Around the turn of the millennium, the organic foods industry was coming of age, natural products were going mainstream, and the public was becoming educated on the dangers of consuming heavily processed, industrial food products. Almost overnight, millions more people grew willing to spend a premium for foods that would help them and their loved ones live longer, healthier lives.
Strangely, the natural and organic meat and poultry sector was struggling. The problem was that while people would pay for the best cuts—the breasts and thighs of the chickens, and the tenderloins, rib eye and strip steaks from the cows—these premium cuts only make up about 20% of the animals. In the conventional meat business, every part of the carcass is utilized for everything from “mystery meat” products to pet food, which not only prevent waste in the industry, but because the costs are spread over a larger area, this utilization also brings down the retail prices for premium meats. As a result, the natural meats industry was on the verge of collapse. We needed the natural and organic protein business to succeed, it was mission critical to the Natural Foods Movement.
The solution to this problem began in a frenzy of imagination, and after a few beers, was sketched out on a cocktail napkin late one evening in a bar in Boulder, Colorado. I was meeting with Dave Carter, the former chairman of the USDA National Organic Standards Board, and Clark Driftmier, CMO of Horizon Organic. We were pondering the dilemma of how small farmers were producing the best meats, but their imbalanced business model was making it even more difficult for them to compete with factory farms. We needed to do something different or this industry was gone.
So what did we do? We imagined the complete package: An independent pet food company that would pay a premium for natural/organic hearts and livers to change the economics and save small-scale farming. It would be bold enough to interface with the biggest players in the game, educate people on the value of small farm products and bring down organic and natural meat prices through effective use of almost a 1/3 rd of the animal that was previously not valued. Net, in one evening of imagination, a few beers and a few notes on a cocktail napkin, Pet Promise was born.
Read the full Pet Promise story at Pitch Publicity
From there, we imagined pet food becoming part of the overall push towards better health. To do this, we went way out of the box and partnered with the legendary Dr. Andrew Weil. This was the first time Dr. Weil had used his name and likeness to publicly support a consumer product. Photos of him and his Rhodesian Ridgebacks became the iconic brand image for Pet Promise.
We created field teams that went to dog parks and retail stores, gave away the book How Dog Food Saved the Earth and sponsored the iconic Farm Aid Concert.
We imagined a solution to a real problem, executed it, and in the process changed an entire industry. Today, the small farms we worked with are selling their trimmings and other animal parts to other pet food companies, and getting a premium price for their premium ingredients. While Pet Promise is no more (because of a corporate decision at Nestle Purina) the solution it delivered is alive and well.
But how do you go about such a transformational objective? Imagination. To realize your own powers of imagination, take something you’ve always imagined and develop it into a game plan of execution, then take it to the world being brave and willing to share.
I can’t stress enough how imagination and the creative process is what we need today to change so many of the legacy institutions that are broken, like health care and education for example. Or how about that as a society we now live with and say ok to 40% of our food being wasted or mega tons of plastics in our oceans.
Like never before, this is the age of imagination, and the world’s appetite for well-calculated imagination is enormous. So make sure you take some time everyday to just imagine a different world. Imagine a world that you would script. Imagine it and write it down and yes, cocktail napkins are a great canvas.
Like Pablo Picasso famously said, “Everything you can imagine is real.”