There’s a line on the first page of Mitch Albom’s book “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” It goes like this: “But all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.”

That’s the packaging stage right there. We’re the last to touch the product, the last ones to make sure it is safe and of the highest quality. Just on the other side of us is the customer. The minute they toss their favorite granola in their cart, a new story begins.

Aligning culture, then, matters in a manufacturer’s supply chain. Even one contributor that doesn’t align with your values could erode your mission to do good, to deliver the best product, to create a happy customer.

If you don’t believe me, just ask the tribe.

tribe cultureThere are nine of us. They call me the “Teach” because the tribe is my class, but the truth is I’m least important. Like any mindful teacher, I’m only here to guide, coach and lose sleep at night. Each person in the tribe comes from diverse ranks and departments. Each member takes ownership of something cool, something big.

We have a shared vision within the tribe, a sense that if one fails, we all fail. There’s energy too. You can feel the spark run through our monthly meetings – charged with caffeine and chocolate and the thought of future victories. There’s something exciting about trudging through the mud with people.

 

Sam, for instance, is developing a recycling program. Of course, we already have a process for recycling cardboard and plastic on the shop floor. Sam, though, is reducing waste in our office environment. And it goes way beyond mere metrics. She’s changing the way people think about the products they use and toss. She’s raising awareness about the “why” behind recycling, and she’s doing it in a way that gets everybody involved.

Some might call Sam’s initiative corporate social responsibility. We call it the right thing to do. And isn’t that why all of us want to make, market and enjoy food that is good for us?

Last September, Food Business News reported a study by New Hope Network. They surveyed 1,000 mainstream consumers about purchase intent and market prediction. Of eight trends, one was the rise of “mission-based brands.” There’s not a price issue here. The man choosing the bag of organic banana chips is not buying it because it is cheap. His purchase is based on his beliefs and because he chooses to live a healthy lifestyle. Consumers like brands with a higher purpose. We believe in that too.

recycle cycleWhen everyone along the product path shares similar values, imagine what follows. As Sam reduces our carbon footprint, we’re practicing sustainability, a shared value point for those who care about the earth and the people who live on it. And guess who those people are? The teenagers who grab a protein bar after soccer practice, the parents who make airplane noises as they feed their one-year-old his dinner, the CEO who grabs a snack pack from her Coach bag on the way to a meeting, . . . the picture is really a circle. We’re all connected: the manufacturer, the packager, the consumer.

GreenSeed doesn’t have all the answers. We know, however, there isn’t one bottom line. There are three: people, planet and profits (thank you, John Elkington) with “people” listed first for a reason. People drive growth. People improve the company. People are the reason we all do what we do.

Culture is our most important strategy as a contract packager. It can’t be neatly measured like return on equity and earnings and clickthroughs. Instead, it is qualitative. Culture is defined by relationships and the different ways people see food and the reasons people believe in eating healthy. If the culture of the people packaging the food is in sync with the people making and enjoying the food, then everyone is living their best life.

Culture at the packaging level raises the value of a product. There are no numbers to measure that. Just lots of endings and lots of beginnings.

 

David Gray is the executive vice president/partner for GreenSeed Contract Packaging, a packaging operations company passionate about healthy foods and nutritional products based in Batavia, Ill. Contact David at [email protected] or (630) 761-8544.