KANSAS CITY — Food and beverage makers are getting into the non-fungible token (NFT) space, with startups and emerging brands testing the virtual waters alongside CPG giants like Campbell Soup Co. and The Coca-Cola Co.
NFTs are one-of-a-kind digital assets that can be purchased and sold like any other type of personal property, but they have no tangible form. Like cryptocurrencies, NFTs are created on a digital ledger known as a blockchain. Collectors purchase NFTs, which are created as tokens (a type of certificate of ownership), via online marketplaces like OpenSea. Just about any digital asset or virtual good — including artwork, music, photographs, tweets, articles, memes and more — can be minted as NFTs, meaning their record of ownership cannot be altered or deleted.
Food and beverage companies can’t make a business out of selling virtual versions of their products, but they can still benefit from using NFTs to raise awareness, engage customers and promote their brands.
Some brands are using NFTs to raise capital during their pre-launch period. Others are using them to raise money for charity. Campbell Soup Co. commemorated a redesign of its iconic soup can with NFT art pieces, donating the proceeds to Feeding America. The Coca-Cola Co. recreated nostalgic advertising images, like trading cards and vintage coolers, as NFTs to raise money for Special Olympics International.
Protein cookie brand Love + Chew on March 8 launched its first NFT project to celebrate International Women’s Day. Lauren Chew, founder and chief executive officer, teamed up with artist Fatemeh Monfared to create the collection. Funds from the project will go to Oasis for Girls, a nonprofit providing resources to girls from underserved communities.
“We’re a female-focused brand and our demographic is heavily millennials,” Ms. Chew said. “Many of them have probably heard what NFTs are but don’t necessarily know what to do with them. My goal is to create interest in the space and get more women involved.”
Mid-Day Squares is taking a creative approach to its first NFT project, using digital images to mark an important moment in the brand’s journey.
After declining an offer from The Hershey Co. to purchase the brand last summer, Mid-Day Squares was served a cease-and-desist over the use of the color orange on its packaging. Co-founders Nick Saltarelli, Lezlie Karls and Jake Karls responded with a diss track and an accompanying music video.
“We knew we needed to put effort into the distribution of the music video, because it would be a shame to see it just sizzle away,” Mr. Saltarelli said. “Our community was already asking for NFT projects. They were constantly dropping requests in our comments. Then it clicked and we said, ‘Why don’t we allow our fans to really own this music video with us?’”
Mid-Day Squares took 600 moments from the video and converted them into unique images to be sold as NFTs. It also included some behind-the-scenes shots to add a level of exclusivity.
“One aspect that has been proven as a clear use case for NFTs is memorabilia and the ability to collect things,” Mr. Saltarelli said. “People collect Coca-Cola cans from the 1950s or memorabilia from their favorite chocolate companies growing up. NFTs provide some really cool opportunities to create things like that for our consumers.”
There’s no set playbook for CPG brands looking to get into the NFT space, said David Greenfeld, founder and CEO of Dream Pops. The company last year launched a virtual ice cream and candy shop featuring digital artwork inspired by its plant-based ice cream bars.
“I don’t know if I I’ve seen what I believe is the ‘correct’ application for CPGs,” Mr. Greenfeld said. “When we minted our first collection, I just wanted to make sure we were getting our hands wet and that we knew how to do it.”
Opportunities exist to attach utility to NFTs through discounts, product giveaways or other perks, he said.
“We’re working on developing something that is more applicable to our passionate customers, the people who want that next level of community or want access to limited-time offers and new products,” Mr. Greenfeld said. “You could do a discount code or loyalty program with NFTs. Maybe you purchase a Dream Pops NFT and get 50% off all your purchases or access to special events. That’s where my head is at right now.”
Love + Chew is working with a platform that allows companies to generate NFTs as rewards. Fans can complete challenges like following the brand on TikTok or uploading a selfie with a cookie to earn points and eventually receive a free NFT.
Ms. Chew also is attaching utility to the digital cookies available on OpenSea.
“Some of the NFTs are actual cookie flavors that we offer, and some of them are future flavors or potential flavors in the pipeline,” she said. “One of those flavors, peanut butter chocolate chip, is going to launch in Q2. Whoever buys that entity will be the very first person to try that product. They’ll get the first cookie from the first production run. A couple of entities will attach a year’s subscription, where you’ll get our cookies in the mail every month.”
The project could help determine the flavors Love + Chew pursues next, she added.
“This might allow me to do some market research,” Ms. Chew said. “I’m launching a bunch of flavors that don’t exist yet, so I’m going to be really interested to see which ones are more popular than others.”
Mid-Day Squares is tying physical memorabilia to its NFTs in the form of VHS tapes. Fans who purchase or win an NFT will receive a tape featuring a copy of the music video and the NFT artwork on the cover.
“We didn’t want this to just be digital,” Mr. Saltarelli said. “If we fast forward 20 years from now, and Mid-Day Squares has succeeded in becoming what we’d like to be, that is going to be an incredible piece of memorabilia for people to have. And the only way you’ll be able to prove the legitimacy of your VHS is to prove that you own the token.”
The company will use proceeds from the project to fund future experiences for its growing community. One idea is to pay for trips to get all of the NFT holders together in one destination.
“Where I see this developing and what I’m really excited about is this race to create currency among brands,” Mr. Saltarelli said. “You can create a source of treasury for your business to be able to finance a lot of incredible value-added services or experiences back to your consumers.”