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The COVID-19 pandemic turned the food industry on its head, with some businesses devastated and others deluged with new demand as consumers looked to new resources for dining safely at home. 

For Rastelli’s, things could have gone either way. As a premium supplier of meat, seafood, and plant-based protein to fine hotels and restaurants, they saw a huge portion of their business vanish overnight. But at the same time, a window opened: Consumers were eager to stock up on the protein staples they needed to prepare meals at home. 

The challenge for Rastelli’s was how to quickly reorient their business model to meet that direct need? We spoke to the Rastelli’s team at Impact Growth 2020 to find out how they made it happen.

Beefing up partnerships when supply chains falter

During the pandemic, partnerships have shown to be a crisis-resilient way to pivot toward high-demand products and sustain revenue. Partners can help harness the attention of their audiences in high-demand categories so retailers can increase market share and customer loyalty in new areas. 

For Rastelli’s, the opportunity was to accelerate its direct-to-consumer business and meet an urgent consumer need for quality, reliable, and safe food. They knew that with the right partnerships, they could deliver what consumers needed right away.

Working with its digital marketing agency, DMI Partners, Rastelli’s reshaped its traditional affiliate program into a three-tiered full-funnel network of performance-based partnerships: 

  1. It worked with existing B2B partners including meal kit delivery services to reach new customers actively looking for quality sources of protein, delivered to the door.
  2. To build awareness, it secured more than 200 commerce content placements with publisher partners like CNN, appealing to audiences looking for ideas and advice on accessing good food safely.
  3. To close the sales loop, Rastelli’s partnered with traditional loyalty sites like eBates and Honey to incentivize that final click and provide welcome financial relief to consumers.

To get these partnerships up and running, Rastelli’s needed to scale and diversify efficiently. Impact’s Partnership Cloud brought home the bacon.

Impact’s partnership automation made it possible to quickly find, onboard, and optimize new partners for Rastelli’s and communicate with them in a way that was consistent and automated. 

Impact technology also made it straightforward to implement dynamic payouts to reward all partners based on value at all points of the funnel, from initial awareness to the last click.

Satisfying results 

With Impact technology, Rastelli’s was able to build a partner infrastructure that could meet an immediate and important customer need. By delivering value at the right time, Rastelli’s realized 505% QoQ revenue growth, 100%+ conversion lift from affiliate partners, and huge growth in content-driven revenue. What’s more, it established positive customer relationships that will contribute to sustainable growth.

Watch the full interview to explore The power of partnerships: Who Rastelli’s and DMi lean on when times get rough.

Check out more real-world interviews with partnership leaders, then discover how your business can get results like Rastelli’s by contacting a growth technologist at grow@impact.com.  

Read a transcript of the video: 

Dave Yovanno: Hi, I’m Dave Yovanno, CEO of Impact. We provide a partnership automation SaaS platform for enterprise brands and their partners to automate how they discover and recruit, contract and pay, track, engage, and optimize all types of partnerships. I’m joined here today with three other people, Jonathan Yuska, who’s president of Rastellis, Patrick McKenna, CEO of DMI partners, and Kristina Nolan, VP of affiliate at DMI partners. Jonathan, starting with you, can you maybe just start by introducing yourself and just a little bit about Rastellis?

Jonathan Yuska: Hi, I’m Jonathan Yuska. I’m the president and the head of the DTC side of the Rastelli’s business. A little bit about the group, we are a purveyor and, at the end of the day, a supplier for a lot of protein across meats and seafoods at many different channels of distribution you may know, from retailers, such as Whole Foods to many of the restaurants you may know, as well. We have many different pieces of our business. Part of that is the retail side, some of that is food service, and then lastly, the part that I’m responsible for, the day-to-day businesses, is the direct to consumer, Rastellis.com side.

Dave: Got it. You’re shipping protein directly to the consumer?

Jonathan: Yes, every single day.

Dave: Now, I understand that your business grew a 100x recently. Now I understand that your business grew a 100x recently through a set of unique, nontraditional partnership strategies. Did I get that right when I first heard that?

Jonathan: Yeah. A few, a few hundred percent, yeah.

Dave: Okay. All right. Well just to keep people in suspense, hold that thought for a minute, because that’s what we’re here to unpack today. How a direct consumer brand grew 100x in one month, through nontraditional partnerships. Before we jump into learning more about how you did that exactly, Jonathan, I first wanted to have an opportunity for both Patrick and Kristina to introduce themselves, from DMI. Patrick, can we maybe start with you?

Patrick McKenna: Sounds great, yep. I’m Patrick McKenna, I’m the founder and CEO of DMI Partners. We’re a performance marketing, growth marketing company based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We’ve been around for about 17 years, driving growth for clients in lots of different industries. 

Dave: Kristina?

Kristina Nolan: I’m Kristina Nolan, VP of affiliate marketing at DMI Partners, where I lead both our publisher development and client account management team, making sure we’re helping our clients grow month over month, year over year, with whatever type of unique partnerships we can secure for them, on an affiliate basis.

Dave: What are the types of partnerships that DMI typically looks to put in place for its clients?

Kristina: Everything from brand-to-brand partnerships, so working with different brands that have a similar target demographic, but aren’t competitors, to help leverage each other’s audiences to grow both of their businesses, to more traditional partnerships, looking at the deal coupon and loyalty space, to content partnerships, to influencers, really just looking to secure unique angles and get ahold of unique audiences to help grow our brands.

Dave: I understood that there was a number of unique partnerships that you’ve been able to facilitate for Rastellis, around Rastellis behalf over the last few months, and I was hoping that you could maybe share a couple of those examples. Then maybe we can dive a little deeper into exactly how those things came about and how they were put together.

Patrick: One of the exciting things, as Jon mentioned in his introduction about the Rastelli’s business, is that they have so many different facets of the business and they have so many ways that they get to the consumer, even when they’re not going direct to the consumer. One of the concepts that we had at the end of last year was, how do we take some of those partners for the foods group business? Since they’re using Rastellis as their butcher for their main business, how do we enable them to bring that butcher directly to their customer? And we started telling that story to those companies and saying, “We’re your butcher, let us be the butcher for your customers.”

That conversation was received really well and a lot of those companies were really excited to try and think through what that would mean and what the user experience would look like and big, robust conversations. And then when the COVID-19 situation happened, what those companies saw was that their customers needed that online butcher today, and that they needed a way for them to be able to source really high quality meats and seafood that’s delivered directly to their home, in a very safe way that they can feel comfortable procuring that food that they need.

Dave: Yeah, because I think a lot of people went to the grocery store. They couldn’t find any protein, no steak, no chicken, no fish, and nobody wanted to go to the grocery store to begin with, to avoid the virus. Can you share some examples of the partners that started to come into a plan or a strategy here, to tap into the demand that was forming there?

Patrick: Two that come to mind right away are Sun Basket and Farm Box. Again, these are companies that are providing food, high quality being a really important piece there, high quality food directly to consumers. They saw that, while they’re providing, maybe, three meal kits a week to an individual consumer, they’re not really providing all the food to that family or that individual or that couple needs to feed themselves. Farm Box, the same way. They’re providing a box of fruits and vegetables, really high quality fruits and vegetables, out to their customers, but they weren’t providing any other food. What they saw with Rastellis was an opportunity to be able to offer their customers a safe way to do what you just said, which is not have to go to the grocery store, get the high quality foods that they’re used to receiving and have it delivered straight to their door, in a safe and convenient way.

Dave: And Jonathan, I think you started off by talking about your core business, I believe, is on being a protein vendor, I believe for people like Sun Basket. Could you, maybe, just talk a little bit about that dynamic and then how that evolved into a different partnership the other way? 

Jonathan: Yeah sure, of course. The group, I would say, at the at the more core level, has been a provider of protein for Sun Basket for many, many years. That goes across all gamuts of proteins. That’s from beef to fish to poultry, across everything. Patrick made a good point of premium, and part of their strategy is really delivering an incredible high quality premium product to their meal kit subscribers. There’s been a long, incredibly positive relationship, at the leadership levels of both those organizations, meaning our group level, as well as Sun Basket. Yeah, what originally when the [inaudible 00:15:02] pandemic started to take a hold, there was really a function of accessibility of great product and how can we work together to be able to deliver that? That’s where it started to become a much bigger conversation, of are there clever structures that we can create and value propositions to each other, but essentially get product to people.

Speaker 1: Can we pause real quick? Apologies. It’s Steven. Jonathan, you hit a little bit of a glitch. I think you were talking about the pivot during the pandemic, how the conversation shifted. It was really, really good content, but we lost probably too much to get it in the edit. I’m loathe to stop you, but if you can try it back from that point of the shift that happened, I think we’ll be fine.

Jonathan: Okay.

Dave: And while we’re paused, are there any… Just audio visual checks, how are we doing, in terms of flow and fidelity and all that stuff?

Speaker 1: I’ll speak to fidelity, maybe a little bit of the flow. The general pacing is great. The conversation’s really nice. Each of you have these very small moments where there’s a little bit of audio lag, and I was trying to think about it. One thing, just so you guys can know, if it’s minor enough, it’s much better in my opinion, in terms of the content, to not interrupt your train of thought, because the audience is going to give us a little bit of room because of what we’re doing. If it is a little more major, I’ll probably stop.

That said, one thing that you all could do to help with your connections, and this is a really small, minor thing, but if you have your phones nearby and they’re on the wifi, you can turn off the wifi. Give your computers as much of the bandwidth as possible. Any other connected devices that are near you that are also on the wifi, just shut them off. Dave, you’ve had a couple moments where it wants to lag, but nothing so bad that we needed to stop. Kristina, a couple of times, but again, it’s super minor, but anything we can do to help the bandwidth, we can go ahead and do it. Otherwise I think it’s been… Again, from my part, I’ll let Matt and Sarah speak to the content flow, but it’s been a really nice conversation, easy to follow. It sounds super natural, so kudos to all of you. Generally going really well. Yeah, Sarah said thumbs up. Little chat action.

Dave: That’s good. To bring you back to it, Jonathan, I think… Let’s see, I push to you. We’re talking about you are the protein vendor for Sun Basket, so I’ll leave it to you on figuring out where we last left off and how far you want to go back?

Jonathan: Yeah, I’ll maybe go from the beginning. We can chop-

Dave: Okay, great.

Jonathan: Sun Basket has had a long term relationship with Rastelli group on the retail side and has been using their proteins, from meats to seafoods to great poultry and pork, for many, many years. What happened was, is there was a conversation at the leadership level of the two organizations, as COVID started to take a little more of effect in the US, about food accessibility. Are there clever structures and overall strategies we could put into place to leverage value back and forth together? But at the core of that was really about getting great product and getting food accessible to their base.

Dave: If I had to summarize the partnership that evolved there, and tell me if I got this right, essentially Rastellis is the exclusive protein vendor for was the exclusive, or is the exclusive protein vendor for Sun Basket. Sun Basket is a business that’s offering direct to consumer prepackaged meals. And let’s say that the average person gets a handful of meals a week, which means it’s probably close to 15, 20 other meals that they need just simple protein for. And Sun Basket was hearing that from their customer base, and that led to a partnership, essentially, where Sun Basket started to refer customers, essentially, to Rastelli’s to buy meat directly to their home. Do I have it right in terms of the summary?

Jonathan: Yeah. Yeah, as a big picture that’s exactly right. 

Dave: Are there any business results that you can share so that people have an idea and can get a sense for how meaningful this could be to moving the needle for your business metrics? Is there anything that you’re comfortable sharing there?

Jonathan: I can tell you that within hours we started seeing traffic on our site that we hadn’t seen in a few weeks and months, to be quite honest with you. But we also were in a different position with things like COVID all of a sudden. It changed the dynamics of the marketplace quite a bit. But Patrick talks a lot about partnerships. I mean, we were on the phone, let’s just say every hour or so, to make sure we’re able to capture some of these opportunities. But I would tell you that we saw a couple hundred percent, and then a couple thousand percent gain within a week. But it was pretty explosive out of the gate.

Dave: I understood that as Rastelli’s’ customer base started to grow, and we’re going to talk about some other types of partnerships that have continued to fuel the growth, Rastelli’s then started referring customers back to Sun Basket through some other partnerships that played out. Could you maybe talk a little bit about it? Because that’s where this whole thing gets super interesting and complex. This is a real economy that’s happening here. You start as a vendor for Sun Basket. Sun Basket starts referring customers over to Rastelli’s. And now Rastelli’s is referring other customers back to Sun Basket. It’s like this incredibly complex economy.

Jonathan: Yeah, it’s pretty beautiful when that happens. Yeah. Obviously, we’d push out multiple emails on their bases to drive traffic back to us to kind of share in this whole strategy. It’s been super complimentary and lots of value back and forth between each other, and to your point, to the customer.

Dave: Kristina, do you want to maybe share a little bit about the other types of partnerships that have continued to drive the repeatable growth for Rastelli’s?

Kristina Nolan: Yeah, absolutely. So I think one big key piece, especially on the affiliate end, is our partnerships with some of the mass media outlets. So these are the CNNs of the world, Bustle Digital Group, CBS Interactive, these big media corporations who traditionally operated their business a little bit differently, but are now focusing a portion of their efforts on creating commerce content. Which is shoppable content, where they’re writing product reviews and recommendations, and giving consumers a detailed review of the products that are in the marketplace that could help make their lives easier and better. And with the demand that Rastelli’s was seeing, we were able to leverage those partnerships to create a lot of content about why Rastelli’s could be useful to consumers right now.

Dave: I think it might be helpful for the audience to explain a little bit more about what the content partner… How this works. Could you maybe share a little bit more detail about what that is?

Kristina: So we call it commerce content or shopper content, but it’s essentially publishers that are educating and informing consumers along their shopping journey to help consumers make the best purchasing decisions. And they’re essentially structured so these partners can capitalize off of the content they’re writing. However, it’s still very important to them to provide real recommendations, and that what they’re writing about feels authentic so the readership continues to trust them. One of the articles that we got published was, “We Tried Rastelli’s: An Online Butcher Shop. And it gave full detail as to their experience trying the Rastelli’s product.

It can also be in the form of round-ups. “We tried these meat subscription companies, here are our thoughts,” or “Gift Guides: What to get your dad this Father’s Day.” But it’s essentially a curation of content that is educating the consumers on different product to help inform their shopping decisions.

Interviewer: What’s the pricing model for something like that? How are you paying those content publishers?

Kristina: The majority of the time we’re paying them on a pure CPA or revenue share basis. So they’re just making a certain percentage of the sales that they’re driving. We do at times leverage different hybrid models, where our brands are paying some sort of small upfront fee plus a commission basis for a more premium placement. But in almost all cases, it’s just based off of a pure revenue share.

Interviewer: Okay. I’d be interested in your thoughts on this Kristina. You’ve been in marketing advertising, ad tech for a long time. I’m sure you have an opinion. But one of the things that I personally saw throughout this COVID situation, was that there was a lot of CPM advertising..hrs. the demand for that went way down. There’s a lot of big brands that just kind of pulled back on their display ads. And I think the trend that I saw, was it forced a lot of these traditional content publishers to get into platforms like Impact and start looking for these direct partnerships that were on non-traditional terms, if you will. And it’s really created a lot of growth within this type of content partnership opportunity. Did you see any of those same trends that I’m referring to? I don’t have the quantitative data, but it did seem significant.

Kristina: Yeah, absolutely. Kind of at the onset of the pandemic, we saw marketing budgets just being slashed. And with that, we found that brands were leaning more so into the affiliate channel because it is so performance based. And as you mentioned, because publishers couldn’t get the flat fees or CPM buys that they were used to, they had to figure out how to diversify their revenue more, which led them to-

PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:38:04]

Kristina: I had to figure out how to diversify their revenue more, which led them to explore the affiliate channel, where all of these advertisers were being more dynamic in the way that they structured deals, because they had to lean into the affiliate channel with other marketing channels being cut or costs being cut. So, yeah, we saw a lot of partners that historically have been like, “No, we do not work on an affiliate basis.” Come knocking on our door, being like, you know what? We changed our mind. Let’s hear what you have to say.

Dave: And I’m really curious to see how that plays out mid to longer term, because my feeling is the way ad tech evolved over the last, call it a couple of decades, there’s so many people in the middle taking a cut. There’s probably 10 DSPs, SSPs, DMPs, agencies taking a cut from the publisher to where they’re left with pennies on the dollar, if you will. And if they can put the effort into finding a good partnership that that kind of makes sense, I’m curious to see if that yield is better for them, is one thought. And then the other thought is like getting out of this metered business, and it’s like, Jonathan, you’re talking about once you get in, once you lock in a good partnership, you don’t need to keep feeding the meter.

It’s a partnership that just makes sense. You’re not running ads and you’re going to get displaced by somebody else if you’re not paying high enough, and there’s so much money that’s gone to Google and Facebook and they jack the rates up and it’s like, who’s ever going to pay the highest price gets placed highest. But if you can lock into a good partnership, that just makes sense, brings value to the entire ecosystem, the partnership economy, including the customer, I’m really curious to know if that just pays out better for everybody, including the partner. Do you have a point of view on that? I could be going crazy with that thought, but I think there’s something there.

Kristina: So, especially with partners that traditionally charged some sort of flat fee for placements, we’ve really been able to hone in on the untapped earning potential with affiliate. We provided those publishers data to say, “Hey, we did a similar placement with this publisher and it generated X amount of sales, which resulted in X amount of commissions. Whereas if we paid you a flat fee for a relatively similar placement, your earning potential would have been kept and you would have made less money on that structure.” So I think consistently reiterating the uncapped earning potential of an affiliate structure has been really valuable and help publishers kind of see the value in a more commission-based performance type structure.

Dave: But either Kristina or Jonathan, I think Kristina, you’re more tightly managing the content partnership types. First of all, how many content partnerships do you have in place like that, just by number, and when you rank it next to B2B types of partnerships, what is it on the scale? Is it moving the needle for revenue acquisition for Rastelli’s, or is it smaller?

Kristina: Yeah. So over 92% of the affiliate revenue generated for Rastellis.com is content based, and we’re producing strong numbers as a percentage of total D2C revenue. So that’s pretty exciting. And we’ve secured over 200 placements year to date with those mass media outlets.

Dave: I understand that you have a partnership with someone like Cartera and how just being able to get more traction with brand awareness has kind of changed the dynamics of working with them as a partner for revenue acquisition. You want to share some of your experience there?

Kristina: So we leveraged Cartera to essentially create partnerships with different types of banking institutions and different mileage programs. And when we first started the partnership with Cartera, Rastellis.com was a relatively new business. So when people saw the logo, they didn’t really resonate with who Rastelli’s was, and kind of their core differentiators in a marketplace like food delivery.

However, as we continued to build up a roster of content partners that were educating consumers on the brand, we gained more brand awareness overall for Rastellis.com and so slowly but surely we started to see more revenue being driven from somebody like Cartera because when they saw the Rastelli’s logo, they now had read about Rastelli’s somewhere else and we were able to tie back to that article or that gift guide, something like that and say, Oh, you know what? I know this brand, why don’t I activate my cashback? And same thing with kind of the mileage programs. So it was really awesome to see over time how that brand awareness helped provide more revenue from our other partners.

Dave: Okay. Of course a shameless plug for Impact, I understand you guys are using Impact’s platform for a lot of the automation that you’re doing with your partners. Could you maybe just give a couple examples so that folks have a sense for how you would use a technology like Impact? I would imagine you’re using other technologies, as well, in these partnerships, but could you maybe just talk about that a little bit?

Kristina: Yeah. Starting with the recruitment where everything starts, Mediarails has really been instrumental in being able to find and source new types of partnerships. Everything from influencers to content, the more traditional partnerships that we discussed, and being able to properly communicate them with consistent messaging, automated messaging, really casting a wide net, and then all the way through to impact insights, just figuring out once those partnerships go live, how they’re interacting with each other. It’s really rare that we find that there’s one partner that’s solely responsible for the conversion process, so figuring out how different affiliate partners are contributing to the conversion cycle and making database decisions, based off of that.

Dave: Did technology help in any way with regards to just optimizing or getting more performance from any of your partnership types? Are there any examples that you can share there?

Kristina: Yeah, absolutely. So first of all, at the start of the pandemic, we were really trying to pitch these mass media outlets on the potential for them to make money off of Rastelli’s during this time and were kind of reevaluating their whole content strategy. It really threw them for a loop and they didn’t know what was going to work, what wasn’t going to work. And so we really had to use data to prove to them why they should be promoting the brand. And Impact was instrumental in pulling that data. And then on the back half of that, we used Impact Insights to continue figuring out how we should properly reward partners. It was very important to make sure that with all of the content we were securing, we were properly rewarding the content publishers, because a lot of times they kind of get cut out of commissioning.

And so we use dynamic commissioning models to make sure that we were crediting every partner in the conversion cycle, especially with how much content we were getting produced. We wanted to make sure that if a coupon and deal partner ended up kind of closing the conversion cycle, like we had kind of planned to, that the content partner was still getting credit for their influence in the process. And Insights was very helpful to that as well as just the different commissioning tiers that we were able to leverage. We were able to be really dynamic with the ways that we reward our partners.

Dave: I’m glad that you said that because that is something that I’ve heard from a lot of Impact clients. One of the things that they’re really looking to do is contract uniquely with their different partner types, be able to kind of understand the incremental value that each partner is bringing, each transaction is worth, and then being able to kind of pay them uniquely as well. 

Kristina: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s also worth noting that a lot of these mass media outlets work through somebody like Skimlinks and with a lot of the other networks, you don’t have a lot of transparency as to the publishers that are running through Skimlinks, but with Impact, we could create reporting that was able to give us the ref URLS of where that traffic was coming from, which made us be able to make real time decisions instead of waiting till after the month to get Skimlinks reporting. So that capability alone helped us to make real time decisions as well.

Dave: Were there key learnings along the way, any mistakes that you made or things that you wish you did different?

Jonathan: I would say we learned a whole lot about our business in a very short amount of time, to be quite honest. But, again, that comes back to partnerships. We have great partnership with DMI and our team internally, as well as our partners on the operational side. We’re able to quickly make decisions and move quickly.

Patrick: I think the thing that we did right, that helped solve all of the problems was having access to data. And Kristina talked about that on the partnership side with Impact. But that data is integral, whether it’s within Impact, or within the shipping and information side that we have built out on the backend. Getting access to data is what enables us to solve problems quickly. And where we were able to get access to the data, the problems were solved as quickly as we possibly could. And where data was hard to come by, it was more of a slog to try and get the data.

Just in terms of thinking about how we tackle problems going forward, it’s really making sure that we’re prioritizing data first. Kristina, anything on the process side that you think we would add in there?

Kristina: The three really biggest lessons, I think we’ve learned over time, which has helped strengthen our partnerships in that area, is really one, listen to your content partners, because they know their audiences best. Two is reward your content partners and pay attention to how they’re contributing beyond last touch. They’re the least likely to get credit in the conversion cycle. And if they’re not getting paid appropriately, they just can’t continue to justify promoting your brand.

And then last is really to tool your content partners. Supply them with how your brand is playing towards trends, help give them data to support keywords that can get their articles ranking highly, share with them, other success, stories and ideas. The more info they have, the more supporting evidence they can give to their editors, which will just continue to drive more content.

Dave: Wow, Jonathan, Patrick, Kristina, this has been a fascinating case study and how a direct-to-consumer business can grow a 100x and sales in just one month and sustain that level just by putting in a few strategic partnerships. Really want to thank you for your time today in sharing your story.

Patrick: Thank you, Dave.

Kristina: Thanks, Dave.

Jonathan: Thank you.

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