As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt economies globally, businesses large, medium, and small are all scrambling for available resources that will help keep them afloat. At Natalie’s Island Juice Company, we know this reality as a midsize business of 200 employees.
The results have been mixed and tumultuous.
When another wave of government loans was approved for small businesses, it was reported that a few large public companies took advantage of the loan program, exploiting loopholes to gain unwarranted loan approvals. Meanwhile small businesses are learning from their banks that there is not enough available cash to fund the guaranteed loans promised by the government.
Much of what we’re going through right now is wholly uncharted. If there’s one thing we’re learning during the coronavirus crisis it’s that nothing, whether it’s medical, social, or financial, is a perfect science.
Midsize companies like ours, which account for about one-third of private-sector gross domestic product, face their own challenges. They’re not “too big to fail” and yet they’re deemed too large to secure aid delegated for small business.
To a large extent, midsize businesses have been left to our own devices.
We have learned our own share of interesting lessons as our company continues trying to conduct business in this very unusual marketplace. Surprisingly, we’ve found there are several advantages to being not too big, and not too small, but somewhere in the middle.
Our company is a woman-owned and family-operated business based in Florida, as well as a growing niche player in the highly competitive juice market. There are several reasons the size of our enterprise has worked fortuitously right now.
Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned, so far.
Diversify the business early
Most food and beverage brands concentrate their efforts on one of two market sectors: food services, as in supplying restaurants and institutions like schools and corporate cafeterias, or retail sales.
Being a diversified business, consisting of 50% retail and 50% food service, granted us versatility when the COVID-19 outbreak started shutting down restaurants and schools. While we have seen a decline in food service sales, our retail sales have experienced a 24% increase, which has helped contribute to growth and stability during this time. A midsize company oftentimes has the luxury of being diverse.
Those brands that focused too heavily on food services are scrambling right now, since the pandemic has closed down schools and shut down many cafeteria businesses. Similarly, large brands that focused exclusively on retail sales are having trouble being nimble enough to respond to changing market forces.
One-stop-shop distributors are facing a number of disruptions, forcing them to focus on restocking staples like paper products and cleaning supplies and as a result, leaving less room to regularly replenish juice shelves.
The pandemic creates new market opportunities
There’s a lot of talk these days about pivoting the business model to take advantage of the changing market realities. Oftentimes, it’s the midsize companies, like ours, which are best-positioned to implement such changes with the least amount of disruption or pain.
Remarkably, juice sales are up, as families look for a way to increase their intake of vitamin C. Americans, now confined to their homes because of the pandemic, are rediscovering a sit-down breakfast, where juice has always been a centerpiece. This has created a market for our orange juice.
Keep up several distribution channels
As a midsize business, our distribution network features a couple of options, including Direct Store Delivery (DSD). Whereas large brands are beholden to the ever-changing pain points of their one-stop distributors, DSD allows our brand to be delivered and stocked on grocery shelves.
We also have an e-commerce site that sells directly to the consumer. That channel has been very active, as more of our customers opt for home delivery—rather than rushing out to the store. What started as a modest experiment in direct-to-consumer marketing has translated to a huge jump in sales.
Once again, it is our company’s size that has enabled us to establish, explore, and leverage these diversified channels. We’re not so small that investment in these resources was cost-prohibitive, and we’re not so large that we were locked into restrictive methods of doing volume sales at scale.
Respond quickly to customer needs to show your value
Right now, consumers need additional support both nutritionally and financially. Due to Natalie’s medium size, our company can offer value more readily in these unconventional times when our customers are most in need. Though many larger brands have suspended their promotions, our brand is offering price reductions in the coming weeks, as well as encouraging customers to turn to home delivery.
Free shipping and emphasis on e-commerce shows our customers we are still trying to reach them.
Support with flexibility
Currently, growers in Florida are experiencing terminations in their fruit contracts from accounts that are smaller or equal in size to Natalie’s due to COVID-19.
The last thing we want to do is be part of the problem for these suppliers. We believe in supporting their livelihoods but, more importantly, we want to sustain our long-standing relationship and reputation with them. Businesses like ours would be nowhere without our network of Florida farmers and other vendors, and being a midsize business enables us the flexibility to support them through this tough time.
Trusted business policies and our commitment to pay our vendors on time contribute to how we utilize relationships and maximize the delivery and fulfillment of our product across the US, while other companies have struggled. Our trusted transportation and logistics relationships have allowed us to continue to ship products at an affordable rate while other companies have struggled due to low volume orders.
The COVID-19 outbreak is redefining how business is done, on a global scale. Moving forward, we hope to stay flexible and nimble enough to react to the needs of a new emerging post-pandemic marketplace. As a midsize business, we know firsthand that size is a powerful component to remaining prosperous, whether times are typical or particularly tough.
Natalie Sexton is the namesake of Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company, where she is the VP of marketing. She is also a leading holistic health coach and one of the foremost experts on the clean-label juice movement.