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Regenerative Business Leadership

Learning from Daily Harvest’s recent health crisis and brand management situation

As a communications and regenerative business professional, it strikes me that Daily Harvest being in the news again—this time for for throwing a superhero-themed party for employees while facing 90-plus lawsuits from sick customers, approximately 130 of whom claim the food company’s French Lentil + Leek crumbles sent them to hospitals where 40 had to have their gallbladders removed—is part of a business model and brand management parable all leaders can learn from. 

Once upon a time, a company was founded with a mission to propel “a better food system, one that prioritizes human and planetary health.” Unfortunately, the company created the brand and story without changing the foundational belief system that created the problematic food system in the first place. And so it all came crumbling down (pun intended).

Sustainable Business Must Include a Consciousness Shift

Daily Harvest is not alone. Many other “sustainable” companies of the last few decades have come (and many gone) because of the same problem: we as a global citizenry have generally forgotten how to think holistically. We have forgotten that we are part of an interconnected web of life and even the most powerful and brilliant of entrepreneurs and investors can’t escape this. As COVID-19, supply chain challenges, and current heat waves show us, a lack of living-systems consciousness does not a vibrant, responsive, and net-positive company (or life) make. 

Operating a company with a regenerative, living-systems perspective—the design model Mother Nature shows us time and again is the path to success—is the only way to succeed in today’s volatile and quickly-changing world. 

I was not part of the comms or situation management team working with Daily Harvest as the crumble > sickness claims began to come in, so I can only armchair quarterback at this time. But as a regenerative business consultant, one of the first response tactics I would have given to the leadership team would have been this: Give me a list of all of your stakeholders. 

Note the difference between shareholder and stakeholders. While both groups have an interest in a company, shareholders are limited to the individuals and entities that own shares or stock in a company. Stakeholders are all key parts of the organization’s ecosystem that could (would) be impacted by, in this case, the unfolding health and PR crisis. Stakeholders may not have direct ownership of a company, but they can still influence the business through various means. (Hello social media influencers!)

Considering all stakeholders, including environmental and social, is a key principle of regenerative business and it is vital to successfully operating in today’s quickly-changing world.

Regenerative Business Principles In Action

If Daily Harvest’s business model had been regenerative, their DNA would have been (would be) grounded in holistic thinking. If the executive team had been trained in, and practicing, regenerative leadership—the first few health French Lentil + Leek crumble complaints that came in would have generated a consideration of all stakeholders and:

  1. By the time, in June of 2022, that customer service team members (stakeholders) started fielding calls from sick, irate, and/or terrified customers who had eaten the concerning crumbles, they would have already been briefed and prepared with talking points. Instead, according to a recent Bloomberg reports there was no heads up and, “Former employees describe shaking after callers—who sometimes said they weren’t even customers—would vividly describe violence they hoped the company’s employees and executives would inflict on themselves. Daily Harvest eventually had to bring in crisis counselors. ‘We had a lot of people crying,’ one former employee says.”
  2. The social media influencers (stakeholders) who helped give Daily Harvest a $1.1 billion valuation in 2021, would have been proactively contacted and brought into the response process rather than left outside the circle to help take the company down. Instead, their cases were among the first lawsuits filed against the company in federal and state courts.
  3. The shareholders of July 2023 would be confident that Daily Harvest can stay in business and make them a profit. Instead, they are testing out a whole new business model their leadership once swore away from: rolling into brick and mortar stores. (NOTE: I am not a shareholder in Daily Harvest but I am a stakeholder and I’d like to think their intentions are genuinely intentioned toward not just profitability but reforming a broken food system. So I hope they are successful and truly sustainable, on every level. Let me know if I can be of help!)

However this one company’s story plays out, for all of us, let this Daily Harvest parable be a reminder that the environmental, economic, and social challenges of our times require the shifting of our business models and belief systems from disconnection to interconnection; from mechanistic to living systems. For an interconnected, responsive, and regenerative ecosystem is how life on earth has been successful for 3.8 billion years. It is also how companies can be not just resilient enough so as to weather food recalls—or any such brand crisis—but also regenerative and net positive for a long time to come.