Fly by the founder of Jing on the takeover of the grocery aisle
Since its launch via its DTC site in 2019, Chinese condiment brand Fly By Jing has grown from a coveted online-only brand to being sold in thousands of grocery stores, ranging from Sprouts to Costco.
The company started out selling premium crispy chili sauce, but expanded into more food categories, such as frozen meatballs and dumplings, flavored oils, and even smoked salmon in collaboration with Fishwife.
At this week’s Modern Retail DTC Summit, Fly By Jing Founder and CEO Jing Gao spoke about growing a CPG brand through strategic retail partnerships, while maintaining the digital roots of the brand. Gao talked about the benefits of selling Fly by Jing on more physical store shelves. She also highlighted some of the challenges of working with retailers, including merchandise placement and in-person brand storytelling.
“I always knew we would end up in retail, but in 2019 I thought DTC would be the only channel for a while,” Gao explained.
The first non-DTC channel Fly by Jing entered was Amazon, which helped expose the brand to convenience-minded shoppers. The company launched on Amazon about a year ago, which started as a test, “and ended up being really good,” Gao said.
However, the brand’s brick-and-mortar retail journey started in small specialty shops – “when a store contacted us, we would send them a few cases,” Gao said. Sometimes Fly by Jing products are even marked up by these smaller retailers, Gao said. This was particularly the case when the jars sold out due to their emerging cult status, she says. “I don’t mind because the speed is crazy.” Eventually, Fly by Jing started selling through the B-to-B Faire marketplace, which caters to small businesses.
The company’s first national retailer was Whole Foods – starting with the mid-Atlantic regions – where it launched in late 2021. “Very quickly the speeds were so strong that we went global,” it said. which encompasses the entire United States.
The next retailer arrived soon after, with Fly By Jing launching in 100 Target stores nationwide in early 2022 on a mission to diversify their grocery offerings. For example, Gao and Fly by Jing were featured in Target’s recent Lunar New Year marketing campaign.
Another mainstream retailer that Fly by Jing recently entered was Costco, which requires offering discounts or product bundling. The first trial in the Los Angeles market, which began in February, doubled expected sales. “I never thought we were going to Costco so soon,” Gao said.
But with the growth of wholesale comes the added challenge of creating effective storytelling on a busy shelf, alongside other brands. “On DTC, we really try to show our customers what the product is,” Gao said. It’s not always easy to do in crowded grocery stores, especially as a brand specializing in high-end Asian products.
For Fly by Jing, asking for flexibility in how they market their products is key to grabbing the attention of offline customers. For example, being able to create a colorful end in the ethnic aisle of a grocery store. Another example is Fly by Jing’s bright orange Costco pallet display, which features educational information about its two-pack of Sichuan chili chips. “People couldn’t miss it,” Gao said.
On the plus side, retailers also offer the opportunity to host sampling sessions – helping to create a touchpoint to educate customers about Fly by Jing’s Chinese flavors. But ranking in ethnic grocery offerings was another issue for Fly by Jing.
For example, Fly by Jing has struggled to convince some of its retail partners to put its sauces in the hot sauce aisle – where, she said, foot traffic is often about 4 times higher. important than the international alley. The Target buyer has agreed to market Fly by Jing in the hot sauce aisle. Gao said it gives him more leverage to ask other retailers to do the same. “I really enjoyed that,” she said.
Going forward, the plan is to highlight Fly by Jing’s sales performance among other mainstream brands. “Hopefully we can show retailers that we can sell well alongside other hot sauce brands.”