With so many celebrity brands competing for attention, industry events like NRF are quickly becoming a stop for influencers to cultivate thought-leadership.
Celebrities have been known to grace the NRF stage, but not so much during the pandemic years. The last prominent Hollywood names to attend were Gwyneth Paltrow — who spoke on behalf of her lifestyle brand Goop in 2020 — and last year, actor and former White House liaison Kal Penn delivered the closing keynote by discussing the role of sustainability in business.
But this year saw multiple famous figures return to the Javits Center in full force — from big names like Martha Stewart and Drew Barrymore to reality stars dipping their toes into the retail world and discussing the ins and outs of building a brand. At the same time, these celeb entrepreneurs act as an audience attraction for NRF’s Big Show among attendees looking to catch a glimpse of their favorite star.
For 2024, the NRF Foodservice Innovation Zone featured the most up-close-and-personal celebrity encounters. Crystal Kung Minkoff, a current cast member of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” was on site for photo ops and to promote her coconut beverage brand, Real Coco. Other meet-and-greet appearances included “Bar Rescue” star Jon Taffer and celebrity chef Robert Irvine of “Restaurant Impossible.”
On the event’s stage, the two big names to speak were Stewart and Barrymore — who discussed the challenges of growing celebrity-led businesses. Despite a snowstorm hindering attendance on the last day of the show, Stewart and Barrymore’s appearances drew a sizable crowd. And during their sessions, the two focused less on their Hollywood personae and more on their entrepreneurial strategies.
One major theme from Stewart’s keynote session was the evolution of retail marketing, especially when compared to building her first company decades ago; Stewart emphasized the need to adapt by testing new platforms, first Instagram and most recently TikTok.
“Social media could be such a powerful tool,” Stewart said. “That’s why I posed in a bathing suit at my age, and worked hard to get into it.” Stewart touched on long-term brand loyalty, noting that having a strong media brand is a big sales driver for her brands as the content keeps people coming back — whether it’s for new recipes or homeware recommendations.
Drew Barrymore, meanwhile, closed out NRF by speaking about her newest brand, homeware brand Beautiful which launched in 2021 exclusively at Walmart. Barrymore launched the brand with co-founder Shae Hong, the founder of kitchenware brand Made by Gather.
Despite having a big name behind a company, Barrymore said building brands isn’t easy. Barrymore is also the founder of clean beauty brand Flower Beauty, which launched in 2013. “This is the first brand that I’ve been a part of that really is working in a different way than the others have,” Barrymore said.
The actress credited co-founder Hong for bringing her design ideas to life, which have resonated with customers thus far. Some of Beautiful’s current bestsellers include the airfryer, single-serve coffee maker and the new Drew lounge chair. For the chair, Barrymore said the company was advised to release it as a limited-time drop to help drum up excitement. “We all know the feeling of having merchandise that’s not moving, so it was great seeing it do so well,” she said.
Barrymore told the NRF audience that sometimes, it takes years of experience in building multiple companies to finally master retail. “Not every single one [brand] is going to work, but every single one is going to teach you something,” she said.