Dan’s creative leadership extends far beyond marketing, with a focus on emotional intelligence as a key growth factor for business. He was one of our favorite FMA Webinar Series guests, and the following conversation left us discussing how we can implement some of his philosophies into our own culture here at CREW.
Braden Douglas: How did you get into the food industry? And what’s one turning point that led you to lead a ready-food brand?
Dan Davies: I am a Canadian East-Coaster. I am actually an accountant by training but started in the food industry 25 years ago with Cavendish Farms – so potatoes – and then moved on to different companies, before settling in with TMF Foods over the past 10 years.
BD: What strategies did you take during the pandemic?
DD: Our top priority was our team of employees. Ensuring their safety and knowing how they, and their families, were doing was extremely important. Checking in with them, knowing how things were “on the ground” for everyone was critical. Your team is only as strong as what is happening at home.
We also instituted an Employee Assistance Program to provide extra support, counselling or programs for employees. This was incredibly important for us to establish.
Another critical area was securing the supply chain. There were times that we had no beef; what can we if we don’t have any meat coming in?
Then, continuing to invest in our brand, Lou’s Kitchen. Canadians want to hear from brands, to know they can trust and rely on them – especially during a pandemic.
We also kept innovating and bringing new products to the market to give consumers new choices, and keep retailers engaged.
BD: How do you invest in your corporate culture? What’s been the most beneficial change you’ve seen come from your team these past 6 months?
DD: We invested heavily into emotional intelligence and psychometrics; really understanding how to work together as a leadership team. This really set the stage for creating a strong culture. I believe culture is established from how leaders interact and engage, that they are always setting the expectation even when they don’t feel like it.
Like a radio talk show host, leaders need to “be on” all the time, because employees are always watching.
BD: How does the internal culture at Lou’s Kitchen impact your marketing strategy?
DD: We did something very innovative with CREW, actually, and shot a national commercial using only iPhones – with our own employee families eating our products. It was a warm, heartfelt message that really ended up resonating with our audience.
We spent far less on this commercial than we had on others in the past, and the results exceeded our expectations! I had calls from across Canada from consumers, suppliers, retailers and others that really liked it – there was a better response to this ad than we had on other professionally-shot campaigns.
However, the biggest benefit was the uptick in morale among our staff, which was fantastic.
BD: COVID-19 has brought an unbelievable spotlight to the food value chain. From your point of view, what’s been the biggest surprise these past few months? Have you learned anything new?
DD: The best surprise, which actually gets me emotional, is how amazing our staff have been. They’ve worked far and above regular hours, they always showed up, were resilient when they were faced with supply or quality issues, and they never left us in a bad position. It was remarkable and it showed just how important front-line food workers are to the industry, and to Canada as a whole.
I did learn how vulnerable we are as a company to supply issues. There were several meat processing plants that were shut down in Western Canada from a COVID outbreak. All of a sudden, our supply of beef, for example, went dry.
We couldn’t find a reliable source, which meant we couldn’t produce our products. We’ve now created more robust plans and back-up scenarios to mitigate these issues going forward, but it was a good lesson for us.
BD: When you look ahead, how would you advise food companies to prepare for the months to come?
DD: As we approach fall and flu season, I think we’re going to see more COVID cases and a potential for another lockdown in some provinces.
I think it is important for food processors to secure raw materials and hedge against what happened before from happening again. You want to make sure you can supply your products to retailers and consumers without disruption.
This goes a long way to building trust and a strong reputation which will pay dividends in the future.
BD: You get asked for business advice all the time, so what’s the number one question you get asked? And what question do you wish you got asked more?
DD: I get asked about building brands a lot! I’ve chosen to invest heavily in our brand and it’s a key strategy that has paid off well.
The one question that I don’t get asked about, and I think there needs to be more discussion about it, is mental health in business. These past 6 months have been stressful and tough for a lot of people, but there still seems to be a reluctance for people to talk about it.
Maybe they feel executives and entrepreneurs need to be strong all the time, and talking about it is a sign of weakness. Regardless, I think we need to create space and safety for people to be more authentic and vulnerable, in order to be more effective as leaders and in business.
BD: Thanks again, Dan, for joining us.
Dan Davies is President & CEO of TMF Foods Ltd., known most notably for their ready-made food brand, Lou’s Kitchen. The interview above was pulled from a webinar interview held as part of the Food Marketing Accelerator’s Webinar Series, September 2020.