Taking a beloved brand from France and turning it into a beloved brand in the US requires a creative innovative strategy. This begins with redefining a brand as an adventure, an experience that transports you into a world that celebrates artisan foods.



Hello and thank you for joining us today. This is the Brand Secrets and Strategies Podcast #178

Welcome to the Brand Secrets and Strategies podcast where the focus is on empowering brands and raising the bar.

I’m your host Dan Lohman. This weekly show is dedicated to getting your brand on the shelf and keeping it there.

Get ready to learn actionable insights and strategic solutions to grow your brand and save you valuable time and money.


Dan: Welcome. I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of knowing your consumer, and the importance about being able to leverage that consumer that you have that connects with your brand and all of your messaging. Your go-to-market strategy in every aspect of your sales funnel. Each and every time you talk to your customers, you need to be able to speak in their language. Ideally, you want each and every customer that you talk to think that you're in their head that you know what they're thinking.

Dan: Today's episode is unique in that today we're talking about merging two different cultures. Today's podcast illustrates how critically important it is to be able to communicate the message of the brand to your consumer. Here's what I mean by that. This brand, the brand that we're interviewing today has deep roots in France. Even though, their story is very similar to what you'd hear with an American brand.

Dan: What's unique about this brand is that they developed a following in their home country and because of the way that people in France look at their products and communicate the value of their products, the challenge is how do you bring that to America? How do you bring that same sensibility here? Those rich flavor profiles, the almost cult-like following that you see from their community, from their followers.

Dan: On this podcast episode, you're going to listen to how Evan reposition the brand to better connect with the American consumer without losing its French roots, which is the beating heart and soul of the brand. You want to stick around and listen to the recommendations I gave with Evan in regard to his specific bottleneck.

Dan: As always, thank you for listening. I want to remind you that there's a free downloadable guide for you at the end of every episode. I always try to include one, easy to download, quick to digest strategy that you can easily adopt, and make your own. One that you can use to grow sustainable sales with and compete more effectively. Remember, the goal here is to get your product on more store shelves and into the hands of more shoppers. Don't forget to go back and listen to previous episodes where I may help solve some of your most pressing bottlenecks, you know that things that keep you up at night.

Dan: If you like the podcast, share with your friends, subscribe and leave a review. Don't forget to check out my new YouTube channel. Here's Evan.

Dan: Evan, thank you for coming on today. Could you please start by telling us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you're at and why you have blue hair today?

Evan: Sure thing, Dan. Thanks for inviting me. I even managed almost to get out of my bed for this. We're all dealing with the consequences of ourselves quarantines. Yeah. I'm Evan Holod. I'm the CEO of Michel et Augustin USA, which is a US division of, what I would call it, an iconic French brand. The Ben and Jerry's of France. We have been spending the last couple of years working to bring this adventure into the United States to create some traction for the brands, to develop the right partnerships and relationships. And to ultimately become what we think will be the first really successful mainstream French brand in the United States. You really don't see them all that much. Think about Perrier, think about Evian, think about some of the higher-end items. Van Leeuwen is a good one that's coming up now. They're really in premium spaces. No one has done it in a way that everyone can enjoy and participate in. So I see that as a big opportunity for us and really where we're going.

Evan: And then the hair, we rebranded a year or two ago. One of the things we did was we created these characters out of Michel et Augustin, because they're real people. We gave them blue hair and blue beards. You can see them on our website, on our Amazon page. So for Expo West every year now I dye my hair blue and I dye my face blue too. I had a full beard that was completely blue as well, but that one I shaved off. The hair is a little harder. So get the hair for a couple more weeks.

Dan: Well, it's a lot lighter than it was in the video. So thank you for sharing that. Let's back up a little bit. What did you do before this? How did you get to the point where you were working... What you're doing now, Michel et Augustin. What is your history and how do you bring those skills into this? And the reason I'm asking that question, Evan, is because, like me, you've got mainstream CPG experience, which gives you insights into things that unfortunately small brands don't have. Let me explain it this way. Let me frame it this way.

Dan: As working for a big CPG company, you have an unlimited amount of resources around you in terms of training and development, et cetera. So, for example, when I was working for Kimberly Clark and Unilever, basically every single month we went to a big training. We learned things that small brands don't get to learn or don't have the resources to get to learn. And that's why I do what I do.

Dan: But the point is that those learnings, those key learnings that you have are things that help guide you so that when you're working with a small brand and national brand, et cetera, it gives you a leg up. It also helps you better understand what's required in the industry to be successful. Or unfortunately, a lot of these smaller brands, they don't have that, that opportunity to learn as we did. So they're trying to figure this out on their own. Again, what I'm trying to do here with the podcasts, YouTube channel, et cetera, is trying to help those smaller brands learn from us. Learn from people like you, and then leverage those skillsets. Those new skills, those new insights to help grow their brands. So could you back up a little bit and talk a little bit more about how you got to where you're at?

Evan: Sure. I've had a fairly unusual career, I'd say, up til now. I was actually a trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for the first seven years of my career. I actually wore the jackets with the mesh backs and I had the phones, the headset, and the phone. Thank god, I'm not there right now because it looks like just a cluster down there. But that was my background. So my background was dealing with hedge funds, dealing with portfolio managers to execute their trades. So that is a sales role. It's all about customer relationship management. And these are difficult customers. They're very hard to please.

Evan: I burned out from that after about seven years and I decided to go back to school at night. I got a degree in sports business management and marketing for some reason. Good on NYU for having good SCM because when I typed in sports jobs, that site, boom. Tisch School of Management popped up. I applied, I went and when I was done I was told that the skills I had acquired were useless. I couldn't get a job until I had worked in a fast-moving consumer good and built up an understanding of consumers and a portfolio. So I just took the first job in the marketing world that I could. I worked for a small company called Topps. A lot of people know them as baseball card makers, but I worked on the children's confectionery side. So Ring Pops, Baby Bottle Pops, Bazooka, which way it was a fascinating place to be. The company had just gone private. It was bought by Michael Eisner. He had this whole dream of turning it into this sort of content and product play and they let me do anything there. There were really no rules.

Evan: Of course, I'm sure one of my old bosses is probably looking at that now and saying, "There were rules." But there weren't. After a couple of years of that, I mean, I was an assistant manager at that point. I mean, I didn't even have a brand in my title. I had the opportunity then to go interview at Glaceau. It was right after Coke had made their bid, their acquisition and I got lucky. I got to work on the greatest brands other than my last two. The greatest brands in the history of the world. I got to work on SmartWater and I caught it at just the right time. The market for premium water was heating up. The foundation that had been set by the team that was there was amazing and perfect. Having Coke's distribution line up at the same time, the SmartWater brand exploded. I mean, it just blew up.

Evan: I was luckily able to learn from that and leverage that opportunity to go down to Atlanta. Coke invited me to work on brand Coke in the US. So I was the brand director for Coca Cola for about five years. I got to do crazy but programs and big ad campaigns and stuff. We did the share a Coke with the names on the bottles, which was... I mean, I still have wake up in a cold sweat and nightmares from some of the things that happened the first time with that. But there I really learned brand management.

Evan: That was the first time that I had ever had a real marketing job. So when you talk about these kinds of structures and these things that you learn, that was actually part of the reason why I went to Coke in the first place was that I didn't have those. Being on the stock exchange, being at Topps, being at Glaceau so I didn't know how to do anything the right way. So Coke to me was that opportunity to really learn in that kind of amazing environment.

Evan: Okay. Yeah, so Coke was an amazing opportunity to kind of learn how to be a marketer. To learn how to think about the consumer. Learn how to think about the shopper, your customers, to really understand all of the sort of foundational building blocks that a traditional marketing career would have been built on for someone who wasn't a trader on the New York Stock Exchange and had no idea what they were doing.

Evan: Five years of that, I sort of felt like... Working on brand Coke is an amazing thing, but no one owns brand Coke. I mean, Warren Buffet owns brand Coke, the chairman of the board owns brand Coke. Everyone who works at the company thinks they own brand Coke and it's the brand manager. I wanted the opportunity to kind of go out on my own a little bit and take some of the learnings that I had to help build a brand. I got lucky. I got lucky. A French friend introduced me to one of their French friends who happened to be the founder of an amazing company and it worked out. So I've been spending the last two years trying to bring an American sensibility and American infrastructure to a business that didn't happen before. It's been really cool. It's been exciting.

Dan: So thank you for sharing that. Again, backing up a little bit, the fact that you had the foundation and that's the key. Having that foundation to build upon, which gives you a leg up when you're talking about going against your competition, understanding the market, what needs to be done. So let's talk about the brand, Michel et Augustin.

Evan: So Michel et Augustin.

Dan: Okay. So let's talk about the brand, Michel et Augustin.

Evan: Okay. It's very hard to say. Most people can't do it. It's actually one of the things is when we talk about French brands kind of emerging and mainstream French brands not being successful in the US, some of it, actually, is tied to the fact that it's really hard to speak and to pronounce the words and it's scary for some reason. I don't know why. A little et, Michel et Augustin why that et is filled with just dread. I mean, people do not like to have to say the name of the brand. And it's a fascinating thing to see happen in real-time.

Dan: I appreciate your helping me with that. I don't want to embarrass you, I don't want to mispronounce the word either, the name. I also had the same problem trying to learn a lot of Spanish words and stuff. My tongue doesn't bend the right way. Anyhow, this is something I really want to try to do more obviously. But I love the fact that you're bringing that cultural piece into our community. So tell us more about the brand and what is it, what do they do? Talk about them from the perspective of what do they look like in France? Because you're talking about how they're an iconic brand. So what do they look like there? And then what do you think there'll be here? What is your goal?

Evan: Yeah. Michel and Augustin founded the company. The company that's named after them 15 years ago. They were businessmen. Marketers, consultants, and decided that that wasn't the life for them. They were infatuated with baking. They wanted to be a part of a manual trade. They wanted to be able to kind of use their hands, to really be a part of building something. Literally, building something in the oven and then building the company. So they started Michel et Augustin out of Augustin's kitchen in Paris. And they went through 300 different trials of shortbread recipes. Baking them, walking down to the street, testing them with consumers. Not even consumers, those are people. Hate using the consumer word. Eventually, they started to develop a small following. It was unusual there because there isn't a lot of entrepreneurship in the French culture and especially in the food and beverage space.

Evan: We take it for granted here, I think, in the US that this is common. It's common to have Boston brewing with Sam Adams, which was a long time ago. Ben and Jerry's of the world and that we see Silicon Valley and Kickstarter and Shark Tank. We just think that entrepreneurialism is the be all end all. But the way the system is sort of set up in France with a little bit more socialized kind of government and more protection for workers and fewer incentives to invest. You really didn't get a lot of small startup food brands.

Evan: So when these guys came to market in 2005-ish, they were a phenomenon. People wanted to see what they were doing. People wanted to follow their adventure. And that's what we call it. We called it an adventure. Michel et Augustin, we don't have a brand. We have an adventure. That that ability then to leverage the tools that had just become available really at the time, which is social media especially to create this transparent look into a company as it was building up from its infancy. And for people to really feel like they were participating in, it created a monster.

Evan: Today, the brand is across multiple categories, we have cookies, crackers, fresh desserts, like chocolate mousse, we have yogurt, we have beverages. I mean, you name it, it's grown sort of exponentially since then. But at the heart of it, it's still this idea of the kind of showing the way from an entrepreneurial standpoint for the French, for sort of the tradition of French pastry. Sort of having respectful and learning the craft, which is something we all do. All the employees there, all the members of the tribe, as we call it. We all trying to become pastry chefs. So it's something that has sort of been passed on. And that is what we're trying to bring to the United States.

Evan: What we're trying to bring here isn't necessarily the exact same thing that we had in France. But we're trying to carry over that spirit of entrepreneurialism, that spirit of sort of dedication to a craft, but introducing it to an entirely new audience. That's where the challenge and the opportunity comes is you're taking something that was disruptive over there. And frankly, at the moment in the US, it's not disruptive. It's not disruptive to be a founder-led startup. It's not disruptive to be a startup in general. So we've had to sort of re-imagine, "Okay, let's pretend that we were Michel et Augustin. We were just starting this thing now. And we were dealing with the circumstances as they are today. How would we build this brand in the United States?" That's what frankly, we've spent the last two years doing.

Dan: Thank you for sharing that. I love the fact that you guys say it's an adventure, not a brand. What's cool about that is that, as you pointed out, and thank you for doing that, it's the entrepreneur journey that so many US companies are familiar with. The notion that you guys, your tribe love that too. You have to get in, you have to learn about becoming a pastry chef and what is that like and get immersed in the culture and the brand, et cetera. That is critically important for every brand. I think it's one of the things that I think a lot of brands don't do well.

Dan: Let me explain. A lot of brands, unfortunately, think that they already know who their core customer is. I put together a course called Turnkey Sales Story Strategies. It's free. The reason I did that is to help brands understand who your core customer is. So for example, when you were working for Coke-

Dan: Who your core customer is. So for example, when you were working for Coke, they gave you a customer persona and said, "This is what all your customers are like." When you're working for Smartwater, et cetera, they said, "This is what your customer's like." The reality is that your customers, customers have their own idea of what they want, what their persona is. They want what they want when they want it and how they want it. And a lot of big brands, unfortunately, commoditize the shopper and the customer and the brand. So being able to get down in that level and understand the brand from the traditional standpoint, from the roots, understand what it's like to be a pastry chef, et cetera, that gives you insights and experiences about the brand that you don't have somewhere else, that you don't get in big CPG.

Dan: The point being is this, that customer, that unique customer that gets it, that understands, that makes that connection with you at that level that is responsible for driving all the sales. So when we talked a couple of days ago, you're talking about how do you bring this to this country, it's by celebrating that, it's by helping to bake that into your brand's DNA and then communicate it effectively to your future customers, to retailers, et cetera. So thank you for sharing all that. As you're talking about the brand in France and then bringing it here, you said you rebranded. Why did you do that? And then what was the impetus behind that in terms of what were you trying to accomplish and then where do you see the brand going down the road?

Evan: Well, so Michel et Augustin in France, they have a very distinct look and very sort of counter to what you would've imagined French food looks like and especially 15 years ago where everything was very clean and white and the checkerboard, the jellies from and things like that, they went crazy. The packaging was just blown up. There's tons of stuff on it, characters and descriptions and the tone of voice and everything was completely different and completely new. And like I said, they'd been in a ton of categories. So over the course of time, they took that look and feel and they extended it and built on it, built them, and built and built. And so I kind of think about it as an old city, right? So think about it as I'll use Paris as an example.

Evan: Paris has been burned to the ground, destroyed, rebuilt. It's got layers and layers and layers on top of it. The streets and in weird spots and you don't know how to get from here to there, but if you live in Paris, you know how to do it. It makes sense to you. You have the sort of context for it and you have the background, the key background information that you need to enjoy and experience it. But if you were building a city from scratch and someone said, "Okay, I want to build a city and I want it to be as great as Paris," you would not use the model Paris, you would design it in a way that made it very simple for new people who'd never been to this city to understand, this is where I should go, this is where I spend my money, this is why, this is where I leave, this is where I park, build mass transit. And that's what we tried to do frankly with the rebranding here was we knew that we wanted to and had to be able to communicate this story very quickly.

Evan: A founder-led brands of sort of great French pastry, and we knew that it was going to be very hard to do that with words. And obviously, for small brands, and frankly, it's the same thing for big brands too like Coke, but your packaging and your impression on shelf is how consumers see you. I mean, that's, for the most part, all of your marketing. And so we decided that we needed to have a shortcut. And so we sort of cleaned everything up. We put and created this two sort of new cartoon characters for Michel et Augustin, sort of a cross between something kind of just youthful and playful and something that's sort of more adult as sort of animation and things have gone a little bit upscale. And it was because we wanted people to start associating the brand with something.

Evan: And frankly, as I said, the name of the company can sometimes be a bit of a challenge for our consumers, and so we didn't want people to have to refer to the brand always by name. We wanted it to be something that they could just, they see on shelf, they grab it, they recognize it. And I think we've done a really good job. I think there's always room for improvement and we're learning a ton of things about how to sort of speak to our shopper, our consumer. But we're starting to see some real success now. And when you combine a stronger positioning with the right price package architecture, the right packs, the right price and the right channels, which we had to fix, all of a sudden, you get the full power of the brand behind you.

Dan: Love that analogy. That makes so much sense as far as thinking about how do you build a city. There are a lot of cities that I think are really poorly laid out and certainly, you want to use that model. But the analogy and the way you tied it back into the brand, I know a lot of people that think of Coke as being the category. I used to work for Kimberly-Clark. People use the word Kleenex to define facial tissue. It's not, but the interesting thing is when you get to that point where your brand and your brand name or your brand defines a category, then that is life-changing to the brand. But one of the things that I think a lot of smaller brands struggle with is this, how do you get to that point? Because obviously, you're not in that position yet, so you got to try to build it.

Dan: So when you're talking about brand positioning, makes a lot of sense, and a lot of brands need to learn or follow your lead in terms of looking at what the big brands do, but not necessarily follow in their path, carve out your own niche, make it different, make it unique. And again, at the end of the day, it's all about the customer. How do you get that customer to understand, appreciate and look for your brand around shelf. So I'm thinking about your blue packaging and how it stands out around shelf relative to all the other products. And the reason this is important is that that's how customers begin to associate with your brand. So in my past, I used to work for a potato chip company, Red Seal, and we had really shiny packages, different colors, et cetera, very iconic. You look down the aisle and you'd see a sea of yellow, and then you'd see their packages and they stood out like Christmas ornaments or something like that. I mean, they're really bright.

Dan: And I remember, Clover Club had the iconic clover, et cetera. And the point is that making it easy for customers to define and buy your brand. So you changed it blue, with the color of your hair too, so when you change the product blue, how is that helping you? And then how's that helping not only your customers associate with the brand, which is where we're going with this but how does that help you with retailers?

Evan: Well, so I take two things. So, one, we did a similar thing to what you're talking about with the sort of blue hair and the characters is one of the pieces and sort of the foundation for what we've been building. But then we used extremely bright colors, right, fuchsias and greens and oranges, and things like that, to go on shelf, and we did that very purposefully. When you look at the shelf or you look at a cookie aisle, you really only saw three colors. You saw blue for Oreo, you saw red for Chips Ahoy! and you saw white for Pepperidge Farm, maybe you saw a little yellow for the Keebler elf that is always sneaking around there. And the category was just, it was just ah, it was just flat. We saw Tates come in, bring a completely new color into space with their sort of what's now become a very recognizable green bag, that sort of packaging, and completely upend things by being different, by standing out and frankly, by bringing something new to the category.

Evan: Now what they brought was sort of on the premium side, the ultra-premium side, kind of the Hampton's crowd type side, but what we wanted to do was to make the brand accessible. And if you look at other French brands and you look at other premium brands that are in those sets, they are boring. I mean, super boring. And the ones that aren't boring aren't boring because of how terrible they are. And I say that with you think about the stereotypes of, okay, we could've put the Eiffel Tower on our packaging, we could've put one of our... we could've put Michel et Augustin in a beret or in a white, black striped shirt. But that's what the category was like, and it was speaking only to kind of existing shoppers, it was speaking only to really, I think, an older type shopper, and we knew that we had to do something different.

Evan: Now what the retailers want, I mean, listen, all retailers, as far as I know, want incremental sales. They want to generate more dollars out of the space that they have. And so when you have a set like cookies that had been sort of pretty, pretty unchanged for quite a long time, I think people in the space now, customers, retailers are looking for excitement. They're looking for things that happen in other categories to happen in theirs. And I think that we're just starting to see that now in the cookie space. We're just starting to see the first of sort of a new wave of brands come in and shake up the space. I mean, we saw it in a beverage. Smartwater was a great example on the premium side, these old, stodgy, existing brands, Fiji, Évian, and then you had something new and it was sleek and cool and it had a completely different positioning and it just looked like some... it just looks completely different.

Evan: Retailers went for that. It was an opportunity to sort of re-introducing people to a set that wasn't doing anything. And it only took a couple of years until Smartwater ended up being bigger than both of those two brands combined, and they sort of never looked back. So, I'm trying to hopefully capture some of that same magic in the cookie aisle.

Dan: That's a great story. In fact, while you were talking, it made me think about when I was at Kimberly-Clark, Kleenex is one of the seven most recognizable brands on the planet. Kleenex facial tissue's been around forever, I don't know, but for a very, very long time. I remember...

Evan: Sure. I'm sure I have some somewhere.

Dan: Exactly.

Evan: Oh, here we go.

Dan: (laughs). A little bit of an advertisement for them.

Dan: Yeah, who doesn't have it? Well, yeah, that would be helping their sales a lot. One of the things that I remember doing and the route where I'm going with this is they changed to a six-color packaging. Their packaging was so vivid. Now keep in mind, this is a brand that had been around for long time and a category that wasn't very exciting, and they're trying to figure out how do they boost sales. So they put in the first six-color packaging, and it was 3D printing pretty much, not literally, but I mean, they look like 3D images on their packages, so they'd have snow globes and Disney characters and stuff like that, and they literally just left off the package. The point being is that exponentially exploded sales.

Dan: So when we're talking about the snack category, and you're absolutely right, it's boring, it's not much going on there, I've worked with a lot of brands in that category, and it's hard to make inroads and it's hard to differentiate yourself. And especially when you think about the big brands that spend a lot of money to own that space, and that's a whole nother conversation. So...

Evan: Oh God, yeah. It's.

Dan: Yeah, it's amazing. Yeah. A lot of people don't understand, the big brands, they pay for that space and they own that space and they're not so willing to give it up to someone with blue hair. Just kidding, but...

Evan: No, and some categories are more concentrated than others and frankly, the cookie category when you look at the sort of role that Mondelēz plays, and I think that the cookie category skews incredibly towards that one main player type model.

Dan: Yeah. And the reason, so going back to differentiating your customer and why this is important, there was a brand that I worked with several years ago that came out with a really great product, a legacy brand that everyone is, I don't want to embarrass them, and they were purchased by a big company and they came up with an innovative product and they wanted to try to... they wanted to get into a category that was dominated by a big CPG brand, and they decided, well, they're going to use their big CPG experience and they're going to have that brand compete directly against them. And I kept saying, "No, you're not." That brand's customer's radically different, kind of what we're going back to, understanding your customer, why it matters. That brand literally was on, it was in the Walmart bargain bin within five months and it pretty much killed the brand.

Dan: So when you're talking about what you're doing, again, a category dominated by big CPG brands that spend a lot of money, that believe that the only way to get your product off the shelf is that promote heavily as opposed to what I want to try and teach you how to do and other brands how to do, and that is leverage a unique customer that understands and appreciates the value of your product that drives sells at shelf. And the reason this matter is because it's brands like this, like you, that are responsible for all the sustainable growth across every category. And the reason that matters is that the big brands and the big retailers are struggling. And so being able to leverage that against the brands that, say, you guys spend a ton of money, that's your point of differentiation. They need you now, especially now with what's going on in the world. You're in New York. And so now, people are looking for healthier alternatives more so now than ever.

Dan: So smart retailers, savvy retailers are going to be looking toward you and more importantly, looking to understand that unique consumer that you're driving in their store because of why you're unique. Your thoughts?

Evan: Right. Yeah. No, I think that's absolutely true, and I think that's also, I think, one of the impacts we've seen of sort of the fracturing of the retail space and especially the shift to e-comm is that if you're a brick-and-mortar if you're a traditional retailer, you have to do something to differentiate your brand from the other companies from AmazonFresh. And how do you do that? And part of the way you do that is by catering and creating a selection and curating it in a way that really speaks to the shopper and really invites them to take a full store approach as they're going through versus e-comm, which is probably a little more targeted. And so I think we're just... it's the right time for it.

Evan: I think one of the challenges though, and you kind of talked a little bit about the brand, the big brands and you've got a new product is that that is really what it is. It's not even brand versus brands. I wish we were, I would love to say we're a brand in the U.S. I'd love to say that we were recognizable and that our presence created some sense of value, some sense of quality, some sense of any of the positive things associated with building a brand, but we don't have that. We're a product. And I think most companies like us start out as products. Coke started out as a product. Coke was a tonic and Coca-Cola wasn't a brand until 50 years later, probably a little bit earlier than that. But you start with a product and you have to create and build that differentiation from your product to another product.

Evan: And then once you finally have some consumers in there, you can start to do this brand-building exercise that is so critically important. But a lot of brands, a lot of companies or people skip that product step. Like, "Oh, we got to create a brand." That's very much, I think, what we're seeing in the DTC space as we've see the Caspers of the world and the hymns and all of those, a way that are sort of these brand-led platforms versus sort of product-led platforms, and they've failed. And that's because you can't build a brand until you have some utility until you have some value to the consumer.

Dan: Well said. In fact, on that note, I've been saying for a long time that retail's broken. And the reason retail's broken is because of what you just talked about. In the natural channel, we spend a lot of time teaching brands how to raise money and then how to raise more money, and then we teach you how to raise more money, and then after that, we teach you how to raise more money. And then when you get in front of a retailer, it's sit down, shut up and get out your checkbook. The reality is, is that...

Dan: ... down, shut up and get out your checkbook. The reality is is that retailers need to remain relevant, relevant against online threats, Amazon, Jet, et cetera. Retailers need to remain relevant against their competition and the best way they can do that is by giving customers what they want, is by giving customers not only the experience but the brands that they're looking for. So when you're solving a specific solution, going back to what the customer wants, getting back to understand the customer then that's your point of differentiation. So to your point, instead of trying to sell a brand or a product, a solution, what is the solution that you guys are selling? And if you can focus on that and differentiate your brand on shelf then that's going to help you stand out. the fact that you've got blue hair and blue packaging, that's an added win too.

Evan: That helps.

Dan: It does. So people are going to have to watch the video for this to see what I'm talking about, but you actually ... You know what? You should send me a picture of you in the full blue and I should use that.

Evan: Oh sure, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Dan: That would be a lot of fun.

Evan: I look like Papa Smurf, it'll be great.

Dan: It did look like that. It was pretty hilarious. So the fact that you did that, I mean but that's great. That's one of the things I love about Expo West, Expo East, Natural Product shows, et cetera is that energy. But anyhow, back to what we're talking about, the fact that you're creating a brand by focusing on the customer that buys it, by the solution that you provide and the customer that you connect with. This is kind of like going back to where we were a little bit ago, the farmers market idea that they were leveraging in France, what companies do here, where they build a brand, they build that awareness, they build out a tribe or a community. Another thing that I think a lot of brands need to do a lot better is building a community around their brand and then leverage that community to drive sales at retail. What strategies are you using to help do that with Michel and Augustin?

Evan: Yeah. It's one of the big challenges because there are so many new brands coming out into the space, and so how do you define your incremental value? How do you define your utility? It's tough and we've done that by trying to understand why people liked us in the first place, and what is it that attracted them to the brand in France and what's going to attract them here. That was sort of a unique look and feel, which sort of stood out in the space, and I think purchases, products, brands, we know that they represent how people feel. They represent how people want to be seen.

Evan: And so I think when you can bring solid, smart design into the space, I think that that helps a lot. But for us, it's our standing as a French pastry, and as an import, and that's certainly dangerous at these times as we're dealing with all the issues, finding that reason to believe, I mean that's the ... You know, we all do the exercises. That's why part of the thing we do when you go to the big brand is you start working on brand DNA, and architecture, and what are your reasons to believe and all those sort of great buzz words.

Evan: For us, our reason to believe is is the fact that we are French and we are accessible. We use quality ingredients. We're not organic, we're not vegan, we don't promote ourselves as that. We promote ourselves as a really good product, a good product that you'll enjoy with great recipes. We say it's ingredients you can find in your kitchen, but then also putting that added dimension of this is what we hope is becoming an aspirational brand and is something that people are drawn to. That's the intersection, the intersection of, okay, does my packaging do what I need it to do? Do I have any reason for the consumer to pick me up over someone else? Luckily, I think we have pretty good arguments in both camps right now.

Dan: And when it comes to customer trials, we'll get to that in a minute. By the way, thank you for sending me some samples because I really enjoyed them. What I love about French food-

Evan: I'll send you the invoice after.

Dan: There you go, well actually I might be sending ... Just kidding. But as far as French food, I think of and I think of ... is not really the word I want to use, but more of experience back to the adventure mindset. When I go to ... There's a really good French restaurant here that is actually owned, maintained, managed, et cetera by a guy from France, and so it's very authentic. It's not the American knock off if that makes sense. But the point being is that it's very authentic in terms of the foods, and the dishes, and the meals, and the flavors, and the smells and it really is an experience. It is an adventure and it's a fun thing to do.

Dan: So when I think about what you're doing and I think about the food, the samples you sent me, and I see how those are tied together, how do you communicate that value? By the way, ingredients you can find your kitchen, love that idea too when you talk about that perhaps one of the things you might want emphasize, these are things that you find in your kitchen if you did a lot of baking, et cetera. The point being is that homemade feeling, that returns back to a simpler, better, easier, more friendly, fun time, et cetera as opposed to I'm thinking about what our kids have in their kitchen and I don't think they'd have these ingredients.

Dan: But the things that we grew up on and the point being is that it aligns nicely with millennials looking for healthy food. It aligns nicely with boomers like me that grew up on those kinds of flavors. So what do you recommend a brand do to take that to the next level? What are your strategies to do that, to be able to connect that with the consumer?

Evan: Yeah, well, so I think we have two pieces to that. One is sort of ... You are right. There's an association that comes with being French. It is decadent, but to a large degree, we've concentrated it into, okay, so we think we can boil down the essence of what makes French food different in one word and that word is butter. That word to me has a lot of nuances to it that is really about and is connected to how we think about our brands. So one, butter, to your point, indulgent decadent, if you want a great taste you use butter. You don't use hydrogenated vegetable. So when you're trying to make a quality product and you're trying to make something that is great tasting you use butter. You don't use hydrogenated vegetable oils and things that you can't pronounce.

Evan: Butter is also culturally very tied to France and tied to French pastry. So when we think about trying to associate ourselves with our tradition butter is a direct connection to that. Watch someone make a croissant and take the butter and lay it out, and flatten it, and roll it multiple ... I mean, the amount of butter that's in these products, in some of these, is outlandish but it's distinctly French. I also think that butter, when you think about it at the moment right now butter is sort of having a renaissance, right? It's ingredients that are more indulgent as long as they are natural, as long as they're not chemical then people are gravitating towards them. I'd rather use a little bit of real butter than a lot of fake butter, a lot of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter or some other types of products that you could substitute in.

Evan: It's a way of communicating quality but it's also a way of communicating to the consumer a little bit of the health and wellness story, and no, we're not a healthy product. We're a cookie at the moment. be other things, but the fact that people who are in that lifestyle can choose to enjoy us because of the real ingredients we use and butter really is the signal for that. So from the standpoint of a personality, it's kind of weird, I think, to say butter has a personality, but if you look at the history butter was outlawed. Butter was a bad fat. Butter was something to be avoided. I always use the example of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter because I mean you literally have a brand named after don't eat butter, it's bad for you. In my house growing up, we didn't use butter. We had the big thing about Country Crock spread. It's like this big, like put your whole head in it.

Evan: But there's now a rebelliousness, I think, that's attached to taking back these ingredients, to saying, "No, I go to use butter. I'm going to put butter on my bagel. I'm not putting this fake spread on. I'm going to use butter. I'm going to make a grilled cheese. I'm going to butter it first, bulletproof coffee. I'm going to put the butter in my coffee," giving this permission to enjoy butter. To embrace butter now is to sort of embrace the mischievous, troublemaking side of the debate and that's us. We are trying to take things that people recognize, that people understand, and put a twist on them, and make them a little more troublesome, make them a little bit more edgy and fun. I think butter is the embodiment of that.

Dan: Which is exactly why natural exists. From my perspective, it's people getting back to those ingredients. It's interesting talking to younger consumers who think natural, some wild thing that was just created. No, this is the way we ate when we grew up, those of us who've been around for a while, but it's getting back to those flavors. To your point, I used to work for Unilever, so I mean that's a company that makes those products, the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and Country Crock. But people want quality fats that your body metabolizes and digests and to your point, a lot of people are going back to those because those healthy fats, those healthy oils are actually good for you. And if you think about America, A lot of people, a lot of obesity, and a lot of overweight, et cetera and of all the issues that come with it those are tied toward, I believe, to process foods.

Evan: Oh, absolutely. They're also tied to, I think, to the size of the food that we eat. I mean you go over, you get a plate at a restaurant in America and it's this big. You go get a plate in France, it's this big. There's a French attitude, a cultural mindset around food that's very different from ours. Food is to be enjoyed. You eat lunch with a group of people. You don't eat alone at your desk. That's not how things are done. It's a social moment, but it's also ... It's not about gluttony. It's not about overindulging.

Evan: I'm always surprised that every lunch I get when I go over there, we go to the version of Panera that there'd be in France, I don't know what ... La Panera, and they all give you a little dessert with it. You get a little cup of chocolate mousse afterward and it's only about this big and it's just ... I couldn't do that in the US. In the US I'd need one that was this big. I wouldn't be willing to just have a little bit, but they enjoy their food in a way that just a little bit is all right, and so even our package size, our package size compared to what you usually see in the US is small. Our cookies relative to what you see in the US are a little small. Now, relative price and all that stuff. It's a great deal, it's buy, buy, buy, but it's a French attitude towards eating.

Evan: People always say, "How come French people are never fat?" And sure, there were a few, but it's also because of portion control. Our cookies are perfectly portioned for that. So when you take the ingredients and the process and you combine it with the way it hopefully culturally fits as a cookie that you can enjoy. It takes one square and just enjoy and indulge in that one moment. I think it's sort of uniquely French.

Dan: Well, and going back to what you were saying, food is an occasion there and it's one of the things I talk about on this show a lot, so thank you for saying that, is that people spend more time thinking about what app to download or whatever than they do thinking about the food that they put in their body, yet food is medicine. Food is what fuels you and if you eat the right kind of fuel, foods, if you eat the right kind of foods, then that's going to fuel you even longer. The reason that matters is getting back to butter, getting back to real ingredients.

Dan: That's so critically important because the processed foods don't metabolize in the body. The processed foods actually trick your body into wanting more in many cases. So when you think about processed foods, they don't really satiate you. They don't satiate you as long as the real foods. This is why I believe natural should do a better job of communicating the value of that. It's the experience, the adventure, it's what do you bring to the table? How can you help someone feel satiated after one little cookie as compared to the big vat?

Evan: But I think the problem though that I see in that with a lot of natural brands and I would've seen if we had had the opportunity to walk Expo West is a lot of products that don't taste good. They're just bad. You're right, they might satiate you, they might have the ingredients that you need but nobody wants to eat them. It's painful. They're gooey. They have weird textures. Everything comes in a bar for some reason. I don't know when that happened, but everything's in a bar or desiccated like beef jerky and you want taste. So people are sort of ... I think they've had enough of the functional, like, "Okay, yeah, I've got ... Tell me more about the protein cookie. Tell me more about the collagen that you put in this." There's a place for that and there's a place for those types of better ingredients, unique functional ingredients, but there's a whole group of people out there who don't want to sacrifice taste and enjoyment.

Evan: Food is pleasure and that's what I think is missing and that's where we're hoping that our ... No, we don't position ourselves or talk about ourselves as healthy, but by showing our ingredients, by talking about our process it puts us in that space with an indulgence. The word we use, we call it an honest indulgence. It's an indulgence that you don't have to feel bad about. You can let yourself have a couple of cookies and it's really not going to make a sizable difference in your life.

Dan: So people wanting ... and I love the fact that you said honest indulgent. I love that terminology, that makes so much sense. I believe that you're the bridge between what people think of today in this country as a mainstream product and a natural product from the traditional stance that the package sometimes tastes better than the ingredients inside. People want real food. A lot of those products are tasting a lot better today than they used to, but yet you are that indulgent.

Dan: You're that snack that takes people back and gives people that decadent experience. That's one of the reasons why I was thrilled to have you on the podcast because I think you fit that unique niche. I think from my perspective that should be a huge focus. I know you want to say something but I also want you to talk about being a troublemaker or how you do that. Let me rephrase that. Part of your branding is about trouble. Where did that come about? Is it what we were talking about a minute ago?

Evan: Well, so Michel and Augustin are troublemakers. I mean, frankly, they came into the food space in a country that was not open to it and was not ready for it, and they, as I said, they sort of revolutionized the shelves in the supermarket with this new look and feel, this new energy, this transparent, openness, the great products that tasted terrific, but they ruffled a lot of feathers too. They earned the name in France, the troublemakers of taste.

Evan: Whether it was walking through stores nude with cow spots all over them that they used to do or going to a conference and replacing Bill Gates water with a drinkable yogurt and things like that, they tried to break the rules, and they tried to do it in a way that it hadn't had been done before that would be unique and that was also would be sort of brand building, would be in that positioning as a little bit off-

Evan: And that positioning, as a little bit off, it was hard to translate into English, but Trublion DeGieu is, it means something really over there. Trubion is a, it's kind of an older word, it's not the very common French word. Think of it like the way we'd use our "rapscallion," or some sort of weird phrase that Dennis the Menace's neighbor would have used for him.

Evan: And so, I think the Troublemakers of Taste, to me, is the closest that we can get to an understanding that, understanding what it means to make waves. But it went kind of in a goodhearted way. It would, in an old-fashioned way, when things were a little more innocent, and you could get away with having fun. And it's a different type of troublemaking because it's more about, it's a little more innocent.

Evan: It's more about having fun. It's more about the community. It's not, we're not trying to break things. We're trying to put a new perspective on things, and that's what they did so well over there. And frankly, it's one of the challenges again, when you think about importing a product or brand from one country to another is, I mean, we've been doing stuff like that here for 20 years.

Evan: I mean, I remember Steve jobs, the Apple commercial, Think Different, with the, "We are the troublemakers," Gandhi and Ali and all that. That was over 20 years ago. So that thought process has been here for a long time. And so, taking something that is revolutionary over there, and then trying to make it fresh is, it's difficult. It's difficult because everyone's trying to do it.

Dan: But yet, the natural channel, most of those brands that are really succeeding, are the brands that are very disruptive. So, Troublemakers are causing trouble in the mainstream CPG world, shaking things up. So thank you for sharing that. What other things have we not talked about that you would like to share?

Evan: Let's see. I mean, I think, one of the important things that we're really trying to understand is, how to create products, how to create new products and new recipes that are reflective of who we want to be here in the United States.

Evan: And so, our current strategy has been we import products over, products that have been successful in France. We take them, we package them up for the US consumer, and we introduce them to them, we sell it to them. And that's great.

Evan: Though, but the thing that's really exciting and interesting, is taking the idea of French food and American food, taking the idea of these two cultures, and kind of creating and enjoying the friction between them.

Evan: And so, we just launched a new product, only through our website. We did it, pretty small run, we wanted to see if it was, if it worked, if people liked it. And it's called Croissant Chips. It's a, it's the combination of the iconic French croissant that everyone's familiar with, with the chip.

Evan: A chip is, I know that the chips aren't uniquely American, but the way we eat chips is certainly uniquely American. And every culture has chips, tortilla chips, plantain chips, potato chips, pita chips, bagel chips, cannoli chips. I mean you name it, everyone, everyone has them.

Evan: And so, the opportunity now to take our position here in the US, and use that to our advantage, to keep everything that we were talking about with the, it'd have to be ingredients you'd to find in your kitchen, a little bit rebellious, French tradition, butter, and taste.

Evan: Croissant Chips, for us, is that product. And it's, it's incredibly satisfying to launch something easily. And I'm not suggesting that it was, it's an easy product, it's easy to make, but to have the shackles removed, that you have at the big companies, when you think about the time that it takes to get something into the market, and how you get a product into the market, we were able to create something, sell it, and now we're going to find out if it works.

Evan: And we didn't spend a lot of money, we didn't invest in any equipment. We haven't had to do any of that stuff like we would have if we were trying to create it at scale, and I've never had the opportunity to do that anywhere else.

Evan: And so, I think, that combination of the cultural tension, the innovation approach, combined with our essence, our brand essence, to a certain extent, is going to change a little bit. But it's going to be what sets us apart here, and what sort of redefines what French food is.

Dan: I think that's great. And one of the things I think that makes natural natural are brands like you, trying to redefine the space, trying to be disruptive, trying to be troublemakers, innovating based upon what their consumers want.

Dan: Going back to what we talked about in the beginning, understanding that consumer, and then by the way, building a community around that consumer. And then being able to be in a position where you can have an honest conversation with them.

Dan: Because, to your point, putting products on a shelf using the traditional mainstream CBG way is horribly expensive. I've seen a lot of products fail, and they do all the work ahead of time. In fact, when I was with Unilever, we had a product that was going to revolutionize a category.

Dan: They spent a million, well, millions of dollars, literally millions of dollars, to get it ready to get it out there, and they didn't bother to check to see if the thing would fit on the shelf. Oops! Something simple like that.

Dan: And so, the brand and the product both failed, and as a result, they spent millions of dollars on innovation that achieved nothing like a return. Thank you for sharing that. What bottleneck, I asked people at the end of the show, typically, what bottleneck I could help you solve? Do you have one that I could help you with?

Evan: I mean, I think we're in an interesting position right now where we're, we've been very much a single-serve product. We've been very much a food service item. Our four squares were available on Delta Airlines, in first class. We sell little individual squares that are offered in a lot of the tech company pantries, like Google and Facebook and Twitter and all of that.

Evan: So I think we've generated a lot of single-serve trial, right? And we've generated some demands. But what we haven't been able to do yet, and what we're starting finally to transition into is, now, how do I make that an at a home item, and how do I compete?

Evan: From a cost standpoint, when you look at the cookie aisle, and yeah, it's a commodity. Oreos are cheap. Pepperidge Farm is cheap. They're not bad. Pepperidge Farm isn't a bad product, but it's also cheap.

Evan: So how do you compete with that? How do you put the right promotional dollars behind it? How do you invest in the most efficient way? Because we only get one shot at it. We can only do one or two things. can do everything in the world, and they'll get a thousand chances at Coke.

Evan: We could, if we had a summer program every year, it didn't matter, it's summer. So Coke has a big program, and we have 10 different ways to make it big. But we only get one chance, and it's challenging, to say the least.

Dan: It is. Well, and it's a great question. It's a question, actually, I kind of get asked a lot of different ways. I mentioned earlier that I'm working on a trade marketing class, and I'm actually going to put that into the class. And so, here's what I'm getting at.

Dan: You need to build a community outside of traditional retail. So, on your website, you collect e-mail addresses, you get people involved, engaged in your community. Maybe the blue hair crew, I don't know.

Dan: But you'd come up with the trouble hair crew, but come up with something, and get that community-engaged and behind you. And then, you focus, when you're building your community, who are the people that are going to influence the most? I'm not talking about spending $1 billion to go buy a, to get a recognized brand celebrity to come and say, Hey, you guys got a great product.

Dan: I'm talking about finding those people that can get excited about your brand. Think of the pet rock. Think about some of those other things that just exploded overnight into prominence. How do you develop that kind of a splash, that virality, in terms of your community?

Dan: Then, as you get to know your community, and you get them to really be part of a tight tribe, a tribe tie.group, then you leverage at retail. So instead of the traditional method, where you go out, and you spend a ton of money on your own shelf to promote your product because that's what everyone else does.

Dan: Instead of that, Evan, what I'm recommending brands do is you develop a community, and you'll have just strength of your community to drive sales at retail. You could have your community say, "Hey, we're going to drive a specific sale in this market, this retailer, or this week," go support them, et cetera.

Dan: That's more important to the retailer than any of the slotting that you're going to pay, or any of the other fees that they're going to pay. The point being is that, by leveraging that community to helping the retailer remain relevant in their market, and against other online threats, and against other retailers, that's the win.

Dan: So let's break this down one more step. Retailers want three things. They want a reasonable profit in the category, they want a competitive advantage in their market, and they want more traffic in their store. And any brand that's savvy enough to help them achieve their objectives is going to have that retailer get behind them, and a retailer is going to help support what you want, which is more sales, more trials, and everything else. Does that answer your question?

Evan: Yeah, I think so. And I, it's one of those things, that, it changes, it evolves.

Dan: Yeah.

Evan: And different retailers, different parts of the country, even, require slightly different approaches, especially for premium products or imported products. So yeah, it does resonate.

Dan: Well, I'm trying to break that mold. So, to your point, a lot of retailers, "This is the way we do it, because this is the way we've always done it," and we don't think about, you know what, how do we differentiate yourselves?

Dan: My claim to fame, throughout this entire journey that I've had, this career that I've had, is being able to convince retailers that I was going to deliver at a higher value, I was going to get more customers in their store.

Dan: And sometimes, that meant, even when I was working for a chip company, going to the retailer and saying, "Tell you what, you give me an end cap. If I fail, you can kick me off the shelf, give the shelf space to whatever." I mean, really dramatic, bold things like you're talking about, walking through the store with spots on, doing those really disruptive things, challenging a retailer to challenge me to help them drive sales.

Dan: That's a little bit extreme, but if you can leverage that community to help them drive sales, that's the win-win at the end of the day. That's why they exist, that's why you exist. And more importantly, that's why these smaller disruptive brands are driving sales across every category.

Dan: Oh, and by the way, it's not just your product that people buy when they buy your product. They buy other similar products around the store. That's something else I'll be covering in the trade marketing class. The idea behind that is, how do you get the retailer to shift their focus from, "How do we squeeze as much margin as we possibly can, out of that little sliver space that your product occupies?", to, "How do we drive sales at market basket?"

Dan: The reality is, the customer that spends a few pennies more in your product, is going to spend a lot more when they check out of the store. As opposed to the customer that goes in and buys the cheap generic whatever. They're not going to spend as much when they leave the store, and a lot of times, they actually pull dollars out of the category.

Dan: So anyhow, hopefully, that helps a lot. Thank you so much for coming on. How do we get ahold of you? And what, how else do we get connected with the brand?

Evan: Well, it was my pleasure. It's easy to find us. We are, excuse me, we're available on Amazon, and we will be launching this summer, is a major national customer.

Dan: Good.

Evan: I'm not going to announce that right now, but you're going to find us everywhere. And if you want to find me, or you want to find our tribe, our phone number's on the packaging, and the phone literally rings next to me. And if you call, I will pick up, and it says, "Even I'll chat."

Evan: I'm evan@micheletaugustin.com, and I'd give that to everybody. I'll see a face between Facebook and Instagram, but even more, importantly is, the first Thursday of every month, we open up our office, what we call our Banana Farm. And it's a long story.

Evan: We open up the Banana Farm to the community, and we have what's called an open house. We bake, we teach, we sample-

Dan: Great!

Evan: We celebrate other partners in the community. But we are actively inviting people into our space. And we don't change the office. I don't erase what's on the whiteboard. Once I left a P&L up by accident, but it doesn't matter. It's that sense of openness.

Evan: And so, if you find yourself in Brooklyn, and it's the first Thursday of the month, then come on down to 98 Fourth Street, and look for the big glass window with the two crazy guys with blue hair. We'd be happy to have you.

Dan: That's great. Thank you for sharing that. So do I need to have blue hair to buy your product? Is that a requisite? Just kidding.

Evan: You don't need it, but it's preferred.

Dan: Got you! Actually, that would be great, build a tribe of people going in, and taking pictures of them, buying your product with the blue hair: "Hey, Wilson!"

Evan: Yeah.

Dan: Anyhow, there's a lot of other stuff that I cover on the podcast, about innovation and stuff. So please go in and check that. And what I'm getting at is, strategies to help you, help your tribe, help build your tribe, to help align with that tribe, et cetera.

Dan: Thank you so much for coming on, and I appreciate your time and enjoy the rest of your day, and I hope you're not going to be quarantined for too long.

Evan: Absolutely. And the same to you.

Dan: And just to be clear, you're not being quarantined for the virus, so that we want to make sure.

Evan: Right.

Dan: You're just self quarantined, because that's what people in New York are doing.

Evan: Yes. And also, because my kids are in the house, and if I don't quarantine myself in one room, then it's chaos.

Dan: Yeah. Yeah, and-

Evan: So it's, Florentine within a quarantine.

Dan: Well, and the fact that you now have all the kids at home, instead of in the school, that's a big change. But I want to make sure we differentiate, that this is not product-related, this is not health-related.

Evan: Right. Of course not.

Dan: This is, yeah, so everything's cooler on the up and up. But anyhow, stay safe, stay well, and thank you for your time.

Evan: All right, take care.

Dan: Thanks. I want to thank Evan for coming on today, and for sharing his insights about what it takes to merge two different cultures. I'll be certain to put a link to Michel et Augustin in the show notes and on the podcast page.

Dan: Today's free downloadable guide is The Essential New Item Checklist: The Recipe For Success. This will help give you the healthy foundation that you need, to be able to build your business on, so that you can grow and scale confidently.

Dan: You can get that instantly on the podcast page, by going to brandsecretsandstrategies.com/session178. Thank you for listening, and I look forward to seeing you in the next episode.

Michel et Augustin. micheletaugustin.com

Thanks again for joining us today. Make sure to stop over at brandsecretsandstrategies.com for the show notes along with more great brand building articles and resources. Check out my free course Turnkey Sales Story Strategies, your roadmap to success. You can find that on my website or at TurnkeySalesStoryStrategies.com/growsales. Please subscribe to the podcast, leave a review, and recommend it to your friends and colleagues.

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