This last Friday I was in Portland, visiting “The Redd”, a new food incubator there, and I fell into conversation with the owner of a start-up selling nut milks for six dollars per quart. I get that his product is healthful and good for the environment, but how, I asked, could he get his core market of Millennials, who is relative terms are marking far less than Baby Boomers did at the same point in the lives, afford to pay this much money? His answer told me a lot about the new combination of the power of place and social media.
Start with the fact that this is Portland, and that being green here is central to the identity that has caused many young people to move or stay here. There’s a starting level of knowledge about food here, especially about sourcing and the environment, far greater than in Seattle or the Bay Area. Next, many of the Millennials are still taking classes in or have recently emerged from university, where they connected to specialized sources of knowledge on things like the number of acres of rain forest cut everyday to make way for grazing. Third, friends are sending them updates every day through social media, so they are not having to scan the entire New York Times website to find a tidbit of fact buried in the 15th paragraph of an article in the food section.
My next question was how new companies can break out of the clutter, particularly when big chains like Kroger, which owns the huge Fred Meyer stores locally, now have organic sections. One answer to that is peer referrals. Small companies that already have a following are referring their customers to new brands that they like, just as professionals do on LinkedIn. The interesting question that is going to emerge is what values and principles these companies share in common, what defines and makes them different? Expect to see a lot more of this, particularly as the federal government weakens formal regulatory standards.