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In this episode, host Maureen Ballatori dives into emerging food brands and media coverage with Monica Watrous, the managing editor of Nosh, a part of the BevNet family. With over a decade of experience covering trends, innovations, and developments in the food and beverage industry, Monica brings a wealth of knowledge to the table.

Monica’s journey into the world of journalism started with a spark during her high school years, where she realized her passion for storytelling and writing. This passion led her to pursue a degree in journalism and embark on a career that would ultimately lead her to the exciting landscape of food and beverage.

After starting out in newspapers, Monica found her journalistic niche in Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), where she fell in love with the energy and innovation of emerging brands and startups. Her tenure at Food Business News laid the foundation for her deep dive into the world of food entrepreneurship, where she witnessed firsthand the grit and determination of entrepreneurs willing to risk it all for their dreams.

Monica is captivated by the relentless innovation in CPG, the problem-solving ethos, and, above all, the unwavering passion of entrepreneurs. She finds herself drawn to the stories of individuals who are willing to go the extra mile, risking everything to bring their vision to life in a highly competitive market.

However, Monica doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the challenges that come with the territory. The CPG industry can be unforgiving, demanding a unique blend of resilience and tenacity to weather the storms. Yet, it’s precisely this resilience that Monica finds so admirable in entrepreneurs, making her eager to play her part in supporting them on their journey.

In today’s digital age, getting media coverage for your brand is crucial, but it’s no easy feat. Monica offers valuable insights into how emerging brands can effectively pitch their stories to the media. From being succinct and compelling to understanding the publication’s audience and tailoring pitches accordingly, Monica emphasizes the importance of strategic communication.

Moreover, she highlights the significance of building relationships with media professionals. Beyond just pitching stories, cultivating genuine connections can open doors to long-term partnerships and opportunities for coverage. Monica’s own journey reflects the power of these relationships, as she finds herself not just reporting on the industry but becoming a champion for the brands and founders she admires.

One of the emerging trends Monica discusses is the concept of “building in public.” This transparency, often seen through social media platforms, allows brands to share their journey openly, connecting with consumers on a deeper level. Monica believes that this authenticity fosters consumer loyalty and strengthens brand identity, making it a powerful tool for emerging brands to leverage.

As the conversation draws to a close, Monica shares a recent highlight from her career: being invited to judge a pitch competition alongside industry luminaries like Daymond John. It’s a testament to her expertise and influence within the industry, showcasing the impact of her work and the recognition it has garnered.

Monica’s journey serves as an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs and industry professionals alike. Her passion for storytelling, coupled with her deep understanding of the food and beverage landscape, continues to drive her forward, shaping the narratives of emerging brands and amplifying their voices in the media.

Transcript

This transcript has been edited from its original form to support readability.

Maureen Ballatori: I’m Maureen Ballatori and this is Spilled Salt, a podcast on the thrills and spills from the food, beverage and agriculture industries. 

Today’s guest is Monica Watrous. She’s the managing editor of Nosh, which is a part of the BevNet family

For more than a decade, Monica has covered the latest trends, innovations and developments in the food and beverage industry and has organized and hosted multiple events featuring emerging brands and cutting-edge concepts. 

She’s a lifelong foodie. We talked about that today, right down to her Instagram, “What’s Monica eating”, which I love. Not only do we focus on a bit of Monica’s background, what led her to become the managing editor of Nosh, but also some advice for folks who are looking to get the media’s attention. 

Enjoy the conversation.

Maureen: Hey Monica, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you? 

Monica Watrous: I’m doing well. 

Maureen: Wonderful, thank you. I always like to start these off with a little bit of background. Can you talk us through your career history leading up to the work that you’re doing now at NOSH?

Monica: Sure. So I have a degree in journalism. I started out at newspapers following college. And then for the past 11 years, I sort of entered the CPG fray as a managing editor at Food Business News, which is a trade publication. And from there, most recently, as you alluded to, I joined the Nosh team as managing editor about five months ago. But I cut my teeth on CPG journalism at Food Business News and really fell in love with the emerging brands and early stage startup space. So I would say that’s sort of where I’ve, my beat or my area of interest over the past few years.

Maureen: What do you love about that? What about the emerging brands is intriguing to you?

Monica: I think it’s the innovation. There’s a lot of really interesting problem solving happening and a lot of passion. Any entrepreneurs that I’ve ever spoken with are just so inspiring. The way that they just approach their startups, taking out second mortgages or just putting everything on the line to pursue that dream and that vision is super inspiring to me.

Maureen: I think the more I continue to work in this industry as well, I think that when you find a CPG founder who’s all in, like it really is, I think inspiring is one of the many words that you can use for that because you have to be, right? You have to be all in, in order to get through the constant blows that tend to hit you in CPG, right?

Monica: Yes, it’s a pretty unforgiving business and it does take a lot of grit and determination and resilience, qualities that sometimes I don’t think I quite possess. So if there’s any way that I can help elevate these people in what they’re doing, I’m happy to do my small part on the sidelines.

Maureen: Tell me a little bit more about where your initial interest in journalism started. Like, has it always been something that you were interested in or did it develop like when you were in college or, you know, finding sort of what you thought you might want to do with your career? Where’d that initial interest start?

Monica: I always really enjoyed writing and telling stories, but it didn’t really take shape as journalism until my junior and senior year of high school. I was on the high school newspaper staff and I realized, this is a viable career path. I should try this out. And then I went to the University of Missouri journalism school. And at that time there was a real crossroads in what the media landscape was going to look like. A lot of blogging and we were at this crossroads where the internet and blogging and the way that people acquired news was changing. And so a lot of my professors at the time were saying things like, well, it’s, it’s up to you, you know, your generation to rewrite the next chapter of journalism. And when I started my four -year stint at the Kansas City Star, that was sort of the beginning of the end of the heyday of traditional journalism. I witnessed nine rounds of layoffs in the four years I was there until the last one took me with it. So it’s really tough. But then I found business -to -business journalism, which, I mean, one of the things that we talk about in this industry is that food is such a resilient, recession -proof industry. Everybody’s going to keep eating.

So there was a little bit more of a safety net there, but then also just this business to business side of things where you’re speaking to the industry and the trade. It wasn’t how I was educated or, I guess, classically trained, but I really enjoyed this type of work more so than the traditional newspaper work I was doing before.

Maureen: It’s funny that you mentioned that from the B2B journalism perspective that food was safer, but we also just talked about like the grit and the tenacity that it takes emerging food brands and beverage brands to be able to stick around because really it’s not from that perspective. It could be perceived to be not safer because there’s so much risk in starting and scaling a CPG.

Monica: Right. And especially now there’s just so much competition because the barriers to entry have been lowered in the last decade. And so, so many brands are coming to market and it’s just a very expensive and cost intensive business. And capital is harder to come by. When people were starting their businesses 10 years ago in this space, it was a very different story. And now we’ve seen a lot of startups having to shutter in the past 9, 12 months, which is really sad to see because I mean there’s some really great brands that are just no longer able to continue due to the market and the current environment.

Maureen: Whether that’s lack of access to capital or changing. I know there have been tons of changes in the supply chain since COVID, right? Like that took a lot of people out, too. 

I feel like you can really tell when people love their work and they have a passion that just permeates everything that they do. And you have that. And I could tell from what I was doing, my research in advance of today’s show too, because your personal Instagram is “What’s Monica eating”. And I love that. I love that so much. 

So what are like when you are sort of strolling the center aisle of the grocery store or you’re walking expo, like what are some of the things that you’re excited to see from emerging brands and food and baths?

Monica: I think, anything that is new to me. So when I go to Sprouts, for example, you see a lot of Sprouts on my Instagram. That’s probably my favorite retailer. They have that innovation set in the middle of the store where they have a quarterly rotation of new brands that they bring in. And it’s such a great place for discovery. And I think that’s what I really am drawn to is that opportunity to discover something that I hadn’t seen before. I mean, I think what really draws me into Expo West is not another kombucha or another adaptogenic soda or prebiotic soda or grain -free granola. There’s so many, I don’t want to say me too products out there because I don’t think that, I think a lot of people come to market with the same idea. I don’t think they’re copying each other deliberately. I think that there’s just a lot of people with the same great idea coming to market at the same time. Like you see in Hollywood, a lot of movies that are made around the same subjects that come out at the same time.

Maureen: Not to derail this too much, but to your point about access to resources to the barrier to entry became lower. And so once it was possible to do something, other people discovered that possibility as well. And I think that that has an impact too on what comes to market at what time.

Monica: Absolutely, and a lot of the, you know, a lot of products and brands that come to market are responding to current trends. So with Ozempic being a really big topic of conversation and, you know, having such an influence on the way that a growing portion of the population is eating, I think we’ll see more brands coming to market with products that are tailored towards, you know, what to eat if you’re taking that that medication, we’re already seeing, I mean, just yesterday Nestle or two days ago, Nestle announced that it was working on a product line as a GLP -1 companion and it would, I don’t know a whole lot about the product, but I’m guessing it has a lot of protein and fiber, which are just key nutrients that people who are restricting their calories are going to need. We hear a lot of users of that drug who are losing muscle mass because they’re maybe not eating as much protein or having digestive issues. And so, I expect to see more brands coming forward with products that sort of answer the call for people who are either using those types of medications or are looking for a more accessible and affordable alternative to those medications. So products that are positioned as GLP -1 alternatives.

Maureen: That’s so interesting. I feel like it’s one of those Ozempic came and then, you know, the whole flurry of GLP ones came on the market. It’s seemingly so fast, right? That it was like here and then it was everywhere. And it’s so interesting that you’re making that connection with emerging brands of food that are answering the call for what people are still looking to add to their diet when they’re taking medications like that, because seemingly they seem a bit unrelated in some ways, right? Like I get it, it’s a food product in the grand scheme of things, right? It’s related to food in some ways, but that’s a very innovative idea in terms of launching something that is specifically targeted at that market.

Monica: There was an interest in brain health that emerged a couple years ago and we started seeing products that were tailored more towards supporting brain health and cognitive function. We’ve seen a lot of interest around digestive health as we’re learning more about the microbiome. And so brands are coming to market positioned around this idea of delivering products that have, you know, prebiotic fiber or postbiotics. So I think that that’s part of it and why we see a lot of similar products coming to market at the same time as we were discussing earlier, because they’re responding to these trends in real time and able to turn something around very quickly because of all of the resources available.

Maureen: Excellent point. I want to take a sharp left turn here, leveraging some of your expertise for emerging brands that can listen to this and get some thoughts on ways to approach the media to get their story out there. What are some ways that emerging brands or startups can get coverage? What’s a good way to sort of pitch the media to get a good result?

Monica: Sure. Well, so, you know, it feels like a shameless plug, but Nosh does have a new self -service PR platform or portal that people can use to upload their own press releases. But also, we have a tip line, news[at]nosh.com. So if there’s something that you want to get in front of our team of editors and reporters, certainly email it to news[at]nosh.com, as far as getting the attention of a reporter.

I mean, we receive a lot of pitches every day and it’s sometimes hard to stand out. I think being succinct and compelling, finding that angle that’s going to stand out, providing assets like a media kit with images of your product. Those are some of the things that stand out to me like off the bat, just because I feel like it’s easier, just make it easy for the reporter or the editor to not only understand what the product or brand is, but that they can turn around and use it and not keep having to follow up and ask for more things. I would say understand the publication that you’re pitching to. It would be a waste of your time and the editor or reporter’s time if you are pitching your personal care product to a food publication.

Even if it includes like a food ingredient, like we’re, you know, still don’t write about it. So I think that’s important. And then I would also say to be courteous and judicious on the follow -up, like, you know, just to understand that editors are inundated with a lot of content and just to understand that it may take a little while to hear back from somebody.

Maureen: In the early days, I was always taught that the relationship with your sort of go -to media partners is one of the critical ways to get the right kind of coverage for the right kinds of products or services or whatever it is. So you had mentioned a media kit with images, make it easy, know the audience, the follow -up is critical, all of those things. From your perspective, how important is the relationship?

Monica: Really important. I’m in a unique position where you versus when I was in traditional newspaper journalism, I feel like I’ve sort of become in addition to reporting on this industry in a way a champion or an advocate for the brands and the founders that I write about. And it almost feels like a conflict of interest at times, you know, because I support these folks and I want them to win and I’m buying their products and I’m posting about it on Instagram, but I’m also out here doing my job, most importantly, to deliver the most fair, accurate, and objective news. But I would say that, you know, I mean, it’s, I think that it’s helpful to have that relationship to keep building and, again, understanding what the media outlet is looking for. If they’re writing a lot about new products or distribution gains or acquisitions, things that you know that they’re going to cover, understand that that’s important and reach out.

Maureen: Right. Like you said, don’t pitch your personal care product to the food publication. It’s great to be able to do follow-up on stories, right? When you can write about something that just came on the market and then five years later, being able to also follow up with an acquisition must be such a beautiful thing for you to be able to do.

Monica: It’s fun to watch the journey that a lot of these brands are on. And you could go on LinkedIn at any given time and see a lot of these milestones being posted. But to be able to, you know, know a brand when it started and then to see it just can, you know, like now we’re in Whole Foods National and now we’re we just got an injection of capital and we’re going to do this and that, you know, I mean, that’s just fun to feel like you’re on the journey with them.

And there’s just a lot more transparency, I think too. You asked me about why I like these sort of younger, earlier stage brands. I think part of it is because they’re out here building in public and bringing people along for the ride.

Maureen: I just wrote that literal statement down building in public, as you mentioned, LinkedIn. Talk more about that. What are your thoughts on that whole trend that’s sort of emerging of this group of brands that are doing that?

Monica: I mean, I love it. I think that it’s helpful for other founders to see some of the struggles and challenges that fellow founders are facing. And it sort of humanizes the business in a way that makes you want to support it. And I think like even just like average consumers who don’t have the kinds of visibility into the CPG world that we have, if they, you know, are watching their Instagram or TikTok and they see like, that’s what it looks like when they just had a big production run and that’s what it looks like. How cool. Or like, this person is, I don’t know. I think it’s refreshing. I think that transparency is huge for consumer loyalty and brand building. And even to see an email from a founder that says, oops, we are delayed on this order that you ordered because our flow wrapper machine isn’t working and we’ve had all these challenges and we want to let you know exactly what’s happening and this is why your order will be late. That makes me more, that’s just, it endears me to that founder and that brand even more to know that they, you know, are open about what’s going on. I think it just earns more loyalty.

Maureen: It’s interesting, too, going back to what you had mentioned when you were in college and then there was a big shift going into blogging, who would have thought that social media would come up as a media outlet in the way that it has. 

And so it’s really, I’m curious what your thoughts are about the content that you push out at Nosh and like how you balance that with the constant flow of information that’s coming from social media platforms, like how do you prioritize getting that content out as quickly as it can, right? When it’s coming from so many different channels all at once, what’s your thought on that?

Monica: As far as how we approach what we’re writing about and how we’re getting, I mean, you know, and that is, it is, it does make it interesting from a reporter’s perspective that we are seeing a lot of these stories breaking by, here are my dogs again, breaking by the founders or the companies on their respective social media pages. And, you know, for us, because we have these relationships that you talked about, that’s also important to be able to just pick up the phone and be able to text the founder of a company and say, hey, I saw you post about you’re selling your brand. Tell me more. Like, let’s get on the phone. You know, obviously, it’s really important for us to report on things as accurately as possible, to get the story from the actual person versus hearsay from, you know, we verify everything before we post it. And I mean, the timeliness is really important when it seems like we’re competing with other types of media.

There’s been an emergence of like snacks shot and some other like newsletters that are reporting on the industry. And, you know, it’s important for us to be right out there with them and, you know, not late to the party when it comes to something big like Foxtrot closing.

Maureen: Absolutely. Hit us with some what not-to-do’s, if you’re an emerging brand and you’ve got a big story.

Monica: I go back to the thing I was saying about like, don’t be super aggressive with the follow -ups. there’s certainly been some people who, have, I mean, just haven’t really respected the, the, the idea that there’s other news out there to chase and, you know, not every story is going to be, you know, some things are, I mean, it’s to you, it’s very important. And I, and I, you know, but it does become part of like a triage of like, what are we spending our time on? Because there is so much to cover in this industry. So be respectful and mindful about how you follow up on something. And I guess, you know, as you pitch, try to find like the news angle of it, you know, if there is something that is particularly newsy about what you’re working on, that’s important. So I guess it goes back to what to do versus what not to do. I don’t know.

Maureen: I think you’re making a good point there, though, because it’s a question of how sometimes clients will call us and say we want to spread this news far and wide and I have to gut check, right? Like, is this really newsworthy? Is this newsworthy information to share or is this you just trying to get the word out about something? Because those are two different things.

Monica: Yes, certainly. I would say another thing and maybe a “what not to do” is to pitch the same angle to like multiple outlets, but promise it as like you’re getting the exclusive and then to turn around and like give another outlet that same. 

It’s one thing if it’s like we’re getting into Whole Foods. Of course, we’re all going to report about that, that’s important. But if you’re saying something that’s very unique, like a very specific angle that you’re pitching, and then turning around and pitching [the same unique angle] to somebody else… I would just say, be thoughtful about throwing around terms like exclusivity.

Maureen: That’s great advice. In terms of the media kit, what kind of recommendations do you have for folks about what they should include there? Other than, of course, the basics of the story, right? What are the facts that they can share? How many images are you typically looking for? Obviously, they need to be high resolution. 

In your advice, you had mentioned a media kit was a great thing to send in with a pitch. What’s helpful for founders to put in there?

Monica: I would say a variety of images that are, you know, maybe renders of a product’s packaging, as well as lifestyle images in both horizontal and vertical orientations, because you never know, like, what’s going to fit on a website or even a magazine page, because some of these publications still have magazines. Our BevNet vertical has a print magazine.

And then also there’s the grid on Instagram or the story on it. Just have images that are going to fit different templates. That’s important. And I think just having all of the facts of the origin of the company, a timeline is helpful. Who are the players? Who’s your team? Who’s on your advisory board? When did you come to market? What are all the products that you offer?

Where are you located? Just like really basic, you know. And then I think, you know, having part of that origin story of like, what was the impetus behind the launch or what was the inspiration and how did you get here? I think adding that personal touch to the story, like we were talking about before with the building in public, is always important.

Maureen: That is still something that we sometimes have to convince clients that we work with that the origin story is important, right? Like we just had a conversation maybe a month ago with a client who’s launching, then they want to go nationwide with their product. I’m trying not to be too specific, but this line of products that they’re launching. And we said, you know, it’s really beautiful that you can,mentioned that this is all locally sourced product that’s like the bulk of what’s going into this line. And they said, what if we’re national people don’t care about that. It’s not local to them. I said, it’s still that that’s still a key part of your story. It’s still who you are. 

I think that to the point about building in public and really relationships that we were talking about in terms of building relationships with reporters and the media in general is, it’s all about people seeking that human connection, right? And so the more you can find a way, what’s your vehicle to that point of human connection, lean in, lean into that.

Last question for you. Tell me about a high point from your career. One that, when you’re having trouble sleeping, you think, remember that time when.

Monica: You know, actually, I had a high point recently. It was last month. I was invited to be a judge on a pitch competition hosted by Snack International, the Snack Food Association. And I was there, it was a Shark Tank-style panel and Daymond John of Shark Tank was also on the panel.

And I just felt like, and the other judges were big shots and I just felt like, wow, I don’t know how I made it here, but this is quite an honor.

Maureen: That’s awesome. Although I will say you very much deserved to be there. I mean, your whole career has led you to this point, right? And you’ve got this focus in food that who else is a better fit to sit there with them. So congrats. That’s awesome.

Monica: Thank you.

Maureen: Monica, thank you so much for taking time for the chat today. Really appreciate not only learning a little bit more about your story, but also the little nuggets of inspiration and advice that you gave today on the show.

Monica: Thank you for having me. I hope that was helpful.