In 2019, Cece’s® Veggie Co. was recognized as the third fastest-growing company in the United States by Inc. Magazine. Yes, you heard it correctly, “noodled” vegetables surpassed thousands of healthcare, transportation, telecommunications companies and more.
Of course, they have more products than that, but still, that’s really impressive. As quoted in the press release, “Cece’s® Veggie Co., the top food product company to be named on the 2019 Inc. 5000 List, has been recognized for disrupting the produce department by pioneering the first pre-packaged, USDA Certified Organic spiralized vegetables.” That’s a little more appropriate description.
Triana Cover, their Marketing Manager, graciously gave us the opportunity to ask, “How did you get there?”
Cece’s Story, According to Triana
Our company has an inspirational story that really resonates with consumers, which makes for fun storytelling across our marketing messaging. I’ve been with Cece’s for about a year now and have been focused on leveraging our digital channels to connect with consumers and develop our brand story. Our founder, Mason Arnold, launched the company in 2015 shortly after him and his two young children were diagnosed with gluten intolerance. He was making veggie noodles with his children in his kitchen when he saw the opportunity to launch a consumer-facing brand to help save time on prep and clean up that comes with spiraling vegetables out of your own kitchen. We started with a line of veggie noodles that disrupted the produce department by pioneering the first pre-packaged, USDA certified Organic spiralized vegetables, with unique branding that captured the eye of both consumers and retailers.
Shortly after, we launched a line of riced veggies to round out our core products with a focus on single-ingredient, 100% organic veggies which could be the base of any meal or diet – whether you’re gluten-free, plant-based, keto, paleo or flexitarian… unless you have an allergy to vegetables, which I haven’t heard of yet! We were fortunate to launch right when the demand for diet-friendly products was seeing explosive growth and we’ve continued to innovate with more heat-and-eat meals since then.
The Tremendous Growth, What Worked for the Brand?
I think our unique branding really helped set us apart from other items in the produce section. There’s a lot of non-branded products, along with brands that feel outdated or out of touch with consumers, so our fun personality and modern look really resonate with consumers. Our motto is “Simple But Twisted” and we incorporate that with our veggie puns and humor throughout our marketing messaging to make veggies fun. We’ve also focused on responsible sourcing, using only Certified Organic veggies which we can trace back to the farms they came from, because we don’t want to put chemicals in people’s bodies or the environment. We’re a zero-waste food facility, sending scraps of our veggies to local farms around our hometown of Austin, TX. This emphasis on sustainability has been another reason why consumers really feel aligned with our company values. So if you look at things like our unique branding and positioning within the produce department, our engaging story of how Cece’s® Veggie Co. was created, along with our purpose-driven company mission, we really have a unique ability to connect with consumers.
On the health and nutrition side of things, we see it as an amazing opportunity to educate consumers on the health benefits of all of our veggies. There are just so many amazing properties that come from eating real, fresh, organic vegetables that we have endless opportunities for education and storytelling. If you look at functional beverages, supplements and vitamins, those categories are built on the claims of health benefits. So we want to show people how eating nutrient-dense veggies can be more powerful than any vitamin or supplement. We’ve started to feature more of this content on our packaging, website and social media and have found that it’s really resonating with our consumers.
“There’s so much health and nutrition content that we’d like to do, since getting people to eat more veggies in their diet is an amazing opportunity for all the marketing messages and stories we can tell our customers.”Triana Cover, Marketing Manager at Cece’s Veggie Co.
When I joined the team, we were leaning very heavily on influencers for all our content creation, which was great for developing recipe and lifestyle content then amplifying it out to new audiences. While we still see a place for influencers, now we’re doing more of our content creation through photographers, videographers and graphic designers to allow us to create assets that truly fit within our brand. Recipes will always be important for inspiration, but what sets us apart from any other food brand is our company story, the benefits of our veggies, and the convenience of saving time on prep and clean up. We’ve also found that video drives really high engagement with our consumers, so we’ve developed short video clips and stop-motion pieces that highlight our products in a fun and creative format.
We use social to listen to customers, gather feedback on our products, and develop our marketing strategy. One of the benefits of being a start-up is that we’re able to be nimble and react very quickly to what we’re hearing in our conversations with customers. We use social listening to directly inform our innovation planning as well and have a lot of fun new veggie products in development that have been requested by our customers. This also impacts our marketing strategy and messaging, since we’re able to see in real-time what content is engaging for our audience then pivot when needed. Recently, we started to feature more info about the immune health benefits of our veggies, along with recipes to pair our products with pantry staples. These messages have performed well since our customers want to see content that is relevant to their lives as most of the country is in home shelter.
The Right Mindset
We started with our core line of single ingredient veggie noodles and riced veggies, which work with every type of diet and can be the base of any meal. Now, we’re focused on turnkey meal solutions – think heat-and-eat meals to remake classic dishes such as a Zucchini Marinara. We launched two ramen SKUs last fall with a base of fresh veggie noodles: a Chicken Ramen and a Shiitake Mushroom Ramen. And now, we’re launching Cauli & Cheese and Buffalo Cauli, which are a fun veggie twist on the comforting mac ‘n cheese and fan-favorite buffalo wings.
We’ve seen an increased demand for plant-based products as these foods have really come into the mainstream in the past year. Our Shiitake Mushroom Ramen is completely vegan and has been a huge hit since shiitake mushrooms are known for their immune boosting properties and a variety of health benefits. We’re always looking for ways to reinvent foods people love with veggie innovations and create new classics that people will know, love and crave. But most of all, we want to create healthier options for veggie-based meals that work with various diets and save people time on prep and clean up.
Last year, we were focused on redesigning our website, refining our marketing strategy, testing new content with our audience, and developing digital best practices. We also spent a lot of time analyzing what was working with our social media and influencers, along with areas for improvement. We’ve developed a strong brand and digital presence, so now the next step is for us to really share our company story.
In 2020 our distribution has continued to expand to new regions and retailers, so our marketing team has been working more actively on our shopper marketing and retail support. We’re working on a packaging redesign and managing our digital shelf to ensure our products are engaging to consumers and accurately represented online.
Part of the challenges of being a startup is that we’re not able to work with an agency or partner for every facet of our marketing like you might find at a bigger CPG company. We’re really able to do a lot of our marketing in-house, then we are thoughtful with when and how we lean on our partners.
On the flip side, this allows us to be a lot more involved and make sure that everything from creative, to social, to digital strategy, and shopper marketing is all tied together, because we are working so closely on all of those channels already. It also allows us to be much more nimble and reactive, so we’re able to respond quickly in situations like COVID-19 without needing to work through changes with individual partners.
As for the content, our new creative agency of videographers and photographers is a lean set up where they pair us with freelancers to act as a creative agency without all the production fees, since we work on a monthly subscription. That’s really helped us to streamline a lot of our ongoing content needs for new product launches and be able to develop a higher volume of video content.
The Right People
We have the culture and mindset here – just because things have been done a certain way, does not mean that it’s always the best, established way of doing things. We value innovation so while we’re young, we’re still evolving a lot. Even our brand voice and product architecture is continuing to evolve as the company matures and continues to grow.
Being a startup, it’s nice to not have all the processes and all of the internal bureaucracies that come with being a large CPG company. But at the same time, there is value to having some processes so there’s always some growing pains as we work to implement those. I’ve been creating tools and tracking documents for things like our innovation pipeline and marketing calendar to ensure we’re able to collaborate, stay organized and communicate effectively.
We also have a team that’s able to think outside the box. In big CPG companies if you want to do something, you can usually find a partner or vendor or financial resources to make things happen. But we have to think critically when it comes to big, potentially costly projects since we have to use every dollar of our marketing budget efficiently.
For example, we wanted to implement a new store locator on our website last year. We were able to find a creative way to implement a new tool that didn’t require the resources of investing in $50,000 a year on just that software. We’ve done the same thing with our content development strategy, where we’re working with freelancers rather than a creative agency to build assets without all the agency fees.
“We’re proud of our ability to be really scrappy from a marketing standpoint.”Triana
I think one of the most important things that we look for, beyond just passion for the product, is intellectual curiosity. We’re a relatively flat organization where there’s not a lot of hierarchy, and so even our marketing coordinator is able to bring ideas to our founder and ask, “Well, what if we changed this on the packaging design? What if we developed a product that tasted like this recipe? Or why don’t we try this new social message?”
Working for Cece’s Veggie Co. has been a very unique and cool experience since we’re all able to all contribute as active team members on developing the products, brand and company future, rather than people who just want to clock in for a 9-to-5 role and check tasks off a to-do list. We’re all about challenging the status quo and we want people who will actively contribute to the team and culture of innovation.
It’s No Wonder
It all makes sense now. Between consumers needing that immediate preparation of fresh veggies in their life, to a team of creative and forward-thinkers, it’s no wonder that Cece’s Veggie Co. is ranking at the top. It should be fun to see what they come up with next and how they maintain their “cool” status on the produce shelves.