#GetInHerCart Expert Q&A

#GETINHERCART’S EXPERT Q&A SERIES | Insight into the American Market from Leading Beef Exporter in Australia, Dalene Wray of OBE Organic

#GETINHERCART’S EXPERT Q&A SERIES | Insight into the American Market from Leading Beef Exporter in Australia, Dalene Wray of OBE Organic

As part of our new #GetInHerCart Expert Q&A blog series, we are talking to some of our favorite industry experts around the world who share our curiosity for how consumers shop for natural products and what makes brands succeed in reaching them.

We recently had a chat to Dalene Wray, Managing Director of OBE Organic in Australia with offices in Brisbane and supplying grocery retailers around the world with their certified organic, grass fed and halal beef. If you work in Australia’s red meat industry, organic food industry or have ever been to Birdsville, you likely know or have heard of Dalene.

Not only does Dalene run Australia’s oldest producer of certified organic beef, she’s also a thought leader in all things beef, organic food, and sustainable agriculture. I’ve known Dalene since 2013 (when I had first moved to Sydney) and was one of my first clients in Australia and the first of my long string of meat industry clients. I was drawn to OBE given their forward-thinking around meeting the growing need of the halal food market around the world, a category I’ve heavily focused on here at Green Purse PR for nearly a decade now.

Having worked very closely with the OBE Organic team, I’ve seen first hand how Dalene works to build and grow OBE Organic’s business, but also contributes to making the entire Aussie beef and organic food industries of Australia better. If you follow Dalene on LinkedIn or Twitter, you’ll see her frequently sharing her knowledge at industry events around the globe and leading various working groups to support export growth, identifying ways to help beef producers flourish and championing diversity within agriculture, including reconciliation for Australian Aboriginal and Indigenous communities.

Continue reading below for our recent Q&A interview with Dalene, and thanks for reading our blog, #GetInHerCart.

— Lisa Mabe-Konstantopoulos, Founder & CEO, Green Purse PR

Dalene Wray, Managing Director of OBE Organic

Dalene Wray, Managing Director of OBE Organic

Q. Given our work together, I know OBE Organic is unique in that is has built success in a variety of markets – from domestically there in Australia, to internationally in places like the USA, Canada, United Arab Emirates and Japan. When it comes to the American market, what do you consider your best asset as a brand? 

A. “We’re successful in America because we’re consistent. We can provide certified organic, grass fed beef 52 weeks per year, 365 days; you can’t get that in the USA.” Dalene sees OBE’s offering as a compliment to American sourced beef products. She and her sales team focus on understanding the challenges or problems their target customers (grocery retailers) have and try to provide the best solution.  Dalene suggests exporters focus less on how great their product is, and focus more on understanding their customer’s needs.

 A lot of the American retailers are very large and therefore would require huge quantities. Dalene recommends “researching the retail landscape and recognizing what ability you have to deliver.” Dalene recommends exporters ask themselves, “do you produce small volumes just a few times per year or have a consistent supply? Determine which retailers are the best fit for your size,  and ultimately identify, does your product or program solve a problem that the retailer needs to fix?” 

 Q. Doing business from afar could be challenging. Is it necessary to have an American outpost in order to effectively serve your customers? How do you and the OBE Organic team maintain your client relationships from the other side of the world?

A. Dalene says no; having a US-based office is not necessary, at least in OBE’s case. For OBE, America is an established market; they have a greater need for staff in their more emerging markets across the world. 

 While they do not have staff located in America, they do frequently come visit with their customers in-market, and have consultants (like Green Purse PR) here to work with as needs arise.  Dalene stressed the value of working with partners and vendors who are based in the USA and know the market best. She recommends “having a suite of consultants at your disposal in the American market.” Dalene also says that the smartphone app, WhatsApp, (in addition to phone calls and emails) is a helpful way to stay in touch with customers on a regular basis.


Q. What types of partnerships, vendors or service providers might an exporter need to find in order to be most effective in the USA? 

 A. Dalene says having a logistics provider to clear your product through customs (U.S. Customs and Border Protection,) as well as an organization to help you manage currency risk (currency hedging) are some must-haves. OBE prefers to sell direct to customers (the retailer, instead of through a distributor,)  and Dalene warns, of bringing over too much product to satisfy customers. “I don’t like to have storage; storing product somewhere means more insurance and cash flow challenges. Instead of renting storage space, I would rather airfreight product if I had to.”  Instead, she recommends exporters start small with their orders, working to build volumes and relationships over time. 


Q. Are there any specific niches within meat sold at grocery retail where brands can further innovate and shine? 

A. “Deliver for the meat buyer. That means on time deliveries, open and transparent communication about any glitches in the supply chain. It also means letting them be the first to know of any problems in the supply chain. Get your customer the right product at the right time, working to know their business so well that you can almost predict and preempt issues.” Dalene says this comes by working super closely with the buyer — understanding their own KPIs, volume, and any ad or promotional programs their category participates in. Dalene warns that “buyers are always being courted by competitors,” but recommends being “so reliable that there is no reason why they would replace you.” In addition to providing outstanding organic, grass fed beef year round, OBE Organic has found that its focus on sustainability and animal welfare often give them an upper hand when pitching their organic beef program to prospects.  


Q. When you’re pitching a new grocery retail customer, which product attributes or third party certifications are they telling you are most important for their shoppers? 

A. They are looking for grass fed, and USDA organic. Dalene also notes that retailers are asking about regenerative agriculture and animal welfare.


Q. How important is it to understand the end user, the shopper, when pitching a new grocery retail account? How does OBE Organic get to know, or study, those shoppers? 

A. Dalene says, “we need to know how to engage with the consumers on campaigns. Every country is different and every retailer is different.”  OBE Organic relies on Green Purse PR for market and consumer insights globally, studying how consumers, like Millennial moms in the USA and UAE, shop for beef. Dalene says shop-along studies help the brand to understand things like the best type of content (like imagery and messaging) to communicate to their various consumer audiences. Insights learned through qualitative research also helps the brand keep a constant pulse on consumer behavior so it can best support its’ retail customers from a marketing perspective.

OBE Organic beef at Jimbo’s Naturally in California

OBE Organic beef at Jimbo’s Naturally in California

Q. What kind of reputation do you believe Australia has here in the USA, amongst both retailers and end users?  

 A. Dalene believes Australian products enjoy a good reputation in the USA. Regardless if someone in America has been to Australia or not, they likely have a positive view of the country.

Q.  Do you consider America a good market to do business in? 

A. “Yes. America has a stable currency — a currency you can trust. It’s a sophisticated market with lots of retailers to choose from, sophisticated logistics and well-educated consumers. Australia also has very good tariff arrangements with the USA, which make it a very attractive market to do business in.”


Q. Without giving away your secret recipe of success in the USA, what are some of the things about OBE Organic that help position it for success in America? 

 A. “We’re authentic, farmer-owned, conduct our business with integrity, we’re very transparent, which our customers appreciate. We’re experienced in long lead times from the other side of the world, we can deliver 52 weeks of the year (most producers cannot) and we visit our key export markets frequently.” 


Q. Given that I’m always studying the products that get into women’s trolleys (shopping carts) around the world, can you share some of the products that typically end up in your trolley? 

 A. “My family and I try to keep a ‘clean food’ diet — organic foods with clean ingredients and not processed. My shopping trolley often includes, organic eggs, organic beef, free range chooks (chicken,) non homogenized milk, organic flour, organic carrots. No sodas or fruit drinks; I’m the type of shopper who reads the ingredients labels.” 

For those in the USA, look for OBE Organic beef in retailers like Fairway Market, Bristol Farms and Jimbo’s Naturally. And for more industry thought leadership from Dalene, follow her on Twitter at @dalwray and connect with her on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/dalwray.


#GetInHerCart’s Expert Q&A Series | Insight from Maria Reyes of Leading US Distributor, KeHE

#GetInHerCart’s Expert Q&A Series | Insight from Maria Reyes of Leading US Distributor, KeHE

We are launching a new blog series called #GetInHerCart Expert Q&A. This series of blog posts will connect us with some of our favorite industry experts who share our curiosity for how consumers around the world shop for natural products and what makes brands succeed in reaching them.

This first in the series features a Q&A with Maria Reyes, Director of Category Management at leading national distributor, KeHE, with the corporate office based in the Chicago area. If you sell olive oil in the USA, you’ve likely heard of, or know Maria Reyes. She’s someone I’ve known for several years and is an expert whose opinion I value. She also works for an outstanding company, KeHE, one I’ve been privileged to work with and a distribution partner to so many of the brands Green Purse PR represents.

Focused on premium, not processed extra virgin olive oil, Maria has helped bring to market and build brands like, Lucini, Colavita and Gaea back when these brands were first launched and are now rock stars of the specialty food industry and olive oil category. Most recently, Maria is focused on launching new and artisanal brands from Sicily, as well as Spain, the largest producer of olive oil in the world.

Continue reading below for our recent Q&A interview with Maria, and thanks for reading our blog, #GetInHerCart.

— Lisa Mabe-Konstantopoulos, Founder & CEO, Green Purse PR

Maria Reyes, Director Category Management at KeHE Distributors

Maria Reyes, Director Category Management at KeHE Distributors

Specialty food products that #GetInHerCart. Some of the products Maria purchases for her own home

Specialty food products that #GetInHerCart. Some of the products Maria purchases for her own home

Maria’s tips for getting (and staying) on shelves:

  • Know your market

  • Know your shopper

  • Determine your strategy & budget

  • Offer up your expertise to retail customers and when possible, consumers

  • Hire the right team & work with the right partners to help grow your brand and execute your strategic growth plan

Q. Before launching into a new grocery retailer, brands should be doing this__________before they launch.

A. “You’ve got to study and understand the market – the retail landscape and determine where your product fits in.”

Maria suggests:

  • Obtaining data on your product category, as well as your target shopper (category snapshot reports and shopper research, like interviews and shop-alongs.)

  • Developing a strategic plan (to include competitive shelf price, consumer advertising, social media, etc.)

  • Realistic budget for marketing and promotional activities.

  • Determining where you’re best suited for your launch (i.e. West Coast or East Coast, specialty grocery vs. natural channel, etc.)

  • Narrowing down your target retail accounts & ensuring you have the proper funding to support each of them via discounts, demos & consumer education.

Q. When we use the phrase ‘understand the shopper,’ what does that really mean? What specifically should brands be studying to understand their retail customers’ shoppers?

A. Who are the feet walking in the store, what are they looking for, and ultimately walking out with?”

Maria suggests:

  • Identifying the types of shoppers already primed to find your key claims of value.

  • Understand where shoppers learn about products in your category.

  • Identify what drives shoppers to purchase (price, format, quality, etc.) in the category you play in. This is called a “consumer decision tree.”

  • Learn how those products are used at home.

Q. Specialty food categories like olive oil (also wine, honey, cheese, etc.) can be overwhelming and confusing for consumers, unless they are experts. Do you have any examples of brands and/or retailers doing a good job of educating shoppers in stores or online?

A. Maria says that Cobram Estate (California & Australian olive oils) Gaea from Greece and BONO from Sicily, Italy, are excellent examples of marketing partners in that they work to educate consumers online and in stores.

Maria added that she had recently attended an education event at Cobram Estate’s office in Woodland, California for their retail partners and noted that programs to up level olive oil knowledge of retail partners is equally important to consumers as well.

Maria says there are some excellent olive oil experts around the world, like: Leandro Ravietti Techincal Director at Boundary Bend Australia, Dean Wilkinson, Head Panel Taster at the California Olive Oil Council, Dr. Mary Flynn from Brown University, Alexanda Diverini, Founder of The Extra Virgin Alliance and David Neuman, founder of the EVOO Guy. These are all professionals in the industry and great at helping educate key decision makers, consumers, and have also helped Maria over the past few years gain her olive oil knowledge.

One challenge Maria noted as it pertains to olive oil education is that “some retailers lack the infrastructure and time to properly educate themselves in order to help educate consumers in their stores,” and noted that categories like extra virgin olive oil and Manuka honey, are examples that should have more in-store education so shoppers can understand these products are unique and generally cost more.

Opportunity for brands to more closely collaborate with retailers to educate shoppers on premium categories, like olive oil, honey and wine.

“Consumers are more educated than they have been in the past, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement by both brands and retailers to educate consumers in premium categories."

— Maria Reyes of KeHE

Example of educating shoppers about Manuka honey inside Rockridge Market Hall in Oakland, California

Example of educating shoppers about Manuka honey inside Rockridge Market Hall in Oakland, California

Q. Just because a producer thinks they have an outstanding product, does not necessarily mean it’s going to do well at market. In addition to having a great-tasting, good quality product, what else is required to be successful in a crowded category, like olive oil?

A. “Money, time, patience, hard work and grit.”

Maria adds exposure such as, top tier media placements like, O the Oprah Magazine and Bon Appetit as well as awards, like, The Specialty Food Association’ Sofi Awards and the New York International Olive Oil Competition, can carry a lot of weight when building brand recognition and gaining exposure with retailers and often the consumers as well.

Source: Lucini.com | Example Maria shared of Lucini getting into O the Oprah Magazine

Source: Lucini.com | Example Maria shared of Lucini getting into O the Oprah Magazine

Q. When launching a new product (and new brand) at grocery retail, what are some of the must-haves?

A. “They need to have proper labeling, a national sales manager or regional sales team. If they don’t have someone here to help guide them step by step and develop a certain level of consistency, they’re going to potentially fail and often spend substantial capital. Another must have is having product inventory in the USA, that shows your commitment to the market.” Maria says that one way for brands from outside the USA can demonstrate that commitment is either working with an importer (who distributors like KeHE would be buying from,) or in some cases even opening up their own US corporation with their own warehouse (acting as the importer themselves) to service their American customers.

Maria has worked with several brands coming from outside the USA who produce the number one selling product in their country and they expect that they’ll also be the number one here in America. These types of high expectations come with the assumption that they’ll automatically have volume, expecting to sell by full imported container load, which is not always possible in the beginning and often takes several years to grow into.

Q. Are there any specific niches within olive oil where there is still some room to shine?  

A. “Yes. Demand for quality olive oil is increasing and supply is declining, except in Spain.” Currently Maria is focused on bringing olive oil from quality Spanish producers on board and taking full advantage of the current trend toward healthy fats, citing olive oil as “the healthiest fat of all, period.”  Maria recommends high quality extra virgin olive oil brands leverage the healthy fat positioning currently trending with consumers.

Another opportunity to shine is in product size. Maria says she is looking to market olive oil products in 250 ml (8.5 oz) format instead of just the typical 500 ml (16.9 oz) sizes. “Smaller bottles means less oil, which makes them less expensive and gives a lower retail price. That translates into more retail sales and allows consumers to be more adventurous with new products.”

Maria visiting olive oil producers in Spain

Maria visiting olive oil producers in Spain

Spanish olive oil products on retail shelves in Spain

Spanish olive oil products on retail shelves in Spain

Q. Are there any brands, countries or country promotion boards that do an outstanding job of telling their provenance story here in the USA?

A. “The Made in Italy brand protected by the Italian government through the Italian Trade Commission.” Maria also added that ancient cultures like Spain, Italy and Greece have a big advantage in telling a provenance story with the Italians being the best and most experienced at it.

Maria exploring Tuscan region with Bellucci

Maria exploring Tuscan region with Bellucci

Italy 3 Tuscan Region-Bellucci.jpg
Italy 6 Tuscan Region-Bellucci.jpg

Q. If a specialty food brand suddenly had an extra $10k, $20k, $50k or even $100k USD to spend on consumer marketing, where would you likely recommend they invest it?

A. “Getting the right story/messaging and certifications on their product packaging and tying that story/message back to current trends taking place here in America. Getting the right message and telling their story within their labels is a must.”

Maria ads that “social media exposure is a given, but don’t forget that there is a substantial value of both paid and earned media exposure.”

Source:  www.instagram.com/gaeaoliveoil  | Example Maria shared of GAEA from Greece’s on a billboard in Times Square, New York City during the Fancy Food Show.

Source: www.instagram.com/gaeaoliveoil | Example Maria shared of GAEA from Greece’s on a billboard in Times Square, New York City during the Fancy Food Show.

What Maria reads to keep up with food trends:

Consumer media: Clean Eating, Bon Appetite, Food & Wine & Saveur.

Trade media: Supermarket News, Olive Oil Times, Olive Wellness Institute, Specialty Food News, Nosh Newsletter, New Hope Network, Gourmet Retailer, Food Navigator & GMA Smart Brief.

Maria has a wealth of insight into the specialty food and olive oil categories, and she loves sharing it, which is why she is one of our favorite experts. Follow Maria on LinkedIn here, where she frequently publishes news, insight and commentary on the olive oil category and specialty food trends.

Brands whose strategy match a national distribution model and are interested in partnering with KeHE should inquire online here, www.kehe.com/distribution.

You can also connect with KeHE on social media: Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram & Facebook.


View more of Maria’s travels from around the world speaking at olive oil industry events and visiting with olive oil producers from countries like, Australia, Spain, Greece and Italy.