From Big Food to the Local Table, Winners Innovate and Adapt
The food industry is a vast landscape of companies large and small. From locally-focused farm to table operations to some of the world’s largest corporations, these businesses have different priorities, different needs and different market pressures to manage. One common challenge, though, is the ever-changing demand from consumers and the need to adapt quickly to changing trends.
As companies grow, how do they change course quickly?
I hear many organizations, in and out of the food industry, say, “I want to be more innovative; new products, new distribution…” but these same organizations continue to have cultural and organizational barriers that keep their teams from achieving those goals.
The number one challenge that we observe as a professional service provider is a hesitancy to break free from the mold. Risk is present in any new venture, but the safe, familiar route is usually the chosen path, and the one typically traveled by many competitors. Innovation and new business opportunities require calculated risk and, typically, more work from company leaders.
But, success requires a willingness to head down a road less traveled and is critical for adapting to a quickly changing environment.
Give Employees Space
The recent COVID-19 pandemic changed many cultural norms related to work life balance. One illustration of this, is the seemingly endless stream of video conferences that we as leaders are requiring of our people. Are we filling our employee’s days to the point that we are zapping their ability or bandwidth to think differently about improvements in process that could be made related to their job? Innovation requires work beyond just checking off the to-do list. Talk regularly with your team about their workloads, but also give them space to allow for creativity and new ideas. Keep corporate goals and initiatives on the top of the list even when it appears there is not time to address them.
Give your employees a runway, let them take calculated risks. Most of all, listen and take action. Nothing will kill innovation more quickly than hasty dismissal; or worse yet, a lack of trust or confidence in the company culture. Encourage employees to bring their ideas to the table. Give them what they need to do the job they want to do, reducing red tape allows for more action. Freedom, opportunity and trust are the keys to getting the best out of your team.
The Balance: Staying Loyal to Your Core Brand vs. Innovation
Companies must service their core brands while balancing where they spend their time and energy in emerging new markets. Why is this so difficult? Short term performance metrics can drive decision making that is not focused on long term results. At the same time, knee-jerk adjustments can rattle the company and create uncertainty. Find a rhythm in your part of the business between taking care of the ongoing operations and thinking about the future. Large organizations may have red tape and corporate layers that are difficult to navigate. Small companies may feel restricted by resources. Both of these scenarios can be killers for innovation. Be honest about your organization or department. Do you have a balance between tending to the corps and preparing a new field for seed?
Whether big or small, innovative or conservative, the consumer market is delivering the same challenge to each of us. Keeping up with changing demand and changing tastes requires a balance of steadying your ship and charting new territory. Leaders are responsible to create the environment where this balance can happen.
About Mike Petrusma
Mike is the Vice President of EV Group, a leading professional services provider to the food manufacturing and distribution industry. Mike has spent over a decade in professional staffing, professional management, and project consulting in a variety of industries. EV Group has supported growth and innovation in the food industry since 1985. Learn more at www.theevgroup.com