This goes with tradespend, because in-store marketing is in tradespend. But external marketing (what the company does independent of the retailer) is everything else. For small companies, marketing should really be direct response drive, in my opinion. By DR marketing, your marketing has to drive sales and you have to be able to measure it to see if its working. You can’t just throw dollars at brand marketing like large CPG companies because you will run out of money before they have an effect, in my experience. With DR marketing, you need to know how many dollars are spent and what sales that brings in – simple equation called MER (marketing efficiency ratio). A ratio of 2 or more is what you want, but it takes time to get there to optimize marketing. A CPG company that knows how to do this can leverage it into retail growth very well.
Sales costs, incl. broker fees
Broker fees is what I really want to get at. Goal is to get to 5% with no monthly upfront payment. Hard to do for smaller companies, but that is the goal.
In the natural channel it will be 8-15% with a $500-800 monthly payment to good brokers. Over time, you can get the monthly payment to go away and with volume, get the % down.
I care less about the costs now and more about who the brokers are, what are they doing and are they good ones (I can usually tell by knowing how the brokers work by asking the company questions about them). Good brokers are key to growing in retail. You want relationships with good ones.
Logistics and retailer penalties
Goal is to get to 5-7%, or even lower if possible. If higher, why? This is another area that by digging in, will tell me if the company really knows what they are doing on an operating level. Companies with less experience or with weak operations will have higher logistics and retailer penalties. This area can kill a company if not under control. This area might not be a problem now, but its a sleeper land mine because it could become a problem if internal processes and systems are inadequate.
All other operating costs
I usually don’t dive into any other cost areas. The above is what I really need to get to my 3 goals.
What is the EBITDA? Goal is 20%. Now, let me say that 20% is my goal. It does not necessarily mean that is the goal of other companies. I like 20% because it gives me room for error, because there will always be error. In general, if its less than 10%, that’s a problem, because errors will eat into that fast. If not at 20%, then what is going on above to impact this? Based on the above discussion, I would be able to understand better what is needed to get to 20% EBITDA and if the company has the expertise to make it happen. However, I see opportunities all the time that will never get to 20%. Does not make them bad ones, just maybe not ones I would consider.
Put the above into a simple excel model and as you play with all the variables, you will see its impact on EBIDTA.
What will my cash investment do for the company to get it towards 20% EBITDA? Or, if it’s at 20% now, what will my investment do for growth? If my investment won’t get it there, will the company need more investment? If so, can they raise money from other investors besides me? Do they have a differentiated opportunity and a good team that would be attractive to other investors?
Growing CPG companies, especially those in retail, even at positive EBITDA, often need more and more cash to growth. So, even if goal EBIDTA is reached, growth still means more cash will be needed. Can they get it?
What’s the exit? How do I get my money back? Because growing CPG companies, especially in retail, need cash to fund growth, don’t expect your investment to come from EBITDA distributions to investors, at least any day soon. And selling a company is really hard and very few are able to do that.