Building The Right US Expansion Strategy

Your brand is thriving in Canada and you’re ready to tap into the vast market below the border. It’s time to expand into the United States; the question is, how?

  • Consumer Insights & Trends
  • Strategy
by Braden Douglas
January 27, 2022

In preparing for Crew’s own expansion our new office in Dallas, Texas, we dived deep into working through all the logistics and nuances it takes to successfully launch in the United States. Realizing this would be a valuable asset to many of the clients and brands we work with, CPG expert Al Springer joined our very own founding partner Braden Douglas in a chat on how Canadian food brands can build the right strategy to achieve success in their American expansion.

From getting on the shelves to growing your distribution, we’ve summed up 5 key takeaways for you to win in the US.

1. Formalizing the Opportunity

The US market has never been short of growth. Take natural products for example. When you think of organic foods, most people will think Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and upmarket, specialized stores. While this was once true, the demand for healthy foods has had continuous growth, carving out opportunities in not just the natural channel (which still sees a sales volume of $56.9 billion) but also in the conventional channel ($57.4b), regional/independent grocery stores ($16b) and even convenience channels making up $3.3 billion.

Within these channels, find your gap of opportunity. What consumer need can you fill to make yourself stand out and make your audience feel like your product is exactly what they’ve been looking for? This could be the opportunity of avocado oil within the potato chip market or busy, adventurous millennials that need quick, pocket-sized snacks without compromising on health or flavour.

What makes your product offering better or different than competitors is a key question that needs to be answered.

There are 5 key components brands need to win in this category:

  1. Superior Taste
  2. Clear Function
  3. Competitive Price
  4. Strong Distribution
  5. Brand Differentiation and Consumer Support

2. Finding the Right Partners

This makes a world of difference. When you partner with experts experienced in the US market, they can accelerate your reach to your audience, distributors, and retailers. To put it simply, they know what works, and what doesn’t.

The partners you need to build a strong network are:

  • Brand Agency
  • Trade Marketing
  • Sales Agency
  • Food Brokers
  • Distributors

3. Gaining Channel Traction

When you first enter the US market, your product will likely need to start in the introduction stage of the product life cycle, even if it’s already matured in the Canadian market. This means you need to get specific.

Start with a focused channel such as Alternative channels like Williams Sonoma, Eataly or Paradies and expand from there. Remember to optimize your marketing efforts by having a regional focus. The best early markets are the West Coast + Southwest and the Northeast + Mid-Atlantic.

Then, choose a specific retailer, in a specific region and expand as you achieve success in each pocket.

(Bonus: We outlined a pricing model in our webinar to help determine shelf prices after taking things like promo spend, online advertising and brokerage fees into account. Email us at info@crewmp.com for a copy.)

4. Connecting to the Target Consumer

The most pivotal thing to keep in mind when creating an effective marketing strategy is this: The larger the market, the more niche your audience focus needs to be. Find an underserved niche audience to build loyalty and benefit from them serving as ambassadors for the brand.

Think about the things in your category that are important to them. What taste profiles do they enjoy? Are they willing to try new things? How familiar are they with this category?

Consider their lifestyle patterns. What social channels do they use? How do they interact with their peers? What things do they do for fun?

Envision what they wear and what they do. What music do they listen to? What kind of clothes do they wear? What causes do they care about? Where do they live?

5. Building Consumer Demand

Velocity. One of the most indicative metrics we use here at Crew to gauge consumer demand and a product’s success. Not sure what we mean? You can read more about velocity here. When those consumers like your product and buy it again and again – that’s velocity!

It is critical to establish category velocity thresholds. Once you do, you can focus on your velocity.

Driving velocity takes communicating, educating, and enticing trial among your target consumers. Since resources are limited, focusing promotional spend in smaller regional pockets is key. The more concentrated the listings (ACV), the more activation you can achieve while reducing reliance on Trade Spend. 

Effective strategies to drive velocity include targeted digital ads, enlisting local influencers and engaging in local events.

Expanding into the US may be the next step to grow your brand. The market is diverse, with many consumers who are eager to find the best products to enhance their lifestyles. For Canadian food brands, it brings an exciting challenge and opportunity, but it is no easy task. With this 5-step framework, you can ensure that your strategy sets you up for success and makes every dollar worthwhile.

Curious about your expansion strategy? Chat with us about how our strategy experts and talented creative team can help your brand grow.