The food & beverage and consumer packaged goods (CPG) business sectors seem to be easily overlooked, although many of the sectors’ brands are found on grocery and retail store shelves. The industry might not seem as sexy as high-tech, but North Texas is host to everything from early-stage to mature brands, product and service suppliers, as well as food & beverage and CPG investors.
Due to North Texas’ location and logistical advantages, the sector has a strong area footprint and growth, but was lacking a formal trade group in Dallas.
Enter Rick Jordan, a shareholder and co-chair of Polsinelli law firm’s Venture Capital and Emerging Growth Companies practice, and Richard Riccardi, a veteran food company exec. Together they are taking on a grassroots effort to support and mobilize the Dallas-Fort Worth food & beverage sector through a new group: the Greater Dallas Food & Beverage/Consumer Packaged Goods Community. And, it was all organized in the last eight months.
Two networking and educational events for local sector participants at Four Corners have already been held. The most recent meeting was held Nov. 7 and featured a panel discussion on brand positioning, while the next event will be held Jan. 23 at Four Corners Brewing Company.
Jordan and Riccardi are also preparing an area delegation for the national Expo West food & beverage convention to be held in Anaheim, California in March. The duo recently shared a Q+A discussion via email on the food & beverage industry, CPG topics, and forming a local community.
How did this initiative come together? Do you see it filling a critical gap in the F&B/CPG ecosystem?
Riccardi: Our desire is to use the power of community to propel the success of its members. We have seen communities in other cities like Austin and Boulder, Colorado, not only foster the success of their members, but actually create a “hotbed” of innovation for the industry in those cities.
While I had owned a food processing business in the Dallas area for 25 years, I discovered I knew very few other members of the F&B/CPG community in the region. And when I spoke to those I did know, they didn’t know anyone else either.
People and companies naturally do better when they are connected. This connection was clearly missing in our area. There are trade organizations for restaurants (TRA), food manufacturers (TFPA, SMA), and suppliers (IFT), but none that addressed the F&B/CPG community. You frequently hear from our meeting attendees, “We didn’t know there was anyone else in Dallas doing what I do.”
This lack of connection caused me to go to Austin where I found a vibrant community. I lamented the lack of community in Dallas and I was encouraged by my colleagues to form one here. Ironically, I was introduced to the Dallas CPG attorney Rick Jordan by my Austin contacts.
Rick had the same feeling and ideas so we hatched a plan to start something.
Who are you referring to when discussing the F&B/CPG community?
Riccardi: Companies and individuals involved in developing food and beverage items packaged for sale to the consumer typically in a retail store, as well as for the growing direct-to-consumer (DTC) online channel. We’re talking about essentially anything you might see on a grocery store shelf: milk, bread, snacks, etc. It’s not food or beverages sold in restaurants or bars—unless there is also a retail presence, such as Dr Pepper, Four Corners beer, etc.
What makes the Dallas F&B/CPG community noteworthy? How does it compare to F&B/CPG communities in other major metro areas nationwide?
Jordan: The most significant difference we have seen is the diversity of members. In other cities, the CPG groups are absolutely dominated by early-stage entrepreneurs and founders looking to enhance their brands and/or get better connected in the CPG industry. In Dallas, we have the whole gambit: early-stage brands; large, mature brands; food processors; ingredient suppliers; sales/marketing firms; angel investors, venture capitalists; private equity firms; lawyers; and so on.
What is the biggest untold story about the Dallas F&B/CPG community?
Riccardi: That there is significant, unconnected F&B/CPG activity in this area. Dallas has great CPG companies, and our organization is poised to help develop this industry into an even larger part of our vibrant local economy.
How can the local community improve?
Jordan: Up to now, the local industry has seemingly lacked the spark needed to drive toward a community-forming initiative. Our diversity is our greatest asset and our greatest opportunity. We are not just one type of person or company—this gives us strength, but it also challenges our creative ability to make sure we serve the needs of our members, but I think it will be like any community. At different times we must focus on one area, all with the knowledge that we are collectively better when all of our members are better.
Where does the local community excel?
Jordan: One thing we’ve confirmed is that Dallas is a destination for emerging brands that need to scale their operations. There are national brokers, distributors, and manufacturers here that are absent in smaller markets like Austin or Boulder. And there’s a long history of enterprise-level brands having success here locally. So, the “draw” to Dallas is its ability to unlock the opportunity for emerging companies to grow into a national brand. And our community events are facilitating introductions to the “players” who can help those brands scale.
What are your respective roles in this new initiative?
Riccardi: We are a grass-roots organization. Rick and I have called ourselves co-founders because we launched this initiative, but it will ultimately need full-time leadership. That said, the strength of this community is entirely dependent on the activities of its members. Perhaps, we should be called organizers.
Where do you see this initiative going from here?
Jordan: Given the tremendous response to our first two meetings, we anticipate some formal organization will come together soon. In that respect, we have formed a steering committee that will provide us with guidance and direction. The committee comprises well-known influencers, industry experts, and event sponsors, and we are honored to have their support. We anticipate that we will continue to provide frequent CPG-oriented programming to the community.
What are your goals in bringing this community together?
Riccardi: We would love to see this group form a life of its own and that our members support each other’s endeavors. Ultimately, given the city’s resources and existing industry participants, we hope to enhance our local profile within the national CPG scene, and be known as the best place in the country to participate in the F&B CPG business.
What are the highlights from the November event?
- Rob Baker, Creative Group Head/Writer at The Richards Group: Rob provided examples of advertising that conveyed the brand’s positioning, no matter the budget. He stressed the importance of telling a story about your brand through various mediums.
- Susan O’Brien, Founder of Hail Merry: Susan talked about the importance of brands identifying their brand positioning and using it as a guide so they maintain focus and remain “true” to their core values.
- Lora DeVuono, Strategic Marketing Operating Partner of Riata Capital Group: Laura discussed real-world, big-brand experience at Frito-Lay, and how a singular creative campaign delivered astronomical growth overnight for one of Frito-Lay’s core products.
What are the details on the next meeting? What can attendees expect?
Jordan: Our next meeting will cover everything you wanted to know about the Expo events, which are one of the nation’s premier natural products exhibition conferences. That meeting will be held on
Jan. 23, at Four Corners Brewing. We expect to have a “Greater Dallas”—or, perhaps “Texas”—meet-up event at 2020 Expo West in Anaheim, California this March. We are actively working with another Texas-based CPG organization on this initiative.
Riccardi: The goal of the next meeting is to provide guidance to all of members from whatever perspective they have – as an exhibitor, retailer, or attendee. Our speakers are: Sam Owen, account manager for New Hope Network of Boulder, Co., providing business resources for the health product industry; Jeff Richards, founder and CEO of Mooala, an organic, dairy-free beverage brand in DFW; and Marisa Bertha, senior director of business development and 7-Ventures at 7-Eleven, headquartered in Irving.
Who else has been involved in this initiative?
Jordan: We could not have put on our prior events without the support of our sponsors. We are in the process of securing annual sponsors (ten have committed so far). Our previous meeting sponsors include:
- Access Capital
- Analytical Food Labs
- Baker Tilly
- Bridge Leasing
- Darrell Chiang
- Hanks Brokerage
- Iron-Clad Consulting
- J. Small Investments
- JP Morgan
- Kainos Capital
- Kane Russell Coleman Logan, PC
- Ponder Foods
- Riccardi Ventures, LLC
- Stout Investment Bank
- VelaWood Law firm
Are you partnering with organizations in the Dallas startup and innovation ecosystem?
Riccardi: None in the DFW region so far. We have networked with Naturally Austin and SKU. We are exploring a co-branded Texas meet-up at Expo West with Naturally Austin.
Richard, how does this new initiative dovetail with your interests, experience and aspirations?
Riccardi: For me, it is part giving back to the industry that has been supportive of me. As an F&B CPG investor and mentor, it is my desire to help companies work together to be more successful – especially
the early-stage entrepreneurs who need the guidance other members can provide. This group aspires to be a driving force in propelling many more successful brand stories from our city.
Rick, how does being a leader in this new initiative dovetail with the work that Polsinelli currently does, or aspires to do, in the F&B/CPG space?
Jordan: Polsinelli’s national Food, Beverage and Consumer Products team sponsors numerous events across the country within this space. Examples include: Naturally Austin, Naturally Chicago, Naturally Boulder, FoodBytes!, Fancy Foods, SKU, BeyondSKU, and others. We are deeply committed to supporting emerging CPG brands and helping them get connected within the industry and guiding them through funding rounds, commercial relationships, and exits.
Our team also represents many of the investment funds that deploy capital in the space, as well as other industry participants. So, it was a natural extension of the work we’ve been doing nationally to co-launch an organization in my back yard. Plus, when folks learn I’m primarily based in Dallas, I want to be a cheerleader for this market, because there’s a lot of CPG activity going on that’s not really on the national radar. I’m convinced our local market is unique, attractive, and ripe for helping incubate some successful exits, and hopefully our initiative can help in a small (or big!) way.
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