Within the last four months, I have — or will have — been in nine U.S. states outside my home state of Ohio. Most were for business, including trade shows, conferences, and profile visits, with some vacation added this summer. While travel can be quite wearing and a bit disruptive to the normal course of business, it also brings an incredible perspective of the diversity of the people and cultures of our world.
In my May/June Viewpoint column, I discussed insights I gained from my visit to China — for both this issue’s cover profile on Qinba tea and the May/June profile on McCormick China — and why an understanding of people and culture is important in doing business.
But even while focusing on our ever-expanding global supply chain, one must not forget the uniqueness and diversity of our own country — and how that plays into one’s business success as well. I went from the expansive natural vistas of Arizona which pull its residents to a similar naturalness of lifestyle to the Nashville music-dominated state of Tennessee where microbreweries seem to be exploding on the scene (thus our upcoming profile on Fat Bottom Brewery in September/October). From the fast-paced city of Chicago which has a distinctive culinary focus all its own (e.g., its celebrated deep-dish pizza) to Minnesota’s State Fair fame for anything-on-a-stick — and fish from its 10,000+ lakes. From Utah’s confusing, but easing, liquor laws to Michigan’s medical legalizing of marijuana-infused edibles. And that’s not even bringing in the travels to Idaho, Virginia, and Oregon.
It is just such national diversity that brings challenges to the food producer that decides to expand beyond its origin. Do the people across the country care as much (or as little) about GMOs, gluten, natural, or local as those in your hometown? Will your strong sustainability focus that has drawn in community customers be as desirable in neighboring states? Are the unique flavors of your food more of a local taste preference that won’t play as well outside your region? ... Or will you, perhaps, be introducing something new and unique that will put your company on the map?
All such questions are challenges that can fall under the auspices of the quality assurance team — particularly for smaller companies at which managers frequently wear a number of hats. But all, also, are opportunities to look at your product from a new perspective. Can you tweak your flavor to add an entirely new line that brings in new customers — and provides a different twist for current customers? Do you need to shift focus from your local branding to grow outside the 100-mile radius? Are there other quality factors that are important the next state over that you’ve never before considered?
Author Henry Miller said, “One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.” Food for thought.