Many talented senior executives have built their careers with traditional tier 1 consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. While some senior executives are content and fulfilled in their current roles, others find themselves yearning for a change. Is a bigger company better? Which holds greater appeal: stability or challenge? Which came first: the free-range chicken or the mass-produced egg?
One thing is certain: Consumers are shifting their attention toward healthier options. No longer are people blindly buying products from large processed food companies who refuse to change with the times. Today’s consumer wants sustenance – real, whole, natural foods. They want to recognize the ingredients on the label. They want to support a company whose mission and values align with their own.
I recently returned from the Natural Foods Expo East armed with valuable information about various consumer and talent trends in the industry.
If you are (or have been) a mid- to senior-level executive in traditional CPG, being seen as a top candidate in the smaller organic market may be more challenging than you think. It helps to be flexible and patient. Check out a few useful tips below:
1. Begin with networking. Who speaks your language?
There are people in your circles already immersed in the natural/organic space. Seek them out and ask questions. Can they introduce you to others in the industry? Are there people in your circles they should know? Don’t just think transactionally, exchange wisdom. You’re collaborating, looking for new connections, and growing relationships. Networking doesn’t have an off switch.
Quick tip: The focus isn’t, “How can you help me?” but rather, “How can we help each other?”
2. Align your values. How do you want to change the world?
Do you have a particular organic company in mind? If so, check out their mission and values. Justin’s Nut Butter emphasizes mitigating their environmental impact and aiding in hunger relief efforts both worldwide and within their own communities. Amy’s Kitchen is committed to organic to prevent chemical exposure for farmers. If you want to work for a smaller natural food CPG, embrace their principles at home.
Quick tip: Do a brief life audit. What are your food passions about? Waste? Organic? Vegetarianism?
3. Share your knowledge. What secrets are up your sleeves?
After spending years working for a giant in the traditional CPG market, you’re among the wise. Did you receive a top-tier education? Maybe you went through advanced training, which smaller companies could never afford. These are the kinds of things emerging organic companies find valuable in a candidate. Present this information through social media and beyond. Create an unforgettable LinkedIn profile, start a personal blog, speak to groups. Establish your credibility as a thought leader.
Quick tip: People don’t know what they don’t know, so sprinkle your wisdom all over the place.
4. Be open. Are you ready to flip over your ‘chance’ card?
Traditional CPGs offer rich benefits, high compensation, and huge budgets. Organic companies are different. Job loss risk due to a company acquisition is plausible. The decision-makers in the natural foods industry are younger. There’s greater background diversity. Organic companies usually want to make their customers healthier and happier. They seek cleaner oceans, slowed climate change, and greater respect for their consumers, not to mention countless opportunities for growth. What’s going to matter most to you in the long run?
Quick tip: Big changes equal big steps outside your comfort zone.
Organic companies care about the authentic you. They want to know how you can adapt to their culture and what you can do to help. Who you were as an executive in a traditional CPG was great, but who you could become in the natural foods market is far more nuanced. Evolving into a top candidate in the organic world is possible and you have what it takes. So, get out there and make it happen!
~ Hayes Reilly is a managing partner at PeopleSuite with two decades of experience in retained executive search recruiting within the CPG industry.