• September 23, 2021

SKU Atlanta Partners: Q&A with Craft Catalyst Team

SKU Atlanta Partners: Q&A with Craft Catalyst Team

SKU Atlanta Partners: Q&A with Craft Catalyst Team 700 500 Michelle Breyer
Chris Oliver and Steef Schelke of Craft Catalyst

SKU is excited to expand into the Southeast in February 2022 with SKU Atlanta – an opportunity that will enable us to serve as a catalyst for the region’s CPG community. SKU partners Goods & Services, Silver Falcon Capital and Craft Catalyst have been invaluable to SKU Atlanta.

Steef Schelke and Chris Olivier, the principals of Craft Catalyst talked with us about why they believe SKU Atlanta will support the region’s emerging brands while helping to bring together the Southeast’s CPG community.

SKU: Tell us about you and Craft Catalyst?

Steef and Chris: Craft Catalyst is a boutique consultancy providing a continuum of operating services to food & beverage brands to accelerate growth, including hands-on sales & distribution development, brand management, business development, strategic planning and fundraising. 

We started Craft Catalyst in 2011 as a side-hustle to our day jobs in operating roles in food and beverages, and we have been helping F&B entrepreneurs grow their businesses ever since – brands like High Road Craft Ice Cream, LesserEvil Snacks, Slingshot Coffee, Kill Cliff, Popcorners and Spindrift, to name a few. 

We also started investing in brands along the way, but our expertise is in our operating capabilities born out of decades of experience in the trenches.  In 2020, seizing on the success of Craft, we launched Cask Catalyst, a subsidiary that focuses solely on helping beverage-alcohol brands grow.

Birmingham, Alabama

From Chattanooga to Birmingham

SKU: How would you describe the CPG ecosystem in the Southeast?

Steef and Chris: We have always said the ecosystem in the Southeast is expansive but fragmented.  Different from other regions perhaps, the Southeast is comprised of disparate pockets of action. They include larger markets like Atlanta and Charlotte as well as “secondary” markets like Chattanooga, Richmond, Birmingham and Raleigh to name a few. Each of these have vibrant scenes that punch above their weight.

These towns have for years now seen a ton of entrepreneurs creating cool new brands across a broad spectrum of categories. They all seem to co-exist without much regional cohesion. Within many of these geographies, we have witnessed first-hand the appetite for a more organized, connected community that brings together entrepreneurs, investors, suppliers and service providers. 

SKU: What are the standout CPG categories in the Southeast? 

Steef and Chris: The agrarian Southeast has a rich history in having unique ingredients that steadily fuel innovation in the food and beverage industry down here.  And while we are dumbfounded someone hasn’t come up with a compelling application for the ever-abundant crop of kudzu (it’s all around us!), many storied southern ingredients have found their way into product formulations have found their way into healthy snacks, full-fat desserts, better-for-you beverages and happy hour refreshments. These ingredients include sorghum, yaupon, heirloom corn and tomato varietals, regional grains, nuts, seeds and spices.

The lightbulb went off

SKU: What inspired you to help recruit SKU to the Southeast? Were you looking for a catalyst to bring together the CPG community?  

Steef and Chris: Indeed!  We previously hosted an entrepreneurial program in partnership with Atlanta Food & Wine, as well as supporting events with Southern Living and Garden & Gun Magazine. It has been through these experiences that we’ve known a player like SKU could enter the fray and have a tremendous impact. 

There is a real hunger among the players in food and beverage in our region for a more immersive, collaborative scene. But to date no one has filled that void.  We’ve always known that it would take a collective to come together and meet that demand because it’s not a small task. 

As we have observed all of the success that SKU has achieved, the light bulb went off for us that SKU is the right partner to make it happen in the Southeast.  SKU brings a great team and proven platform where those of us embedded in the region can now layer on and foster community where previously it would have been a mountain to climb.

SKU: What are your hopes for where the ecosystem will be five years from now? 

Steef and Chris: Five cohorts from now, we envision a much more cohesive ecosystem in the Southeast, which is essentially the goal here.  There will be numerous graduates of SKU Atlanta carrying the torch for the program.  Five years from now we may have seen a brand or two exit, which will help to underscore the steady flow of talented entrepreneurs developing great products in this corner of the country. There will be a greater number of active mentors and investors from market to market, which will facilitate continued growth in the region. 

Applications are open for SKU Atlanta. The Ideal candidates are market-validated companies with compelling founders and innovative products in a hot category. Interested companies can Apply Here.

SKU Atlanta also seeks successful CPG leaders who want to work with founders to help them scale their businesses. Please email us at mentors@SKU.is.