Big Food
GMA panel explores challenges of agility among large consumer products companies.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.V. — “Are big and entrepreneurial opposite and irreconcilable forces?”

That was the question posed to a panel of entrepreneurs at the 2017 GMA Leadership Forum held Sept. 7-10 at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Mark Payne
Mark Payne, founder and president of Fahrenheit 212

The panel, “Growth through innovation…can scale be an advantage?” was moderated by Mark Payne, founder and president of Fahrenheit 212, New York.

The panelists included Eric Graves, president of North American commercial operations of Elanco, an animal health division of Eli Lilly and Company. The only panelist currently working at a major corporation, Graves responded with a view shared by other panelists.

Eric Graves
Eric Graves, president of North American commercial operations of Elanco

“We don’t look at size as a disadvantage at all,” he said. “We don’t think it’s about size. It’s about mindset.”

Still, in discussing one aspect of mindset, Graves exposed a gulf that may exist within the consumer packaged foods community today. He took a hard line in a discussion about widespread practices he said stand in the way of greater transparency.

“Probably one of our greatest vulnerabilities is those who don’t follow the path of claims grounded in truth or science,” Graves said. “You might say, ‘No, we would never do that!’ Well there are some huge examples of those happening right now in the form of absence claims or clean labeling. These things are very, very dangerous. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic. But when those kinds of things are going on, it oftentimes creates the perception of a benefit that doesn’t exist. No GMOs, cage free, hormones, no antibiotics, inherently you are trying to create this perception of better health. And in fact, there is no data to support that.”

Elanco is an animal health division of Eli Lilly and Company.
He intimated that claims not grounded in science may sometimes undermine products of companies like Elanco that spend years and tens of millions of dollars to develop and bring a product to market.

“Science is on our side,” he said. “Sometimes science isn’t on our side, and we have to kill a product. But it’s a challenge dealing with emotion and soundbites and tweets that aren’t always grounded in science.”

Craig Dubitsky
Craig Dubitsky, founder of Hello

Craig Dubitsky, founder of Hello, a maker of toothpaste and other oral health products, said success in consumer products requires more than just sound science.

“You have to compete on the emotional level,” he said. “The word will spread whether it’s right or wrong. Whether emotions support it. Whether science supports it. That’s really not for us to decide. We can be informed by both science and emotion and hopefully get to a better place. Our products have science. They work, but we’re playing to other things as well. They need to play together. I think that’s the new model.

“I’m saying that as someone who wants to make the world filled with better things. The (large consumer packaged goods) companies do amazing things. They support people and families and research and education. That’s awesome. So, what can we do together?

“You can’t outsource soul. You have to find a way to bridge the gap.”