Some time ago, I happened upon an interesting documentary on Canada's CBC about the (rapidly growing) organic food industry in North America. See a clip here: 

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http://www.cbc.ca/doczone/episodes/the-new-green-giants.html

The program profiled a number of well known organic brands, and briefly chronicled the industry's history, an industry which despite consistent growth seems only in the infancy of its popularity. Part of this future growth potential, we think, is because many of the industry leaders in the organic movement run their businesses in ways that align with some of the key principles of Telosity. Here's how:

  • First of all, organic growing is intrinsically based on transparency, Authenticity and care for the consumer and environment.
  • Secondly, this Authenticity and care for the consumer builds trust and emotional loyalty to the Brand. As Gary Hirschberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farms said, "Organics is about authenticity and building loyalty. When people go to the store, they’re not looking for yogurt, they’re looking for Stonyfield Farms."
  • Thirdly, many of these organic companies are working to produce not just tasty and pesticide free food, but beyond that to actually make a meaningful contribution to society. As one of the key leaders at Nature’s Path (another popular organic brand) said, “we’re not here to just sell cereals, we’re here to leave the world better than we found it.” How's that for a meaningful Purpose!

Most of these organic food producers are small and locally based, which has likely given them more room to build their unique Cultures and Brands, and as they “scale up” in the immediate future, there will inevitably come questions and difficulties (space for innovation!?). But the "new way" that many of these organic businesses work is being noticed. For instance, recognizing that Stonyfield Farms was doing things uniquely with much success, when it purchased the brand recently, dairy giant Danone told Stonyfield CEO Hirschberg to, "keep Danone people out of your business." As a result, though Danone owns 85% stake in the brand, all company decisions are still made by Stonyfield Farms instead of by the controlling financial interest, as is often the case.

 In many ways, these "points of light" in the organic food industry offer us a pinhole view into the promise of the future if companies would choose Telosity. Imagine a future where all businesses are simply “social purpose companies” from transportation industry manufacturers, to banks, retailers, cable providers... and the list goes on. Do you think your community would be a better place?

But sadly, for every hopeful story like the ones I've just shared, there is a matching cautionary tale. Take the popular soymilk brand called "Silk" for example, which created a very loyal customer base through their innovative product (they are most responsible for the soymilk explosion in the last decade) and commitment to producing soymilk from soybeans grown on ethical, organic farms. However, a few years ago, Silk agreed to be purchased by agro-business giant Dean Foods, and quickly the mission and motives were altered. A series of covert, profit driven maneuvering resulted, like the replacement of the highly regulated "organic” label on the familiar packaging with the words "all natural," which carry no growing or production requirements. And all of the sudden, the Silk brand has become more profitable for Dean Foods, but has undercut the customer loyalty of people who came together around the original purpose and product through years of foundational business growth, and today, the Silk brand has few organic products. You can read more about that here if you're interested. http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_18228.cfm

A quick buck and a handsome shareholder payout is always enticing, but in today’s mutating marketplace, the story of Silk and Dean Foods may become a cautionary tale. And it may just be that the longevity and sustained success (financially and otherwise) belongs to Danone, Stonyfield Farms and Nature's Path, and of course, those in other industries who choose similar less-traveled paths.

What do you think?

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