It’s a tough, crowded, noisy retail marketplace out there, and it can be a hard, uphill battle for new brands — particularly those with women founders — to break into their respective categories.

And once they break through, they face challenges to maintain, expand their businesses or even survive.

“Some 85% of brands fail. It’s a huge number,” says Benjamin Peters, senior director of client development for Advantage Solutions company FDM Sales, an incubator for new and emerging brands — including those that serve diverse, niche audiences.

With a successful track record that includes household brands like Noosa yogurt and Hu Kitchen, FDM steps in to help emerging CPG companies gain distribution, secure prime shelf space and run effective promotions. Put simply, Peters says FDM aims to take brands from “small to significant,” or from the farmer’s market to grocery shelves nationwide and beyond.

“We partner with brands to help them navigate and become part of the 15% that do make it,” he says.


Having the right partner can be a game changer

Bare Bones, a nutrition company that launched in 2013 with a line of cooking stocks packed with protein and amino acids, is one of the 15%.

CEO and Co-founder Katherine Harvey saw a gap in the market for nutrient-dense, specialized stocks like bone broth.

Sales hummed along. Then Harvey and her team identified an interesting trend — their customers weren’t just cooking with their signature product, they were drinking the broth for its flavor and protein. To better serve them — and expand distribution into new channels —in 2019 Bare Bones created a to-go version.

But expansion requires capital, and while raising money from investors is almost always a challenge for startups, women founders often have a tougher road to travel. “There’s this perception that female-founded companies aren’t going to be as successful when the data says otherwise,” Harvey explains. “Female-founded companies are actually much more successful, but the rate at which they’re funded is a lot lower than you would expect.”

Enter FDM.

The company “went out of their way to talk about my brand to investors and to introduce me to investors,” Harvey says. “It’s been incredibly helpful because this is a relationship-oriented business.”

An introduction from one male to another male about a women founder “helps grease the wheels a little bit,” Harvey says. “It shouldn’t be this way, but I am grateful for men who advocate for women.”

It takes a village to build a brand

Men continue to have an advantage when it comes to raising funds inside startups, despite data that show women entrepreneurs often outperform their male counterparts, according to a 2023 Forbes piece. Fewer than 25% of all deals went to women-founded companies in 2023, according to numbers published in TechCrunch.

That’s a landscape FDM and other like-minded players in the industry are trying to change.

“It’s no secret the industry has an abundance of middle-aged white men,” says FDM’s Peters. “We can acknowledge there are some opportunities, some networks and some advantages that are more available to male founders. We would be oblivious to say that isn’t there, but I think those situations are the exception, not the rule today.”

Further, Peters says growing awareness and increased effort across the industry are helping elevate women- and minority-owned businesses. Such efforts are “creating a community that shares ideas and connections, and amplifies successes.”

For instance, FDM can help emerging companies identify the right investors, like-minded buyers and retailers that share the same values, a critical lever for early-stage companies to get their products in front of the right consumers.

It worked for Clara Paye.

Founder and CEO for UNiTE, a pioneering company on a mission to bring diversity into wellness with a line of gluten- and soy-free protein bars in bold flavors such as bubble tea, churro and baklava, Paye says women face a certain level of unconscious bias. Potential partners tend to ask, “Who’s actually behind you?”

Paye, who also is founder of (included), one of the largest collections of BIPOC founders in food CPG, says she has “a million other examples” of how that bias played out as she built her brand.

Things changed when UNiTE partnered with FDM.

Moving the needle

“The entire time I’ve had FDM as my outsourced sales team, they’ve been able to remove barriers,” she says. “And a majority of the people who work there are women. I don’t feel like the only woman in the room, and we’ve always had super-supportive managers.”

FDM’s support helped UNiTE grow distribution from zero to some 900 stores in its first year. The brand’s food bars are now in roughly 3,500 stores, with representation in top retailers like Target, The Fresh Market and Sprouts Farmers Market.

“FDM helped us to connect with the right buyers — buyers who were also aligned with our mission to increase representation — by getting us in front of the right people at the right time,” Paye says.

FDM’s Coan says the company’s key differentiator is its talent.

“Part of our special sauce is we hired the insiders,” Peters says.

FDM’s workforce is composed of more than a dozen former category managers, people who have spent most of their careers in CPG. They’ve sat “on the other side of the desk” and know what gets buyers excited. That’s insight they bring back to brands — not just in sales but in administration and distribution.

“We had this great product, but operations is a very different thing,” says Nicole Cardone, CEO and cofounder of Fruitful Brands, an umbrella company that owns and manages frozen dessert brands SorBabes and Fudgy Pop.

After initial explosive growth thanks to a successful licensing agreement, the brand was hit hard by the pandemic and repercussions from an expiring contract. Cardone and her team had to reassess the company’s future.

“We went to FDM and said, ‘We have this long, storied history of distribution. What can we do with this?’” she says. “At the time we were still traumatized from going through this big boom and bust and almost losing our business. FDM believed in what we were doing so much and said, ‘We’re going to help you get there. You just need a team behind you.’”