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Co-Associating with Trendy

Josh Silver, VP of Marketing and Public Relations, Unique Foods Canada
Akihiko Tse
April 3rd, 2014
Wherever he goes, Josh Silver is always carrying around his products, and one way or another, he’s known to the people he meets as “the HYPE Energy Drink guy.”

As Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Unique Foods Canada, a national distributor, broker and marketer for various global beverage brands such as HYPE, Aqua Hydrate, Stewart’s, Activate vitamin water and Cocos Pure coconut water among others, Silver tries to embody the walking, talking model of the dual role that he holds for the Montreal-based company started in 1996 by his brother, Jon. As someone who oversees the marketing efforts of Unique Foods’ portfolio, Silver also ensures that he is constantly active in building and maintaining relationships that extends to his promotional staff.

While Unique Foods’ mandate is to provide the Canadian market with innovative, new age functional beverages, it also regards itself as a mini “PR agency” – co-branding and “co-associating” itself with various events, charities and sponsorship opportunities to reflect the hip, cool and trendy lifestyles it can relate to through its brands. In many ways, its co-association with events like Igloofest, an electronic dance festival held over four weekends in Montreal, epitomize the company’s ambition to create a homologous image that leaves memorable impressions together with the consumption of its beverages. Describing such consumption as a lifestyle association meeting functional applicability – for example, HYPE, which was founded by a former F1 racer, Bertrand Gachot, now sponsors many events surrounding the Montreal Grand Prix like the Crescent street festival, as well as the Monkland street festival – Silver says its brands deliver to stand for something more in the minds of consumers.

For Silver, scouring the world for innovative products and partnering them with new, trendy lifestyle events ensures Unique Foods is able to remain relevant in an industry that caters to functional use as much as it does to the range of lifestyle choices consumers indulges in.

Four questions with Josh

1. How does your team generate new ideas?

We’re always looking for new ideas. We like to get feedback from our consumers, whether it’s through contests or having them provide us with slogans, or just generally asking them what their opinion on HYPE (and our other brands) are because in marketing and in sales, the best thing to do is to listen. Listen to your customer and your consumer and you’ll get what you need.

We’re always looking for the latest trends to link up with great events that co-brand with trendiness because that’s what we need to do. When people see the association, it creates lasting impressions. The idea is we’re not selling grandma’s prune juice; we’re not trying to push HYPE at the bingo hall. We’re trying to associate with cool, hip, trendy events which we’ll co-brand with and, in turn, re-brand ourselves with that … A lot of times, we’re not even selling the energy drink, we’re selling the image, the lifestyle and good energy. Sometimes the ideas come to us and I think cooperation amongst companies, whether it’s beverages, clothing or whatever it is, is a great way to get your products out there and you just reach such a wider audience.

2. How do you spot trends?

We’re always combing through what’s out there such as marketing shows, websites and magazines, and we’re very much hooked up in the social media world so we try to be on point as much as possible … What’s interesting is that if you talk to someone at the HYPE head office in Spain, they’re from England, France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, so you can imagine, from a Canadian perspective, they’re going to have different views from us and sometimes we’ll try to work in some of their views into a North American type of standard or vice versa.

We always want to make sure the consumer is getting the right information on a product and that’s where we work with these suppliers. We have ideas and sometimes they stick and sometimes they don’t. But the idea is right across the board – there are many people who are involved with the branding and the marketing. It’s really interesting to see the different perspectives and we’re always learning and always rebranding. We never sit on our laurels; there’s always something new. We all look forward to a new challenge and, let’s face it, every five years there’s a new generation of drinkers – kids who come in today might think what’s hot today is not hot tomorrow.

3. What is the biggest challenge you face when innovating?

I think it’s being consistent with the consumer’s desires. You want to be trendy – you don’t want to be left behind in the dust – so it’s about maintaining the quality of the product. Even if you’re changing the face of the can, the ingredients should always be top quality and it’s a challenge to maintain a proper pricing structure because the more marketing you put in, hopefully it translates into sales and you can go back and forth. If it doesn’t, and you increase your marketing budget but it doesn’t increase the sales, it’s at a loss, so the challenge is to be as trendy and hip and cool while maintaining the sales to support the marketing effort … You want to look at all aspects in terms of how can we touch on all markets without hurting another market or taking away from someone.

4. In the future, how is Unique Foods Canada going to be a leader in innovation?

I think it’s going to happen by constantly finding the latest products. We go to trade shows in places like San Francisco to New York, to Germany to China. We’re basically creating experiences so we’re always trying to go out and physically see the latest trends, meet new people and look for the latest products. We’re always out there and some things work in certain markets and some things don’t, but we won’t stop trying. We don’t want to be satisfied with the 10 products or so that we have; we want to keep expanding and inviting more products in to the family, so to speak, and to our portfolio.