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CMO Perspectives: Sarah Grover of Barfresh

CMO Perspectives: Sarah Grover of Barfresh

This interview is part of CMO Perspectives, presented by NRN in partnership with the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executives Group. The monthly feature explores how leading executives are navigating the ever-changing restaurant marketing landscape.

I have known Sarah Grover for many years, and respected her and admired her work as CMO of California Pizza Kitchen, where she was part of the brand for 25 years, serving in a variety of key roles. I had a chance to catch up with her recently and find out about her recent position as CMO at Barfresh, a ready-to-blend beverage company that develops, produces and distributes smoothies, shakes and frappes to restaurants.

Explain your approach towards marketing at CPK for so many years.

My philosophy towards marketing has always been to lead and not follow. This means being willing to try something new, being first to market, and taking risks in an industry where there is constant innovation and rising expectations. Mistakes will happen, and the key is to embrace them. It is critical to have a great team and lead by reinforcing the simple values of trust, respect and open communication. This combination inspires and motivates people to achieve their very best and accomplish just about anything.

What trends or changes are happening in the restaurant industry?

Stakeholders now require transparency throughout all facets of the business. We have come from a limited “better for you” section on menus to guests today holding restaurants accountable to ingredient sourcing and procurement, building materials and community efforts, and the list goes on. Guests of all ages who visit fast-food chains to fine dining share similar expectations and demand transparency from the companies they frequent. This trend continues to grow, and brands that are bold and effectively communicate their position and efforts in these areas are winning.  

Why did you make the change to a smaller start-up company?

It’s invigorating to be a part of building a company and a brand from its inception. Having been through this before, it’s refreshing to join a small yet incredibly experienced team whom I can learn from and collaborate with to create something that matters.

What trends are you seeing in beverage that you believe apply to restaurant marketing?

Frozen beverages have been the fastest-growing non-alcoholic category since 2009. However, operators are faced with the challenge of increasing their n/a beverage incidence while providing a transparent, great-tasting, better-for-you, high-margin solution.

Tell me where and how you get inspiration as a marketer.

First, I read a lot. I also happen to live in Los Angeles, a city bubbling with new ideas and hot concepts. I enjoy challenging myself and learning new things, so I am active on a couple of boards with people whom I admire and respect. I also, fortunately, have a lot of very smart friends and colleagues that I am lucky enough to learn from every day.

What role does marketing play in the development of the Barfresh brand?

Marketing is embedded in every aspect of the business. Especially for a start-up, the way you position yourself and articulate the problem you solve is critical. Everyone who touches the brand is a stakeholder, and the brand narrative needs to be consistent, unique and memorable.

What is your best marketing advice to share with entrepreneurs who want to market their restaurant?

Recognize that marketing must be deeply involved in all areas of the business. Real estate selection, technology decisions, people selection and culture creation equally contribute to and ultimately represent your brand in the marketplace. Take risks, be bold and, most importantly, be willing to fail. Acknowledge that you cannot be everything to everyone, and that some people won’t like what you do. Focus on your strengths and deliver what you promise. Every day. Share your passion and other people will talk about it.

What is your favorite quote?

Your life is not defined by your accomplishments; it is defined by your character.

Who is your mentor and why?

My parents, who have been married for over 61 years, have always encouraged me to pursue my passion and explore the world. As far back as I can remember, my mom encouraged me to think big. My dad, through his actions, taught me the importance and beauty of humility.

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