Each year, we compile the list of the 100 largest food and beverage companies in the world.
As you might expect, the companies at the top of the list are large enough that they tend to stay somewhere near the top every year. A merger might create a new company that’s large enough to break into the top 10 or top five, but for the most part, you’ll see the same companies in pretty close to the same order at the top of the list. If you were to look at last year’s list and this year’s, the first thought that comes to mind might be something like, “Oh, nothing much has changed.”
But if you think about the time between last September and this month, it quickly becomes apparent that much has changed. Even the largest companies in the world are facing a lot of uncertainty as they try to navigate the current environment. Changing consumer demands, automation, the rise of new markets such as cannabis, regulatory changes, other government actions such as tariffs, extreme weather affecting supply chains—the list of challenges goes on and on and on.
Uncertainty is nothing new, and any one of those items I listed can happen at any time. But when they’re all happening at once and at the pace they’re occurring right now, even the largest companies in the world start getting heartburn. Instead of focusing solely on growth, money and intellectual energy are focused a lot of the time on putting out fires in existing businesses and existing markets.
This is where stability comes into play. The one thing that all of the largest companies have in common—regardless of what they make, how they make it or where they sell it—is that they’ve built an infrastructure that allows them to face those challenges to existing businesses while still finding ways to grow. That’s not easy, and it takes a lot of resources to be able to do that effectively.
For smaller companies, all of those challenges scale up dramatically. But they can still be managed, as we see on a regular basis throughout the industry. Even if a company will never be big enough to crack the Top 100, much less the top five or 10, a dedication to a sound infrastructure, a willingness to adapt, and a commitment to doing things the right way help keep the company steady during trying times.
These are certainly trying times, for companies large, small and everywhere in between. And these challenges are not likely to disappear overnight. Some companies will be able to thrive in the current environment, some will struggle, and some will fail because that’s how it goes, whether we like it or not. But the companies that will find the most success will be the ones that understand how to respond to challenges without sacrificing what has made them successful.
It’s a challenging task, and it can’t be solved with the wave of a magic wand. I’m sure there are a lot of sleepless nights and hectic days throughout the industry right now. But it can be done and it will be done, and we’ll see a lot of truly innovative solutions come out of the challenges the industry is facing. That might just make it all worth it.