Building a startup brand: How this marketer is bringing new agtech to life

FutureFeed head of marketing and communications shares the journey she's been on to build the B2B and B2C brand and marketing plan for an Aussie emerging technology

Building a global brand stretching across a B2B value chain and matrix of industry stakeholders through to the grocery store shelf is a challenge in itself. Throw in a completely new technology, the promise of significant sustainability gains, an indirect product sales model and the global pandemic, and it’s an even more dynamic, challenging task.  

And that’s exactly what FutureFeed head of marketing and communications, Eve Faulkner, has been leaning into over the past year. The experienced B2B marketer joined the startup business in January and is tasked with helping take the Australian agtech innovation it represents to market.

FutureFeed’s innovation story is grounded in tackling the global low methane challenge. The business was established in August 2020 as an IP partnership between the CSIRO, James Cook University and Meat & Livestock Australia. It’s supported by investment from Harvest Road, Woolworths, GrainCorp and agricultural technology (agtech) investment JV, AGP Sustainable Real Assets/Sparklabs Cultiv8.

The spark was an observation made by a Canadian farmer, who noticed cattle by the water were growing faster and exhibiting better reproductive health than the pack. Subsequent tests conducted by its chief scientist, Dr Rob Kinley, also indicated reductions in methane gas of up to 15 per cent.

The quest to find the best seaweed globally led to Australia and local projects focused on reducing methane emissions from cattle. Joint work between the CSIRO and James Cook University testing 30 types of seaweed led to the discovery that Asparagopsis is the optimum species for the job. Asparagopsis seaweed produces a bioactive compound called bromoform, which prevents the formation of methane by inhibiting a specific enzyme in the gut during the digestion of feed.

“The results were so good, they thought initially it was a testing error,” Faulkner says. “As Rob [Dr Finlay] says, it wasn’t until the third time testing this that he finally believed they were on to a game changer.”

When animal studies showed only a handful of seaweed was needed in feed to more than 80 per cent in methane reductions, it was clear a significant commercial opportunity was on the horizon.

FutureFeed’s focus

FutureFeed is taking the leadership role to drive uptake of Asparagopsis in the cattle market, providing frameworks, methods and compliance to ensure the emerging technology is not only rolled out in a safe and sustainable way across the livestock industry, but is also recognised for its environmental credentials by consumers eating red meat.

“It’s an interesting brand challenge – we don’t sell our own product or seaweed itself,” Faulkner tells CMO.

FutureFeed has two strings to its bow. One is licensing and patents around the use of Asparagopsis for methane reduction, as well as providing quality control and regulation. The second focus is industry enablement. This includes R&D and developing the foundational science, as well as alternate delivery methods. For example, the technology is currently proven in the feedlots market, but also needs to be taken into the open grazing system, which many Australian cattle farmers use.

Asparagopsis in the wildCredit: FutureFeed
Asparagopsis in the wild

In addition, FutureFeed is building the certification standards and trademark to travel along the value chain.  

“This is so paramount to building trust,” Faulkner says. “That will go through to consumer products –think of the Heart Foundation tick of approval as an example. This will be a certified trademark on lowering methane emissions.”

The certification trademark is being lodged with IP Australia, then goes through the ACCC process to be ratified. It’s expected to be in market from mid-2022.

Brand foundations

In commencing her role in January, Faulkner found some awareness had been achieved off FutureFeed winning one of four Food Planet Prizes in December 2020 of US$1 million.

“There was generally good awareness emerging about the concept and that this solution was coming. But we needed to cement the role FutureFeed played in industry,” she explains. “It’s also about how we build a strong brand that reinforces the trust and credibility that needs to come with emerging technology. It’s a really important piece of the puzzle, particularly when it comes to food.”  

Globally, and in terms of regulatory pathways, the company is working with licensees in relevant countries on scientific work needed to meet regulatory requirements. Then it’s about marketing programs that both drive adoption of the tech itself in B2B, and, when it hits the market, builds awareness and demand for the certified trademark (CTM) with consumers.

“We are working to create a set of rules and with industry to set parameters. Then a third-party will audit against that,” Faulkner explains. “With organic for example, you have to have segregation and there are other requirements and approval inputs to claim that organic status.

“This is a different product, but it’ll be a similar certification process for FutureFeed – understanding people followed that process from the seaweed through to when meat hits the shelves. It’s about inclusion rates and ensuring cattle are fed the right amount to make that impact.”

The first big brand priority for Faulkner was understanding key stakeholder groups. The team conducted a big research piece with agency partner, Five by Five, to identify where in the value chain it was most critical for FutureFeed to focus, and what the drivers were in those areas.

“A lot of work was done on the value proposition for these areas based on what FutureFeed’s role is,” Faulkner says. “That has been a very strong point of reference in everything we do and to go back to. It was a first big and important step in understanding groups and where our value proposition lies.”

Five by Five managing director, Matt Lawton, says two rounds of quantitative research were conducted across five international markets with YouGov.

“The aim was to understand how the proposition of low methane beef landed with different cultures and across the political divide,” he explains. “We looked at propensity across demographics and tested certification claims - both the wording and in the second round the final CTM design. We also conducted qualitative research across A/NZ, Europe and US ourselves, with the help of an industry specialist. Over 20 lengthy interviews with senior execs from trade organisations, industry and retail ensured we had inputs from the entire value chain.”

These interviews informed the FutureFeed proposition, brand identity and tagline as well as establish market and legislative landscape insights. Lawton says it was also able to validate the certification claim with industry during this qualitative process. Findings were presented using tagged video based on themes using the Dovetail platform.

“These helped us develop B2B personas which are now referenced in our marketing planning,” Lawton says.

It’s clear the process was critical for Faulkner. “Research was so important given this is so new, but it wasn’t my strong suit. So it was great to get someone in Five by Five who is so passionate about it,” she adds.

Value-based pillars

Core to the way FutureFeed is taking itself to market is the brand identity, tagline and promise: ‘Nature, science, you’.

“It’s about a natural solution, because we know people have a preference in food systems for natural products,” Faulkner says. “That’s then backed by world-class science. ‘You’ is then how we tie that into value chain. That might be ‘you’, the seaweed grower, and what you need from FutureFeed; or ‘you’, the beef producer in the feed; and ‘you’, the consumer and what it means as you look to support lower emissions.”

From a B2B perspective, FutureFeed launched its brand with industry in August 2021 with Future Feast. The event with Matt Moran, first planned as a Sydney in-person function, was forced to pivot to virtual due to Covid-19 restrictions. Lower methane steaks were sent to key stakeholders nationally with gift boxes for a virtual cooking class with Moran.

Stakeholders included seaweed grower, CH4 global, Meat & Livestock Australia, the Cattle Council of Australia, Farmers Federation, the wider cattle and farming industry, plus the Australian Sustainable Seaweed Alliance. Also participating was chief scientist and consultant to the Australian Government on low emissions technology, Dr Alan Finkel.

As Faulkner points out, Australia’s seaweed industry has a current value of $3 million and is expected to grow to $100 million by 2025 and to over $1 billion by 2040. Sustainability and environment progression, such as that promised by FutureFeed, is one of the key drivers of this growth.

Stakeholder management

Faulkner in fact doesn’t boast of either agricultural or seaweed industry experience. What she says she brought to the brand job is experience working across long value chains “where you have to influence lots of stakeholder groups to drive an outcome”.

Eve FaulknerCredit: FutureFeed
Eve Faulkner

“That is what I am most comfortable with – working out the lay of the land, how an industry interacts,” she comments. “I love working with different groups where you’re not necessarily responsible for the final transaction. It’s a very educational and collaborative approach to building a market.”

However, understanding these nuances has been a lot harder because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are a global brand, and I like to understand market, talk to people and build connections that feed into the process. Trying to do that in a scenario when I couldn’t leave my state for most of the planning process was challenging,” Faulkner says. “We still got to some great outcomes, but we had to be smarter and work harder. For example, by tapping into our seaweed growers around the world and in our pipeline to gain their knowledge of their market. They are things we would have done anyway, but to do it virtually was different. And when you travel and have discussions on the ground, you have more time.

“Working in Covid, it’s a one-hour meeting then you hang up and start the next one. It’s not the same level of hallway interaction. Not being able to sit with the Five by Five team and brainstorm face-to-face was difficult. But they ran great virtual workshops. Overall, it meant some of the pieces had to be much more calculated and organised rather than happen organically.”

Another big brand win for FutureFeed and a starting point for its consumer marketing journey is being included in the new Smithsonian Futures Exhibition in Washington. The exhibition is about exploring potential futures including food.

“That’s an incredible piece of the branding puzzle. And it’s one of the first places people from the consumer side will see the brand in the world,” Faulkner says. “It’s rare to have an early representation of a brand this way.”

As to B2B brand buy in, Faulkner says it’s an easy branding journey as demand is already there.

“The red meat industry is doing incredible things but hasn’t told this story beyond industry particularly well. There were a number of things I learnt that I didn’t know prior to coming into the industry,” she continues. “For example, the industry has proactively halved emissions since 2005 in Australia, outside of government regulation.”  

Next priorities

Faulkner’s next big focus is building out the go-to-market model for the certification trademark (CTM) hitting market in mid-2022.

“We did the research on what the marketing needs to look like and what it needs to communicate; the next step is what it looks like and what messaging needs to sit around that,” she says.  

“It’s such a multi-faceted brand. What it needs to mean for a seaweed producer is there in our core and ties across all of it, but ensuring the ‘you’ is the bit that’s relevant to those different areas is key. It’s why research is so important and that value proposition across those key stakeholders is key. What they need from us versus what they need to drive adoption is different. It’s a very dynamic brand in that sense.”

Even in her first 12 months, Faulkner has seen wider understanding of methane emissions and their impact on the environment change.

“In saying that, people still want to eat meat, and there is enormous good from the red meat industry including a big economic opportunity on land that would otherwise be unusable,” she says. “There is a place for meat in the lower emissions world. This is one of those ‘you can have your steak and eat it too’ scenarios. With a smaller environmental footprint.”  

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