Tag Archives: health

Horse meat and the simple lesson that applies to all companies

The horse meat stories keep coming.

The jokes are funny. The reality is not.

And before I get those posts about eating horse …

It isn’t about the horse meat, it is about lying, a failure of any quality control and simple greed.

This whole debacle though provide an interesting reminder that is relevant for all companies.

Ethics matter.

Going back to the horse meat issue.

Here is my summary of the situation we are in:

  • Cheap meat producers – you got caught
  • Food producers – “ask no questions, tell no lies” – is not a defence
  • Supermarkets – you got what you deserved, continually demanding lower prices from suppliers forces quality cuts
  • Government – you failed us and are continuing to do so
  • Shoppers – what did you think was in the food?

Key point: The food industry got caught. Simple as that.

This whole situation was completely predictable and completely avoidable. The real issue though is not crap food, or even the contribution to obesity, but the failure of any form of ethics in so many food companies and supermarkets. Perhaps the biggest failure of ethics though is in the complete failure of government to do anything about this – before, during and after the problems. This gives some explanation as to why supermarkets are full of crap food and our nation is now the fattest in Europe.

Let me be clear …

I have no sympathy for ANY food producer who produced this crap food. I have no sympathy for any supermarket who demanded the lowest possible price without caring about what they were selling. I have no sympathy for any producer who reengineered their value chain to minimise costs without caring about where the source was or what the quality was. I have no sympathy for successives governments whose lack of clarity on their role (tip: your ultimate responsibility is to the citizen – NOT BUSINESS) helped cause this.

Almost all participants in the food supply chain knowingly participated in this deception – and therefore need to take some part of the responsibility. At this point, I include shoppers too. They demanded lower prices, they bought the cheap food. Admittedly, you didn’t know it was horse, but for years mechanically recovered meat has knowingly been a key constituent of cheap processed food and people continued to buy it.

And I don’t let marketers off by the way. You, we, are guilty too.

For years, our a majority of our food industry could be broadly characterised by ‘Ask no questions hear no lies‘. A conspiracy of mislabelling, bullshit content listing and irresponsible marketing has created low fat foods that are full of sugar, low sugar foods that are full of fat, healthy foods more unhealthy than the generic version they started as and the situation whereby a chemistry degree is needed to decode even basic foods ingredients lists.

Beef is horse, ‘meat’ can mean no meat and the complex supply chain for a burger can mean it travels more across Europe than than a student Interrailer.

Manufacturers knew what was in there, so did supermarkets, so did governments. And all the while, the poor consumer who wanted to save money found themselves getting fatter without any real understanding of why. I’m not letting people out of personal responsibility, but if you think that food labelling doesn’t matter and isn’t important, then you don’t appreciate how good food marketers are at their job.

London, we have a problem.

Here is what I think the problem is.

Our food industry has the ethics of an alley cat. The producers, the supermarkets, the fast food chains. The whole lot.

I’m happy to debate this, but I’ll take your response seriously when there are more incentives on buying healthy food rather than crap, when food is labelled honestly and wheat coated in honey and chocolate is not allowed to be called a breakfast cereal.

The one group that could do something, Government, seems unwilling to actually grow a set of balls and do its job. This is a massive error, both ethically and financially. If you think correcting this and intervening would be expensive, just wait until those obese kids start becoming obese adults and demanding help from the NHS. Any costs today will seem inconsequential compared to managing a country where the majority of citizens are overweight and obese. It is this point that I care personally about most.

Being in business does not require you to sign away your morals. It doesn’t require an abdication of any social responsibility. It doesn’t mean that you cannot care. Today though, this is what most people see from an increasing number of our businesses.

You have a choice.  As a corporate strategist, as a product manager, as a marketer.

You also have a choice as a person and sometimes as a parent.

You can take some responsibility here.

And it is this lack of responsibility – this lack of ownership, this lack of personal caring which is helping to cause our obesity problems.

I’m not going to argue that tackling obesity and fixing our food supply is not a big and highly complex challenge, it is. It absolutely fulfils the criteria of a ‘wicked problem’. But this does not mean we cannot make a big difference. We can. We can fix this. The solution though will not come from an advertising campaign launched by a single government department.

Where government has this COMPLETELY WRONG though is in thinking that this is about massive funding (which means nothing will happen); a huge complex top down programme that will deliver nothing or simple fix-all dictats such as banning advertising of junk-food to children (although that is a start).

The starting point is a set of simple, unambiguous and easily understood principles.

Once you agree these, designing actions and programs to effect change is pretty straight forward.

These principles are then applied across ALL government actions.

  • In procurement
  • legislation
  • investment
  • training
  • education
  • in fact … EVERYTHING

Every government action, investment or activity should be tested against the principles.

What you end up with is that small list of principles influencing thousands of much smaller decisions. Only when you have this coordinated actions across government will you see some change. And because they are derived from a core set of principles, they are aligned. This means fewer loopholes and gaps through which companies can evade responsibility.

This principle, of getting the core principles right applies to companies too, particularly those involved in the recent problems.

  • Don’t start by reengineering your supply chain
  • Don’t start by redesigning packaging
  • Don’t start by launching another fad product
  • Don’t start by marketing about how sorry you are (although nothing has changed)

Start by making some simple and clear statements about what you stand for. Be bold and ambitious, but keep them simple and clear. Start with your ethics, your principles and your beliefs. Once you have these in place, you have a firm foundation on which to build a sustainable company. Define what you stand for – THEN you can start to fix the problems and design the type of company that you can be proud of.

If you are stuck, don’t seek an MBA wielding corporate strategist. Don’t attend the latest industry summit, instead read The Responsible Company by Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard or read the autobiography of Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. Learn from those who tried their best to put principles first. You will discover it is not easy, that it is not a route without failure, but it is the right thing to do.

This is not just a wake up call for the food industry, but to all organisations.

And the simple lesson for all companies?

Ethics matter. They always did.

This post is an updated version of a reply to a blog post from the Interacter website. Neil’s post focuses on how food companies are failing to capitalise on the recent horse meat problems. 


5 rules for surviving Work 2.0

Seth Godin gets it spot on, again.

An article on Business Insider says it all …

If You’re An Average Worker, You’re Going Straight To The Bottom

Welcome to the New Reality. Welcome to Work 2.0.

Or perhaps, welcome back to Work 2.0, because we have been here before. We are here everytime economies tighten.

And for most people, it isn’t fun.

There are going to be two groups of people in most companies – stars and everyone else.

Guess which one you NEED to be in.

We have seen the Jack Welch 10/70/20 model around for a while and several companies are using this (with varying results), but what Seth points to is a more simple model. Star or not. You are either someone a company values, someone who is a key player or you are a hired hand.

Hired hands get utility pay (not average, you get what they can get away with paying you), no security, no perks and no enjoyment. You are a warm, living breathing machine. If the work could be automated cheaper than you, it will be.

Stars get perks. They have to work hard, probably harder than the average pool, but they get the benefits as well. And before you think about trading work/life balance, this is only a choice if you are a star. If you are Mr Average, in the everyone else pool, then you have no choice.

Doesn’t sound like fun, it isn’t. Review time will be painful, and you know that several of your colleagues will get the chop. That is the way the model works. Don’t expect fairness. Don’t expect respect. That is reserved for the stars.

So now you know how this works, you can do something about it.

So take control, get a plan, and WORK that plan:

5 tips … I could list hundreds, others have, so go find them. Start with ‘personal productivity’, ‘personal brand’, ‘blah blah blah’. You know the score here. The game is changing though and so are the rules. Some of the options are disappearing. So here are some ideas to help you get out of that average pool.

  1. Get seen. Don’t be anonymous. Think about your personal brand (Tom Peter’s has written loads on this, so go read it). Be the go-to guy for something. You can be a star janitor, a star cook, a star teacher. Stand out from the rest by being the best. Being average = being last. Nice? No, but this is the reality of Work 2.0. You decide where you set the bar. Set it high. Set it higher than everyone else. Yes this means more work, but that is life now. Do the work = keep the work.
  2. Be proactive. Don’t wait for the world to come to you. It won’t. Get out there. Network, go to meetings. Not invited? Be polite and ask to join.  Look for a group that shares your passion. If you reach a dead end, then volunteer your time to help others. Got an excuse for why you can’t? Write it down, then write 5/10/50 ways to get past this. Giving an excuse is like writing a sick note to yourself.
  3. Invest in yourself. Soak up knowledge. Know your domain better than anyone else. Have the answers, know how to get things done. Buy/borrow/download books AND READ THEM. Don’t just read blogs, read books. Understand the detail. Make sure you know what is happening in your domain. Don’t read content online aimlessly, CONTRIBUTE to it. Write your ideas down. This forces you to think through the logic of them and test with others. Find your voice. Writing helps you discover your passion, because no one wants to write about something they don’t care about. The world’s best teachers are online. Watch TED, go to local Universities to watch visiting speakers.
  4. Over-deliver. You know the maxim. Under-promise and over-deliver. Well here is the new one: Under-promise, over deliver, and do this before the next guy. This means that you need to focus. It probably means that you need to give up some of your free time, maybe work a bit extra on the weekend, in the evening. So do it.  Not for everything, but for the work that matters. Work/life balance will take a hit, but losing your job is a bigger hit. The same applies if you are self-employed. Go that extra mile, particularly when you are starting out and building a client base. And a quick tip. Work for the boss/client is your top priority. Always, no exceptions. Never, ever disappoint your boss/client. Good managers will remember this and support you, bad ones will take advantage. Don’t do it and lose the job/client. That is worse. When you have the boss wanting your work, the client demanding your time, then you get the power to negotiate – but not until that happens.
  5. Stay healthy. I know, you are looking at this and saying, ‘what’??? A health message. Yes. Absolutely. Work today is hard. I might like it to be different, but for every great employer with a gym, complimentary massages and free food there are a million average companies, but that is what it is. Get over it. In the current economic climate it isn’t going to change soon. Whether you work for someone else or yourself, hard work is the order of the day. So look after your most valuable asset – your body – both physically and mentally because if you don’t, you will get ill. If you get ill, you lose. Simple as that. Can’t work = no money, no business. So you need to stay healthy. Restrict TV time, limit online activity and make time for your body. Cook fresh food, don’t eat junk, only drink water (never soda/fizz). Keep the alcohol sensible. Walk/run/bike, whatever you want. Get the heart rate up and keep moving about.


So you read this and think, this Work 2.0 thing sucks. Absolutely. It does until you take control of it, get out of the average pool, and either become a star, or run your own business because the one thing you don’t want to be is average.