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4 Stages of Foodservice Brand Growth

4 Stages of Foodservice Brand Growth

Where does your brand sit on the path to market leadership?

There are four stages a brand might go through in pursuit of foodservice growth.

The starting point and specifics of each stage differ – depending on whether the brand was built for foodservice from the beginning, or if the brand is coming from a retail or DTC environment and looking to grow in foodservice.

Keep in mind, these stages are fluid. Maybe a brand already has distribution but could use a clearly defined voice and positioning. Maybe a brand needs a detailed marketing strategy to support strategic goals. Or maybe a brand is still deciding where it’s at in the foodservice journey – and where it needs to be.

Think in terms of the four stages of growth to find the support you need to take things to the next level.

Stage 1 – Exploratory

Interested in learning more about the growth and volume potential and considering foodservice as a sales channel.


  • No foodservice-specific products yet identified.
  • Some product formats may translate to bulk needs, but they aren’t readily available for distribution.

Sales and Distribution:

  • No foodservice-specific distribution.
  • Opportunistic placements with some customers to meet organic demand and learn more about the channel.

Brand Positioning and Marketing:

  • Little to no public-facing communication around foodservice availability.
  • Feature-centric and/or consumer-centric messaging.

Stage 2 – Learning / Building a Foundation

Committed to some level of investment in the pursuit of foodservice opportunities to learn and justify future investment.


  • Foodservice-specific products have been created (with appropriate pack sizes, formulations, etc.) or standard product offerings have been deemed suitable for select segments (e.g., campus retail, grab and go).
  • Actively in R&D.

Sales and Distribution:

  • Limited foodservice-specific distribution, if any.
  • Some amount of foodservice selling to opportunistic customers (e.g., C&U foodservice, regional chain, local independents).

Brand Positioning and Marketing:

  • Limited marketing support (e.g., a sell sheet and a blurb on the website with a foodservice sales email address).
  • Brand voice is pulled or adapted from consumer-facing brand; foodservice messaging is getting more buyer-centric.
  • Paid advertising and other content marketing programs are sporadic or nonexistent.

Stage 3 – Growth / Creating Momentum

Actively pursuing foodservice growth goals based on a proven sales model with select foodservice customers.


  • Product offering is being optimized for foodservice.
  • Some items or recipes are being created specifically for the channel and are informed by chef and/or customer insights.

Sales and Distribution:

  • Product distribution through a redistributor (e.g., Dot) and/or a major broadline distributor (e.g., Sysco, US Foods, Performance Foodservice).
  • Deliberate sales efforts toward targeted segments based on specific market opportunities and product/brand viability.

Brand Positioning and Marketing:

  • Dedicated foodservice marketing properties and content – including website or landing page, segment-specific selling tools, trade show booth experience, digital/social content, etc.
  • Brand presence at some smaller foodservice-specific trade shows (e.g., regional distributor shows).
  • Brand voice and key messages are tailored to foodservice decision-makers and their pain points, and the product is perceived as a viable option for target buyers.
  • Some investment in paid advertising and content marketing to test market reaction, explore targeted geographies, pursue switcher opportunities, etc.

Stage 4 – Amplification / Always-on

Leading long-term growth strategies in foodservice and capturing market share while expanding and innovating foodservice product portfolio in researched, targeted segments.


  • Products are being developed exclusively for foodservice with the input of chefs, customers, and other R&D experts.

Sales and Distribution:

  • Foodservice growth is tied to specific goals and objectives, each with strategic priorities that are detailed in an integrated brand experience plan outlining marketing activities throughout the year.
  • Actively engaged with broker and distributor network – providing education and sales enablement tools, participating in relevant distributor merchandising programs, and sharing information to empower broker and distributor partners to participate in the brand’s marketing plan.

Brand Positioning and Marketing:

  • Selling efforts are scaled with investment into targeted campaigns (paid media and/or earned PR) that generate leads, integrate with CRM functions, grow first-party data, and provide meaningful ROI metrics based on KPIs.
  • The brand has a clearly defined voice and selling story to foodservice buyers across relevant segments and is perceived as a market leader.
  • Attends foodservice-specific trade shows with a booth experience that reinforces the integrated campaign and serves as another lead-gen mechanism.

Posted in: Thoughts
July 06, 2023

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