Before the Butcher Founder and President Danny O'Malley stood in his kitchen one morning last week, stirring a skillet of tomato sauce on the stovetop.
In homes across the United States, several members of the media and marketers for Before the Butcher watched him in a Zoom video conference.
"I'm going to make some meatballs," O'Malley said, grabbing small handfuls of his company's Uncut plant-based grounds and rolling them into small balls. "And what's amazing about this product is how well it holds up without any binder added to it. Literally, this is the product straight. You just saw I added a little seasoning. I'm going to throw that in the pan, and we've got some meatballs."
He placed the meatballs into a warm frying pan next to the tomato sauce on his stove. He also took some of the Italian Blend preseasoned grounds and put them in the pan to make the sauce itself meaty. The sizzle of cooking protein crackled across the internet. And the eyes of the Zoom conference participants, tiled over the image of O'Malley cooking up plant-based Bolognese sauce and meatballs, lit up.
It was O'Malley's first virtual demo of probably several since the coronavirus pandemic has wiped out business and trade shows — at the very least for this spring and summer. After the Zoom demo, O'Malley told Food Dive some of Before the Butcher's biggest trade shows have been completely canceled. As the company seeks to launch new products and grow its business, especially on the retail side, trade shows are vital to make connections with new and old customers. Last year, the company — which started out solely in foodservice — used the National Restaurant Association Show to push its retail debut, and served up an array of its plant-based meat to restaurant and retail buyers and consumers at the Plant Based World conference.
After the shows were canceled, O'Malley talked with his sales team. What do they do at trade shows? They walk people through the product, what it looks like, how it performs when cooked, what it tastes like. They answer questions about ingredients, process, price, manufacturing and business. They offer opportunities to smell and taste the products.
"We said, 'Well, why can't we still do that?' And that's where the virtual demo came up," O'Malley told Food Dive. "There really isn't any reason why we can't. It's a lot different having somebody directly in front of you, in that they can't taste the product, but we can send samples and we can do all that kind of stuff as well. And we noticed very quickly that as much as we have conversations, ... it's a lot more intimate when you can see somebody. And that's why Zoom has gone crazy and these video conference calls are all over the place right now, because that's our comfort. And that's where we've been able to find some comfort in being able to still talk to retailers, and maybe a handful of foodservice operators or distributors, and actually get down to the nitty gritty about our products and and still do the same thing without the touchy feely that we're used to doing."
O'Malley's first demo was for a few members of the media as well as members of his marketing team, who may also be doing virtual demos. He said it served as an introduction to what he could do virtually and an invitation for feedback. The 15-minute demo was completely unscripted, he said. He knew what kinds of things he wanted to talk about — showing the products and their packaging, talking about the ingredients and certifications, and how it performs when cooked. The business and its products are O'Malley's passion, he said, so talking about them was easy.
He also wanted to simulate being at a trade show booth, where he has a long conversation about the products. O'Malley said he wants to be conversational on the Zoom conference, which is easy to do without a script. He took questions on the Zoom demo about product packaging and suggested retail price, and told Food Dive he plans to take all questions at future demos, just like at a traditional trade show.
While O'Malley said he thinks other companies must be working on this sort of a solution, Before the Butcher is the only one he knows of that has actually done a virtual demo. Last week's practice demo was recorded so it can be shared later, but O'Malley said he expects to do many more of them — at least while the coronavirus threat persists.
When life gets back to normal and trade shows once again take place in large convention centers, O'Malley said there is a possibility that he'll still do some virtual demos. After all, they provide quick and easy access to potential customers across the globe.
"There's nothing better than actually getting right in front of somebody, but you can't always do that," O'Malley said. "That's why I have a sales team. I can't be in front of every single customer talking about our products, and I do need others to help with that. But doing a virtual demo, I literally could."