More Than a Market
At first glance, the new Brand Builders Market looks like any other booth in St. Paul’s Keg and Case Market food hall, brimming with colorfully packaged food and beverages, organic soaps, and dog treats. But the market’s business model reveals that the retail component is just a small facet of a larger, more ambitious enterprise incorporating aspects of a grocery co-op, a startup incubator, and a consulting agency.
“Brand Builders is not a grocery store,” owner Kate LaBrosse is quick to point out. “Brand Builders is all about building, launching, and supporting emerging brands. I believe really strongly that Minnesota, and the Twin Cities in particular, can be the next natural foods hub in the country, so I developed Brand Builders as a way to support more brands in getting visibility.”
LaBrosse designed Brand Builders as a retail accelerator program for “mission-driven natural product brands.” The program launched in 2020 as a division of her Minneapolis agency, Kate LaBrosse Consulting. In May, she added Brand Builders Market, the booth in Keg and Case where she sells products of the brands she works with.
As many as 20 up-and-coming consumer packaged goods brands can participate in Brand Builders per business quarter, for a fee of $5,000. For that price, they each receive three months of group consulting from LaBrosse, plus placement in Brand Builders Market on a consignment basis, a brand-launch party, partnerships with local influencers, participation in a live interview series at Keg and Case, social media content, and media support. Brands are also featured in quarterly product subscription boxes and at a Shark Tank-style pitch event featuring local investors and industry experts.
LaBrosse has spent much of her career working with natural product brands, including a stint at Presence Marketing, a national marketing agency with a reputation for placing its clients in Whole Foods. When she started her consulting firm in 2019, she became much more connected with the natural products ecosystem in the Twin Cities, she says. “I really came to see how we have this mass of brands that are [valued at] under $500,000, and then we have big brands like General Mills and Cargill, but there are very few brands that make it to the $2 [million] to $20 million mark.” So LaBrosse made it her goal to help more local lines go further.
The first group of 16 brands will be on the shelves at Brand Builders Market through Sept. 26; some may stay longer. The assortment includes food and beverage products, body care, dietary supplements, protein powders, natural clothing, and more.
Applications for Brand Builders’ second cohort are open through Aug. 31. To apply, email Kate LaBrosse at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet three of the brands inBrand Builders’ first cohort
Harmony Cricket Farm
Gluten-free food products made with cricket protein
Tammy Mann was training for a triathlon several years ago when a friend suggested cricket protein as a great way to fuel up pre-workout. “Once I got over the ‘eww factor,’ I figured it couldn’t hurt to try,” Mann says. “A week in, my gut was feeling less bloated, my energy levels were higher, and my appetite was sustained.” But she couldn’t find any on-the-market cricket protein products that she thought actually tasted good, so in 2020, she founded Minneapolis-based Harmony Cricket Farm. Currently the brand sells cricket flour, protein powder, butterscotch cookie mix, and chocolate “chirp” cookie mix. harmonycricket.farm
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Project Hive Pet Co.
Non-GMO dog treats and toys with a mission to save the bees
“We started Project Hive Pet Co. in 2019 because we saw the opportunity for a mission-driven, authentic pet company that sells innovative dog toys and treats,” says Melissa Rappaport Schifman, co-founder of the Minneapolis-based public benefit company. One percent of each purchase of Project Hive’s products helps establish bee and butterfly habitats in the Midwest and Great Plains through Project Hive’s partnership with North Dakota-based The Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund. projecthivepetcompany.com
TC Chocolate and Rich CBD Chocolate
Small-batch chocolate bars
“The best things in life happen slowly,” says Josh Mohagen, company co-founder. His wife and fellow co-founder Kristin Mohagen came to this appreciation after spending a year in the French Alps, he says. “Meals were carefully made, paired with just the right wine, and enjoyed slowly with friends and family.” Each of the company’s 15 regular and four CBD-infused flavors are made in small batches at their Fergus Falls factory. “We’re showing 108 percent growth this year; Brand Builders has been a crucial part of that growth.” tcchocolate.com; richcbd.com