Minnesota-based Man Cave Craft Eats striving to be the 'Mercedes of meats'
MINNEAPOLIS — Nick Beste — CEO and "chief instigator" of Man Cave Craft Eats — has overseen the specialty meat company's evolution from a Minneapolis Farmers Market booth he started while at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Business to a brand available in more than 5,000 retailers across the country, including Kroger, Safeway, Food Lion and Target. Costco locations in the Twin Cities this summer are offering Man Cave's Riesling, Kale & Smoked Gouda Sausage, which Beste hopes will lead to bigger things with the wholesale club. Beste, 30, credits the growth to a brand relaunch featuring packaging in fluorescent colors and dozens of new products, from mac-and-cheese-stuffed hot dogs to sirloin-brisket-short-rib beef burgers. Craft still rules, with each 500-pound "micro" batch taste-tested before departure. Man Cave's 19-member team, meanwhile, is preparing to move from the suburbs to the city.
Q: How has Man Cave gone from 200 stores in 2013 to 5,000 this year?
A: It sounds silly to say, but that part wasn't that hard. We had good distribution before the relaunch, but the relaunch is really what helped propel us. They see the packaging and they go, "Yep, let's meet." Then they eat the product and they go, "Yep, we'll do it." After they eat it, it's kind of game over. For us the biggest challenge of growing fast is all the other things that come with it.
A lot of it has to do with what we're offering. There's a big gap in the market for a modern craft meat brand. It's considerably higher quality than anything else out there. Considerably more in tune with today's consumer and what they're looking for. It kind of resonates and speaks to them. If you look at this on the shelf compared to Hillshire Farms, it's quite a bit different.
Q: What led to Man Cave's new Bite Back program?
A: To know there are people who are starving while we're eating macaroni-and-cheese-stuffed hot dogs isn't real cool. So we do a one-for-one. For every package we sell, we give a meal to a hungry child. We just wrote our first check for $42,000 to Kids Against Hunger. That's 420,000 meals in the last three months. We anticipate being able to donate millions of meals this year alone and only growing from there.
Q: You're a millennial running a company of mostly millennials — to what degree are you marketing to millennials?
A: We are millennials. We're creating a product that we think is great in design, that we think is cool, so we're kind of creating for ourselves. A lot of people ask about focus groups or what do you do for market research. We have a lot more of that Apple mentality of if we like it and we think it's great, it's probably what other people will think is cool, too.
In terms of a core customer, what we say internally is we're going after an unpretentious foodie. It's less of a demographic. It's not 40-year-old married women with kids. It's a mindset. The unpretentious foodie is somebody who is looking for new experiences, new foods and new things to do, and they're bringing them back to their tribe.
Q: After 5,000 stores, what's next?
A: World domination. For us, we see more stores for sure, but more than anything we think we can expand and broaden our line, too. We have a lot of interesting ideas for where we're going to take this line and that's part of why we changed it to Craft Eats (from Man Cave Craft Meats). There are some fairly obvious accoutrements, things that fit nicely with meat. We're looking at launching a lot of that in spring 2018.
Q: What has been your greatest lesson learned so far?
A: You name it, we've made the mistake. We just keep pushing. One of our values is we love to laugh and learn. Another is continuous improvement. The mindset that we have here is less that we've failed or that we've made a mistake and more that we're learning and we're continuously improving.
Q: Where does that mindset come from?
A: A lot of people try to be in the middle and try to offer a pretty good product at a pretty good price. I don't think you can truly win that way. We talk a lot here in terms of analogies, trying to be the Apple of meat or the Tesla of meat or the Mercedes of meat.
Q: What's your advice to business students?
A: If you are trying to do this because you think it's going to be fun and it's like some magazine or some movie you watched, you should probably do something else. It's going to be a lot of work and you're going to want to give up pretty much every day. It's going to be hard. Just don't give up.
Q: What has it been like working with your brother (sales director Josh Beste)?
A: He's a force to be reckoned with. He's the hardest worker I've ever met. He's on the road four days a week meeting with people and getting it all lined up. Initially, it was a little rough. We lived together at the time, which was really fun. Now we've got it figured out and we're in a good cadence.
Story by Todd Nelson / Star Tribune (Minneapolis)