Fifteen years ago, I covered Target as an equity analyst. I learned the business model.
I’ve learned the business model as a mom. So when someone inside of Target’s headquarters reached out, I responded.
She had just lost her dad to cancer and wasn’t sure where she wanted to go. How could she be? She had lost him too soon to an aggressive form of the disease, and she wanted to channel all of that into doing something.
We talked about options and what it would mean to do something on the inside of Target. “To truly make a change, stay inside,” I told her. It is where she could have a tremendous impact.
A few months later, we connected again. “I’m staying,” she said. “Would you come out and speak at our headquarters if we can make something happen?”
“Absolutely,” I said, but also shared that it may not be easy.
I’d been at this long enough and been told by people on the inside of different companies how hard it could be to start the dialogue. I understood. The information was disruptive, but my response was always the same: “I won’t let you down.”
So we developed the event and ways to communicate the invitation that did not threaten but invited.
I arrived into Minneapolis in time for a few meetings and walked the city to get a feel for it and the people that live there. It was absolutely beautiful, in only a way that a city that is buried under snow for half the year can be when the sunshine descends on it. It felt like the entire town was outside.
As I prepared for the presentation, I reviewed their recent earnings reports, press releases and other documents. No one wants to be part of the problem, but change takes courage. It is a lot like learning to ride a bike. You need support because it can be a bit scary at first, but once you get it, it is liberating.
At 11am, we were in the building. It felt like a college campus, a palpable energy, young team members everywhere, buzzing in the halls, meeting over coffee. Young. It was young.
Just before noon, our room began to fill. There is something so deeply respectful about people from the mid west, and it permeated the space. It was quiet, they knew that this was an area that has been controversial. The seats filled quietly, then the introductions began, and I spoke.
I covered Target when I was an equity analyst, I shopped at Target for diapers and baby supplies as a young mom. It was as much a part of my story as any company. To be there meant a lot.
I spoke for 45 minutes. They were quiet, leaning in. I could feel it. There is a responsibility in this work that is so real that every time I am in front of an audience, I feel the enormity of it. So many were moms, I could feel that, too, and I could understand the heartache of learning something after the fact. If American companies had formulated their products differently for moms, pregnant moms, families in other countries—without genetically engineered ingredients, artificial growth hormones or artificial dyes—why had they dumped that stuff into our food here?
Why? It hung in the air. You have to land that carefully, as it can break your heart.
So I spoke about the opportunity in front of all of us, to build a better food system, one that meets the needs of 21st century families, one that instead of using our taxpayer resources to build a food system dependent on chemicals, builds a food system for all of us, as we take on diabetes, obesity, cancer, food allergies and autism for the people that we love.
“There is nothing more patriotic that we could be doing,” I said. This is a fundamental human right, to be able to keep our families safe, especially given that food companies are already formulating their products without artificial ingredients for families in other countries. We are not asking them to reinvent the wheel, simply to place the same value on the lives of our families that they have already placed on the lives of families in other countries.”
Target has already committed to removing genetically engineered ingredients from their private label, Simply Balanced, by the end of 2014.
“We can do this,” I said. “The opportunity in front of us is enormous. The stock market is rewarding companies leading on this issue. One look at the share prices of Chipotle, White Wave or Kroger tells you what is happening, as these companies embrace a 21st century food system, one that is free from all of the junk.”
And I looked up. In the back of the room, a man, slowly, as if in a total daze, wiped his eyes. One side, then the other. And as I was finishing, he gently got up to leave, slipping out just before the end.
That is the moment I will remember from today. Because it doesn’t matter who we are or where we work, when someone we love is hurt by cancer, allergies or any of these diseases or conditions, our hearts hurt the same way. It is that force, that love, that will propel us to change this system, one family, one company, one product at a time.
Written in memory of Randy Benson.