Ground Up Group brings premium beverage and food brands to market in New York City and surrounding areas quite literally from the ground up. The agency focuses exclusively on emerging CPG brands with massive growth potential that the team believes starts with great shelf presence. Their clients include WellWell, PartakeTÖST, and others.

We caught up with GUG’s founder Jesse Silver to learn more about the company, the future of grocery post-pandemic, and what star qualities he looks for in breakthrough brands.

ForceBrands: What inspired you to launch Ground Up Group? What need in the market were you looking to fill, or what problem were you trying to solve?
Jesse Silver: I had great sales training and experience helping to build brands such as Nantucket Nectars and Vitaminwater in my early career out of college. After 10 years in the industry, I decided to start my own agency helping to build emerging brands literally from the ground up. In 2012, when I started GUG, it was just me out there in Manhattan representing a couple brands that had faith in me. After getting several brands locally authorized in Whole Foods, things started to pick up. I also identified a lot of great natural and premium independent accounts in New York City. These accounts can really help to build a brand’s presence in the early days of development.

FB: What markets does Ground Up Group serve?
JS: We have sales and merchandising associates throughout the Northeast, New England, and California. We are aiming to strategically expand markets as the right opportunities allow. We always want to offer excellent and consistent store-level service for a price that allows our brand clients to see a solid return on investment.

FB: What do you find most rewarding about the work you’re doing?
JS: There are so many great brands that need people to fight hard on the front lines. Helping brands achieve early wins as they develop is very rewarding. We have brands that we helped get their first 20 or 30 independent accounts on board. We have seen so many brands grow into multi-regional and national distribution that we still support.

I think the partnership is the best part. Aligning with great brands and the people behind them, then working toward shared goals always pays off.

We are also blessed with such a great internal team of sales and merchandising associates. It can feel like a family at times. We always have each other’s backs here at Ground Up. That is paramount.

FB: What do you look for in brands you partner with? What ‘star’ qualities do brands with high growth potential have?
JS: The copy I wrote for our ‘about’ page on our website eight years ago still remains true now. Our goal is to align with food and beverage brands that have quality ingredients, excellent taste, innovative packaging, and a unique brand message. Also, as mentioned above, it really is about the people you work with every day. When I was just starting my career at Nantucket Nectars, the leadership there always said the people you spend the most amount of your day with are your work colleagues, and to take those relationships seriously. That resonated early and has always stuck with me.

FB: Since the outbreak of COVID-19, how has your work changed? What should premium food and beverage companies know about this ‘new normal’ retail climate?
JS: We are a year after the onset of COVID-19. The places that have remained open (and are busiest) are the grocery stores. Some of the other channels (food service, hospitality, on-premise, etc.) have taken a temporary hit (though I believe they will come back). Investing in the grocery retail channel is very important since so many people are finding themselves at grocery stores daily now. Direct-to-consumer and online grocery services are important as well. At this time, retail grocery, direct-to-consumer, and grocery pick-up and delivery services are driving growth.

FB: Are there any trends in product categories that you’ve seen emerge during this global pandemic?
JS: When COVID first hit, stores were stocking basics like pasta, sauce, rice, and beans. That is before we all realized that everything, in time, shall pass. We are seeing consumers care now more than ever about the quality of ingredients they shop for. I think the pandemic helped pockets of the country become more aware of healthy eating and living than they were before. Gluten-free, non-dairy, low calorie, low sugar, and nutrient-rich ingredients seem to be tried and true. It’s been really cool to see items like snacks and treats move towards healthier ingredients lately. Food entrepreneurs are always finding ways to create amazing brands with better and better ingredients.

FB: When it comes to bringing great products to market, what’s ahead for the grocery game? What does the future of retail look like after COVID-19?
JS: I always have hope in the future. I can’t say for sure what grocery will look like, but I believe we should always treat ourselves and others the best we can. Both nutritionally with the foods we develop and offer, as well as the ways in which we support and care for each other daily. I am certainly still learning. Hopefully growing.

Learn more about Ground Up Group here.