The market’s Davids are giving its Goliaths some concern

Listening to Mark Smucker talk at Walsh University a few months back, it’s possible to feel bad for his more-than-$7-billion company … sort of. The current president and CEO from a line of family leadership at The J.M. Smucker Co. talked about the challenges the company faces — shareholder demand for short-term results, market fragmentation, etc. One issue stood out, and that’s its concern over the successful encroachment of much smaller companies on its market share.

In his presentation, the focus of this month’s cover story, he talked about how, essentially, Smucker Co. has made changes to compete with the little guys. The company is working to iterate faster, streamlining its R&D process to get products to market at a speed that’s comparable with that of its smaller, but more nimble, competitors.

Smaller companies are more responsive to consumer requests and demands. Technology has put the power literally in people’s hands. If they don’t like something, they tweet about it, broadcasting their complaints to the public. That can lead to a growing chorus of criticism or demand (see the Rick-and-Morty-driven demand for McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce that forced the international fast food giant to bring back a promotionally tied product it launched and discontinued in 1998. It’s absolutely random. You could Google it, but for all the hype it generated, no one really cares anymore).

Smucker Co. is trying to be a better listener. Mark Smucker talked about how the company is making investments in innovative consumer engagement and consumer insights, which are all based on a foundation of advanced analytics and data.

“We are looking for data scientists,” he said, in large part to better use the data the company has been able to collect. Ultimately, the aim is to understand what consumers want before they know they want it.

For all the difficulties that come with being a smaller company, some have managed to make their size an advantage by being more accessible and more nimble — enough so that a food goliath like Smucker Co. is concerned. In an increasingly competitive and global market, being the little guy might not be such a disadvantage.

Adam is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Akron/Canton.