The AND philosophy has become so central to our thinking at KIND that internally we call it the KIND BrAND Philosophy. At its core, it is about challenging assumptions and thinking creatively. It is about not settling for less, being willing to take greater risks and, often, it requires investing more up front. It is not just a way to think positively, or a feel- good attitude. It is about learning to think critically, frequently pursuing what in the short term may seem a tougher path: to be both healthy and tasty, convenient and wholesome, economically sustainable and socially impactful.
Some of the best ideas seem the most obvious in retrospect. The challenge is uncovering these opportunities when you have become accustomed to the way things are. In an effort to be efficient, your brain has a tendency to accept prevailing ideas or concepts that may no longer be correct (or may never have been). These shortcuts, called heuristics by psychologists, enable us to process information and reach conclusions swiftly. But they also bias us in favor of quick solutions that may not maximize our long- term potential. Thinking with AND means that we consciously try to break away from these mental shortcuts.
At KIND we take it slow, relentlessly questioning our first principles and then using repeated rounds of brainstorming to find new solutions that don’t rely on these assumptions. This behavior lies at the very heart of our creative process. When designing products at KIND, we never allow cost considerations or other practical constraints like manufacturing efficiencies to be filters at the outset. Of course costs are critical; we prize resourcefulness and the ability to do much with little. But that analysis has to come after the open brainstorming. Otherwise we would never have conceived KIND bars with whole nuts and fruits, as they are harder and more expensive to manufacture than bars made from emulsions or pastes. The AND process helped us realize that this extra investment would be worth it.
Every one of our top ten competitors makes their best-selling bars from homogenous pastes. This is a logical path because slab bars (as they are called in the industry as a result of their manufacture from slabs of mashed- up, emulsified ingredients) run smoothly through the manufacturing line and cost less to make. But they leave many consumers dissatisfied, as they rob foods of their integrity and soul. The AND philosophy has its costs. Because we use whole ingredients like nuts and seeds, which are not always of a totally uniform size, we often end up with bars that are slightly larger than advertised, but we can’t charge more for the somewhat greater bulk. Sometimes whole ingredients yield bars that are under weight, and we have to give those bars away free, as samples. By contrast, the traditional way of emulsifying ingredients into pastes can yield bars of uniform weight. Our way is more expensive, but many consumers find the quality is superior to that of an emulsion bar. It’s often harder to pursue the way of AND. But, as our market share growth demonstrates, if you have a commitment to excellence— a commitment to avoid false compromises— you will win in the long term.
Questioning assumptions also forces us to be nimble and staves off complacency. We’ve learned that just because everything is going well for the business, we can’t assume that the trajectory will continue upward. We continuously think critically about our strategy: Where will our next competitive threat originate? How can we develop new products and protect our core lines? The AND philosophy is a great tool for entrepreneurs, particularly for social entrepreneurs.
A social entrepreneur is a person who tackles societal problems and seeks to effect social change through creative mechanisms. At its essence, the entrepreneurial mind spots opportunities to create value: Social entrepreneurs detect problems in society and try to find solutions to improve the world; business entrepreneurs discover gaps in the marketplace and try to fill them to achieve financial gain. A social entrepreneur with an appreciation for the power of market forces tries to advance both social and business objectives in unison.
Thinking with AND can help you solve social problems and identify commercial gaps as it forces you to confront the underlying assumptions, and to uncover objectives that are in tension with one another. Once you have identified the conflicting objectives that you’re trying to achieve and how they interact, you can start thinking about whether there are creative ways to accomplish both objectives at once.
In the mid- nineties, a spate of terrorist bombings that targeted the Tel Aviv bus routes made me question the feasibility of my work to advance peace in the Middle East. I was trying to bring together two populations through the slow build of a linked prosperity, while an act of violence from one individual could cause such carnage and change the mood of the region overnight. Images of devastation from a terrorist bomb in Dizengoff shopping center shook my commitment and made me question whether our work was a mirage or even a lie. I called Yoel, Abdullah, and other trading partners, and asked them if they, too, felt that perhaps we were making a mistake, and we should suspend our efforts, at least temporarily. “Daniel,” Yoel instantly retorted, “these are our lives we are talking about. This is not a game or a school project. Now more than ever we need to continue our work and deny terrorists a victory.” I never questioned the value of our mission again.
In those early days, I spent long hours on the road pitching my wares to stores. Sometimes my gas and travel expenses outstripped what I had sold for the day. Life as a traveling salesman is not easy; it undermined my motivation at some points. I once found myself sitting on a vinyl chair in a dingy Waldbaum’s purchasing office on Long Island, waiting my turn to see the grocery chain’s buyer. At my feet was the dilapidated fake- leather briefcase left over from my days as a law- firm intern, now stuffed with jars of sundried tomato spreads. I looked around. Elderly salesmen sat with kind but tired faces as they waited for a chance to be seen. I sensed they had been following this routine for several decades. Was this Death of a Salesman tableau my future? Could I turn the company around, both in profitability and in its social mission, or was it doomed to mediocrity? During the worst periods, when I had trouble meeting payroll and could barely afford to pay myself my $24,000 salary, I thought seriously about taking a job as an attorney. Overarching purpose gave me determination not to give up.
Purpose is not a crutch
While a social mission can fill you and your team with purpose, and can generate loyalty and support from consumers and customers, it is no replacement for ensuring that your product or service wins on its core features. A social mission should never serve as a crutch to bypass quality, nor serve as the basis on which to try to attract consumers. Studies that indicate consumers buy products because of their social mission, in my experience, are wrong. Consumers may want to think they do— and indeed, a company’s social mission may be a reason to buy once— but, in practice, they repeatedly buy what they truly need and feel fits their lifestyle best. The mission does not sell the product; the product sells the product. Yes, increasingly consumers are focused on ensuring that the companies they buy products or services from are genuine members of their communities, doing their part to make this a better world. But that is not a substitute for delivering on the functional merits. First and foremost, the product must stand on its own. And if your social mission gets too far ahead of itself on the marketing front, consumers may feel it is masking inadequacies in the product.
I was so passionate about the PeaceWorks mission, that initially I put it front and center on our products. We branded that first sundried tomato spread “Moshe & Ali’s.” The marketing story featured Moshe Pupik, a fictional Jewish chef, and Ali Mishmunken, an Arab magician, who concocted a Mediterranean spread so delicious that it hypnotized rival armies and put them in a friendly trance. Instead of fighting, the warring armies would then drop their weapons, melt them into spoons, and use the spoons to partake of the entrancing spreads. I crafted a video and booklets telling this story in my attempt to explain, in a disarming way, how the PeaceWorks model functioned and how we were using food as a common bond to help people work together. “Cooperation never tasted so good” was the motto.
People appreciated the story, but the tongue- in- cheek marketing and social emphasis didn’t properly celebrate the high- end specialty spreads and their premium ingredients. Fortunately by the time I launched KIND, I had incorporated this lesson from my experience with PeaceWorks. While KIND’s mission of inspiring kindness means a lot to our team, from the beginning we decided it would not be a basis for how we position or sell the product. At least prior to the publication of this book and the concomitant decision to begin sharing the full story behind KIND, probably less than one percent of our consumers had ever heard of that part of our social mission; to sell more, we emphasize our products’ healthful premium ingredients and delicious taste. We do want our community to learn more about our efforts to make this a kinder world, because we want them to join us in its pursuit, and because we believe this will engender loyalty and passion toward KIND and its products. But we drive our sales by focusing on being number one in how we solve the needs our consumers have. Our company motto, “Do the KIND Thing for your body, your taste buds & your world,” highlights our business and social priorities. Healthful products— and the implicit social purpose of fighting diabetes and obesity— are a prerequisite to anything we make: Be KIND to your body. Taste is the corollary prerequisite: Be KIND to your taste buds. Only after those two product features do we have the luxury to commit to be KIND to our world through the work we do to inspire and celebrate kindness.
Balancing how we speak about and structure our social work requires tact, thoughtfulness, and humility. If you get it wrong, you lose legitimacy. Third- party studies have highlighted that commands the highest level of trust and belief in its integrity, transparency, and authenticity among brands in the nutrition, cereal, and granola bar categories. This is of foremost importance. We constantly remind ourselves that, after all, we are a business— not- only- for- profit, of course— proud to be competing in the marketplace on our own merits and winning on commercial and financial terms. We have to be up front about this, and never try to leverage our social mission in a way that seems inauthentic or manipulative. We never do good to improve our sales; we do good to do good. If we follow this formula, we believe, KIND karma takes care of the rest.