This week on How Success Happens, I spoke with Gary Hirshberg, who is the co-founder and “chief organic optimist” of Stonyfield Farm, the nation’s leading organic yogurt producer, and founder and chair of two nonprofit advocacy organizations: Organic Voices and the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership. Hirshberg is a pioneer in the organic industry and has helped revolutionize and democratize the organic market for more than 40 years. I was curious to find out his thoughts about how consumers impact what we find on shelves, the unique characteristics of entrepreneurs and the future of the organic food industry. You can listen to our full conversation below, and I’ve pulled out three key takeaways.
The consumer rules
A key lesson I learned early on is that the consumer rules. Most of us think that the choices available in our food or clothing store or pharmacy are beyond our influence when we shop. But if you believe the selection, size, shape, price, color, taste or ingredients of anything are an accident, you’d be mistaken. Brands and retailers have done massive amounts of research to determine what consumers want. So if consumers demand organic, non-GMO or less plastic packaging, then brands and retailers will find a way to provide them. Consumers have the power to change the world!
Timestamp — 18:54
Entrepreneurs are not risk-averse
The hallmark of any entrepreneur is not how you do when things are going well; it’s how quickly you get back up after you’ve been inevitably knocked down. At Stonyfield, there were nine years before we made a penny of profit. We were constantly getting knocked flat on our butts and getting back up. To me, entrepreneurs have a unique confidence to see a way to address risks that would intimidate other people. I mean, we launched an organic yogurt company when it was a hypothesis, much more expensive than what was out there, and nobody knew what the word organic meant.
Timestamp — 23:29-24:30
The future is organic
Cheap food is usually neither cheap nor food. The price might be affordable at the register, but there are always hidden costs elsewhere: disappearing family farmers, environmental and climate degradation and health threats. The good news: Organic is a $62 billion industry; the bad news: Organic still only represents 6% of food. To increase our share to a greater scale, we need more consumers to scrutinize, challenge and question labels. We’ve proved that organic can help solve many problems, such as climate change, toxification, biodiversity depletion and cancers. It’s time for us to get serious as a society, particularly as parents, if we want to protect those to come and the very young who are more vulnerable than adults. Fortunately, places like Walmart, Costco and Target are on board, but it will ultimately be driven by informed and conscientious consumers.
Timestamp — 54:02