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Pundit Mailbag: Consumer-Focused


At virtually every food industry conference, there are 20 speakers who all repeat, like some kind of mantra, that we have to be consumer-focused, we have to serve the consumer, on and on.

Yet in actual execution, I find that consumers are generally ignored or viewed in a very limiting way. I don’t think it has to be that way. How do we sell better, healthier, more life-enriching foods to the people of the world? How do we help people with diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other illnesses? How do we help people fuel themselves with high energy food so that they can live their lives to the fullest.

It is asking questions like this that really defines being consumer-focused.

Among the generally supportive responses was this:

I agree. I think too often that being consumer-focused is more about making the consumer want what you are trying to sell them, rather than listening to what they need and want. This is true in all industries, not just perishables. Also too many decisions are not thought all the way through. Analysts focus on history and rarely extrapolate the future into the equation. It is as if no one puts themselves in the consumer’s shoes. Instead they run focus groups and ask questions designed to achieve a desired result rather than a fresh look at reality

Finally, there is not enough focus on vision and mission. Business should be vision-driven and that vision should have the good of the consumer, the industry and society in its sights, not just the bottom line or the price of the stock. Tom Peters had it right in ‘Thriving on Chaos.’

Leadership should push decision-making down to the levels that are most in touch with consumers, producers and vendors. Workers in a company should be inspired by vision instead of motivated by fear.

— Richard Kaiser
The Richard Kaiser Company

Somewhere in all this, there is a kind of intellectual leap that great executives take in which they stop thinking narrowly of the consumer. They stop breaking down the consumer into a consumer of cheese or radishes or sneakers but start associating themselves with the hopes, dreams and aspirations of that consumer.

Then producing mushrooms or soup or shrimp or a cupcake becomes bigger and more important as it becomes part of the way to help a person be what they want to be and what they can be.

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