February 29, 2024

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Rachel Carrasco on the challenges of launching a new brand during the pandemic

Baken and Rio's founder Ms Rachel Carrasco. (PHOTO: Rachel Carrasco)

Baken and Rio’s founder Ms Rachel Carrasco. (PHOTO: Rachel Carrasco)

When it comes to taking the bull by the horns, marketing guru and serial entrepreneur Rachel Carrasco welcomes the opportunity to jump on for a wild ride.

Ms Carrasco moved to Singapore from the Philippines in 2012, quickly scoring several high-powered jobs, eventually becoming the brand manager for LVMH’s prestige champagne houses Dom Perignon, Krug and Ruinart in 2014. She also scored stints later as Regional Senior Brand Manager APAC for Kimberly-Clark and in 2020 to manage CRM for its baby care brand, Huggies.

While managing a busy professional life, Ms Carrasco has also recently launched two of her own gourmet food brands – Baken and a ready-to-drink canned cocktail brand Rio. She is definitely not one to sit still.

Why start a business during a global pandemic?

“Baken and Rio had been in the pipeline for quite some time prior to the pandemic,” Ms Carrasco explains. “It does take time to launch a brand, especially if it entails mapping out an extensive supply chain model.”

According to Ms Carrasco, ideas for Baken started percolating in 2018, and thoughts about Rio began in 2019.

“When my partners pitched the idea of Rio to me, it was at the height of the pandemic in 2020. Ironically, as I was going through some shifts that year, that also put me in a good position to take risks,” says Ms Carrasco.

“You could say that with every yes I said, it was followed by a big question of, but will we make it through? Fortunately, we’re still here today, and I believe we’re barely scratching the surface of what these brands can do.

“I’d like to think that while the pandemic brought along a couple of speed bumps and even setbacks on some days, it too gave us the gift of time. Time to reassess our position and improve on our playbooks, our products, and our people and time to capitalise on an audience that was tuned in almost 24/7.”

While both brands come from the same creative team, Baken and Rio have been designed with different markets in mind, all based on rigorous research.

“There will always be brands – or specific products of a brand – that will be perfect for certain countries or regions. And as a brand owner, this is where your expertise comes in,” Ms Carrasco explains.

“Sometimes you can decide to have a heavy presence and heavy investment in a market, depending on factors like consumer behaviours, cultural values, and spending power; and other times you may just decide on brand presence yet have zero to low investment.”

Baken products. (PHOTO: Rachel Carrasco)

Baken products. (PHOTO: Rachel Carrasco)

Ms Carrasco says that the aim for Baken has always been to become a global brand, and they are already looking to expand into other regions like the Asia Pacific, Europe and North America.

“With the nature of our products (pork), it requires us to go at it in phases. Our initial phase is APAC, and that alone already consists of several layers of regulatory compliances. In the interim, Baken is available in select APAC countries via our online store in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines and Malaysia,” says Ms Carrasco.

Unlike Baken, Rio’s ready-to-drink canned cocktail brand was a pre-existing global brand, which Ms Carrasco’s team bought the exclusive distributor rights for the Philippine market.

“Unlike the rest of the markets in APAC who launched with the classic series, we decided to launch with the strong series. Our rationale is that Filipino drinkers are quite known to be hard drinkers, often finding ways to get a stronger buzz. So why not Rio Strong? One can is equivalent to three cans of beer, and has zero to fewer calories versus regular hard seltzers, and is available in six refreshing flavours,” explains Ms Carrasco.

Dealing with the vagaries of business

When it comes to working on different brands, Ms Carrasco says that each brand has various issues to deal with: “Each brand brings with it its own unique experiences. It always does. And though Rio and Baken may have launched separately, it always feels like things are happening concurrently!”

“I would say Rio is easier to deal with as the foundations have already been set for us and all we had to do is localise it. The responsibility I was also tasked with was to focus on the brand and marketing while my partners covered operations. And with my background in fine wines and spirits, this is a job I can do with my eyes closed,” says Ms Carrasco.

However, it has not always been easy. Ms Carrasco admits to having some “facepalm moments” during the launch phase of the brands.

“Every time we would set a launch date, the [coronavirus] cases in the Philippines would surge so the government would impose liquor bans. We’d all be like,… come on; we just want to launch! But then, we would end up using the extra time to refine our work further, so nothing was ever truly wasted.”

“Baken though is an entirely different – and new – ball game. As this is a brand we are building from scratch, we all contribute to all work areas. On top of that, we are learning as we go. For example, having been working on this for a little over three years now, we have started running jokes internally.”

“One of which was when I bounced the idea of the brand to my business partner Kelly. I said, ‘I want to make ready-to-eat bacon in a bag. Crispy bacon, not jerky. No one has ever done it before.’ Well, let me tell you what I’m learning now… I know exactly why no one has ever done it before. But hey… nothing is ever impossible, so we keep going!”

However, when it comes to being a female entrepreneur, Ms Carrasco doesn’t let business vagaries get to her, saying that she hasn’t experienced any particular issues regarding being a woman and working in the branding industry.

“None so far. Though I do encourage women to speak up should they come face to face with such gender bias issues,” says Ms Carrasco. “Gender is gender – male, female, non-binary, etc. – their character and capabilities should always measure one’s success.

“Besides, we are all unique individuals. We each have our own gifts to bring to the table. I’m all for the collective.”

Top tips on launching a brand

1. Know Your Why. This is the very first thing to answer – why are you doing what you’re doing? Whether that is a personal or professional goal or both, you must be able to answer this. It’s more than just a mission and vision statement. It’s your purpose. And when you know this, trust me, it will make the ride more manageable.

2. Be Savvy. There’s no perfect formula to the success of a brand, but if you can be a winning combination of commercially and creatively savvy, you’ll go a long way. This will help you ensure that every $ spent on creative thinking will ROI in multiple $ values.

3. Get Good People. There definitely is no I in ‘brand team’, so you can use all the help you can get! Build your A-team; it will move the dial faster than doing it alone. Where our brands are today has got a lot to do with the teams working behind it. I’m incredibly grateful for them.

4. Trust Your Gut. I had made the best decisions when I trusted my gut. Learn to listen to it. It will give you a sounding yes, or no, or ask me again later. It’s usually right.

5. Take Your Time. This one is the most challenging, personally. Sometimes when push comes to shove, the tendency is to panic and then rush, and then you suddenly have made room for errors. So, yes, set timelines but go at a steady pace – especially if it’s a new brand. Remind yourself… there is time. I chant this every day.

You can shop Baken online at shopbaken.com. And you can follow Baken on Instagram at @shopbaken.

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