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A Smart, Balanced Approach to Natural Products

I just wrapped my first day at Natural Products EXPO East in Baltimore. Today was focused on education, featuring several manufacturers, retailers, and industry analysts sharing insights and best practices. I will summarize the highlights after more sessions on Thursday, but here are some gems I picked up from Stephen Hughes, CEO of Smart Balance, Inc.(NASDAQ: SMBL). Mr. Hughes gave a great overview of Smart Balance, with emphasis on their recent acquisitions of Glutino and Udi’s. He shared some alarming facts on the impact of glutens in our food supply chain and the rising trend for gluten-free products. Mr. Hughes’s recap was a summary of his industry “pearls of wisdom.” I thought these apply universally across Triple Bottom Line and more mainstream CPG firms alike. So here’s my recap of his recap:

Wind At Your Back

Look for the trends and categories that show momentum and progress, rather than trying to face headwinds in saturated and commodotized categories. “Your IQ is directly related to the category you’re in.” I love this quote. Mr. Hughes referenced the Chobani story, saying that he told his team to go find the next Chobani. That led to investments and innovations in the gluten-free category.

Think Big, Start Small

Pursue your next big idea with pragmatism and discipline. Test. Measure. Expand. Leverage the data sources available to the natural proucts sector that were once reserved only for the mainstream manufacturers and retailers. SPINS is your friend. Speaking of SPINS, I saw a personal care category summary later in the evening, and it’s great to see the level of detail they are analyzing in these natural categories.

Fact Based, Start to Finish

Don’t read your own press clippings. Don’t drink your own Kool-Aid. Don’t get too big for your britches. Pick your euphemism – just remember to learn and understand the facts and realities of your business, not the hype generated by consumers and your own team. The natural category is particularly prone to hype (both positive and negative), so be careful to stick to the facts.

Shelf Self Evident

Packaging is your 24/7/365 marketing plan. Pay attention to the power of the shelf and your presence on it. Consumers and retailers pay attention and so should you. We saw plenty of examples through the day and I look forward to seeing the packaging innovations and displays on the exhibit floor tomorrow.

Patience and Persistence

Enough said. Success stories don’t happen overnight, so stick with what you believe, trust your consumers, and endure what can seem like endless journeys to success.