The Wall Street Journal's reporting last week on how big food is struggling to keep pace with innovation underscores the influence of the 100-plus food companies we've featured the past four-plus years. It also echoes the message we've been trumpeting at the same time: We're witnessing a full-on food and beverage revolution.
But as much as CompanyWeek's food and beverage archive, or a WSJ headline like "Small Brands Are Taking a Thousand Little Bites Out of Campbell’s Business" reflect manufacturing's new influence and character, production is often downplayed. Brands innovate, the thinking goes. Where, or how, companies choose to manufacture products is a minor detail.
I recently argued how flawed this thinking is with respect to the outdoor industry. The logic falls flat in the food business as well, if for other reasons. Without a new and innovative manufacturing ecosystem, the "thousand bites" taking a toll on Big Food would be a half-dozen, and Campbell's would still today be the arbiter of innovation in the sector.
But it’s not, because Richard Lappen, Robbie Rech, and Manoj Venugopal and other first-moving production innovators were busy developing a world-class, scalable manufacturing ecosystem. Food brands don’t have the option to offshore production; without enhanced domestic production focused on small companies, we wouldn't have a revolution in the food sector.
Food innovators are also looking outside the conventional supply chain for new ideas and inspiration. Josh and Christi Skow's Canyon Bakehouse looked to aerospace innovator NFT Automation for automation solutions in their gluten-free bakery. Jennifer and Jeff Vierling at Durango’s Tailwind Nutrition leaned on Ska Fabricating, progeny of the prolific Ska Brewing, to develop production lines for Tailwind's line of powdered drink mixes.
It’s the tip of the iceberg. Manufacturing innovations will drive product and brand development in countless other ways, much of it current technology and processes bleeding across vertical markets. Call it Supply Chain 4.0, a new ecosystem where production innovations developed by brewers and distillers, wine and beverage brands, food, edibles, and the variety of consumer brands and OEMs in the region are shared across industries, refined, and delivered back by a more capable supply chain.
Today manufacturers need to know how other companies are utilizing new workforce options like apprenticeships; how equipment innovation is facilitating new, low-tolerance fabricating onshore, across multiple industries; the promise of direct-to-consumer models in apparel and consumer goods that enable brands to cut costs, dollars that can be poured back into design, domestic sourcing, or production; and myriad other innovations transportable across vertical markets and industries silos.
The lessons of Small Food, where creativity and the will to challenge conventional wisdom have combined with production innovations to vault the regional sector to national renown, aren't isolated. As we bring companies together from across industries to explore the possibilities, we'll report on the seismic outcomes.
Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.