Yours truly, who took the audacious dive into the functional food and beverage business as a start-up and has presently taken it into the early stage phase, is having a field day reading about the challenges and frequent plethora of lawsuits brought about by consumers who have had enough of the deceit of the major food and beverage brands.
Once upon a time, during previous generations, renowned household brands such as Kraft, Kellogg’s, Pepsi Co. and General Mills, among many others, who once dominated the supermarket shelves along with loyalty. Today, through their complacency and/or (as public companies) continuous pressure for quarterly sales and profit results mount, as well as through their cunning practices, we notice a backlash from food shoppers – most notably the more health conscious and finicky Millennials.
What Gives in the New Normal?
Today, consumers are more health conscious. This justifies the constant and extensive growth and popularity of the organic, non-GMO, clean label, plant based, farm-to-table and gluten-free product offerings. A large percentage of food producers of products in those categories are the small and nimble new kids on the block. They have hit hard on the established brands who are scrambling to adjust to this new reality.
Despite their vast resources and capital at their disposal, as large ships, they are not able to swiftly make the necessary reformulations or to introduce a healthier fare. As a result, the pressure from the unceasing decline of their revenues and market share are leaving them with no choice but to react, rather than be proactive. Their path to least resistance is to acquire small health food and functional beverage brands in large numbers to compensate for their short-foresightedness.
The Permanent Health Craze
Hasty and reactive decisions, conniving strategy and foolish leadership have come back to bite them – serves them right. Use of inexpensive and toxic ingredients to engineer taste profiles and in some cases, make the products addictive, some of which include refined grains, MSG, artificial colors and flavors, high fructose corn syrup, Carrageenan and the other artificial and unfavorable which most of us have a difficult time pronouncing. Add to this GMO corn, soy and…well you get it. More expensive and healthier options can be used but their fiscal paranoia signifies to them this will hurt their bottom line. The big brands avoid raising prices to compensate for more expensive natural ingredients despite research showing that consumers are willing to pay more for healthier choices.
The cause of distrust among consumers can be rationalized due to corporations misleading the public as a whole, since most of those public food producers are, first and foremost, accountable to heir shareholders. Deliberate misleading information by food producers in regard to nutritional benefits is akin to the nickel-and-diming by airlines, hotels and banks. But unlike the latter list, when it pertains to food, it is considered more critical as our health is at stake.
As a result, in the last few years, there have been frequent class action lawsuits against food and beverage companies. Everything from Non-GMO claims and the use of a better-for-you sounding ingredient such as “evaporated cane juice” rather than using the simple term “sugar” (one and the same). Such negligence and deceptive practices have made the established food brands vulnerable.
According to a Forbes August 2017 article by John O’Brien, titled “Food Companies Beware: Class Action Attorneys Aren’t Slowing Down”, it describes that “Plaintiffs attorneys who target food and beverage companies with class action lawsuits are showing no signs of slowing down, according to analysis from international law firm Perkins Coie that also shows California’s lawyers are the most active.” Some of those lawsuits include consumers claiming they were misled into buying the product due to mislabeling.
Here is a small sample list of the shameful established food and beverage brands (click for the link to lawsuit article) with seemingly dysfunctional and old school strategies. They have become a favorite punch bag from the likes of this author along with numerous consumer groups and their hired attorneys.
Why Brand Image and Loyalty Matter
A “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Marketing, on the other hand, is about spreading compelling messages to your target audience while branding is a combination of words and action. Marketing is extroverted and communicates quickly, while branding is introverted and a slow process if it’s to produce any real impact. Effective marketing activities are vital in developing a brand. When combined successfully, branding and marketing create and promote value, trust, loyalty and confidence in a company’s image, products and services.
According to an Edelman’s Trust Barometer, it was revealed that 77% of respondents refused to buy products from companies they distrusted. More disturbing is that 72% said they had criticized a distrusted company to a friend or colleague.
When customers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.
Customers first, employees second — investors/shareholders third
In the ivory towers of public corporations, the CEO and board of directors have been programmed to put their stakeholders best interests above all else. Their mission is to do what it reasonably takes to deliver quarterly results ─ in other words, to focus on the short term rather than sow the seeds and do what is most beneficial for the future direction of the company ─ despite any short-term pains. Savvy and considerate top management know better that customers and employees are the two key drivers of corporate success. The main principle is that if employees have a positive attitude, are passionate, well trained and competent, results will be reflected through positive customer experiences resulting in brand loyalty. Ultimately, the shareholders will reap the benefits through stock performance and generous dividend distributions.
Large well-established companies have several advantages over smaller ones mainly due to their imposing size, their brand recognition as well as for their plethora of cash and human capital. However, despite their deep pockets and plethora of resources, they are risk adverse, bureaucratic in their decision-making process and to some extent, disengaged from their customers. Moreover, if they are a public company, their initial allegiance is to their shareholders.
Start-ups and smaller businesses, on the other hand, have less money and resources at their disposal to grow or even compete in the unapologetic and competitive landscape. Yet, the small business is agile, nimble and creative and possess several advantages such as a clean slate, rather than the baggage many large corporations have been carrying over the years, as well as perceived as more trusting by consumers, further engaged with their customers, and a refreshing alternative to the established brands – provided the products offer unique and attractive characteristics.