John Foraker, one of the most important and beloved leaders in the organic food industry, stepped down last week, and the news caught a lot of us by shock.
On LinkedIn, John gave a heartfelt explanation as to why he made this decision and it boiled down to two primary reasons: the integration of Annie’s into General Mills is complete, and he is an entrepreneur at heart.
I caught up with John a few days ago, as I had many questions which were not addressed in his letter. Here is what he had to say.
Even though you’ll serve as an advisor to General Mills, you will no longer have a physical, day-to-day presence at the company. How can you reassure people that the commitment to organic will continue at General Mills?
I could see why people would worry about that given the spotty track record over the years.
However, the reason that I feel confident about things is because of the announcements that you will see over the next six months, which are stunning in their scope and scale. There is so much long-term business planning going on, and it is super-clear to the global enterprise just how important organic is to the company.
When I made the decision to step down, they did not want me to go. And I still wanted to continue to be involved but in a different way. So, as an advisor, I can pick the things that I’d like to stay focused on, of which there are three: organic agriculture, staying close to EPIC and helping them grow that into a $100 million dollar business, and focusing on big strategic initiatives that come up.
So, that is the intent right now, and I’ll be doing it on weekends or whenever I can. This will keep me at the front-edge of what General Mills is working on.
What can you tell us about Carla Vernon — the new President of Annie’s — and will she fight for organic as much as you do?
At a large company, you’re going to have many people who have been there a long time, and they tend to act and talk in the same way. However, Carla Vernon is a very different thinker, and she is an awesome leader at General Mills, where she has worked for 19 years.
Carla is also an evangelist for natural and organic, and has managed big organic businesses. She has a real vision. I am confident of that.
Plus, the leadership and culture at Annie’s are the strongest they have ever been. It is really hard for me to imagine that things would come off the rails.
What are the biggest challenges that the organic industry is facing right now?
I think there are two primary challenges.
First, organic has been an enormous consumer and commercial success but when you have incidents of fraud or greed, that gets to be a big public story, which threatens to undermine trust in organic. I don’t think there is enough rigor and support behind the program (the National Organic Program) and adequate resources to enforce the rules.
Second, with the growth of the industry, there is still tremendous confusion among consumers about what organic means and the difference between ‘organic’ and ‘natural’. As a whole, we can do a much better job of educating the public on the core principles.
You said that you are joining an organic food start-up. Is this company starting from Ground Zero or is it up-and-running already? When will you be disclosing more details?
It is not at Ground Zero but it isn’t far from Ground Zero! I’ll be going public with it in the first part of September.
Lastly, what is your best advice for young, organic food entrepreneurs?
There are many, many things I could say, but to me, you should always start with this: What is the social and environmental impact I want this business to make? And what does it really stand for?
A lot of small companies don’t give enough thought to these things when they’re in their formative stages. They’ll often figure it out over time or never do. I think these are such fundamental questions – what a business is going to be in the world and what kind of impact it will have.
Once you really have a strong opinion about these things, it makes the decisions about how you’re going to grow, how you’re going to develop products and how you’re going to show up to consumers much easier.
I have a few key takeaways from my interview with John.
First, I am thrilled that he will be staying highly involved with General Mills, advising on organic and regenerative agricultural matters. And it does not appear that this advisor role is a ceremonial one. He wants to be involved, and I truly believe the company desires his involvement. Who, after all, wouldn’t want input and guidance from John Foraker?
So, even though John will no longer be leading a business unit within General Mills, he will still have a real voice at the company. This is incredibly positive news.
Second, John’s advice for young organic entrepreneurs was spot on.
When I think about the real success stories in organic, you know right away what their mission is because they talk about it and focus on it so much. These are entrepreneurs who truly care about the world and making it a better place is an unquestioned priority for them.
Interestingly, these are the organic food entrepreneurs who also tend to be the most successful. I don’t believe that that is a mere coincidence.
I, along with the rest of the industry, cannot wait to see what John Foraker will be unveiling next month. But more importantly, we should be very grateful that John will be actively involved in the organic industry for many years to come.
Have a great day!
Max Goldberg, Founder
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* Unfortunately, we appear to be at a very distressing place with the genetically-engineered moth issue in upstate New York.
* With the USDA having already given the go-ahead for these moths and the State of New York having said that it does not have jurisdiction over the permitting of the release of these insects, this means it is in the hands of Cornell University.
* From what I am told, there are no legal options on the federal level. On the state level, the legal options are unclear and are still being investigated.
* Tomorrow night, they are holding a community meeting to answer questions about the GMO-moths, but I think it is pretty much a fait accompli and I would not be surprised if the moths are released sometime within the next week. If you can’t attend the meeting but would still like to ask a question, you can do so by clicking HERE.
* I have written extensively about these GMO-moths in the past and if you’d like me to send you these newsletters, please respond to this email and I would be happy to do so.
* A big shout-out to my friend Stephanie Strom of The New York Times, who broke the Impossible Burger story this morning. She is a phenomenal journalist, and we are lucky to have her at the NYT.
* A few hours after her piece went “live”, I put up my mine — Impossible Foods is “Misleading Consumers” About its GMO Protein, FDA Rejects the Claim That it is Safe for Consumption.
* The Impossible Foods story is a very important one, and please share both articles with your network. People need to know the truth about what is happening with this company.