Canned meat doesn’t have much room to shine in an organic, farm-to-table focused society. Yet, the company best known for manufacturing the iconic pink product have muscled their way onto the Fortune 500 list. And it’s taken a lot more than some preserved pork to spur the $9.3 billion in revenue they’ve seen this year. So what notes can we take from the makers of Spam?

1 – Look for new talent that will make your organization think and act differently.

Hormel struck a disconnect with their target audience, spurring the team to hire an anthropologist. Most notably, she helped them to understand the powerful and emotional role that food plays in people’s lives. Thus, the main objective became to understand their consumer’s unarticulated needs by looking at the food in their pantries and observing their eating habits. This opened up a whole world of possibilities.

2 – Don’t focus on what the competition is doing.

It’s easy to get caught up in trends. In 2012, Hormel, still widely recognized for its meat-based products, began researching and reaching out to companies who made products that would work well within their existing protein focus. It became important for them to procure an assortment of brands that sold organic and healthy foods, setting themselves apart from other traditional processed meat manufacturers. This journey took the company well outside the realm of animal products, even going as far to buy the makers of Wholly Guacamole in 2012.

Applegate stands their ground on ethically produced meat products.


3 – Always meet with potential partners in person to break bread and understand who they are.

CEO Jeff Ettinger ensured that Hormel stood out from the competing companies vying for the Applegate farms acquisition by simply asking founder Stephen McDonnell to join him for dinner. According to McDonnell, “ There was no real business talk, just conversation about values and vision.” (Source) Hormel’s initiative and authenticity resulted in Applegate Farm’s trust that their commitment to improve animal welfare would be honored. Other companies under the Hormel umbrella like Justin’s Nut Butter and Muscle Milk attest that they have been able to continue to operating mostly independently and with their brand cores held intact.

4 – Hire curious individuals who will ask questions and keep the organization sharp with their insights.

Spam hasn’t quite won its way into the heart into mainstream culture, and the multiple failed attempts to gain traction in snacks and frozen meals haven’t helped the cause. Other dated brands like Dinty Moore have fared no better. But with a bit of innovative thought from the Hormel team, anything is possible. “Nicole Behne is a marketing director in Hormel’s grocery products division, in charge of selling Spam, Mary Kitchen Hash, and Dinty Moore stews. None of those products has quite had a PBR or Old Spice hipster-revival moment, but Behne is ever the optimist. She’s trying to tie Dinty Moore to so-called “lumbersexuals”—young men who wear flannel but don’t wield an ax.” (Source)
Even if Spam won’t rise to cultural fame again, Hormel’s doing a lot right. As they continue to grow as a company, their ambition and strategy grows too. As they continue to hire curious individuals and seek answers to more questions, they’re only becoming more appealing and exciting as a brand.

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