On a personal and professional level, 2022 has been a whirlwind, and I can’t believe we’re in the final weeks of the year.
So many of our business conversations have focused on things that are broken: economic uncertainty, on-going supply chain issues and the challenges of bringing diverse voices into our organizations. But we haven’t spent a lot of time focused on the journey; things we’ve learned this year that will help us next year — like embracing the unexpected, turning roadblocks into catalysts for opportunity, discovering that we’re more the same than we are different, being relentlessly optimistic, AND having fun doing what we do.
In that spirit, I’ll share the top 10 positives I’ve seen over the past 12 months.
1. Community became really important in our industry again — or was amplified. We started to travel without restriction to visit suppliers and retail partners. Our industry trade shows started happening again, and we could build (or re-build) relationships face-to-face. I attended EXPO West in person for the first time since the start of the pandemic, and it represented all the best things about doing business in this industry. We met a lot of people in person for the first time, many of which we’d only collaborated with online and to top it off, we saw a lot of innovative products. I didn’t realize how much I missed those casual conversations where interesting ideas and connections tend to bubble up during events.
2. Across the board, the food and beverage industry is incredibly resilient and creative. Leaders just continue to take a no fear approach to trying new things and getting stuff done. This “go for it” tendency started in 2021, and became really evident in 2022 as new initiatives, products and brands came on line. As we move into 2023, I expect that we’ll continue to look forward with optimism and to make smart, bold moves that transform our businesses.
3. I didn’t know that I could learn as much as I have over the past year. My experience as a student in Seattle University’s Executive Leadership MBA program has changed me for the better and has evolved the way I see business and its potential. My professional background is in sustainability; because of that, I’d long held the view that business was a necessary evil. The way the program frames the potential of business to benefit society and the things I’ve learned from my fellow students, have been eye-opening.
4. Investors in food and beverage brands are favoring the bold rather than the me-too players. Investors don’t want to spend on brands that are meek; they’d rather have a leadership group with a badass vision for the business. They want to see brands come out swinging for the fences and ask for a bajillion dollars. Leaders of better-for-you brands often shy away from going big, which is a mistake. The world needs your brand, and you’ll never have the impact you aspire to have if you sit quietly in the back row.
5. Regenerative agriculture took the spotlight. Multinationals like PepsiCo, Unilever, Mondelez, and ConAgra are investing in sustainable agriculture practices. They’re normalizing something that was fringe in our industry a decade ago; the biggest players are re-evaluating and re-building the front end of their supply chains following shortages caused by the pandemic. Investing in agriculture gives them control (or say) over supply and production specifications. If you’re building a network of farms, why not do it sustainably? And consumers will herald these brands for taking the lead in sustainability; it’s becoming even more important than organic or non-GMO. Without soil, there is no food. We need business to take a leadership role in solving this aspect of the climate change problem, rather than waiting for government agencies to dictate the terms.
6. One of the raddest things to emerge this year is that every automaker is working on an electric vehicle. It’s the culmination of years of research and audience building, but electric vehicles have finally become mainstream. The best thing? Consumers are driving this shift, irrespective of government incentives (or disincentives). Not long ago, there was a stigma attached to driving a Prius or a Tesla — that they were either nerdy or bougie — but those characterizations didn’t stick, and now there’s a Ford Mustang electric vehicle! This gives me great hope for my kids’ future. And anything that mainstreams environmental sustainability is good for better-for-you brands.
7. Western medicine and popular culture have finally awakened to the fact that we really are what we eat, and that the standard American diet is not the answer. So many of us have discovered alternative ways of eating – like whole food diets, functional nutrition, intermittent fasting, or situational vegetarianism actually make us feel better. And doctors are getting the hint and recommending better eating habits to keep us healthy.
8. Thanks to the Gooder podcast, my weekly interview series with women in food, beverage and wellness, I’ve connected with new people in a diverse range of roles and brands. These stories are resonating with people regardless of gender, and creating a movement that elevates women in this industry. This year, I was gobsmacked to meet so many people at trade shows who knew of the podcast.
9. The podcast has also opened doors for me to take a more active role in supporting our industry. I’m in the process of helping build the Naturally Network in Seattle, an in-person networking group of investors, brand leaders, founders and marketers. This year I was also invited to be the moderator of a panel of women in CPG and to be on the judging panel for Pitch Slam at Expo East.
10. Finally, a shout-out to Geno Smith, the Seahawks’ new quarterback. I’ve been talking about him for years, so I’m super psyched that he’s doing well this season.
As the year winds down, one more thing I think was rad in 2022: the amazing group of clients and brand leaders we worked with. So, if you have interesting projects on the front burner for 2023, let’s talk about how we can help you hit the ground running in the new year.