Product Innovations Role in the Changing Consumer Landscape with Carol Smith, Materne
It’s safe to say that the food, beverage and wellness industry has seen some explosive growth in innovation in the last 10-ish years. Naturals Industry passion for health, food tech, and big data have become a powerful combination or tools that have created some of the most amazing products that not only help people feel better but live longer too. But while we are also solving some unexpected consumer needs, there are some consumers being left behind. What can our industry do to better understand unmet consumer needs?
In this episode Carol Smith of Materne (you know their products here as GoGo squeeZ) and I talk about this growth and the missed opportunities that brands are making in their drive for growth.
In this episode we tackle:
- How new definitions of KPI’s and scorecards can help uncover market needs
- How a lack of diversity in leadership stymie’s product development for Families of Color and impacts a brands ability to grow
- Why starting with your internal teams and business partners is an easy first step in being a good brand steward
About Carol Smith:
Carol Smith, Director of Innovation at Materne North America, a subsidiary of MOM Group. Most of you might know the brand she works for as Gogo squeeZ.
Carol is a seasoned marketing leader with over 13 years of experience in brand management and product innovation at global companies like Mars Wrigley, Ferrero and Colgate-Palmolive. In her current role, she drives growth of the GoGo squeeZ portfolio by setting the brand’s innovation strategy. Broadly, she is a champion for initiatives that promote health & wellness for families in underserved communities.
Carol earned her MBA from Indiana University (Kelley School of Business) and her BBA from Emory University (Goizueta Business School). She is dedicated to giving back to minority business leaders in the making. So, as a proud alumnus, she serves as a mentor with the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management (CGSM) and Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT).
In her free time, Carol is a stream queen that relishes in the storytelling of television, movies and music. Additionally, she loves experiencing new cultures whether it’s experimenting with recipes or learning dance techniques.
GoGo squeeZ – GoGo squeeZ is delicious snacking on the go. Healthy, portable, yummy and family-friendly fruit for your busy life.
Diana Fryc: Welcome to the Gooder Podcast. As partner and CMO of retail Voodoo and award winning branding agency I have met and worked with some of the most amazing women in the naturals industry. As such I have decided to create the Gooder Podcast to interview these great people and subject matter experts and have them share their insights and expertise to help businesses all around the world become gooder.
I’m very excited today to introduce our guest, Carol Smith. She is the director of innovation at Materne North America, a subsidiary of the mom group and you guys will probably know her or more of the brand that she works for more as GoGo squeeZ. She is a seasoned marketing leader with over 13 years of experience in brand management and product innovation at global companies like Mars Wrigley, Ferraro, Colgate Palmolive and in her current role, she drives growth for GoGo squeeZ portfolio by setting brand innovation strategy. Broadly, she’s a champion for initiatives that promote health and wellness for families in underserved communities. She earned her MBA from Indiana University and her BBA from Emory University. She is absolutely dedicated to giving back to minority business leaders in the making.
In her free time Carol is a stream Queen we’re probably going to ask about that later and relishes in storytelling for television, movies and music. She also loves exploring new cultures in all their different ways recipes and dancing and food. Okay, so thanks for being here Carol. How’s New York?
Carol Smith: Thank you for having me. New York is good. We are on hopefully the better side of things and getting a little bit of sunshine these days. So overall and staying safe and staying healthy and we’re all doing well.
Diana Fryc: Awesome. So the first thing that I like to do on these calls is tell us a little bit about your journey. How did you get here?
Carol Smith: Yes, so here being the director of innovation has been quite a journey, like you mentioned 13 years sort of in the making. But I would say my love of all things are like brand and advertising really started from my love of pop culture, and love of jingles like back in the 90s. So again, I think Oscar Meyer, which was, again, the jingle was one of my favorite for Bologna and so that love of like jingles and connecting brands to pop culture was always sort of a love of mine. But again, not really knowing and having the verbiage of a time to really think about it as like, what brands were sort of building with me in terms of that connection. That led to sort of just general love of pop culture and again, being sort of like that bridge gap of growing up in the 80s and 90s, the internet and PCs being a huge thing as I was growing up again, we were the first to sort of have a personal computer.
With that I went to high school in South Florida that specialized in computer technology and while computer programming and robotics was not the most entertaining thing for me, I did find a love of graphic design. So while I realized that I am not the artist in the family, it did sparks into my love of all things creativity, and so a friend of mine sort of suggested like, “You should really look into advertising and brand management for undergrad.” And sort of that sort of bridge of analytics and creativity is what brought me to major in marketing and undergrad and that led to starting a career in advertising. But then quickly had an opportunity to get into product management at a small CPG in Atlanta, and sort of the rest is history. Went into, did that for three years, went back and got my graduate degree at Indiana, and again, have been here in New York ever since building a career in brand management and product management; the last three years again, being specific within innovation, and really finding a love and passion within the innovation space and building on from there.
Diana Fryc: Awesome. I can connect with the jingles from myself as a kid. In fact, that’s like so common for everybody, right? Like you can talk to anybody on the planet and they’ll remember something from somewhere in their life. So I totally can connect with that. So you’re in innovation, you’re kind of bridging this gap between creative and analytics. Talk about really right now what are you seeing in product innovation?
And what kind of trends can you share with us that you are most excited about?
Carol Smith: Sure, I think some of the things are around, just being transparent with our consumers. I think not even just on innovation but as a whole in connecting businesses to people there’s this level of transparency that people are looking for. So it doesn’t change when it comes to innovation. And so what you’re seeing is a lot of brands who are launching products that are very honest about like what is in this product and being very simple. So again, you have a brand called soli that I recently tried, it is amazing. It basically takes an apple or a pineapple or mango. Fruit jerky, but again, it’s so that the common consumer can sort of pick up our product and know exactly what’s in it.
Another one being Simply 7- a great snacking brand; that is saying like, “Look, they’re literally Simply 7 ingredients in here, and here’s why you should consume it.” I think there’s also a lot of transparency in terms of how you make the product. So there’s a lot of companies who are emphasizing from like, seed to pouch when it comes to like our industry and just understanding sort of like how does a supply chain work and understanding where does the product that I’m consuming come from, and that sort of interest from brands and brands then providing that information and being transparent about their practices. I’ve been again also just from a labeling perspective, while it’s sort of a lame part of innovation, and definitely causes me a lot of headaches in terms of packaging changes. I think it is doing good and making sure that people truly do understand what they’re consuming and so I love the trend of transparency.
Outside of that I also am really excited about plant based alternatives. So I myself am not lactose intolerant, nor am I vegan or vegetarian because I love all things food. But I think what is really interesting is sort of the world that opens up for those who don’t consume those things. And so even in my whole household, we’ve moved to consuming primarily oatly and sort of the things that you can do and the products that you can make when you have alternatives that are either more sustainable or more friendly for different families diets. It’s really amazing sort of see the rise of that, and what that is doing. So again, you’re seeing Chobani come out with an oat line and you’re seeing like, all these brands, who are understanding like how to use these alternatives to drive health and nutrition for families.
Then I think the last he’s sort of an ode to one of your recent podcast guests, is sort of the rise of the cannabis industry and the acceptance and the education that is happening, especially around the benefits of CBD and seeing sort of the partnership of CBD and food or cannabis and food and the potential health benefits that it can have. Me personally, I love the brand recess, which is a sparkling beverage that is super popular here. And again, the innovation that is coming out of them, and the benefits that they offer and other CBD brands. It’s really amazing to see the acceptance and hoping that there again, there are a lot of implications in terms of the acceptance of the cannabis industry in mainstream and what that means for like those who’ve been, unfortunately, like negatively impacted because of past sort of like regulations. But I think in general, there could be a lot of good that comes out of it in pairing sort of like the medical benefits with food and beverage consumption.
Diana Fryc: So you have a couple of weeks ago, we had a really great topic about kind of some of the things that I’m trying to accomplish with this podcast and I want us to talk a little bit more about this specific idea that we discussed which was this idea that food and beverage and wellness manufacturers and brands could be doing a better job creating products for underrepresented consumers. We’ve seen some dialogue in the marketplace about helping people with certain cultures and certain locations kind of get better access to food and more importantly, education about health. So let’s just talk a little bit about that. What are the things that you’re passionate about in this area that we discussed?
Carol Smith: Yes, I think to help ground people in sort of me and my background. So I grew up low income to a mother who immigrated here for a better life for her and her family and, again, I grew up sort of like in South Florida, Fort Lauderdale Miami.
Went to again, pretty average schools, predominantly like African American and Hispanic students. And again until I went to my tech program that is really who I was around and what you end up seeing is sort of a lack of education, out the very beginning stage for new mothers, for our new fathers, for students in schools, in the community in general. And so, sort of my passion is making sure that like, who Carol is in 2020, doesn’t forget about Carol in 1995, and sort of the struggles of what I had to deal with growing up and how can I play a role in making that better? And so I think one of the things that comes to mind again, is the role of education and how do you make sure that you are providing families with the resources to want to be educated about what is good for their bodies? What are the things to watch out for when it comes to their genetic makeup?
It’s amazing to see some of my coworkers have students, have kids here in the city and like you said, they are teaching them how about like farming and like agriculture, and they’re teaching them about recycling and sort of like the impacts of the earth. And I’m thinking man, if everyone sort of has that base level of knowledge from a very early age, the good that it can do to health and wellness for families across the world, especially those who currently aren’t getting it, who are in underserved communities, rural communities, in speaking sort of to that sense, the other part is around just access. So you have education. So then let’s say okay, everybody’s educated on it, then like, do they actually have access to what’s good? And so there are plenty of studies out there that sort of point to the fact that suburban, predominantly white neighborhoods affluent have 2, 3, 4 times more of the amount of grocery stores in their neighborhoods, they are also more likely to have cars to get to the grocery stores versus a lot of low income people having to take public transportation and go far and transfer in order just to get to the grocery store and then once they get there, the produce and the product they have available is not the best. And if it is anything that is healthy, they’re paying a premium.
When again, you see sort of like where we are today in terms of unemployment, like Carol today has the ability to pay $10 for a smoothie or juice. But could I have done that in 1995? No. And so I think it is how do we make sure that we are providing the education but also the access? Something I actually just recently saw, I follow this page on Instagram called Black on Brooklyn and they highlighted a new grocer called I think By Better Foods, and it basically is the woman in her community in Bed-Stuy, who really saw a need for providing organic food in the local community. Again, unfortunately started right when I think COVID had started to hit, but was providing sort of like education and nutrition workshops, and providing the right nutrition for that local community. And so it’s about how do you make sure you are providing that as like local leaders, but then also as brands like how can we play a role in benefiting that community?
Diana Fryc: So a question around that and just asking for your opinion around this kind of chicken egg concept. I know we talked about like bodegas and their roles in some of these communities particularly in New York, you have bodegas and you have more of these little corner store options, but you still have a little bit more availability than maybe some of the other areas like you go to Texas or California go out into the suburbs where you don’t have the density necessarily and so there the lack is even more visible or even more of a problem. Some retailers or manufacturers will say, “Well, the demand is not there. So why should I build the product? Why should I put the product in the store?” Where’s the area of responsibility, in your opinion on the education? Do you understand what I’m asking?
Carol Smith: Yeah, I think, again, brands can play a role because they have a wealth of knowledge. They have the research and the backing. Again, I do plenty of research and studies on like nutrition and what’s the right thing to put in our products to provide the right level of nutrition for families? And so I think brands can play a role. Do they need to not necessarily build like master TV campaigns around it? No, but can they partner with local organizations, whether it is community centers or churches?
Again, or schools, but how do you become a resource to partner with the people who are getting information to it. But again, a lot of the ownership also is on the actual communities to do that level of work. It’s also on the politics and the sort of the laws and the policies that are put in place that sometimes enable or disable the ability to provide that level of resourcing to people of the community. And so I think it’s everybody’s responsibility and I think we’re in a world where it’s no longer okay for brands to not take responsibility for the impact that they can do in the communities in which they serve, and the communities in which they sell products. So yes, I think if people have the information, but also we’re able to afford it. Then, so yeah, like it’s sort of a chicken and egg but like the demand would be there, it’s not that sort of people of color or low income or rural individuals don’t want to be healthy.
There’s a whole host of reasons on why a number of people are not healthy and that’s not to say like there are plenty of unhealthy, wealthy people who also choose to eat not the right things, but they have at least the access. But I think it’s sort of just saying like hey, given the information, I think it is great to see when schools and community centers are doing education earlier on, it’s just like any other part of life like you have to learn things sooner on needs to become a muscle that’s exercise, and it doesn’t mean it like you don’t want to exercise it. It’s just you may not understand the like dire necessity to; you may not understand how to wear the right ways for your body. So similar for health and wellness, it’s not just the education, it’s also making sure that it is digestible for that person, making sure that it makes sense, making sure that it is offered in a way and in a form in which they can digest it and the demand will be there. So again, you see people of all walks of life, who are willing to pay the insane amount that we pay for coffee, and that span socioeconomic race, gender, everything. And so there wasn’t a demand before that and now there is. So again, it’s that level of like how to use a brand take ownership, to sort of do that type of level of a building of education, to then drive the demand for your product.
Diana Fryc: Awesome. Do you feel like in part of the education process is there learning on manufacturers like some of the things that I feel like we’re missing is, particularly in health and wellness. Even product innovation down to flavor profile seems to skew a particular way. I’m seeing some growth in a lot of Asian foods, Chinese, we’re even seeing a little bit of Filipino, but then like not necessarily seeing when we’re looking at traditional American flavors. I’m feeling like a natural industry really hasn’t expressed itself very well or explored far enough. And that could just be me seeing it. Do you have a thought on that?
Carol Smith: On sort of brands, utilizing cultural preferences in terms of taste profile?
Diana Fryc: Yeah.
Carol Smith: I think there are brands that probably could do a better job of leading the charge, but also making sure that they’re not using it to sort of just profit. And so again, I think there are so many layers to that in terms of one; learning that there is a trend and understanding where that trend comes from and providing sort of like the history behind that because a lot of times people don’t really know if it’s particular spice and whose culture is associated with it. So again, if you’re going to borrow from sort of a cultural or ethnic food group, and making sure that you are educating your sort of like mass market consumers on where it comes from, because the more that it becomes the norm, the more acceptable it is and then people are likely to enjoy it. Like we always hear in our product portfolio that like mango is polarizing people don’t really like mango. I’m like mango is like one of the best fruit there is. It’s not necessarily a cultural thing, but it does skew towards like, Hispanic, Latin, and American Caribbean cultures. And sometimes I think brands have to be okay with maybe it is a regional play.
Maybe there’s a cultural play, sometimes you do need to develop products that are serving a group that don’t really love applesauce. But I really love mangoes. So if you gave me something that sort of had between, maybe have a smaller group who really loves it, which is, again, what we end up seeing like in the southern regions, like where there ends up being more sort of people of the Latinx community, that the flavor does well. And so it’s about how to brands, again, make sure if you’re going to use flavors from a particular culture, you make sure you amplify that and give them sort of the credit and help to like, elevate and educate the mass market on it.
But again, never be afraid to lead the charge in saying, actually, there is something about human; actually, there is something about gender and the role that it can play in your diet and your health and wellness and here’s why. Like you can look back at the history of these people and like why they’ve used it. Finding way to find balance and knowing that sometimes everything is not for everyone. But that doesn’t mean that brands and companies shouldn’t be launching things that serve a particular community because they matter and their preferences might matter and so we want to make sure that we are sort of delivering goodness to the masses, but also to sort of some of the smaller markets.
Diana Fryc: Well, I agree, if Coke and Pepsi can regionalize and tweak their recipes and flavor by region, we could certainly do that with and not everybody has them, the supply chain power and the distribution power that these brands do. But if we’re able to do that with a single soda product, we could certainly do that with…
Carol Smith: Absolutely everyone knows that Coca Cola tastes different in so many different regions, just purely off of the ingredients that they’ll be able to source from like locally. And again, those tastes, preferences do exist. I think it sort of ends up being this misconception that like, because you go to niche, or because the profile is a little more specialized, that like you can’t profit as a brand. You can it’s just a matter of, are you satisfying one market versus a mass market? And are you doing the education to your mass market so that they do sort of expand their palates and are open to new flavors and taste buds.
Diana Fryc: When we’re thinking about it, innovation and brand and product development from your point of view, what are the common outages or hurdles you see that are creating these challenges to support these communities?
Carol Smith: Yeah, I tried to bucket these into two sort of areas. I think there are definitely more than before. But I think the main two are one is lack of diversity and lack of accountability. And so when it comes to lack of diversity, there’s been more than enough, especially during the last six months that are coming out about the lack of diversity in the C suite and those who are like actually making decisions about what’s happening in organizations. And so like you and I talked about, it’s not that like, a lot of this healthier nutrition and organic brand owners are purposefully leaving out a group. It’s just if you are not of that community, or you don’t have anyone who has any other perspective, other than sort of being a white man in America, then like you are not getting sort of like the challenge on what you’re launching and why you’re launching it and is there a better way.
I think it first starts with again; you need representation from a diverse group of people to make sure that you are delivering what you need to in the United States. I remember seeing recently there was someone on LinkedIn posts like, I’m happy to be on a panel. But unless your panel doesn’t have a percentage of people who represents what the United States looks like, and then are we sort of like falling on deaf ears? If there are 100 people on the panel and black people make 13% of the United States, and do you have 13 people out of the hundred on the panel? And so I think it is fair to challenge organizations saying, if you do not have representation, then then how are you going to make sure that you are adequately addressing additionally, like, also the agencies and the partners that companies hire, like, maybe you don’t have the expertise, but there is a whole host of people who are doing really amazing work and have the research and have the education and have the background. So employ those people to bring perspective where you lack it, I think it’s about coming to humbling themselves to say you do not have all the answers.
And so I think, again, that lack of diversity ends up being one of the major hurdles for companies really making progress in addressing sort of disparity of like access and education to healthy food in sort of impoverished communities. And then when it comes to lack of accountability, I just wanted to mention sort of like, a lot of times our KPIs and scorecards and the metrics in which we sort of qualify whether we’ve had a successful year, don’t really point to are you making a difference in your local community, in your employees, in terms of like, impacting sort of health and nutrition for families? It ends up being a lot about how much did you make, or how much did you save? And so I think the lack of accountability from an organization like yes, we are committed to this KPI of giving out this amount of donations, having this level of impact, seeing the percentage of I don’t know, like communities that we work with, families unmet needs, reducing whatever it is, but how can you build in KPIs and scorecards that are holding your feet to the fire. And I think you’re starting to see a number of companies sort of go the B Corp route. And again, I have very limited knowledge of B Corp, other than sort of like what we’ve learned internally.
But there is sort of a level of ownership and accountability, that it seems like that is sort of holding people too and going, “Hey, you need to impact not just the people in your company, not just like your customers in terms of retailers, but your suppliers, the community in which you operate, the communities in which you sell, the environment and we are going to hold you accountable for delivering against all of these people being impacted by the work that you do.” I think until there is a level of internal accountability, it’s just going to be hard for organizations to justify the monetary investment that it takes to make change. We’ve seen during this time that unfortunately we are sometimes a bit of a selfish people and so I think it is about like investing in the now and people so that our future generations don’t have to be – the gap doesn’t have to be so wide in the future if brands and companies are willing to invest now, but they have to know that that investment is worth it and the worth may not necessarily come by way of sales.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, I think this 2020 has been a big I awake era and awakening or something for a lot more people than maybe in the past. Not everybody is eyes wide open. But I think there’s people recognize that they’re more open to the fact that they don’t know what they don’t know, than maybe before.
Carol Smith: Yeah, I think, again, we have to hold all the companies accountable. But we also need to make sure that we’re giving them space to learn and grow. And the hiring; I’m sort of cautiously optimistic. But I think again, as we hire people and persons of color, just from diverse backgrounds all together, even across sort of the LGBTQI sort of spectrum, like everyone needs to have a voice within these organizations so that we are actually making change. I’m hopeful that everyone having to sort of be still, instead of taking everything that is happening, is going to positively impact change is going to take some time, but I do think it’ll change and I’m hoping that again, health and wellness is one of the areas that also gets sort of a positive impact from the awakening.
Diana Fryc: That’s like, deep breath. I feel like, that’s a lot. What do you think brands can do to support some of these changes that you’re talking about?
Carol Smith: Yeah, a couple areas that it is one, again, it’s in the products that we are delivering. So again, you and I talked about sort of like the hurdles of being in companies and eating sort of deliver against a certain profit, and sort of like volume targets and sometimes doing the right thing for certain groups may not always lead to what you thought you would. It doesn’t mean you’re going to lose money. But it means like me, if you were originally making 75 cents on $1, from what you’re launching, maybe now you make 30. And having to make the conscious choice again, of knowing that that investment;
Or that like gap between what you thought you could make in profit versus what you do make is for good course it is investing in future generations, it is investing in the health and wellness of the people around you. So how do brands truly think about what they’re developing and how it impacts communities, with people of color people or low income, providing solutions? Because again, every business sort of has their different brands, they play different roles, like some sort of are the cash cows and sort of just like, you’re basically printing money. But then you have the spectrum of like, okay, do you have an arm, or a business that does good in the product as you develop and again, it is for the good of the greater people, and not necessarily going to drive an extreme amount of profit. It’s just thinking about the way that we develop and why we develop what we do and being okay with there being levels to that.
I think the other pieces again, if a company doesn’t want to do it, how do they support or enable other people to do it? There are plenty of small brands, small minority businesses who are doing really amazing things. And so if you as a brand, don’t want to do it yourself, then you’re sort of like your resources don’t allow it or your supply chain, sort of like ecosystem doesn’t allow it, how do you support either with resources, with knowledge, with space, etc. We’ve been recently seeing all the great work; I think that Target has been doing with their accelerator program and just like a tiny shout out to some friends of ours who got selected to be a part of that, and their brand is Young King Hair Care; and again, here’s sort of like a young couple, who has a son, it’s a black couple, and again, they want to make sure that they’re out there promoting sort of self-love and the upliftment of young black men and they’re doing so providing sort of like very specialized products for that group. And then so having a large company like Target, who’s willing to invest in brands like that, and say that we believe in what you’re doing, and why it matters. Again, we don’t need all the major, sort of like, brands to do it. But if you’re supporting the people who are doing it, I think that’s another avenue to take.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, target’s been really great about that, too. They picked up and promoted a brand last year, I was so excited to see Honey Pie out of Georgia. Really, I’d love that they’re using their platform to raise the visibility of these smaller brands that are having an impact on underserved communities I think is really great.
Carol Smith: Yeah, I’ve seen that one which is like I think I recently saw that maybe the top of the year and sort of like did some research on them and it’s amazing what they’ve done. I’ve seen them invest in Lit. Bar, which is another black own brand and that’s again from a retailer side. But it doesn’t mean that there are actual brands who act as incubators and I think that’s what you’re also seeing is like, larger CPG companies who are sort of creating these smaller incubation type programs to help brands in sort of, like share the knowledge and enable them to grow organically in a way that they don’t feel stifled by a large company, but they can get the best of what the company can help. And again, just a way that there’s so many ways to have an impact, but I think those are two again, investing with your own product or investing in brands who are doing it and you can support them.
Diana Fryc: What do you think is missing from the whole product innovation conversation that can address the needs of these communities?
Carol Smith: I think it takes a level of bravery even in playing field. It’s sort of like the bravery of my husband quoted as like the bravery in providing food equity. And so again, there are a lot of terminologies out there in terms of food justice, and sort of food deserts and how to rectify that. But I think what is missing is the bravery to do so. And again, knowing that companies have the economies of scale or scope to really– they have to be brave enough to be willing to do it and knowing that, maybe you won’t see the immediate impact right now, but having to believe that like, good will come of it. The other thing that I sort of like related is doing good doesn’t always mean that you won’t profit; it just means that profit is not the priority. It means that like you are leading with doing good and that’s sort of like altruistic like doing good for people and making impact.
Inevitably, people like to feel good about doing good and so if you and your brands are doing good — I don’t know why brands don’t see that you can do good and still profit. So again, like the quintessential example is Nike and all the work that they’ve done in the stance they have taken and then again, sort of their stock market has proven it and so their performance has proven. So again, you can do good and still profit, but profit can’t be the priority when doing it. I think that piece and like just having the bravery to step out as an organization, in terms of like the stance that you take, the products that you provide, the solutions that you’re offering to other people is really something I think needs to happen within innovation in order to make a difference. So again, I think you and I talked about, like, do we really need another $7 Kombucha? Maybe, maybe not. But can you take what you’ve learned about the benefits of Kombucha and bring that to a mass market of people who sort of need to be positively impacted in terms of their health and wellness journey. I think the charge for me is like, having brands be brave enough to know that they can make a difference and they should make a difference. And so it’s just about are they willing to and how do they go about doing so?
Diana Fryc: Considering that the changes are systemic and will require time for change? So we’re talking about what are all these things that we could and should be doing? And some of these are really big initiatives that would require a lot of systemic changes. What are some baby steps? What are some easy steps that people can start going, “Okay, as I’m developing new brands, or as I’m developing new products, what are my baby steps in delivering to these audiences in these communities?”
Carol Smith: Yeah. So a number of things that we’ve sort of touched on already, but again, I think health and wellness, education and understanding, how do you really get local and partner with the right organizations to get local, to get the health and education going. It’s also again, having the right people in the room to make sure that what you are coming up with actually does address a real need, not sort of like, I’m in marketing so I could say that sort of a fluff need, like, oh, consumers needed, but do they really need it? Addressing like what is the actual need for these communities, and having the right people to inform that. And then I think there’s also sort of a level of communication, like making sure that the people that you partner with whether it’s agencies, and you’re like actual media, but then again, also just what you are saying by who you support the policies that you get behind.
I think there’s a lot there’s a lot of different coalitions and especially within the healthy health and wellness space, who are partnering to help impact sort of like policies and local laws to positively impact sort of underserved communities. And so as a brand, like, can you get involved with these types of organizations and sort of put your money where your mouth is, because your actions speak louder than your words and so you can’t just be saying that you support the positive impact and want to drive health and wellness for all families, unless you’re actually putting your resources towards that. I know that it can be a big task depending on the size of the organization. But I think small or large brands can start somewhere and so I think that is sort of the thing that can change.
Everyone needs to not feel so daunted or not have it feel so daunting that like it’s such a major systemic thing that their small efforts don’t really matter. We all know that every little effort can sort of snowball into a much greater effort and so I think that is, what it would be great to see is people sort of take a chunk out of whatever they can do, and do that.
Diana Fryc: I’d like your opinion on this. In kind of thinking inwardly, like sometimes when you’re in an airplane, it’s like, put your own mask on first before you help everybody else with a mask. One of the brands that we worked with, a couple years ago, was wanting to do something for the community that they were located in and one of the things that we identified because they were severe there.
With severe unemployment and food deserts there and the company owned his own supply chain and manufacturing, one of the things that we recommended was, why don’t you raise the salary of all of your people who are in your manufacturing arm, so that they don’t have a minimum wage, but that they have a livable wage. And then because what was happening is their manufacturing team was going home couldn’t afford the products that they were packing themselves, which was health and wellness and so they were going home and eating, not great food. And so we said why don’t you raise your salaries from minimum salary to livable salary and then bring a chef in once a week to teach all of these people within your organization regard C suite all the way down to frontline employee, how to make dinners, how to make meals with the products and that was like something that they had considered it was like, start at home, and then grow from there. Then we gave them a couple of other initiatives as take care of your family first, and then take care of your community. So I wonder if you think that that could be something that can be embraced by other brands that own their own supply chain, that own their own manufacturing?
Carol Smith: I 100% agree in everything that is happening this year, especially just with the sort of like the political climate and everything. It’s sort of just like, everyone wanting to take a stance and make an announcement and make a post; and the challenge to people of color to these companies are have you looked at home and so like you said, especially within food production, so many of the plants are operated by people of color. I’ve never been on a brand at a company where the predominant groups are not people of color or low income. It’s just the nature of sort of the production process. And so like you said, if you have an entire group of people who are, again, not earning enough, and we know that it can typically end up having large families, a lot of people living together, like how can you impact the people in your organization to then impact their homes, which is already a start, because then they will have the knowledge and education to then share with their neighbors and then it can spread. So I definitely believe in that. Like, everything does start with a home in order to impact change that is the easiest way and the quickest way to impact change. So I definitely feel like all companies, especially within manufacturing, need to look at their house first from the corporate office all the way to the plant facilities and then even to their supply chain in terms of where are you sourcing it from? Are the people who are providing the ingredients; what are their practices? Are they being paid fairly and able to support? So like you said, like, we have to look internally because that is one of the quickest ways to drive change.
I definitely hope that brands are doing that and continue to do that because there are plenty of people right in your backyard. We’re doing and I would even take a step further, like not even the people in your plant and in your company, but again, a lot of times the plants are in more rural, or sort of like countryside places because it is cheaper in terms of like putting a large factory there. And so it’s like, what can you do in that actual local rural community to make a difference and host like you said, something like that in education workshop. Again, those things don’t cost an insane amount of money, but it can do so much good if you did it a couple times a year. So that’s what I’m saying, like you said, yeah, just starting small within your local community already makes a difference. I definitely agree that more brands can do more of that small and large.
Diana Fryc: Well, I think this is a good Segway to something I know you’re passionate about, which is kind of food deserts and food justice and what brands can do from that. It’s such a big challenge, but then maybe we’ve already answered this question from a different way. But I just wanted to give you an opportunity to talk about it a little bit more, because I know that’s really important to you.
Carol Smith: Yeah, I think some of the smaller ways I think, especially in the time of sort of COVID and everyone being home, and then I think people finally got it. But with school shutting down;
And not realizing so many students and so many families, that is where they got a predominant amount of their meals and their nutrition, and so not going to school, again, how do you as a brand, make sure that you’re supporting communities who need it. So there are a lot of, again, national organizations, which are great who we can donate to, but how do we make sure that we are donating to the communities who need it the most, who are suffering the most during this time? And then again, once we get through this, how do we continue to support because again, a lack of nutrition and lack of access is not just a new thing. It’s not a something that we’re dealing with just in during COVID times, it’s something that we will continuously deal with until everyone sort of pitch together and solve the problem.
I think the other part is just we’ve talked about is like partner with organizations, not just in terms of the donations, but in terms of the education piece. The other part is, again, the way that the retail system works, a lot of times you don’t really have access to all regional grocers or mom and pop stores and so it may not seem like there is a need and a community for your product, but maybe it’s not being read, maybe it’s not being sort of captured. And so really trying to understand where can you sell your products and what type of products do those communities need outside of sort of your big, larger retailers? Because, again, a lot of those smaller, more local neighborhood don’t get as much love in the retail space and so how does your brand?
Again, I definitely don’t have answers because that is outside of my sort of spectrum, but like how do you make sure that you’re connecting with these small local places and supporting those retailers to make sure they have the right products for the community. But yeah, there’s so much work to be done in terms of access and providing the right products in the right places. It is a big task and so for brands it all truly within their control is what they produce and who they sell it to. And so hopefully we’re doing more of that in terms of providing the right products that address the nutrition needs of low income families and run to serve communities. But that’s sort of just one place to start.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, I think Chobani is doing an excellent job there. The commitment to them, I don’t know if you’ve heard about what they’ve been doing, but they’ve created these little pop up cafes for during COVID to kind of help people who don’t have access to food and they’re handing out little lunch sacks or something. It’s not here in Seattle. I think definitely in the New York area and I don’t know how big or how wide the reach is, but they have committed to creating little pop up cafes and they’re using the opportunity to educate a whole audience about Greek yoghurt without it being condescending, introducing a new product all together to some people who may not be binding Chobani is not inexpensive, so we know that that might not be possible for all audiences moving forward. But even just the introduction of yogurt as something to eat outside of what might be traditional snacking food, or I think they’re doing a really great job and I don’t know how sustainable it’s going to be as it goes through the end of the year, but every week, they’re out there. They’re supporting their communities and that’s in the founders DNA though. I think it comes from the top for sure. It has to be, it has to come from the top.
Carol Smith: Yeah, I think there are so many ways to have an impact on local communities. Like you said, it has to be authentic to who you are, or who you want to be as a brand. Again, there are small and large ways there’s never a wrong time to start helping and doing good for communities and so I think that is sort of the charges for brands to figure out what can they do? Just do something and continue to do something because again, sort of like food deserts are real. People do not have access. A lot of times they do not have the education and so everyone can play a role. It’s just a matter of figuring out what can you do and doing it consistently.
Diana Fryc: Good. Well, let’s learn a little bit more about you because then people can get an idea of where Carol comes from? Like, where’s your POV?
We talked a little bit about your mother’s background. From your background and from where you started to how you got here, is there something about your past that you wish you could go back to and say, “Hey, don’t worry about this, or here’s some advice to consider moving forward.” Talk about that a little bit.
Carol Smith: Sure. So I think I would have maybe a lot of advice for my younger self. But I think the biggest one would be to recognize that I’m not alone, nor do I have to do it alone. And so like I mentioned, my mother was an immigrant to the United States and while she had been here for quite some time, at the time, she had me she wasn’t sort of super knowledgeable about the US education system and going to college and all that. I think my upbringing really sort of forced me to be super self-reliant, which again, it is part of the reason I have gotten where I’ve gotten and so I definitely wouldn’t change that part of things. But I think the sort of internal commentary to myself of me needing to do it for myself by myself, like that’s the only way to get it done. I think is sort of the wrong, I think, sentiment from that and so for me, I think that carry through to undergrad again, going to a predominantly white College in Atlanta, and then going to very similar for graduate school; being in manufacturing plants typically being sometimes the only woman, being the only black person, being the only person with sort of the background of being from a low income family from an immigrant family, the sentiment of me being the only. And when you’re the only sometimes that sort of like mentality creeps back up of like, because I’m the only I have to do it alone and it’s just not true there are plenty of people who are willing, able interested in helping, and they may not have all the answers, they may not be fully equipped to help, that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to help. I think that is the one thing that I would share with myself. It’s like you do not have to do it alone and there are plenty of people who are out here who are willing to help you get to where you need to go. But it is sort of finding those people, finding those resources and being willing to sort of silence that internal dialogue.
Diana Fryc: I can understand being a child of immigrants; both my parents were immigrants here and I think you get caught up in being like you’re half American, half not American. You kind of live in this weird world a little bit so, and the work ethic that I feel that comes from immigrant families, I think is definitely something that I think you and I can connect with as well. Tell me something interesting or tell us something a little bit interesting about food production or some something kind of fun and interesting.
Carol Smith: Yeah, this is what I think I had trouble with. I think when I tell people, I’m in sort of Food Innovation, they’re always like, “Oh my God, that’s so cool. You get to eat all these snacks all day.” And I will tell you, there is a plus to that. But when you tasted like your 20th round of samples, something, it can be a lot. Oh, so on the flip side, I’ve been in an organization where you just had an abundance of candy because you are in the factory, and that also is not great because that like 15 pound gain, and starting at a new Candy Company is very real. So again, there’s definitely the positive of having access to all the fun new products and tastings and etc. But there is sort of like that fatigue that can be interesting that people don’t realize.
Diana Fryc: You know, what I think would be kind of fun for people who maybe don’t understand the R&D side is maybe, and I don’t even know if you can answer this. But typically, how many different iterations of a product are you going to typically see before you’re like, yeah, we’re going to put this in the market, like how many different Apple sauces are you going to try?
Carol Smith: Honestly, it could be anywhere from two to like 20 because I think it also depends on like, how robust your testing is, how far from the norm are you developing some things new.
When it’s something really new, you’re adding a brand new ingredient that’s going to be hard to manufacturer. Or you’re adding an ingredient that has like a different taste profile than you’ve ever worked with. You’re learning new things as you try it until you’re like, “Oh, this doesn’t mask that. So maybe we need to try this.” Then you’re trying it across different flavors, because again, for instance, if you’re making yogurt and you’re like, “Well, you can’t necessarily do the exact same thing for dairy based yogurt as you would have plant based yogurt.” The ingredients mix and all that so again, there ends up we always have so many examples in the office because you are going through this like iterative process, and like you’re learning and you’re trying in the office and you’re having other people try what you’re doing like external like quantitative consumer testing, and you can definitely get through a lot of samples and a lot of iterative rounds.
But in the end like it is great too. I think that’s what I do love about the process is like you sort of put your love and your thought and your energy into this and at the end, you have something that you’re like super excited to see come to fruition and then you see it on shelf, and then people love it and that’s sort of the exciting part of knowing that like you and a whole team have put so much into it and all and so therefore those 20 rounds feel like they were worth it. At going through 20 rounds feels like in the end, it’s always amazing to see the final product and I think that’s why I do love product innovation from a consumable so fascinating because getting that feedback and is always amazing and a joy to see people positively respond to what you’ve launched. And then if they don’t bother to respond, it’s always again, still learning for you. Then go back and try again 21.
Diana Fryc: I just want to ask you a couple more questions here. I want to get to the streaming part, maybe you can share with us what you’re streaming with here in just a moment, but kind of what kind of rituals do you keep for yourself to keep positive and focused, and this might be something new that you’ve started because of COVID or just something that you have enjoyed all the time.
Carol Smith: Sure. I love I mentioned earlier dancing and so I am by no means a trained dancer. I just like just like to dance any were everywhere and so I was taking a dance class here in this city called banana skirt, which I love and I was doing that two, three days a week. But since in COVID, I am so thankful that they put a virtual class together and so that I’m now doing like six days a week, which I didn’t even think I could do before. There has been a bright spot during all this of like, regardless of what it is, how crazy the day is and or even how much work I still have to do after I make sure come six o’clock that I’m at computer ready to like dance my butt off for an hour, and like enjoy some good tunes, shake my butt a little bit and just sort of let loose. And then again, I think I went into the beginning of being in quarantine of like, I’m going to read this book that I never read in this book and this book and the reality is, you’re sitting at the computer all day, and I’m so exhausted, and my brain is like zapped and I love TV. I’ve loved it as a kid. I love the storytelling. I love getting wrapped up in characters and sort of following the journey. And so that is sort of like not even a guilty pleasures, it’s just the pleasure of like keeping myself of like being able to have an hour or two at the end of the day and sort of just like lose in summer just diving into this world. I used to watch homeland a while ago, and my husband never watched it. I never finished it. I saw the season ended. So we’ve been tackling that and so we have now made it through five seasons. But again, like re engaging and like, following these characters, like stories, I love it. I’m usually the person in any organization. It’s like, if you want to talk anything TV, come see me, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it. So that’s sort of advancing and just catching up on some new content that I may have missed as sort of like what keeps me positive during these times, just not being afraid or not feeling guilty to say you know what, this is what I need to protect my mental space right now, because I cannot tune into the news 24/7, maybe I can give them one hour a day and make sure I’m informed and then I need to sort of unplug and protect my peace.
That’s sort of my way of making sure that I am being positive and then honestly aside from that we live near a park that sadly, we only frequent a couple times a year and now we go once a week to just walk and get some fresh air. And so that has also been a really nice ritual to put in place is sort of like our weekly walk around the block or walk for maybe an hour or two, just to get some fresh air and sort of get out and stretch and that has also been really nice to rediscovering the neighborhood because we can’t really go anywhere else.
Diana Fryc: Nowhere else to go. I am just so excited that you are here and that you are willing to talk about this really. For me also very important topic and topics actually we’ve covered so much ground today and really had a great time with you. Are you available for people to reach out to you? Would you prefer people connect with you on LinkedIn? Or is there a different way you’d like people to talk to you if they want to reach you?
Carol Smith: Yeah, people can definitely reach me on LinkedIn. I’m Carol Smith. While it is not the most unique name hopefully if you type in Carol Smith in return you will find me on GoGo squeeZ. They can also email me at carol.smith@momgroup; M-O-M group.com, happy to chat with people about all things GoGo, all things sort of food deserts, food justice, health and wellness; all of the above.
Diana Fryc: Wonderful. Well, thank you for joining us, me today. I hope you have fun.
Carol Smith: Yes, this was amazing. Thank you so much.
Diana Fryc: Oh, yeah. So there you go. I hope everyone enjoyed this episode. Thanks for so much for hanging out with us and if you haven’t already done so be sure to subscribe to this channel. Make sure you get some more goodness coming from people just like Carol Smith, and until next time, be well and do gooder.