Today, I watched a man take the stage to celebrate his company’s 30th birthday. He was fierce, a #FoodRebel from the start. He wasn’t good at obeying authority, he said. Thank goodness.
His wife and all of us looked on, as he spoke about his mission, what he was grateful for and what he feared.
He suffered a stroke a few years ago that took away his ability to multi-task. When asked in the hospital which number was bigger, 6 or 7, he was unable to say.
With that one stroke and no one to follow in his footsteps as CEO and with two very close friends and board members at his side, he decided to sell the company. He would not have done it otherwise, that was clear. And he stepped off of the stage into the arms of his wife and the company he brought to life.
As the day continued, some of us took the stage to speak about the changes needed in our food system, the fact that a growing number of American families are buying organic (over 80%), that a growing number of families also have an incredible juggling act when it comes to budgeting epinephrine, insulin pumps and other meds required to keep our loved ones alive.
The opportunities in front of us to fix this are enormous.
Less than 1% of our farmland is organic, and that works for just about no one. Companies like Stonyfield, Annie’s, Nature’s Path and others have been creating and selling organic products for over three decades. But now companies like Kroger, Costco Wal-Mart and others are creating and selling them, too.
And the supply chain is not robust enough to support it.
Kashi launched a certified transitional program to address it, offering a way to enlist consumers’ help to convert America’s farmland. Patagonia and Dr Bronner’s are tackling it through the launch of the Regenerative Organic Certification framework. Other groups have been fighting for decades, some just starting. The truth is that we need all hands on deck. Thankfully, more are joining.
As Stephen McDonnell stepped off of the stage at Applegate, I had the chance to speak with several of their employees—some like Stu had been there since 1999, others left Hershey’s, and others had wives and little ones at home cheering them on. All knew that it is in our hands to build a smarter food system. It is up to us to change it.
And throughout the day, we were reminded over and over again that courage is contagious.
As these acquisitions occur, from Hormel Foods acquiring Applegate for over $700 millions, to General Mills acquiring Annie’s for over $800 million, to those that preceded them, like Danone and Stonyfield, it is clear that these big food companies are finally buying into the organic movement and industry in a serious way. It’s personal and professional. It is the sector of the food industry that is growing, it is also the products that so many of their own families are buying.
None of us are unscathed when it comes to conditions and diseases like cancer, food allergies, autism, diabetes, heart disease and more. We are all reading labels a bit more closely. These conditions have tucked themselves into families around the country and into the C suites across the industry.
None of us are unscathed.
And as we were rapping up, a man named Tom from Hormel Foods took the stage.
He said: “The Applegate acquisition was transformational for Hormel Foods.”
His words hit like an anchor. The room was quiet, and the impact of Applegate’s vision and the compass was clear.
Applegate showed us what is possible even when it seemed impossible.
Flying home, I thought about the lessons shared that were unspoken, the ones offered without saying a word:
Live fiercely. Don’t waste a minute. Say yes to love, to travel, to challenges, to friends.
Show the world what is possible.
And love without hesitation. It always comes back to that.
Thank you, Applegate, for your 30 year commitment to cleaning up the meat in our country. And thank you to Hormel Foods for listening. The food system we’ve inherited from the 20th century doesn’t work for 21st century families. We need all hands on deck.