Waste Not, Want Not

Though food waste has been a hot topic across the industry over the last several months, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more passionate group on the issue than this year’s Esca Bona 2017 attendees. This past October, JT Mega joined nearly 200 food entrepreneurs, agriculturists, venture capitalists and local farmers in Austin, TX to listen and learn about the group’s passionate vision for a reimagined food system.

The National Resources Defense Council reports that Americans waste 40% of all food that is purchased. In fact, each person tosses a whopping 300 pounds of food in the trash annually; a trend that food and technology entrepreneurs at Esca Bona are seeking to solve. Like Dan Kurzrock and Jordan Schwartz, two San Francisco-based homebrewers who loved craft beer but hated the volume of wasted “spent” grain.

Historically, spent grain has created a symbiotic relationship between brewers and farmers, as the latter uses the byproduct for soil enrichment and animal feed. But the explosion of craft breweries in the area made that relationship less practical for rural farmers.

It wasn’t until Kurzrock and Schwartz began exploring spent grain’s potential as a food ingredient that ReGrained was born.

ReGrained was born when two San Francisco-based homebrewers began exploring spent grain’s potential as a food ingredient.

We couldn’t help but ask ourselves, how many other food and beverage manufacturers are throwing away potential consumer product innovations?

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Food waste isn’t a new topic for the food industry, but it’s been largely framed as a consumer-behavior issue. But food and beverage manufacturers also play a significant role in this growing epidemic.

Historically, animal feed and land use have been the go-to solutions for waste products, accounting for nearly 85% of all manufacturer waste today1. But as the founders of ReGrained learned, transportation constraints is now the most cited barrier for large manufacturers in donating and recycling waste products.

This challenge provides Big Food with an opportunity to uncover–and even collaborate–with food entrepreneurs on new product innovations.

WHAT WE THINK

It’s time to start viewing food and beverage manufacturing byproducts as innovative ingredients, rather than waste.

This shift in perspective is not only good for business, but demonstrates a differentiated level of corporate responsibility to today’s increasingly conscious consumer.

WHAT’S NEXT

Need some inspiration on where to start? Check out these three companies for their innovative approach to food waste.

Coconut Jerky

As the demand for coconut water began to skyrocket with consumers, so did the volume of wasted coconut flesh discarded at production facilities. The creators of Coconut Jerky turned this byproduct–which is packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plenty of fiber–into the first vegan beef-jerky alternative, with satiating flavors like Chili Lime and Ginger Teriyaki.

The creators of Coconut Jerky turned this byproduct into the first vegan beef-jerky alternative.

Sir Kensington’s Fabanaise

With a rising demand for vegan products, Sir Kensington’s set out to come up with a mayonnaise alternative that didn’t rely on processed starches or pea/soy powders. After several failed ideas, the innovation team turned to aquafaba: the liquid byproduct from cooking chickpeas in water. Sir Kensington’s partnered with a New York-based hummus manufacturer who agreed to sell them their waste stream, and the country’s first food-safe supply chain of aquafaba was born.

With a rising demand for vegan products, Sir Kensington's set out to come up with a mayonnaise alternative that didn’t rely on processed starches or pea/soy powders.

Uglies

Millions of pounds of produce are passed over each year by farmers and food companies because of mild cosmetic flaws or irregular sizes that most manufacturing plants aren’t equipped to process. So Pennsylvania snack purveyor Dieffenbach’s Potato Chips created Uglies, kettle-cooked potato chips made from rejected potatoes.

Pennsylvania snack purveyor Dieffenbach's Potato Chips created Uglies, kettle-cooked potato chips made from rejected potatoes.

 

 

1Analysis of U.S. Food Waste Among Food Manufacturers, Retailers and Restaurants.” Food Waste Reduction Alliance: A Joint Project by the Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Restaurant Association. 2017.

Marketing to the 2026 Consumer

If you want a glimpse of the 2026 consumer, look up Amanda Steele. She’s a typical California high-school senior; a self-professed coffee lover who listens to Drake and says economics is her favorite class.

But in 2010, Steele began posting makeup and beauty tutorials on YouTube from her bedroom as a way to connect with fellow teens. Today, her YouTube channel MakeupbyMandy24 has 3 million subscribers, and has garnered Steele her own branded makeup collection, a modeling contract and a steady stream of red carpet appearances.

And while Steele’s level of success may be an exception, her prioritization of influence over affluence is quickly becoming the new consumer-value norm: he or she who can enact the greatest behavioral change wins, regardless of their financial position. It’s what A.T. Kearney is calling “America’s Next Commercial Revolution.”

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

While A.T. Kearney highlights several reasons for the shift from affluence to influence, the widening gap of income inequality is perhaps most instrumental.

According to its November 2017 report, the Pew Research Center found that “the median wealth of upper-income families was seven times that of middle-income families; a ratio that has doubled since 1983. Upper-income families also had 75 times the wealth of lower-income families in 2016, compared with 28 times the wealth in 19831.”

Traditional consumer models have fostered the belief that self-worth exists in direct relationship to what consumers buy, or, “I am what I own.” But because of rising income inequality, the youngest consumers began looking for other forms of currency that didn’t require traditional financial capital. 2026 consumers are shifting their self-worth to their ability to “create change and build community by influencing my peers2.”

Prioritization of influence over affluence is quickly becoming the new consumer-value norm.

In other words, influence is everything.

WHAT WE THINK

We as food marketers must begin shifting our approach to brand development and brand building in preparation for the Influence Model for consumption.

  • Affluence Model: Consumers are inspired by brands and value brands for their personality and what they do
  • Influence Model: Brands are inspired by consumers and consumers value brands for who they allow them to be

WHAT’S NEXT

The emergence of the Influence Model for food marketing means rethinking how we tell brand stories and connect with consumers. Specifically, it will mean a shift away from providing inspiration to nurturing aspirations. Here are just two ways this shift will impact our business:

Brand Narratives

Inspiration: Brand stories or narratives built upon company values

Aspiration: Brand stories or narratives built upon consumer values

Dave's Killer Bread

Dave Dahl was a convicted felon who, upon serving a 15-year prison sentence, was given a second chance to rejoin his family’s bakery business.  Dave worked tirelessly to create his namesake bread and, for every loaf sold, now donates a portion of the profits to the Second Chance Project, an organization that gives the 1 in 4 Americans with criminal backgrounds a second chance at meaningful employment.

Recipe Inspiration

Inspiration: Give consumers products to recreate our ideas

Aspiration: Give consumers the knowledge to bring their ideas to life

Kitchn's DIY KombuchaTraditional/Affluence-Model consumers look to food and beverage brands for ideas on social media they can easily replicate at home. Influence-Model consumers already have good ideas, but lack the tools or skills to make them a reality. Take a cue from The Kitchn, which has an amazing arsenal of trendy how-to’s, like this article on making your own signature kombucha.

Just some Thought for Food

1“How Wealth Inequality Has Changed in the U.S. Since the Great Recession, by Race, Ethnicity and Income.” Pew Research Center. 1 November 2017.
2“America’s Next Commercial Revolution: Influence vs. Affluence.” A.T. Kearney, Inc. 2017.

Don’t Just Cook. Cook Different.

In his September 2017 Harvard Business Review article, author Eddie Yoon grabbed the food industry’s attention with the headline “The Grocery Industry Confronts a New Problem: Only 10% of Americans Love Cooking.” In the opening paragraph, he asserts:

“Although many people don’t realize it yet, grocery shopping and cooking are in a long-term decline. They are shifting from a mass category, based on a daily activity to a niche activity, that a few people do only some of the time.”

Yoon contends there are three categories of consumers when it comes to cooking based on his research:

Consumer cooking attitudes

In an already challenging environment for grocery retailers and CPG companies, this new research felt like another kick in the gut.

Good thing Yoon got it (mostly) wrong.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

In many ways, scratch cooking has transitioned from necessity to luxury. With competing demands for time and resources, a seemingly endless host of options–takeout, delivery, meal kits and retail prepared foods–allow consumers to forgo cooking on a regular basis.

But all this evidence ignores a key consumer need: the emotional connection we have when preparing and sharing a meal with loved ones. Consumer insights firm Iconoculture asserts that cooking hits on key consumer values important to all generations–particularly millennials: creativity, sharing, discovery and tradition.

What we’re seeing is not a dramatic decline in the desire to cook; but rather, the misalignment in the value of cooking versus the act of cooking.

WHAT WE THINK

As food and beverage manufacturers, we must embrace and celebrate how modern consumers really cook.

Apple was successful in revolutionizing the mobile tech world because they focused first on the customer’s need to communicate better, not the phone itself. What Yoon’s research illuminates is a truly unique business opportunity for food manufacturers and retailers–if we’re willing to think differently.  We should focus on the basic human desire to prepare and share a meal, letting go of rigid definitions of what cooking is and isn’t. Retail products, prepared foods, meal kits and foodservice aren’t competing channels; but rather, cooking tools that can be wielded in any combination to help modern consumers put a meal on the table.

WHAT’S NEXT

Traditional cooking will never completely go away; there are celebrations and occasions where scratch-cooking is expected and sought after. But for the other 360 days of the year, we can help consumers leverage both retail and foodservice solutions to prepare an easy meal without sacrificing freshness, quality or that coveted emotional connection.

Encourage Fake-It-From-Scratch

Iconoculture’s recent consumer research shows that even the youngest consumers know cooking is an important life skill. Encourage customers with even basic kitchen abilities and limited time to be a fake-it-from-scratch cook. Demonstrate how one or two prepared items and a few simple ingredients can create a delicious weeknight meal, like this 10-Minute-Taco-Tuesday recipe:

Pork Tacos with Mango Salsa and Lime-Cilantro Crema

Promote Cooking-Less Celebrations

One of the key instances where consumers want to cook is when they’re entertaining family and friends. And sharing food with people we love is what it’s all about. But hosting a dinner party is a daunting task.  I’m a huge fan of Kitchn’s 5 Rules For Hosting a Crappy Dinner Party (And Seeing Your Friends More Often), especially Rule #2:

The 5 Rules of a Crappy Dinner Party:

Ready to plan your own? Here’s how to do it:

  • No housework is to be done prior to guest’s arrival
  • The menu must be simple and doesn’t involve a special grocery trip
  • You must wear whatever you happen to have on
  • No hostess gifts allowed
  • You must act like you’re surprised when your friends or family just happen to show up at your door (optional)

This is an ideal opportunity to demonstrate how to use foodservice–especially delivery–along with ingredients already in the kitchen to craft a crowd-pleasing menu. 

And rather than focusing on traditional gatherings like housewarming or birthday parties, brands should encourage consumers to celebrate unconventional milestones like adopting a pet, paying off student loans or seasoning a newly purchased grill.

Indigenous Cuisine: As Local As It Gets

This past month, I made my way to Southeast Minneapolis for a cookbook launch party featuring a type of cuisine few of us in the food industry have heard of: indigenous. Using ingredients that are strictly native to the United States–particularly the Midwest–guests feasted on fare featured in Chef Sean Sherman’s new cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.

Photos of dishes that use ingredients that are strictly native to the United States–particularly the Midwest–featured in Chef Sean Sherman’s new cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.

The best way to describe indigenous cuisine is deliciously unassuming and delightfully earthy. It provides a modern take on indigenous staples like cedar-braised game meat, wild greens, crushed juniper, maple vinegar and smoked whitefish.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Sherman (Oglala Lakota), born in Pine Ridge, SD, has been a culinary force in the Midwest for nearly thirty years. But recently, Sherman’s main focus has been revitalizing indigenous food systems in the world by showcasing Native American cuisine and, in the process, bringing attention to key social and cultural issues faced by indigenous communities.

As Sherman explains in his book, many of the ingredients we grow and harvest today didn’t originate on U.S. soil. Modern dietary staples like wheat flour, dairy products, sugar, and domestic pork and beef are all European fare brought to this country through exploration and trade between the 15th and 17th centuries. Instead of using these ingredients in his book, Sherman reconnects readers to the ingredients native communities harvested, prepared and feasted upon for centuries before European settlers arrived.

In an age where sourcing has become an important criteria for savvy food consumers, indigenous cuisine is as local as it gets.

WHAT WE THINK

The benefits of indigenous cooking make a strong case for it becoming a long-range culinary food trend.

As Sherman puts it, indigenous fare is hyper-local, seasonal and ultra-healthy: no sugar, no wheat (or gluten), no dairy, high in protein and a focus on plant-based ingredients. Sherman is right in asking why the original indigenous diet isn’t taking off in our modern food culture, knowing our collective focus on real, wholesome ingredients without preservatives and additives, and minimal processing.

WHAT’S NEXT

While indigenous cuisine has many of the attributes chefs and consumers are seeking today in their food and beverage choices, it also faces two fairly significant obstacles in the short term:

Ingredient Accessibility

Believe it or not, many of the ingredients that are native to this part of the country are not easily found within mainstream food channels, such as sunchokes, purslane, duck eggs and maple vinegar. Unless you’re willing to forage backyards and riverbeds, even Sherman acknowledges some of the key components must be sourced through specialty stores or online.

Consumer Familiarity

Many of the staples of indigenous cuisine aren’t currently foods consumers are regularly preparing and eating. For example, the three most popular types of animal protein in the U.S. today–chicken, beef and pork–are all replaced by lesser-known fare like bison, rabbit, duck and venison. To achieve mainstream adoption, indigenous cuisine will likely need to follow the path of other global food trends: marrying familiar and new ingredients to entice curious, yet hesitant, customers into trying it. 

The Opportunity

Despite its obvious challenges, indigenous cuisine also has an exciting opportunity to redefine “American” food. Different geographies could craft nuanced variations of indigenous cuisine based on regional plant and wildlife varieties. The development and promotion of this regional indigenous fare could give us a whole new category of cuisine to explore.

In the meantime, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the arrival of Sherman’s new Minneapolis restaurant, slated to open in Spring 2019.

Just some Thought for Food™.

Private Label is in the Public Eye

The Brandless Company Model

Calling itself the “Procter & Gamble for Millennials,” San Francisco e-commerce company Brandless™ made its U.S. debut this past July eager to disrupt the CPG industry. The startup, which has secured over $50 million in funding, sells a variety of organic food and home goods all for an everyday low price of $3.

Brandless™ says it’s able to keep its prices low by eliminating the BrandTax, a moniker the company hopes to trademark and defines as the “hidden costs you pay for a national brand.”


Aldi's Award Winning RoséAt the 33rd annual International Wine Competition in United Kingdom, The Exquisite Collection Cotes de Provence Rosé 2016 won a silver medal. Judges gave the wine top honors after two weeks of blind taste testing, describing its flavor as “ripe summer stone fruits with a generous acid palate and crisp bright finish.”

But what surprised judges–and wine spectators–the most wasn’t its $8 price point or French origin. It was that the wine belonged to Aldi’s.


WHY IT’S HAPPENING

In its August 2017 Private Label Report, IRI reports that 49% of consumers say they are making sacrifices to make ends meet, with 29% reporting difficulties in affording groceries.

Consumers in all income and generation groups report buying private label

Consumers are embracing a variety of money-saving strategies to cut down on household costs, but opting for private labels is common across all generations and income brackets.

The cause is twofold:

  1. Despite the creation of two million jobs in 2016, which brought unemployment to 4.5%, wage growth has been stuck at 2.5%[1] for the past two years. It’s hitting younger consumers the hardest. On average, full-time, year-round working millennials are earning nearly $12,000 less per year than the national average for workers age 35–65.[2]
  2. Private label has, in many instances, managed to bridge the quality gap with national brands. With a focus on premium and even super-premium tiered items (all natural, organic, non-GMO, etc.) private labels are delivering a better product experience to customers.

WHAT WE THINK

The value proposition of national brands vs. private label is being aggressively questioned by today’s savvy consumer.

As private label brands have improved their quality and consumers are finding themselves with less discretionary income, shoppers are questioning if national brands are really worth the extra cost.

WHAT’S NEXT

To stave off private label encroachment, national brands must do a better job of demonstrating why their products are worth the extra investment.

Deliver on both sides of the equation

The majority of national brands built their reputation–and consumer preference–on signature product formulations that taste great, perform reliably and consistently deliver a high-quality experience again and again. And that used to be enough. But today’s consumer also wants more transparency with shorter, cleaner ingredient statements. Private labels often struggle to successfully deliver on both sides of this value equation. If national brands can consistently deliver an exceptional product experience while making it with cleaner ingredients, consumers will pay the extra cost.

Focus on customer engagement

Younger customers, particularly millennials, want more from brands than just a high-quality, good-tasting product. It’s about what else that brand brings to the table to enrich their lives. Advertising, event activation and social media strategies can bring the value-beyond-product story to life through personal connections.

Be purposeful with price promotions

While strategic price promotions are important in driving incremental purchases, long-term discounts undermine the value of a brand. They also position your brand as competing directly with a retailer’s own brand.

Invest in strategic retailer programs

Unlike private labels, which traditionally have very low marketing funds, national brands possess highly coveted marketing and advertising dollars. As traditional retailers face ever-increasing competition from non-traditional players like Amazon and Brandless™, national brands investing in ad campaigns—that drive customer visits and higher basket rings—are incredibly valuable.

 

[1] “Why Wage Growth is Too Slow and What To Do About It.” Washington Post. September 1, 2017.
[2] “Here’s How Much Millennials Are Making in One Chart.” Fortune Magazine. March 29, 2017.

The Rising Cost of College Dining

“Like many college students, I have a full bookcase and an empty fridge.”

In a March 2017 Op Ed, Olivia Ellison–a senior at University of Colorado majoring in Exercise Science–shares her experience and thoughts on an alarming C&U student trend: food insecurity.

Ten years ago, Georgia State University officials became worried about the impact of pricier student housing on the ability to afford earning a degree. Research was commissioned to examine the connection and the results were sobering: for every $5,000 in unmet financial need, a student was 12 percent less likely to graduate[1].

As the higher education industry faces declining undergraduate enrollment and falling numbers of high school graduates, basic and affordable amenity options are quickly becoming top priority with C&U leadership looking to attract increasingly cash-strapped students and their families.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Consider the following statistics regarding the costs of higher education:

100% increase in college tuition since 2000; 28% increase in room and board in last decade; 50% increase in student meal plan costs since 2006.

It shouldn’t be a big surprise that 83% of Americans say they can’t afford a college degree for themselves or a family member.

With tuition, class materials and student fees being inflexible fixed costs, students are opting out of meal plans–or buying the bare minimum–to save money. In addition to declining meal plan revenue, campuses are now also battling double-digit levels of food insecurity* among students.

According to a recent food insecurity study of college students[4]:

  • 47% of students enrolled at four-year colleges say they experienced food insecurity in the last 30 days.
  • 43% of students at four-year colleges and enrolled in a campus meal plan say they experienced food insecurity in the last 30 days.

*Food insecurity is defined as the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

WHAT WE THINK

The projected financial reality of future C&U students and their families makes changes to dining services inevitable.

The desire for quality, nutritious and delicious food is universal among students. But the average college and university charges about $18.75 per day, for a three-meal-a-day dining contract, compared to the less than $11 a day a single person spends for food[5]. As the number of financially stressed students who see cost as a barrier to selecting a meal plan that fits both their budget and hunger state increases, so do the risks to current C&U dining services models.

WHAT’S NEXT

It’s important to proactively anticipate these conversations and be prepared with both product and business solutions to help foodservice directors navigate this next evolution in C&U dining.

Consider the case of Jerry Rackliffe, Georgia State University’s vice president for finance administration:

After seeing the research on financial need and graduation rates, he convinced the housing department to open a “tiny-dorm” option that would include smaller rooms, more basic amenities and an unlimited meal plan that would collectively cost less than a room alone at other upperclassmen units. When Patton Hall opened in the fall of 2009, it filled up faster than any other campus housing option. It was so popular, the school converted two local hotels to the same concept in 2011.

A basic-tier plan that provides unlimited meals could be a mutually beneficial solution: increasing meal plan participation among financially at-risk students and relieving pressure from stop-gap hunger solutions like food banks and student meal donations.

Just some Thought for Food™

 

[1] “Why Universities Are Phasing Out Luxury Dorms.” The Atlantic. August 21, 2017.
[2] “Tuition and Fees and Room and Board Over Time.” The College Board. 2016
[3] U.S. Department of Education. 2017.
[4] “Hunger on Campus: The Challenge of Food Insecurity for College Students.” Dubick, Matthews and Cady. October 2016.
[5] The Hechinger Report. 2016.

Lessons From Organic Water

This past July, Vermont businessman Adam Lazar celebrated a remarkable achievement: getting USDA organic certification on his new line of bottled water, Asarasi.

Asarasi; the USDA's first certified-organic water

Asarasi; the USDA’s first certified-organic water

Yep, you read that right. Organic water.

Because water has no carbon molecules and is therefore technically inorganic, the USDA has previously excluded water as an ingredient making organic claims. But Lazar’s company found a loophole: because the water is naturally filtered through, and extracted from, living maple trees, Asarasi meets the definition of organic.

Quite possibly more remarkable than Lazar’s new certification is the level of customer demand. According to its 2016 Bottled Water Category Report, Mintel found a whopping 25% of Americans say their ideal bottled water would be organic.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

While the customer demand for organic continues to increase, so does the confusion around what organic really means. In its 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, Technomic found that when it comes to “natural” vs. “organic,” the majority of consumers understand these labelings as umbrella terms for better-for-you.

Consumers see "organic" and "all natural" as umbrella terms

WHAT WE THINK

Brands should go beyond “natural” and “organic” to better communicate the value of better-for-you products to customers.  

It’s not to say that “organic” and “natural” do not hold value; these umbrella terms are still the most widely recognized and sought-after by customers. Rather, brands have an opportunity to bolster their credibility by providing additional clarity around these terms to ensure customers can make more informed choices.

WHAT’S NEXT

Customers have become much more savvy in their ability to pick out meaningful claims vs. marketing fluff when it comes to their food and beverage purchases. As food marketers we must consider the following when crafting better-for-you narratives:

Be judicious

If a brand or product narrowly meets a specific better-for-you classification–or falls within it due to a little-known loophole–proceed with caution. We risk jeopardizing customer trust when we exploit technicalities in the labeling process.

Be specific

Provide context to broad claims by getting specific about your practices and production methods. Rather than just using “antibiotic free” as a claim, provide details on whether it’s a judicious use of antibiotics, no human antibiotics, or no antibiotics ever.

Be consistent

Customer confusion occurs when manufacturers use different terms to describe the same thing, such as using “natural” and “all natural” interchangeably. Create tightly defined parameters to determine whether an item meets a specific classification, but also enact strict guidelines on the words used to describe them.

Winning with Big Food: Part 3

“Is Blue Apron a tech startup or a food company?” was the question CNBC writer Todd Haselton set out to answer in his recent article “Every Company Is a Tech Company Now.” Haselton writes that though the company provides perfectly portioned farm-fresh ingredients and modern chef-inspired recipe guides, Blue Apron is also using highly sophisticated algorithms and logistics to do something older companies, like grocery chains, hadn’t considered until recently: delivering meals you can cook yourself.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

At their spring 2017 Anthropology, Culture, Trends (A.C.T.) Conference, The Hartman Group explained we’re in the midst of a seismic food revolution due to the collision of four unique forces:

  • Unprecedented technological capabilities in food production
  • Collective recognition of natural resource limitations
  • Changing customer demands and expectations for their food
  • The emergence of big data

Which is why a deluge of food-tech startups are looking to disrupt how we procure, grow, harvest and serve sustenance, such as Memphis Meats, Gotham Greens and Perfect Day Foods.

WHAT WE THINK

Big Food must embrace the role of Big Food-Tech to ensure long-term growth and success.

There is no question that the overarching food system of today is not the model that will provide sustenance to millions of consumers worldwide ten or twenty years from now. Big Food has the unique advantage of having access to financial capital, human resources, and sophisticated supply and logistic chains to heavily shape what the food system of tomorrow can and should be.

WHAT’S NEXT

The shift from food company to food-tech company requires a shift in business priorities.

Establish merger and acquisition targets for both product/brand portfolios and food technology

Acquiring new brand/product portfolios will always be important for sustained growth, but Big Food must also gain access to the required food technology in order to stay competitive.

Prioritize the investment in front-end innovation

Much of our industry’s current innovation focuses on the end product to the customer. Features and benefits like product shelf life, taste, and incorporation of on-trend ingredients or preparation methods are common areas of focus for R&D. But the same focus must also be placed on innovating front-end production–whether that’s on the farm or at the plant.

Innovations that improve/preserve natural resources, provide better quality of care for animals or even improve the conditions of those working within the supply chain will become more important factors in how customers choose food and beverage products moving forward.

Support relevant product/category accelerators

The good news is that many Big Food companies have started to make these investments. Accelerators not only help propel category innovation, but position Big Food as Big Thinkers. Land O’Lakes recently launched its Dairy Accelerator program to invest in dairy startups to drive category innovation and stave off competition from plant-based alternatives.

Just some Thought for Food TM

Read Winning with Big Food: Part 2
Read Winning with Big Food: Part 1

Winning with Big Food: Part 2

The battle between Big Food and small food was no more apparent than last month when the Brewers Association (BA) unveiled its Verified Independent Craft Brew seal.  The association—whose mission is to promote and protect America’s small and independent craft brewers—makes the seal free to all members.

Brewers Association Independent Craft Brew seal
Brewers Association Independent Craft Brew seal

The catch: Breweries must “run their business free of influence from other alcohol beverage companies, which are not themselves craft brewers.”

Cue frustrated response from a group of independent brewers who are technically owned (25% or more) by Big Beer:

"At the end of the day, the beer does the talking - not the label on the package - and the consumer makes up their own mind. The problem is, the Brewers Association continues to refuse to let the consumer make up their own mind and tries to make it up for them." Garrett Wales, Owner, 10 Barrel Brewing Co.

Why It’s Happening

Over the last few years, we’ve seen Big Food purchase smaller brands for a variety of reasons, yet the customer response is increasingly negative. They threaten boycotts, rant on social media and accuse independent owners of selling out. What’s behind the vitriol?

Consider the following:

  • *35% of U.S. consumers distrust big brands.
  • *60% of U.S. consumers distrust corporate America.

It all boils down to customers believing that Big Food will change—or destroy—what they know and love about the brand.

What We Think

Big Food should proactively prioritize building—or rebuilding—customer trust by focusing on the interpersonal customer relationship.

In their 2016 “Customer Quotient™ U.S. Report,” C Space reveals that customer trust “is about much more than having confidence in the reliability of a product. It is founded in the relationship.”

Big Food has done remarkably well in developing beloved brands that are high in quality, safe for families and delicious.  But in a world where those deliverables are considered table stakes, Big Food must also work to strengthen those personal connections customers have with the brand and the company behind it.

What’s Next

To get personal with customers, Big Food needs to be more personable.

Speak with an authentic human voice. Communicate like a real personremove the marketing fluff and the corporate talking points. We must say what we mean rather than forcing customers to interpret our message.

Case in point: In the days following a forcible removal of a passenger from a United Airlines flight in April 2017, the company’s CEO Oscar Munoz learned just how damaging corporate-speak can be in the midst of a scandal. On April 10, Munoz released a statement that was regarded as callous by customers. 

Corporate voice example from United

The statement caused a firestorm on social media and United Airlines’ stocks began tanking as news of the incident and the company’s response went viral. Less than a day later, Munoz issued a mea culpa to the press.

Human voice example from United

Highlight your people. Customers crave a personal connection, so help them get to know you on a deeper level. The Johnsonville Sausage campaign from 2016 is a great example; the ads were inspired by—and featured—real employees.

Keep Small-Brand Acquisitions Autonomous. The frequency of mergers and acquisitions within the food and beverage space is likely to continue for Big Food to realize continued growth. But to ensure those small-brand customers stay with you, Big Food must encourage any acquired company to stay true to its roots.

Stay tuned for our third and final installment of “Winning with Big Food” in September.

Missed Part 1? Read it here

*Source: “Untruth and Consequences.” Iconosphere 2017. Iconoculture Consumer Insights.

Rethinking a Facts-First Approach

Sanderson Farms isn’t backing down from its antibiotic use in poultry, despite most major players in the poultry  industry moving toward “no antibiotics ever”.  Faced with mounting customerand shareholdercriticism, the company released a comprehensive infographic backed by outside professional resources explaining its position.


(click to see full graphic)

The experts are reputable. The facts are correct. The rationale is sound. Yet I’m willing to bet this newest effort will fall on mostly deaf (and likely defiant) customer ears.

Why It’s Happening

At their 2017 Iconosphere research presentation “Untruth and Consequences,” strategists Lindsey Roeschke and Derek Stubbs argued when customers accuse brands of lyingas many Sanderson Farms customers have done when it comes to the safety of their chicken productsit has little to do with facts. Roeschke and Stubbs point out that today’s customer increasingly believes that a lie is “anything I disagree with.” We are now called liars when our company’s actions suddenly misalign with our customer’s personal values.

Roeschke and Stubbs aren’t alone in this assertion; the Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” as the word of the year for 2016. Sanderson Farms’ current situation illustrates that post-truth has moved from politics to plate.

What We Think

Sanderson Farms would be more successful if they reprioritized its communication to values-first, facts-second.

The problem isn’t Sanderson Farms’ position, it’s how the company is arguing it. The company’s current approach seems to be “our facts are better than your facts;” an argument that is unwinnable with today’s customer. The disconnect here isn’t about facts. It’s about customers feeling that the safety of themselvesand their familiesis at risk and their concerns aren’t being acknowledged.

What’s Next

Changing our approach to prioritize values alignment requires us to rethink how we talk to customers about hot-button issues.

Identify the real issue. By looking beyond what they say, to what they mean, we can address our customers’ real concerns.

Identify the real issue.

Share their concern first. By acknowledging—and sharing—their real concerns upfront, we are putting our customers’ needs ahead of our own.

Share their concern first.

Follow it with the facts and/or company position. Facts are still important. But facts only matter when we trust the source. By placing values first, we help to build customer trust.

Follow it with the facts and/or company position.

Finish by reiterating the real issue. By bookending a response with the real issue, we reinforce our common ground.

Finish by reiterating the real issue.

 

Just some Thought for FoodTM

Questions, comments or want to learn more? Let's connect! akile@jtmega.com

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