The Cows Are Contented, The Customers Not So Much
This is about my own personal spouse totally freaking out. Pay very close attention. The future of your business hangs in the balance.
A few months ago, I returned home with some supermarket items and was putting them away when I was accosted by my life partner, who, for the record, hails from a strange and distant land.
"Garfield!" she said, grabbing at the refrigerator door as it was swinging shut. "Vat is this?"
She pointed at one of my purchases.
"Milk," I replied.
"You bought this?" she asked, in a fashion that didn't seem like a question so much as a war-crimes accusation."This? This poison? This is vat you buy for your child?"
It was her inner European speaking. You know, Europe -- that place with all the fashion capitals swarming with people in ill-fitting, mismatched clothes? It's also where random strangers will lecture you on the evils of genetically modified organisms, pausing only to light another cigarette. They take their foodstuff-purity very seriously there. I had purchased 1% milk, but not Horizon organic 1% milk, and therefore the source dairy cows were surely riddled with leprosy, or worse yet, antibiotics. Might as well have walked into the kitchen with an AK-47. The carton went right into the trash.
But that is not the freakout of which I speak.
Just the other night, I returned from abroad to find our fridge strangely devoid of Horizon milk. Also absent were the Horizon eggs, the Horizon butter, the Horizon cheese and the Horizon sour cream. We were, for the first time in a decade, Horizonless. And my dearest was seething. In fact, she all but lashed me with Friday's New York Times, which contained a story about California's Proposition 37. That's the ballot measure that would mandate the labeling of genetically modified foods.
Turns out there's a multimillion-dollar, industry-funded lobbying campaign to defeat Prop. 37 -- a campaign funded in part by Dean Foods, parent company of Horizon Organic.
"This is verse than poison!" exclaimed my one true love. "This is betrayal!"
Now, reasonable people can argue about the merits of Prop. 37. The industry raises some legitimate issues about costs, for instance. I happen to support the ballot initiative. (Experience tells me that when industries warn that regulation will cost consumers at the cash register, it is a really good time to regulate.) But my point here is not to litigate a California food reg. My point is about betrayal.
My wife, in the time required to read an 1200-word newspaper article, lost trust in a brand she had hitherto been passionate about. Scarily passionate about. And she was not alone. According to the Times, Dean Foods and the corporate parents of other organic brands were inundated by expressions of online outrage for joining the battle against GMO labeling.
Which is to say: the Relationship Era in action. As trust assumes an ever larger influence on purchasing decisions, brands as never before can build a following so devoted that customers will throw the competition's unused product in the trash. But this is a double-edged sword. In today's environment of mega-transparency and social chatter, those same brands pay a huge penalty for straying from the values that engendered such trust. It's what happened to Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. It's what happened to Progressive Insurance. It's what's happening to Johnson & Johnson.
And now, it would seem, to Kashi, Cascadian Farm and Horizon Organic.
These brands have a lot of deep thinking to do, and I guess, in terms of the Garfield family's dairy needs, so do I. But I am optimistic. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt so encouragingly put it: "We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon."