Over the past 10 years, we have witnessed an unprecedented shift in culture, both in business and society, towards openness. For an industry as volatile and competitive as food and drink, this can make for an uncomfortable state of affairs.

But it is crucial that businesses open themselves up to sharing knowledge. Whereas food and drink companies could once operate in a walled garden, we are now seeing unprecedented levels of information being shared - and it is the innovative businesses that have emerged from the digital revolution that are leading the charge.

My company, Natoora, could be seen as one of these companies. We are a specialist fresh produce supplier and have been operating online for more than 10 years. I am happy to say I have relied on knowledge from other companies as my business as grown, many of whom are or were competitors.

“Today, the danger lies in refusing to share insights and experience”

I take part in meetings of business leaders through The Supper Club membership network, for example. These peers come from a wide variety of industries and we are frank in our discussions. It means I have been able to shape my business and offer a better service to my customers, while to others it may have been cost-savings or advice on growth strategy. 

By sharing information with a start-up in London, I have gained insight into their business model, their challenges, areas where margins are a concern. As we look into changing and adapting our own home delivery model, it has given us insider perspective on a potential model.

We have also shared information with a business in New York, selling high-quality fresh produce via subscription model. They have a very similar product to us yet different revenue and customer acquisition model. We gained insight that helped us form our strategy for own home delivery and it has also allowed us to benchmark our numbers.

It has traditionally been considered dangerous to give away insights and experience but, today, the danger lies in refusing to share it. Businesses that refuse to open up will fall behind, while those who equip themselves with industry knowledge remain agile and responsive.

Consumers are becoming ever-more savvy and selective about the businesses they choose, so we have to work harder to stay ahead and respond to their needs. We can’t do this alone.

The big supermarkets, for example, are facing an enormous challenge to their business models while consumer behaviour is changing. The more open you are as a business, the faster you react, and they are moving too slowly, relying on legacy relationships.

The conversations that are most vital to have in detail are those with the competitors closest to you. These are the businesses that know the detail on your customers and specific challenges you face. The closer the competition, the more detailed the conversations have to be.

It is an age-old adage, but in today’s world it has never been truer that knowledge is power. There is nothing to be feared about opening up and sharing information about your business, but there is a risk if you choose to close off communication.

Franco Fubini is MD of Natoora