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Baby Food and The Art of The Long View

I recently was introduced to the Organix baby food brand.  No, I haven’t become a father but I did get to look into a rather exciting opportunity to work with the company.  Based in Bournemouth the company is full of bright creative people who are all passionate about their brand and what they do.

Just after I finished talking to the Marketing Director there I also started reading The Art of The Long View.  A most interesting book which discusses how one might predict what the future landscape or market conditions might look like for a business.  It is not seeking to deal with innovation or long term business planning, merely suggesting that for innovation or business models to be most useful they must surely fit into a future where they are both necessary and compelling as a proposition.  To understand what the future might look like I would probably start by looking at some relevant long term trends, but the authors argue that this is not particularly helpful.  Instead they argue that one should consider specific, relevant, and clearly possible (however unlikely they may seem now) scenarios and consider how the business would need to respond in that environment.  Scenario responses can then be compared to look for commonalities which suggest areas for business focus and investment because they are good bets, but also tracked backwards asking what would have to happen for those scenarios to occur and what is the likely hood of those circumstances happening in the mid to long term.

Upon finishing the book I decided to look at two scenarios way into the future that might change the way Organix operates as a business and brand.

Scenario 1“Imagine a UK where most people have become close to being self sufficient or at least neighbourhood sufficient”. In the previous decade Supermarkets have built total dominance of the retail sector, but then a backlash started. One of the main problems was that for many decades Supermarkets had controlled inflation to a certain degree by keeping food prices low.  But this had become unsustainable.  Strengthening Asian markets, a weakening US market, and a dependence on imports from Europe had all lead to the UK cost of consumer goods becoming very high.  At the same time rising fuel costs and a destabilised Middle East meant most people and all but the largest of businesses had to reduce unnecessary travel expenditure.  Realising that both government and corporate organisations were unable to affect this, UK citizens simply started to “drop out” of the retail economy and produce their own food growing it locally and cooking at home.  At first this seemed like a hippy craze from the 1960’s but something was different.  Firstly families were making considered economic judgements about the cost of their cars, transport, and food before investing significant time and money on moving towards self sufficiency.   Secondly they were not protesting, they were adapting to preserve the family and celebrate their local community.  In this environment everyone grows vegetables in their garden and when they have too much they exchange it with neighbours for something they need.  There is a local farm, a local dairy, a flour mill that makes bread and pasta, and a local market where people can buy or exchange goods.

What would Organix look like in this Scenario?

If Organix had managed the brand through this market change it could not be a retail food brand – but perhaps a brand that champions the best food for new born babies.  To do this, it may still produce and sell a range of baby foods, but this is now just a small part of its business.  Instead it has become an authority of the best nutritional diets and the best food ingredients to raise all kinds of babies.  It produces books on this subject, and has a large web-site which for a price provides mothers and fathers with a “how-to” set of teaching guides to source the right ingredients and cook babies the best food that suites them.  After partnering with Universities and years of research they have also become an authority on a specific food groups that promote the long term health of new born babies, reducing the likelihood of diabetes and cancer.  Finally Organix has produced a completely new business proposition.  The Mother and Baby restaurant.  This is a franchise business model.  A family in a local community buy a franchise and Organix set them up with a small catering unit, relevant equipment, and training.  Mothers can “check in” using a web-site and pre-order the meals that they would like and when they would like them.  The premises have taken years to develop, and were initially based on the designs for their own offices in Bournemouth.  They are comfortable, clever acoustics absorb much of the sounds of babies which reduces discomfort, different colours engage the babies, furniture is practical and attractive, and staff are on-hand to help with feeding and cleaning as soon as is needed.  Layouts allow mothers to spend time together and for babies to play after their meals.  The business model has won Organix many awards – it has brought them into the heart of the community, it has allowed mothers to connect, it has taken stress way from feeding time and replaced it with an enjoyable social experience that is also very convenient.

Scenario 2 – “A dramatic increase in government regulation”.  For many years government and the private retail food industry have battled to find a happy medium between the concerns of governments who wish to ensure that food promotes healthy living, and the commercial concerns of private sector food companies who resist regulation.  Over time government intervention has increased.  Guideline Daily Amount schemes have been replaced with legal requirements for maximum amounts of fat / salt / sugar in products per 100g’s.  Packaging claims have been outlawed unless proven by independent approved laboratory research.  But in the last few years governments have realised even this is not working.  Cancer rates are still too high, obesity continues to rise, and diabetes has become the number 1 killer in the UK.  In response to this, the government has launched its own range of food and drink products that cover ages 0 – 18.  Approved by experts, the government acknowledges that these meals do put nutrition before taste. However, all the ingredients are sourced from the UK, all the products are made in the UK, they are “nutritionally best in class” and the government has created legislation meaning that retailers cannot price another product in the same category to be less than 5% more expensive that the government label equivalent.  In other words, for other food businesses to compete, products must be nutritionally best in class and secondly have a significant taste improvement to mean customers pay the extra price.

What would Organix look like in this Scenario?

When Organix was born the company’s founder had strong beliefs about Organic food and even then they lobbied the government hard to improve standards.  During 2010 – 2020, Organix continued to do this but it went considerably further.  It commissioned research into diabetes and the long term impact of food eaten in the first three years of a life.  It was brave too, every time it improved a products nutritional profile or added a new ingredient based on research it made the knowledge and sourcing available to the entire industry.  On the one hand Organix continued to push the frontiers of diets for babies, yet at the same time it moved to a software open source like business model.  Anyone could see the intellectual property driving the products Organics were making and the contracts they had with suppliers were never exclusive.  One key business benefit of this was that competitor ranges simply couldn’t keep up!  Organix invested so much in being the best and then used transparency to prove it – it was almost too costly for other businesses to try and compete on getting first mover advantage on dietary improvements.

Whilst this “open source” at first appeared to be an industry initiative Organix actually started to reach influential opinion forming customers.  Mothers and fathers realised that the brand literally had no secrets – on-line you could see the food being made live in a factory kitchen, you could see where every ingredient came from, and you could listen to talks from researchers in independent laboratories talking about the latest thinking on diets – all for free.  By becoming a totally transparent business and at the same time refusing to yield its market leadership position to anyone, Organix continued to outsell any Government sponsored product range.

Back to reality!! Having been through the process, albeit very briefly, it is clear to me how powerful the Scenario planning process can be.  It opens the mind to look beyond trends and into realistic yet alternative views of the world.  I think it would be very powerful to run a scenario based set of workshops to really consider how brands might need to adapt to meet future needs and market conditions.  I thoroughly recommend this book.  Oh and the last few pages will probably bring a tear to your eye!

Is There Still Room For More Ice Cream?

I was recently introduced to an absolutely delicious ice cream brand called Gelupo.  Now I know you are thinking is this yet another great food brand Norman gets to work on and enjoy eating in the evenings?  Well, not quite, but I have become most interested in the brand and the business because of the crowded market place in which it is operating and its distinct product offering.  Looking at this made me consider some pertinent questions for start-up businesses.

Firstly Gelupo is not just an ice cream.  It’s much more in several ways.  Gelupo makes Gelati (or ice cream as we call it), Sorbets and Granitas – a semi frozen desert only made well in Italy in my experience!  But secondly Gelupo is not just an ice cream or even a desert brand, it is an authentic ice cream parlour linked to a successful delicatessen.  So this means that both the product offering is highly differentiated to a normal ice cream brand but perhaps of more significance is that the business model and brand proposition also need to be very different from other ice cream businesses in the main stream retail markets.

To me Gelupo stands the best chance of long term success by placing people right at the heart of the brand.  This is both different and remarkable within the market I think particularly if it is underpinned by a rigorous recruitment programme to find highly credible, natural brand ambassadors to work in the parlours and a rollout of parlour stores in strategic locations. The brand does have some health claims that come from using less cream in the product – but in my view this is not different and is poorly marketed/communicated, and does not drive the consumer to want to eat the ice cream anyway.  Ice Cream is ice cream – if you want to lose weight you don’t eat it!

I also think the brand needs to fully commit to its proposition whichever way it wants to go. This is something I see in FMCG fairly often.  It is no longer enough to say your food is the best because you know where it originates from or because you have some great flavour concepts.  Yes these are very important but you have to tell the consumer why they are important – you must commit.  Is Gelupo the world’s best tasting ice cream because of where it comes from, or is it a unique taste that everyone should try at least once because of where it comes from? The flavour names sound exciting, but what is the inspiration behind them? Where do all the ingredients come from? Who makes these recipes and of most importance (and commitment) why should customers know and love this story?

Alongside a roll out of ice cream parlours, either through financing or franchising, the business could also move into traditional retail.  This would be a brave move requiring substantial marketing investment of course, but the question I would ask before that is “what is the right business model to make this brand flourish?” A large retail contract with an outsourced production solution always seems easy and very attractive.  But what if people are the most attractive part of the proposition and the bit that’s remarkable.  Can this be carried through to a differentiated retail offering?  I think it can but it is far from easy and needs a full marketing mix maximising the use of social media and PR to work alongside retail implementation to preserve the brand.

To me Gelupo is a brand to watch and one that can definitely flourish.  I would offer up that a critical aspect of that success will be a commitment to the brand that consumers can see, and the integration of its branded proposition to its business model for growth.  These must work in harmony or as we have all seen with some large high profile brands recently, consumers spot the disconnect and loose belief in the brand.

Keep an eye on http://www.gelupo.com/index.php