Sometimes a twist of fortune can change a company’s trajectory or provide the rocket fuel it needs to transition to a new paradigm. Just ask Tom Hayes, the new CEO of Ocean Spray, a 90-year-old agricultural cooperative of around 700 smallholders in North and South America. He found out firsthand how social media can empower a brand worldwide and inspire excitement in the most unexpected of places.
It happened last month when Nathan Apodaca (a worker in an Idaho potato warehouse) decided to film himself to work on his longboard, dubbing himself to Fleetwood Mac’s iconic song “Dreams” while holding a carton of Ocean Spray swallowed Cran-Raspberry after his pickup broke.
“We were excited,” said Chris Ferzli, Director of Global Corporate Affairs at Ocean Spray, about the TikTok video, which has now been viewed and counted over 69.2 million times.
It was crowned with meme status. According to TikTok as of October 11th, 134,000 Apodaca-inspired tribute videos have been created, totaling nearly half a billion views.
Since then, TikToker from all over the world have scooped up bottles of Ocean Spray and are on the road, from skateboards to wakeboards to Heelys and strollers.
Even the 73 year old Fleetwood Mac’s drummer of the same name, Mick Fleetwood, came to TikTok specifically to get on board and the world made it. Inspired by the video, Ocean Spray boss Tom Hayes jumped on his own skateboard to record his version as well.
In recognition of his viral fame and contribution to the brand, Ocean Spray Apodaca bought a new truck in the matching color of Cranberry Red. It was delivered to him packed with jugs of the brand’s juice.
The social media game grew organically, almost like a metaphor for Ocean Spray, a farmer-owned cooperative founded in Massachusetts in 1930. And it has helped the company grow sales and viral buzz.
It’s not easy to keep a 90 year old brand relevant. For Ocean Spray CEO Tom Hayes, it has been his mission since he joined the company in July. It helps that the company’s products are deeply woven into America’s most beloved tradition: Thanksgiving.
This year, that family vacation may look different due to the pandemic, as travel and social distancing restrictions can transform the way Americans gather at their table to celebrate. Despite Covid-19, Ocean Spray expects an increase in demand thanks to an increased consumer focus on home cooking.
According to Hayes, “the company plans to harvest 100 billion cranberries to meet Thanksgiving demand. That equates to 59.5 million cans of cranberry sauce and other products.”
That feat is remarkable considering that this year Ocean Spray had to navigate the pandemic, economic shutdowns, and climate change.
“Climate change has affected agriculture in one way or another,” said Hayes. “Most of these family farms have been with our cooperative for eight generations and have found ways to deal with environmental issues over time. Last April, Ocean Spray was recognized as the first sustainably grown crop in the world by the Sustainable Agricultural Initiative for its 100% Renewable farming methods are based on six pillars, including water conservation, soil health and carbon sequestration. “
Family farmers are part of the Ocean Spray cooperative in North and South America.
That was linked to the challenges of the pandemic. In response, Ocean Spray strengthened existing health and safety measures at its plants and distribution centers. To show her appreciation for the frontline workers during the height of the health crisis, she ran a $ 1.50 hourly wage increase for 1,500 processing plant workers from March to July.
Hayes, the former CEO of Tyson Foods who is credited with an early stake in Beyond Meat, wastes no time putting his growth plan into action. He plans to pool his talent for early detection of food trends and introduce innovative new products that expand the Ocean Spray brand. Think about new drinks, supplements – even pet health.
The organization’s Lighthouse Incubator Ocean Spray is designed to bring new innovations from concept to market within five months. Since the incubator was founded last May, new concepts with a focus on wellness and nutrition have been developed. This includes Atoka, a line of herbal tea tonics with ingredients formulated by an herbalist for holistic wellbeing. Dabbly, cranberry extract-based nutritional supplements that support skin health, and Tally-Ho water boosters for dogs to support immune, oral and emotional health.
At the top is Director Santi Proano, MBA and former brand innovation officer at Tyson Foods. “Our goal is to develop new products that consumers want in overlooked niche markets,” he said. “We do this with what we call ‘agile innovation’. In this process, we test ideas, repeat them and get them to market quickly.”
“It all starts with the consumer figuring out their unmet needs. Since the pandemic, the focus has been on self-care and wellbeing. Consumers want to be more proactive about their health and the health of their pets,” Proano said.
At Ocean Spray, great ideas arise in the brain of the incubator, many of which have an entrepreneurial background, as well as from the cooperative’s network of farmers and suppliers.
Hayes sums it up: “The goal is to evolve the traditional portfolio with exciting new brands that consumers love and want to interact with.”
For more information on iconic global companies and leaders who embrace change and change for the future, Register for the CNBC Evolve Summit on November 10, 2020. CEOs from IBM, Visa, Ocean Spray, Bayer North America, Shipt, Honeywell and others will share strategies on how companies and brands can thrive and win in times of disruption.