I am likely to ruffle a few feathers with this article, but they need some ruffling. The natural products industry is facing some headwinds. Supply chain, labor, inflation are causing challenges. Yet it is an obstacle of our own making that worries me most. We are confronting a new pandemic: laziness, or at least a pathological need to follow the path of least resistance.
Innovation is at the heart of our industry. It creates the ability to be on the road ahead of our shoppers, meeting them along the way as they search for solutions that provide better personal and planetary health. Collaboration is what fosters innovation, and we can’t afford to forget that fact.
Because our entrepreneurs and retailers historically had frequent collaborative conversations, we’ve been responsive to our shared customers as an industry.
Now, we find ourselves in a world of “drive-by” submissions and forms. There is no way that a one-pager and a new item form can convey an accretive category opportunity. We are missing the chance to think differently, to be in front of our shoppers’ wants and needs.
Add to this an elongation of the sales cycle and we are in real trouble. That one-pager and all the forms are reviewed once a year for a potential reset 9 months in the future. If there is one thing these past 18 months have taught us, it's that shopper behaviors change rapidly, more so now than ever.
Yet, as the speed of change in shopper behavior quickens and the level of uncertainty increases, we’ve responded by decreasing the frequency of collaborative communication and reducing our nimbleness and responsiveness as an industry. We need to do better.
There has been no other time in our history where the need for collective intelligence and agility has been more warranted. The lack of both is a considerable risk to our ability to continue to drive innovation. We see more and more of the innovation in the industry happening online. Brick-and-mortar retail will see its role in driving discovery and trial marginalized if we don’t get back to collaborative conversations.
I understand we are facing challenges, and I accept that work has been redefined as we learn to be a more distributed workforce hybridized between in-person and remote. We can’t, however, use this redefinition as an excuse to be lazy. It is up to us to come together, sit down and make the magic of innovation happen.
Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow.