Everyday food choices matter, both from a health and environmental perspective. Consumers are asking tough questions and demanding to know more about the impact of their decisions. This demand requires food companies to be more responsible and transparent about their products, ingredients and supply chains. As a result, sustaining the planet is another way to sustain the bottom line.
Small food companies with strong missions and values have emerged with compelling sustainability stories. Dedicated entrepreneurs are innovating in the category by simplifying production, using natural ingredients, and creating products using pre-industrial methods. These food companies, which started as small ideas and small movements are beginning to make big impacts in the food industry and for the environment. By setting a high standard for food production, they are paving the way for a more local and sustainable future. The most successful have brand stories that are honest, true and resonate with health and eco-conscious consumers. Big companies have taken notice; weighed down by old equipment, slow processes, rigid systems, and recycled brand narratives, these once too-big-to-fail operations are unable to keep up. Eager to gain share of this new market, large companies have began to add these small brands to their portfolios. But this may not be as grim as it sounds.
Hormel Foods recently acquired Applegate Farms, the country’s leading natural and organic meats producer. Through Applegate, Hormel can enter the health food retail space and capitalize on the smaller company’s reputation for responsible animal handling.
Hormel also purchased Justin’s, a natural producer of almond, peanut and hazelnut butters. Hormel isn’t alone — the Coca-Cola Company recently bought a minority stake in Suja, a small beverage company offering cold-pressed, certified organic and non-gmo juices and smoothies. Valued at almost a billion dollars, General Mills purchased Annie’s, a homegrown maker of natural and organic foods.
The success of these acquisitions is dependent on large corporations remaining true to the core values of these small food brands. For big food companies, this allows expansion of their portfolio and additional market share. For small, what was once seen as ‘selling out’ has become a chance for scale. Large organizations have the resources and experience to use their size for good. Small brands with strong values and stories can stay true to who they are and use this scale to make an even bigger impact. Without a strong foundation, compelling story and solid vision, it is easy for companies to lose their way and sight of their purpose.
For both established and emerging food brands, strong brand building is essential. It is through these brand ideals that they can engage consumers, build awareness, and continue to make an impact. Small is really the new big.