Published on: January 5, 2016by Michael Sansolo
Changing the pages on a calendar - if anyone uses a calendar with pages anymore - means it’s a New Year. But beyond that it’s the same old, same old—even when it comes to change.
Over the New Year’s holiday the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an interview with General Mills CEO Ken Powell, who in one quote nailed what the industry has been, is and will be facing a while to come.
Referring to the pace of change in the industry, Powell, a 36-year industry veteran said, “I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve never seen it this fast.”
Amen to that.
There probably was a time when a year-beginning column like this might indulge in some predictions with the potential for some accuracy 12 months later. This isn’t one of those times.
2015 demonstrated the unpredictability of the times in so many ways, from the falling price of gasoline to the longevity of Donald Trump’s campaign, from the New York Mets' appearance in the World Series to any one of a thousand business events that caught us by surprise.
Yet, Powell’s words do provide some sense of both guidance and challenge to the industry as 2016 begins.
For example, asked about the incredible shift in consumer habits away from products that have made companies like General Mills so successful, Powell identified a couple of key sources of change.
There’s the demographic shift, especially the growing power of Millennials. As Powell said, “They have different food values. They are looking for real food, authentic food, simple food, and it shows up in a lot of ways. There are lots of things they are avoiding — artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors.”
There’s the technological too. “The consumer has much more control,” Powell said. “They can get information the way they want, when they want.” The key is to listen to, understand and respond to changing consumer values. As Powell said, “If we don’t…they won’t trust us and they won’t support us.”
And, of course, there’s the competition. As the article highlights, companies like General Mills are under pressure to both satisfy all these new needs and manage to contain costs at the same time, catering to both Main Street and Wall Street and trying to get that balance right.
Although the pressures on a company like General Mills and other traditional center store powers may be unique, they bring lots of insights for businesses far from the cereal aisle or other categories in which General Mills does business.
As we’ve said many times here at MNB, change is inevitable but your success is not. The challenge for 2016 is very similar to what you’ve always faced: finding a way to be relevant and important to your customers, whoever they are. (Though, if you are referring to your customers as "whoever they are," that may be your first problem. It is critical these days to have a much more granular understanding of who your shopper is.)
Interestingly, the same Star Tribune article talked about how a small company like Chobani went from “pipsqueak to major yogurt producer” in about five years thanks to modern communication spreading the word about Greek yogurt. At the same time there are many industry experts casting shade on Greek yogurt overall, saying sales may well have peaked and consumers are looking for something new.
Things are moving fast out there. So Happy New Year; now get running!
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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