Functional Ingredients: Today, with so many ways the industry communicates online, do you think people are using online tools to their full potential? If not, what more should the average industry member be doing?
Len Monheit: Definitely not. Social media helps, but there are a lot of key opinion leaders who have a lot to say who are not yet engaged. And too many of the conversations still happen behind closed doors. If you’re not a member of at least five or six LinkedIn groups, you’re missing the pulse.
Twitter is a great intelligence source if you’re smart about it, and despite proliferation of newsletters and webinars, there are nuggets and dialogue with the power to transform business. When we started 12 years ago, we realized it was all about being invested in the community—that hasn’t changed at all, the variety of tools has, that’s all.
Fi: People increasingly get their information online, and yet all the trades still publish print editions. Conventional wisdom has it that retailers are less likely to get information online than manufacturers. Is this changing?
LM: It is changing. Their store days are just as busy, if not busier, so they may not be behind a computer, but chances are they are at home. And then you have the proliferation of tablets and mobile. Through one or the other, most people in our industry have both the capability and interest to get engaged online. And with data repeatedly showing a more engaged consumer online, smart retailers recognize the insights they can get by being similarly engaged. And retailers are some of the best consumers, right?
Fi: You have spent a lot of time in India and China. What do outsiders need to know to do business there successfully?
LM: To do it right, both cultures require trust and time. You’ll get what you put into it. India and China, though, are very different. The readiness of China for Western products is much more significant than India. Having said that, the entrepreneurial and business-friendly attitude I found in India was thoroughly refreshing. In India, those I met apply a technical inquisitiveness very quickly to the problem at hand. There is a common cultural aspect that bears noting—in both countries, taking a leadership position is often vulnerable and both frequently wait for others to lead and then operate in the slipstream of that initial success.
Fi: What was the most bizarre thing you ate in China?
LM: Has to be the fried bullfrog, closely followed by the “smelly tofu.”
Fi: We have shared a few bottles of lovely red wines over the years. What were the most amazing wines you have had?
LM: Those who know me know I have a passion for Spanish wines. One of the best was the 1970 Marques de Villemagna about 20 or more years after bottling. Another I recall distinctly was at an IADSA event in Verona, Italy, a few years ago where I had the amazing opportunity to share a bottle of Masi Amarone with a few close colleagues.