Originally from Venezuela, Carlos Ramirez, Founder and CEO of Powerful Foods, LLC., moved to the United States in 2002 to attend graduate school in Berkley, CA. After graduating with an MBA from The University of California, he moved to Atlanta to work for Sergio Zyman, a former CMO with Coca-Cola and Founder of Zyman Group. As a Management Consultant with Zyman Group, Ramirez spent four years designing, developing and guiding the execution of business and marketing strategies for fortune 500 companies in the US and worldwide. During that time, he moved to Florida to open their Miami office. In July 2008, Ramirez joined Alpina Foods, a move that laid the foundation for the eventual launch of his own company – Powerful Foods.
“With Alpina, I led the U.S. entry of the company to become the premier U.S. brand of yogurt-based products,” Ramirez said. “During my time with Alpina, I saw a huge opportunity that no one was focusing on. At the time, the U.S. yogurt market wasn’t focused on athletes. To me, it was an opportunity to go after that demographic and produce a product suited for their needs. In December 2012, I left Alpina to launch Powerful Foods.”
From Startup to Second Stage
Within six months, Ramirez raised the required capital, including funds from a private investor in New York, to bring his concept to life. He designed packaging that was bold and black and incorporated protein into his yogurts. Everything was geared towards athletes and those with active lifestyles. The product was quickly dubbed, ‘The First Yogurt for Men’, and, after hitting the shelves of nearly 300 stores throughout New York State, the media took notice.
“Our story was featured on the Today Show,” Ramirez said. “We also had Conan O’Brien nickname our product, ‘Bro-gurt‘. It was a great launch pad for us, but we ultimately wanted to create a product for everyone, not just male athletes. After our initial launch with just the yogurt, we added protein drinks, oatmeal, bites, and smoothies and expanded our footprint down the east coast.”
Today, Powerful Foods’ yogurts, drinks, bites and other products can be found on the shelves of Walmart stores nation-wide and throughout Florida at Publix supermarkets and some CVS and Walgreens locations. According to Ramirez, the company’s strengths lie in its ability to innovate and disrupt.
Establishing and Maintaining a Competitive Advantage
“We’ve developed a platform of innovative products that, not only taste great, but are also nutritious, high in protein and made with natural ingredients,” he said. “Not many products in our industry can claim that. The recipe is simple, but it’s also disruptive. Even though we compete on the same stage as global brands like Dannon and Muscle Milk, our strength is in our brand and our capability to innovate and disrupt. It’s really fun to be able to ‘move’ a billion dollar company like Dannon.”
Ramirez described Powerful Foods’ marketing strategy as a guerilla style strategy. Rather than focusing on celebrities, they go after ambassadors to promote and endorse their products. Local heroes, Ironman competitors, personal trainers and those with 60,000 followers are more suited, according to Ramirez, to represent the brand than celebrities that are often un-relatable.
“We’d prefer to have 100 of these ambassadors than a few celebrities endorsing our brand,” he said. “First of all, it’s never good to depend on a few individuals to be the face of your brand. Second of all, our target market, millennials, doesn’t see someone like Cam Newton as credible. They know that individual is getting paid to endorse the brand. When our consumer base sees a local hero using and promoting our brand, they know it’s because that person actually uses our products. It’s more genuine. We’re also one of the official sponsors of Spartan Races.”
Ramirez continued, “Ultimately, our marketing is more of a layered approach. Our major objective is to get our products into the consumer’s hands. We know that once they taste it, they’ll love it. That’s our focus – we get them to taste it and then we re-enforce the brand and our messaging with our ambassador network. We also do demonstrations at gyms and increase brand awareness through social media.”
Powerful Foods’ workforce is lean, yet extremely effective. They have 10 full-employees in Miami, a handful in New York and one that rotates between the two offices. They’ve been able to disrupt a billion dollar industry and compete with industry stalwarts by developing a strong industrial network and leveraging the distribution, R&D and sales capabilities of co-packers. Company culture is reflective of how they operate.
“We’re aggressive, fast and efficient,” Ramirez said. “We’re also quick to pivot and pull the plug if something isn’t working. That’s our culture. If there’s a mistake, we fix it right away or go and do something else. We learn by doing and we’re not afraid to try something different. This year is all about savings. As a company, we’re focused on the bottom line and pursuing savings. Once we accomplish that goal, we’ll move on to the next one.”
When it comes to community involvement and philanthropic activities, Powerful Foods is a big supporter of Miami is Kind, a non-profit bakery that employs young adults with Autism and other developmental disabilities. Known for their delicious Macaroons, Miami is Kind sells its products at Whole Foods and Fresh Markets throughout South Florida. The partnership has been a win win for both Powerful Foods and Miami is Kind. “When we launched our Powerful Bites, we hired Miami is Kind to do some manufacturing for us. The founder’s goal is to build the organization and hire as many kids as possible. We’re very happy to support them.”
According to Ramirez, operating in the state of Florida is beneficial for a variety of reasons. “In my case, given my Latin background, it’s been easier to relate to potential candidates,” he said. “The environment is also fantastic. Even though our co-packers are in New York and Chicago, we’re able to easily manage everything from Miami. I’m also part of Endeavor, a high-impact entrepreneurship movement around the world. One of the chapters is located right here in Miami. It’s a great benefit to the local community.”
What it Means to be a Florida Companies to Watch Honoree
“The visibility has been great,” Ramirez said. “It also provides us with an opportunity to network and connect with other entrepreneurs, as well as state and local resources. It’s an important piece to further establishing ourselves.”
Ramirez continued, “In terms of why we were selected, I think it has a lot to do with our growth and focus on innovation. Also, there aren’t that many food companies out of Florida competing in the supermarket next to Coke and Pepsi. That’s an attractive story. We’re the new kid on the block and we’re already challenging the big guys.”
Ramirez was quick to give thanks to his team for all their hard work and for their entrepreneurial spirit. Many have been with the company since it was founded. According to Ramirez, the support from friends, family and employees has been phenomenal.
Looking ahead, Ramirez has a vision of creating a company that “cleans the junk out of supermarket aisles”, while still delivering a great tasting product. He wants to do so on a much bigger level and admits that venture capital might be required to adequately scale.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
“It’s a weird combination of what you need to have,” Ramirez said. “If you plan too much you’ll never do it. Effective planning is more about trusting yourself. It’s still important to have a good plan, but it’s equally as important to being open to changing the plan as you go along. It’s important to pivot when necessary. Also, it’s key to have passion and the mindset that you love what you do. Lastly, keep going through the difficult times, develop resiliency and don’t be afraid to figure things out along the way.”