The Pickle Juice Company‘s Executive Vice President, Filip Keuppens, is aware that the company’s success may have led some people to believe that their products are synonymous with Pickle Brine. The company instead provides a cutting-edge beverage produced from a proprietary vinegar blend that has been proven to block the nerve signals that cause muscle cramps, making it the only approved scientific remedy for this problem. Keuppens is dedicated to bringing genuine, transformative goods to market, like Pickle Juice, whose advantages are firmly supported by research. When professional athletes are spotted drinking Pickle Juice during games without any sponsorships, it is clear that they are committed to effectiveness. Keuppens is focused on items that provide genuine answers through innovation. The company has a strong foundation in sales, operations management, and leadership in a variety of industries, including e-commerce and grocery. His storytelling abilities, developed during his time at 20th Century Fox and Warner Home Video, enable him to engage consumers by delivering a compelling story about a product’s advantages rather than just touting its features. Keuppens not only comprehends the product but also the athlete’s psyche due to his local sports history which include positions as a player, coach and Director of Rugby for the Dallas Rugby Football Club as well as commissioner of the USA Club Rugby 7s Championship Series.
Grayson Mask: I’ve noticed in my research that you grew up in Belgium and frequently moved between DC and Belgium. Can you share some differences between growing up in these two places and how often you moved?
Filip Keuppens: Certainly. The experience was quite enlightening and actually greatly influences how we run our organization today. In Europe, particularly in Belgium, I observed that people’s mindsets regarding leadership and organization are distinct. It’s fascinating because the approach is less entrepreneurial initially since it’s very worker-centric. This makes it challenging for companies to expand. However, they adhere to certain values that we’ve incorporated into our operations, mainly the “rising tides” philosophy, which emphasizes individual success through organizational growth. As a result, everyone in the organization reaps the collective benefits. This has laid the groundwork for our unique go-to-market str
GM: With your background in rugby and experiences at Warner Home Video, are there any distinct values from the sporting and entertainment sectors that you’ve integrated into the Pickle Juice Company?
FK: My time at Warner and Fox was primarily centered on Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) rather than entertainment per se. I was positioned in the home entertainment division, with our primary products being Blu-rays and DVDs. A unique aspect of that industry was the 80% sales decline most products experienced within their first month on the shelves.
Additionally, retailers held the right to return all stock. This necessitated a proficiency in accurate forecasting, comprehensive data analysis, and analytics. Although my resume may suggest a heavy sales influence, it genuinely revolves more around organizational structure, devising go-to-market strategies, and data-driven forecasting and analysis. We’ve implemented these lessons at the Pickle Juice Company. I believe our success can be attributed to this data-centric approach. Simultaneously, we give utmost importance to nurturing a culture of positivity and collaboration. As you might be aware, when an organization is expanding rapidly, the focus shifts towards maximizing efficiencies. It becomes essential for everyone to be aligned, contributing their best, especially as compensation adjusts to the growth trajectory. Hence, motivation becomes pivotal, steering away from a solely transactional mindset.
GM: When you first discovered the pickle juice business, were you with Time Warner or involved in the rugby organization? How did the company catch your attention?
FK: The encounter was somewhat serendipitous. After witnessing the downturn of the home entertainment sector, I transitioned into consulting, primarily to rejuvenate and explore various opportunities. During this phase, I stumbled upon what was then a small venture, generating around $250,000 in sales.
I was approached to step in and help evolve this ‘side hustle’ into a recognizable brand. Recognizing the potential in the products, I accepted. Since then, our growth has been remarkable. We’ve become one of the fastest-expanding CPG firms, both nationally and globally, with a consistent 40-50% annual growth rate. Even during challenging times like the COVID year, we witnessed a 30% growth, and impressively, managed to fulfill every order during the subsequent supply chain disruption. Our expansive, vertically integrated facility stands as a testament to our capabilities. Every bottle of Pickle Juice we distribute worldwide – be it in Australia, South Africa, Europe, or soon, Canada – originates from our DFW location. We take immense pride in this accomplishment.
GM: Earlier, you touched upon the analytics behind sales and marketing. I’m interested in understanding the organizational state of the company when you joined. I recall reading on the website about a brand relaunch in 2015. Can you elaborate on that?
FK: Absolutely. When we initiated the relaunch in 2015, the company had very basic infrastructure, lacking in SRPs and distribution channels. The initial model was tailored more towards a regional food service rather than a comprehensive CPG framework. As we embarked on the relaunch journey, we not only introduced new strategies but also reformulated the product. We pioneered the USDA organic formula, which we believed would resonate with the emerging market trends.
GM: Transitioning from a regional food market to a full-fledged CPG company, can you explain the evolution of the Pickle Juice product? Was the initial target audience those with specific health requirements, and how did you transition to a broader CPG audience?
FK: Prior to the 2015 overhaul, our strategy was rooted in the traditional conversations around pickle brine as a folk remedy. The goal then was to provide a more convenient means of consuming pickle brine, and our product mirrored this vision. However, when we took the reins in 2015, we dove deep into the underlying science. We identified the specific type of acetic acid that played a pivotal role in alleviating muscle cramps, amplifying the functional aspect of our product. Predicting a market drift from impulse-based consumption to functionality-focused consumption, we molded our product accordingly. This foresight proved fruitful. Presently, as we continually adapt, we’re transitioning to being 100% USDA organic and adopting 100% recycled packaging. Our goal is to foresee market shifts, position ourselves advantageously, and to some extent, dictate our trajectory in the market.
GM: Given that your website mentions numerous team sponsorships as part of your marketing strategy, I’m curious as to your involvement in selecting teams for potential collaborations. Are there specific criteria you consider or any red flags that might deter you from partnering with a particular team?
FK: Absolutely. Our approach to team sponsorships ties into our mission-based and experiential model. Instead of actively pursuing partnerships, we take a more passive approach. We actively participate in about 500 non-profit charity events, especially in the realm of participatory sports. For example, we’re involved with the Wichita Falls cycling event, which is the largest single-day cycling century in the nation, attracting over 10,000 participants. Our aim is to provide functional sampling at these events instead of mere flavor sampling. The goal is to introduce our product to users at moments when they’d benefit most from its effects, fostering loyalty. In terms of high-level sports teams, we offer product samples and educate athletic trainers about our product’s benefits. However, an important aspect is that we don’t pay anyone for these collaborations. Our approach is purely organic. We avoid paid media but do offer product donations to entities that align with our product’s efficacy and scientific foundation. As for red flags, we prioritize collaborations that resonate with our company’s ethical standards and core values.
GM: I’ve noticed that this year, you introduced what appeared to be your first line extension. Could you delineate the difference between launching a line extension versus entirely new products, such as the chasers you’ve developed?
FK: Oh, the chaser is indeed an interesting story. You see, “Pickle Juice” is a trade name for us, similar to how Band-Aids or Kleenex is for other companies. We once had to issue a cease and desist order to an entity marketing a product they termed “Pickle juice” for the bar and restaurant segment. Their counter-argument was that we weren’t active in that specific trade. Technically, we were, but we decided to craft something explicitly for that segment in response, which gave birth to the chaser. It’s found its own success since then. This was a unique case. In most situations, our approach to product development is grounded in field feedback. It’s never about simply expanding or introducing new products for the sake of novelty. The core question always is, what need is this addressing? Can we effectively introduce it to the market?
Take our chili lime variant, for instance. We constantly educate consumers about the distinction between “Pickle Juice” and pickle brine. Our marketing team even rolled out a witty campaign titled “Save the Pickles.” It humorously reminds me of Chick-fil-A’s use of cows to advocate chicken consumption. We introduced characters named Peter and Piper Pickle, who humorously dissuade people from consuming the brine they reside in. The chili lime product helps us make a clear distinction from pickle brine, emphasizing its functional design. However, we’re always cautious to retain our product’s efficacy, ensuring it addresses muscle cramps as effectively as our primary products. When it comes to completely new products, the aim is to extend our market reach while maintaining our core values.
GM: If I understand correctly, your approach to expanding into international markets involves a carefully measured pace, leveraging existing connections, particularly in sports like rugby. Could you dive a little deeper into this strategy?
FK: Exactly. Our model is based on seeding, securing, and then growing within a market. For example, given our personal backgrounds and connections in rugby, it’s not coincidental that we’ve established divisions in places like Australia and South Africa. High-level sports provide us with an initial point of credibility in a new region. When we tap into new areas, our strategy often starts with seeding the top-tier teams, using personal contacts or network connections. This initial seeding generates credibility and awareness among a target audience, leading to an organic demand at the consumer level. While this strategy might seem slower than aggressive marketing campaigns, it’s more genuine and ensures sustainable growth. Once we’ve established a foothold in a particular market segment, we may pull back from rapid expansion into new segments. Take the impulse category as an example. We’ve waited until we’ve built significant brand recognition before branching out into places like 7-Eleven and other convenience stores. This method ensures that we’re not spreading ourselves too thin and that we can maintain the quality and reputation of our brand as we grow.
GM: How do you make the decision about which section of a store to approach for placement? Is it based on historical sales data, consumer studies, or something else?
FK: Yes, you’ve got it right. Our product placement strategy is influenced by multiple factors. Historically, certain retailers have shown higher turns when our product is in the isotonic aisle, while others, like Walmart, make more sense for us to be in the pickle aisle given their consumer demographic. In some instances, the choice is driven by the store’s layout and offerings. For example, in academy sports, given their product range, it’s logical for us to be in general nutrition. In C-stores, we sometimes find ourselves in the deli vault, which presents a unique grab-and-go appeal. It’s not solely about where we believe the product fits best, but also about understanding each retailer’s unique customer base and shopping habits. Feedback from the retailer and historical sales data play pivotal roles in these decisions.
However, it’s also about being agile and adaptive. We believe in the philosophy of continuous learning. So, we’re always analyzing, experimenting, and refining our approach. If one positioning doesn’t work as anticipated, we adjust. This proactive approach, coupled with the willingness to take strategic risks, has been crucial to our success.
GM: As a final question, is there anything you’re excited for moving forward with the business?
FK: We are focusing on stabilizing our model. We’re transitioning from a phase that’s more than just a startup, focusing on how we operate as a company. This involves establishing distinct divisions, bringing in specialized personnel, and ensuring different departments are effectively led. We’re shifting our strategy to function more like an established company. Currently, our goals include further penetrating our domestic retail market, especially in grocery and C-store sectors. We’re also strategizing more about our international growth. Now that we have established placements and hubs for retailers, we plan to be more aggressive in driving demand. Additionally, we aim to continue our growth in the C-store sector while vigilantly monitoring industry trends, staying ahead of them, and perpetually innovating.