Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital
Big brands, particularly food brands, have been merging with and acquiring smaller brands for decades. In recent years, food and drink executives have continued to strategically acquire small brands, but struggle to boost productivity among those acquisitions without damaging or cancelling out any of the fundamental qualities that made the small brands worth buying.
This struggle to maintain the appeal of a small brand while operating under a massive international conglomerate like Coca Cola or Hershey has become increasingly challenging as consumer priorities evolve. When a big brand acquires a smaller one, consumers tend to be concerned, at least initially, about the product remaining consistent. Over time, however, other issues often arise. A strong company culture and drive to innovate, both of which are often crucial to a small brand’s success, can get lost when a big brand takes over.
A prime example is the trajectory of natural food brand Kashi since it was acquired by Kellogg Co. in 2000. Prior to the acquisition, Kashi was one of the first brands to usher in the now-lucrative and popular industry of healthy foods made from simple, ethically sourced ingredients. Though the partnership worked for a while, Kellogg’s impulse to control Kashi’s internal operations eventually took hold, which hindered Kashi’s ability to constantly innovate and improve its products. Before the acquisition, teams of three or four people made decisions about everything from suppliers to pricing to new product development. In an attempt to take more decisive control, Kellogg’s convoluted Kashi’s processes, slowing down their decision-making capability and complicating attempts to change or grow.
To be clear, no one is saying that big brands shouldn’t acquire smaller ones. There is immense potential value in giving young, fresh businesses the resources that big brands have. However, when acquiring a young company that’s found a niche and an audience, one should be aware of what makes the small brand appealing to consumers and make every effort to maintain and support those qualities, while still facilitating increased production and global reach.
Some of Walmart’s recent acquisitions, notably Bonobos, are perfect examples of this. When Walmart initially acquired Bonobos, there was considerable public backlash. Fans of the online men’s wear brand were concerned that quality would plummet in favor of lower prices when Walmart took over. Walmart wisely remained “hands-off”, allowing Bonobos to uphold its central values as a company: high quality, a good fit, and inclusive sizing. As a result, Walmart indicates that its online sales have increased substantially since it acquired Bonobos among other ecommerce brands last year.
Needless to say, it’s a tough balance to strike, but since changing a formula that works for a small brand is a bad idea, it’s obviously important for big brands to rigorously research whatever businesses they plan to acquire. It’s also important to keep key team members from the smaller business involved and give them input on how the business moves forward after the acquisition, rather than commandeer operations entirely. Simply creating an open line of communication can do wonders to not only maintain the acquired brand’s growth and success, but also to establish a positive working relationship between new management and the people who made the business successful in the first place.
Click for details on our trade finance solutions.
Contact us for more information.