What we learned: Verlinvest’s Leaders Retreat – US edition

In September 2023, Verlinvest gathered a group of leading CEOs, experts, and advisors from our US network for a two-day retreat in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley. By bringing together ~80 of the consumer industry’s top leaders, including from our community of brands – Vita Coco, Hint, Oatly, Pedego, Tony’s Chocolonely, Genexa and many more – we were able to share experiences, learnings, and ambitions for the year ahead.

One of the expert speakers told us that CEOs make roughly 20 business decisions every day, and it was no surprise to the Verlinvest team who work closely with our companies day in and day out to hear that each of these decisions has an outsized impact when operating in a challenging environment like the one we find ourselves in now for both consumers and business leaders. 

However, it was the opportunities to innovate, relentlessly execute, and double down on our values that were the main topics of discussion and we left the retreat feeling inspired, with a few key takeaways:

  • We’re adapting to a ‘new normal’ in the consumer industry:

    Companies and business leaders are coming to terms with a changed market landscape as a result of higher inflation and are starting to make moves again. They are keeping nimble, innovating, and investing wherever they can to challenge competitors, and to win. A more strategic approach is required: you must stay true to your brand’s DNA and lean into your points of difference, in order to stay resilient and relevant through both the good and bad times. 

  • Staying close to your customer is key to remaining relevant in times of change:

    Brands must listen to customers and meet them where they are, aiming to reach new customers without alienating important legacy audiences. Read both your bad customer reviews and your great ones. Innovation is not just about the product on the shelf, but also about creating a memorable experience so customers can become evangelists.

  • Success isn’t a linear path:

    Whether you’re navigating the realms of business, sports, or even exploring the depths of outer space (as one of our speakers was!), it’s a journey that demands resilience, embraces failure, and stands strong in the face of rejection on the way to realizing your ultimate dreams. Keep nurturing those dreams, keep pushing forward with unrelenting determination, and never allow ‘no’ to deter you in your pursuit of greatness!  

  • Authenticity is so important in the food industry:

    Educating consumers on the potentially harmful effects (on the environment and society) of food and consumption choices has never been so vital. Provide tools to help them make informed decisions so your brand can be part of positive progression in the industry and operationalize ‘impact’ beyond making claims about your ESG principles. It is in times of rapid growth or change when companies must double down on their values to truly transform their industries. 

  • AI is not a pure tech play, it's the next frontier of consumer disruption:

    A lot of buzz words are being thrown around but it’s true that generative AI has the potential to impact CPG across the value chain, including in marketing, product innovation, and back office processes. The opportunity is huge and, unlike in other industries, such as healthtech or software, use cases are still fairly nascent within consumer businesses. There’s a misconception that you need to spend huge amounts of resources on building proprietary in-house solutions when in reality there are already some great tools out there to optimize existing processes. We’re excited to explore how AI can help consumer innovation to become faster, better and at a lower cost. 

  • Building meaningful relationships will stand you in good stead:

    We love to host events like our Leaders Retreat because of the value that comes from making purposeful connections with others, those like-minded leaders in similar positions, and those with completely different experiences to yours. The amount we can learn from one another is limitless and it’s vital to surround yourself with a supportive team of individuals to help navigate life’s lows, highs and new adventures. Create an environment where your team can challenge your biases and share their views openly. Be bold when it comes to reaching out to those you feel can support you, and in letting go of those that no longer do.  

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