Sarah Sanders, co-founder, Native

When you hear a startup success story, it sometimes involves a company branching out to other locations or being bought by a big company and moving to the coast. Native’s success story takes a detour from that route.

Native is a consumer intelligence platform that focuses on the packaged food and beverage industry. Sarah Sanders, a Cincinnati native, co-founded the company with Frank Pica—in New York City. When the company decided to pursue more opportunities, they opened another office in Cincinnati, where Sanders once again makes her home.

What was behind the move to Cincinnati?

Sanders: For those that know Cincinnati, it might seem obvious. Kroger is here. Procter and Gamble is here. You’ve got big flavor companies here that help create flavors for sparkling water. It’s definitely a hub where a lot of brands spend time and have offices. I have a lot of relationships in Cincy that make networking easier. We still have an office in NYC but when the pandemic happened, ‘remote forward’ made sense for us.

Tell us a little about the tech behind Native.

Sanders: We are a platform for consumer intelligence and we focus specifically on packaged goods, like sparkling beverages, granola bars, cereal, etc.

Basically, we help companies find consumer insights that are tricky to analyze in bulk, such as reviews that are all over Amazon, Walmart, and the Whole Foods target. The bigger the brand, the more information there is to analyze. We help them scrape all those reviews and then offer them a dashboard that gives what we call ‘sentiment analysis.’ That is, how do consumers actually feel about the products.

You do this with AI?

Sanders: Yes. We scrape all these reviews and use a specific form of artificial intelligence called NLP (natural language processing). NLP reads all of these reviews like a human would and understands them. This is done in masses instead of having to go one by one in a manual process. It does it in fractions of a second. It almost acts as kind of a real-time consumer panel.

You mentioned a pivot during COVID.

Sanders: We’ve always been in the food and beverage category, but as consumer preferences and buying habits changed, we identified some additional opportunities. We decided to double-down on some of those things.

Where do you see the company going from here?

Sanders: I think we’ll start to raise additional capital in the coming months and years and build up more of a presence in the Midwest. You’ve got people that service CPG companies all over, really. Cincinnati is a big hub for that. We will continue to utilize cities that make sense for in-person touch points. We want to help brands build better relationships with Kroger and P&G by providing them with insights that they might not be able to afford.

Like what, for example?

Sanders: Companies like Nielsen/IRI do quantitative data, like point-of-sale data, category growth, and so on. But a lot of brands don’t have access to that syndicated market data. Maybe the sales of their product are off the charts in one place but not in another market. Why do these ebbs and flows happen?

We can give brands a more comprehensive picture when they walk into the sales pitch of a lifetime. Going into Kroger is a make or break for brands. If you get into the biggest retailer in the country, it’s a game changer. So we’re really helping brands become armed with the insights they may not be able to afford otherwise. We help small to midsize emerging brands break through.

How is it being back in Cincinnati?

Sanders: I’m excited for the future of tech in Cincinnati. I’ve met quite a few founders just since my move back. And I think there’s more capital than there’s ever been, by way of both angel investments and venture. It’s really encouraging.