Enjoy Life proves the case for unicorn in the herd
Enjoy Life Foods enjoys the enviable position of being intentionally unique and differentiated by virtue of the market it serves. Have you noticed the skyrocketing increases in the number of people with various forms of food allergy? My oldest daughter is one and many families these days have someone in their circle with a digestive rejection problem.
Of note, some experts believe the rapid ascent of allergen free foods is due to compromised immune systems, in part to blame from the cultural and technological shifts that help assure children will be exposed less and less to bacterial and viral hazards. It is contact with these microscopic threats that puts the immune system activity into higher gear. Use it or lose it?
Enjoy Life offers 86 SKUs of products created and designed to give allergy sufferers a shot at snack and sweets bliss with unconventional (entirely) clean recipe solutions. They are crafted with a staggeringly high intolerance for anything in the product creation process that could introduce an allergen somewhere along the path. Such is their franchise and commitment to becoming a trusted solution for people with food allergies.
Enjoy Life is an acquired brand of Mondelez, the spinoff of the Kraft Foods break-up that resulted in today’s Kraft Heinz packaged foods behemoth alongside the snack and sweets oriented and equally hefty Mondelez International operation. In either case we’re talking about big food.
Joel Warady, who leads the Enjoy Life team and has been on board there since its early days, is a bit of an iconoclast in the belly of the Mondolez whale, but it works and works well. Perhaps Enjoy Life offers a model for success to the innovation-challenged legacy packaged foods industry looking to stem the tide of fractional annual growth or share losses. Of late, many legacy CPGs are seeking the cachet of high quality, mission-oriented food brands by investing in or acquiring the fledgling company’s rapidly scaling share and market presence. The food world has turned upside down ever since the barriers to entry evaporated for independent food start-ups.
“Acquiring companies like Mondolez have learned, and sometimes the hard way, that it’s best to let these emerging businesses continue under their current management teams and without a lot of interference,” said Warady. “The challenge is figuring out how and where to help, usually with R&D and distribution support or providing ingredient sourcing efficiencies and pipeline scale.”
Warady believes Enjoy Life has been a success story because key strategic decisions are largely left in their own hands. “We’ve had some embedded executives from Mondolez along the way, but for the most part we operate as we did before the acquisition only with more resources at our disposal,” he said.
Legacy food companies like Kraft and Mondolez have greater challenges on the product innovation front due to their size, and cultural habits that work to wring out risk. It’s a point of view that has caused them to routinely favor line extensions over disruptive, unproven and yet demonstrably higher quality food ideas that are popping up everywhere.
Now, the magic and heat index in food innovation is coming mainly from entrepreneurs with a vision for solving a neglected corner of the market like Enjoy Life. Other successful ideas offer a preparation or ingredient twist that inspires a new category such as Beyond Meat that imitate the texture, flavor and mouthfeel of genuine animal-based meat. These plant-based proteins are more widely targeted to those whose values supports the overall mission (whether clean eating, regional sourcing, minimized carbon footprint, etc.) – not just aimed narrowly at serving Vegan interests.
Enjoy Life was designed from day one to be a difference maker in the lives of people suffering from allergies. It helps when you solve a real problem that has existed for some time but neglected as a niche business and ignored by companies that at one time believed if the volume isn’t a billion dollars within 15 months of launch, it isn’t worth pursuing.
Ingredients for Success
Warady offers some guidance for founders and acquirers alike:
- For founders, it’s important to know that food safety and sourcing standards – a pillar of strength for large CPG companies – is often lacking with start-ups and can be deal killers once a strategic investor starts to poke around. Thus for founders, it’s important to have consultants scour every corner of the supply chain ahead of a strategic conversation to help clarify areas of opportunity and deal points.
- For acquirers, it’s vital to recognize the secret sauce for emerging brands is often held in their story that combines mission and values often with a more artisanal product solution that completely redefines what quality means. Best to let them operate independently to help support and retain the trust they’ve earned.
- Because the path to market is completely different, emerging businesses can be extraordinary places to test new ideas and limited-edition products, while learning best practices. The old recipe of big TV advertising budgets mixed with quarterly price promotions isn’t resonating like it used to, and is antithetical to the more conversational, user experience-oriented world of emerging food and beverage.
Importantly, emerging food brands like Enjoy Life come to market embedded with deeper meaning and a higher purpose that transcends the more transactional genre of volume, velocity and profit.
Not that growth and profit aren’t equally important to the success of new food businesses, but these soul-driven companies recognize the path to riches is paved in reciprocity and relevance to the consumer’s interest in shared values.
Bottom line: the recipe for success inside big food is to allow the acquired businesses to retain the very lifeblood that makes them successful. Their sheer disruptiveness and uniqueness must be honored and fueled while maintaining the often higher quality sourcing commitments on which their recipes are based.
It is the user experience that sits at the foundation of early success for emerging brands – before there’s much of anything to talk about in brand equity. That said, smaller resource- constrained businesses will benefit greatly from a benevolent investor or owner that fills strategic gaps and helps nurture the business, providing expertise or capital where it can make a difference between a base hit and a grand slam home run.
Joel Warady and the Enjoy Life team sit as a worthy example of how remarkable innovation can prosper inside a much larger organization, continuing to dance to the beat of its own drum while offering a roadmap to the future of the food business.
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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.