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The rules of the game used to be pretty simple for large food companies: Make massive quantities of tasty and inexpensive (if not particularly nutritious) food products, create memorable brands around them, and use their market clout to get them within arms’ reach of the everyday consumer. For my mother’s generation, the germ-free, safe, and convenient access to packaged and processed food was a boon.

And then the backlash began.

A growing chorus of critics began to link the practices of agribusiness and mass-produced food to any number of evils. Obesity, under-nutrition, hypertension, diabetes risk, and a host of other problems were linked to easy access to cheap eats. At the same time, consumers started to look for organic and natural ingredients and smaller-batch, locally produced foods. Cue Chobani yogurts and Annie’s snacks. In food deserts, healthy choices are hard to come by and expensive, while those same areas are often swamped by cheap high-calorie choices.

The large food manufacturers were not caught entirely by surprise by these trends—but changing their fundamental business models to ride through the inflection point has proved challenging. For many, acquisitions were part of the answer—making acquisitions of disruptive companies that had sprung up to capitalize on the trends. The goal is to expand their reach in organic, convenience, snacking, and trendy new flavors. While acquisitions should certainly be part of these companies’ growth strategies, they shouldn’t forget about home-grown innovation.

The flurry of acquisitions aside, packaged goods food CEOs are a breed at risk. Some 15 of the largest have been shown the door since 2016. What could these companies do? Innovate. Specifically, stop it with the nostalgia-as-business-strategy approach. Put your best minds on discovering the next generation of better-for-you-and-the-environment food. Reconsider convenience—Millennials might not open cans of tuna, but they could well buy fresh tuna salad. Use your incredible manufacturing prowess to go from huge volumes of standard stuff to greater variety of niche-oriented products. Digital can really help here. And stop using earplugs when listening to critics—they may be telling you something vitally important.

While Big Food is facing some big problems, successfully surviving the revolution in the ingredients business is possible. Just look at Danone, Unilever, and even Pepsi.

“8Ps” of StrategyOpportunity
for Disruption
Recommended Leverage Points
Position- The farmers, individual and corporate, that you are targeting.

- The need of the agricultural industry that you seek to fill.
3- What technologies do you control that can help you tap into market
segments that you previously thought unreachable?

- What are the potential business alliances you could think about with key players in the segment to serve your customers with integrated solutions? (Serving customers with more integrated solutions example: serving farmers with fertilizers, crop protection and other).
Product- The products you offer, and the characteristics that affect their value to customers.

- The technology you develop for producing those products.
8- What moves are your organization taking to implement Big Data and analytics to your operations? What IoT and blockchain applications can you use?

- What tools and technology could you utilize or develop to improve food quality, traceability, and

- How can you develop a more sustainable production model to accommodate constraints on arable

- What is the future business model needed to serve new differentiated products to your customers?
Promotion- How you connect with farmers and consumers across a variety of locations and industries.
- How to make consumers, producers, and other stakeholders aware of your products and services.
8- How are you connecting your product with individual and corporate farms who could utilize it?
- How could you anticipate market and customer needs to make customers interested in accessing your differentiated products?
PriceHow consumers and other members of the agricultural supply chain pay for access to agricultural products.7- What elements of value comprise your pricing? How do each of those elements satisfy the varying needs of your customers?
Placement- How food products reach consumers. How the technologies, data, and services reach stakeholders in the supply chain.9- What new paths might exist for helping consumers access the food they desire?
- How are you adapting your operations and supply chain to accommodate consumers’ desire for proximity to the food they eat?
- How could you anticipate customer expectation to make products more
accessible to customers/agile supply chain?
- Have you considered urbanization as a part of your growth strategy?
- How your food satisfies the needs and desires of your customer.
- How the services you provide to agribusiness fulfill their needs.
9- Where does your food rate on a taste, appearance, and freshness
- Could the services you provide to companies and farms in the agriculture industry be expanded to meet more needs?
- What senses does your food affect besides hunger? How does your
customer extract value from your food in addition to consumption?
Processes- Guiding your food production operations in a manner cognizant of social pressure.8- How can you manage the supply chain differently to improve traceability and reduce waste?
- How can you innovate systems in production, processing, storing, shipping, retailing, etc.?
- What are new capabilities to increase sustainability (impact on the environment, or ESG) components?
People- The choices you make regarding hiring, organizing, and incentivizing your people and your culture.- How are you leveraging the agricultural experience of your staff bottom-up to achieve your vision?
- How do you anticipate new organizational capabilities needed to perform your future strategy (innovation, exponential technologies needed, agile customer relationship, innovative supply chain)?
- How do you manage your talents to assure suitable development with exposure in the agrifood main challenges/allowing a more sustainable view of the opportunities/cross-sectors?