Natural Products Expo: East Meets West
At the Natural Products East and West Expo events, the demand for talent in the fast-growing natural and organic product space is clearly on display. The industry’s biggest events keep growing every year and evolving as the industry matures. NPE provides a great opportunity to observe and listen to marketing and consumer insights leaders, private equity firms and companies of all sizes and across categories such as food, beverage, beauty, supplements, fitness and more.
Through such industry forums, daily conversations and long-standing relationships with senior executives and private equity firms, members of the O’Connell Group team bring powerful insight and an extensive CPG network to the table. These are critical ingredients in helping organizations develop talented teams to meet the challenge of rapid-pace growth and this sobering reality: only 12% of the products represented at NPE succeed.
This is what we have learned: All private and strategic investors have specific criteria for acquiring companies and brands. Without exception, they acknowledge that the crucial difference between those that succeed and those that fail is the quality of leadership talent, which includes their brand marketing, ecommerce and insights teams.
In the natural products space, these questions continuously arise:
- Are natural products transforming consumer packaged goods (CPG), or vice versa?
- Are authenticity and scale mutually exclusive?
- What does it take to recruit the top talent who will help these companies successfully grow and evolve?
Authenticity Trumps Assimilation
Transformation is a two-way street. The very “nature” of natural products is authenticity. So, the smart CPG companies that are acquiring natural products companies are not hell-bent on assimilating them into the “mothership.” They are allowing them to grow authentically and separately, while providing resources and hiring experienced marketing talent that fits their culture. Examples include Annie’s, owned by General Mills, and RXBAR, owned by Kellogg’s. They build their teams with a mix of homegrown talent and external hires,
while keeping the acquired company separate from their established brands, which are venerable but may be suspect to the core natural product consumer base.
Independents Thrive with the Right Timing for the Right Talent
An industry growth pattern is evolving for small, but well-run, natural product companies to have longer-term success independently. It requires financial backing in the early stages through strategic acquisitions, and the right type of talent at the right time to manage the business in these evolving, yet distinct, growth phases.
These companies may remain independent for the long-term. But many understand that their business will eventually be better served by joining a larger portfolio. The path toward long-term success and their ultimate “pay day” is through private equity funding – and potentially the CPG strategic buyer.
Whether a natural product companies strives to remain independent or enters the private equity gateway toward the scale that CPGs can deliver – either way – they rarely have the luxury of growing their own talent base.
Gaining Scale Requires Sophistication
Make no mistake, CPG companies are investing in natural product innovations and acquisitions – and then supporting growth with the right resources. They consider natural products companies to be their innovation pipeline and entry into a category of consumer that wants convenient, affordable access to natural products.
Evidence of this convergence can be detected at the Natural Product Expos. Even as big CPG companies continue to streamline their traditional brands, they are beginning to mainstream natural product brands. Their presence at NPE is strategic; corporate branding is barely detectable. Likewise, natural products executives are open to discussions with investors about how to achieve a mutual goal: expanding their reach to consumers via mass marketing.
What this Means for Recruiting
As natural product brands grow, independently or as CPG business units, they are requiring the greater experience, depth and breadth of classically trained CPG leaders. They are evolving toward professional management talent as they progress from being product-oriented to becoming more strategic and consumer-oriented. At the same time, many independent companies are following a rapid growth strategy, and need to hire the right talent to accelerate their trajectory.
In both cases, classically trained CPG professionals are taking on leadership roles for natural product brands as they prepare to scale them to the next level.
The result? Stiff competition in an already tight talent market has become super-intense. Many of these companies make the initial mistake of hiring an “available” candidate versus the executive with the right talent and experience, which can make all the difference in achieving and exceeding critical objectives.
We see the highest demand for classically trained CPG marketers who have demonstrated the ability to operate effectively in nimble environments. They have either moved to smaller companies before joining a private-equity backed company, or have led small divisions of larger corporations, such as acquired natural product companies.
Established relationships and networks in this landscape have become essential for recruiters to effectively connect with natural product leaders and up-and-comers. These are the candidates who rarely look for new opportunities pro-actively and require significant discretion.
The O’Connell Group team is highly focused on helping search committees and hiring managers create a recruitment strategy to successfully and discretely acquire the right talent. Finding leaders to realize the full potential of natural product brands is a challenge we have successfully tackled for many organizations, from start-ups to Fortune 50 corporations.
Natural products companies need leadership up and down the ladder, from CEOs, CMOs and other senior executives, to brand managers and consumer insights professionals. Coming from CPG, we understand companies, roles, cultures and career paths thoroughly. Our clients benefit from our intimate knowledge of the marketplace and long-term relationships with candidates.
Learn More About Natural Products Hiring Trends
Review client success stories to learn more about how we are helping natural product companies acquire the right talent.