According to the US Department of Agriculture, a staggering 14.3 million – or roughly 11.1% of US households were food insecure in 2018. And while this is down significantly from 14.9% in 2011, it is still too many in the eyes of the iconic dehydrated soup and meal kit brand Knorr. For this reason, the Unilever brand is embarking on an ambitious mission to help bring good, affordable food options to the kitchens of families across the country.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast, Knorr’s Marketing Director Brian Critz describes why so many Americans are unable to participate in the larger trends of eating healthy, fresh food and the frustration they feel. He also explains Knorr’s three-prong approach to address these challenges, the business opportunity it represents and how Knorr is magnifying its impact by partnering The Food Trust, A Better Life Foundation and FoodRight to create programming to benefit those in need. https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Multimedia/Podcasts
Mark Brand, the founder A Better Life Foundation, also shares the real world impact of partnering with Knorr as well as best practices for other food industry players hoping to follow Knorr’s lead.
[Editor’s note: Never miss another episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast. Subscribe on iTunes today.] https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/foodnavigator-usa-podcast/id1376034137
A changing landscape
Changing consumer perceptions of what constitutes a ‘healthy’ diet has raised the bar for food and beverage manufacturers in recent years, and, unfortunately for many Americans, it has also raised the price – lifting products and a better lifestyle out of reach for many Americans, according to Knorr’s Critz.
“The conversations about health and food are very different than they were a decade or two ago as people don’t just count calories, but they really see food as integral part of their overall wellbeing,” Critz said. “One of the challenges is that [people] can feel like they now know what healthy is or they have a better idea, but that is not always attainable in their life. And that can be a frustrator.”
To make these trends available to everyone who wants to participate in them, Critz said, Knorr and others must directly address the underlying elements that block everyone from achieving a healthier diet – including access, time, energy, education and money.
Recognizing that it is a tall order to address each of these elements so more Americans can create healthy meals at home that they can feel good about, Critz said Knorr is adopting a three-prong approach.
He explains, the first prong is to make products with ingredients that consumers trust and can feel proud to serve their families. The second prong is to show consumers how to quickly and economically make complete meals using Knorr products as a foundation. And the final prong is recognizing that Knorr can’t achieve this goal on its own and reaching out to other institutions and organizations for help.
With regards to the third prong, Critz said, Knorr is partnering with three institutions and organizations that are actively working every day to provide access to good food, all over the country.
These included the Food Trust, an organization out of Philadelphia that worked with Knorr to make nutritious ingredients more available in corner stores. The second partner is FoodRight, which teaches students in the Milwaukee school system how to cook and eat healthy food. The final partner is A Better Life Foundation, which was founded by Mark Brand to help people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder to climb out of poverty by serving them food with dignity as well as help them find employment and other necessities.
Cultivating a successful partnership
Creating significant impact through partnerships requires more than just cutting an annual check, as Critz noted. Rather, Brand explains, it requires companies to first listen to the challenges, second to brainstorm solutions with those on the ground, third to be flexible and make changes when needed, and, finally, offer a long-term commitment to see solutions through.
“In the complexity of this work, partnerships can be very challenging. In the past we found it difficult to find partners that understood the complexity of our work and it really is an in iterative process. So when working with large companies prior, they'd come and say, all right, we need this in a box. How does this work? And I would always respond, not only is every city different or every neighborhood different, but every block is different. It has different players that has different needs. It has different wants just like us as humans. So, when we're developing partnerships to do events and activations, we need to be iterative based on the community need,” Brand said.
“With Unilever leadership, they were able to not only understand, but they just took a leap of faith with us,” and the result has been hugely beneficial to many different communities, he added.
For a partnership to be truly successful, Brand stresses that each member needs to benefit, otherwise one partner might lose interest and the arrangement could fizzle and fail.
Brand also argues that for a partnership to have a significant impact, it needs to be structured for long-term success – something he says he was excited to learn was also a priority for Knorr.
“In our very first meeting with them, we discussed that we both aren’t interested in short term,” but rather a long-term partnership that could stretch out to 20 years and really build value, he said.
Finally, Brand says the most important element of a successful partnership is taking action. He urges companies interested in helping to improve food security or the health of the nation to just get out there and start, and if needed they can make adjustments to their approach as the go along as long as they are actually moving forward.
Critz echoed this advice and issued his own call to action to other companies in the food and beverage sector, noting it is time for Knorr and others to make their voices heard and to build a better, more equal food system.