Peter is the co-owner of Canada’s successful NEAL BROTHERS FOODS INC. The Toronto-based boutique distribution company of prestige brands of gourmet condiments and innovative snack foods, with a green and healthy twist. Together with his brother Chris, Peter launched the company in 1988 in his second year of university. What started as a small gourmet crouton company launched out of his mother’s Aurora, Ontario kitchen, has now become both a major player in the natural food distribution business and a highly successful brand of food products.
We caught up with Peter Neal on how social media has helped grow his brand and on what trends will start to dominate the food and retail industry.
First off, tell us about what you do.
My older brother and I own/operate Neal Brothers foods which is both a natural specialty food distributor and a food brand. We sell close to 500 different items to over 1500 retailers in Canada. We also co-own a wine importing biz; Hanna Neal Wines and last year we published a cookbook titled Goodness under our publishing co; Blakeman Books.
Tell us a bit about the work you’ve done with Branding and Buzzing.
We have been active at many amazing events with B&B over the years including Toronto’s Festival of Beer. They found a great fit for us at Beer Fest by incorporating Neal Brothers into the media lounge – a clever way to feature our products and mingle with influencers. It has always been fun and rewarding working with this group of young and dynamic, results-oriented people.
As someone committed to bringing people together, how do you think social media has helped your business grow?
I wish we had social media 28 years ago when we first started Neal Brothers! Five years ago we realized we were more focused on the other 50 brands in our distribution co and we needed to promote and show some love to our Neal Brothers items. We needed to personalize our brand and show that there really were 2 Neal Brothers! Suddenly my private Facebook account became an outlet and important tool to showcase my personal life as it related to our eponymous brand and it was a natural and fun process. I did the same with Twitter and Instagram. Within months I was attending food events in Toronto and meeting people with whom I had a ‘friendship’ via social media – it was weirdly cool! I/we realized how powerful this medium was and we started sponsoring some of the events. We also started running contests and saw more and more opportunities open for us. Our marketing department did the same with our Neal Brothers accounts and we soon found that we were developing a loyal group of customers for our brand.
What was the best advice you’ve ever received from a mentor?
KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid; don’t get me wrong, you need to make smart and calculated decisions. You still need to plan your moves ahead of time like a chess game but don’t over-analyze everything – make a plan and EXECUTE!
What are some of the challenges you face as a business owner?
Hiring and maintaining good people – keeping them motivated towards a common set of goals – that is a main goal to improve for 2016. Keeping our brand current, relative and interesting to our consumers. Juggling a variety of different jobs; leadership, product developments, marketing, sales etc – but I also thrive on all of this!
What was the aim with your latest cookbook, Goodness: Recipes & Stories?
The aim was two-fold; raise awareness and funds for Community Food Centers Canada, to highlight the fact that Neal Brothers is more than a tasty food co! ;)
What upcoming trends do you see in the food retail industry?
I think retailers will continue to reinvent themselves through things such as technology and embrace the next generation of consumers. I think there will be a better interactive experience between the retailer and consumer. Retailers will have a better sense of what consumers want via enhanced data collecting and be quicker to respond to demand. There will continue to be a heightened sense of consciousness on behalf of consumers to know the source of their food. Food brands, influencers, environmentalists will be promoting the issues/stories of ‘healthier, local, sustainable, ethical etc’ and more consumers will be demanding these products so retailers will have to find a way to respond better to these tougher demands.
How do you see collaborative branding evolving in the next few years?
Collaborative branding will increase – the industry and the millennial generation are much more open to it. I think it has been done well on many levels such as branded coffee kiosks in certain food retailers. I think companies need to be careful not to expend too much energy or dollars on another brand that they do not own just for the sake of being affiliated with a popular name. It is easy to do a collaboration where one party wins over the other and one brand is weakened. Like any partnership it has to be mutually beneficial.
What’s one thing everyone should know about you?
I keep secrets.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Skiing, motorcycle riding, dining out and traveling.