Breaking news: In one of the craziest pivots of all time, Harley-Davidson announced today it would diversify from its core business of making iconic motorcycles to launch a product line of personalized beef and pork jerky products based on an individual’s microbiome.
But I have to admit, when I read the headline that Neil Grimmer, the food industry star who sold his first startup to Campbell’s and became perhaps the most well-known face in the personalized nutrition space with his second in Habit, was leaving the food business to become the President of Harley-Davidson brand, I did a double take.
I mean, a hog business would make sense, but The Hog business?
Harley-Davidson announced today that Neil Grimmer will join the company’s leadership team as President, Harley-Davidson Brand.
As Harley’s first-ever brand president, Grimmer will evolve the brand to support the company’s strategy to build the next generation of Harley-Davidson riders globally. As the company expands into new segments and new geographies and seeks to inspire diverse, new riders around the globe, he will be responsible for all aspects of the Harley-Davidson brand including product planning, marketing, retail, apparel and communications.
While the news is a surprise given Grimmer’s high profile in food and, more specifically, personalized food, it’s not surprising given the context of recent developments with Habit and Campbell Soup, Habit’s main shareholder.
In February, Campbell’s divested itself of Habit when it sold the company to Viome, a startup that uses AI to analyze a person’s microbiome. While Habit’s at-home test-kit doesn’t currently analyze the microbiome, it looks like that’s part of the plan as the company is integrated with Viome. Here’s a quote from Grimmer about the transaction:
“With the advent of big data and computational biology, I believe it’s possible to provide everyone in this country and around the world a personalized blueprint to achieve their health and wellness goals,” says Habit’s Founder and CEO, Neil Grimmer. “Viome analyzes the gut microbiome at a molecular level with advanced technology from the Los Alamos National Lab, which is a great competitive advantage and great foundation for creating the ultimate whole-body nutrition solution.”
So, is this move by Grimmer (and Campbell’s) a sign the once white hot personalized food space has lost its shine?
Not really. If anything, Grimmer’s departure seem more to do with Campbell’s struggles and changes at Habit than anything. Over the past year, the old-school soup brand got more old-school as it started to sell off its more experimental businesses in a retrenchment back to its core soup and snacks business. At the same time, Habit pulled back from its original push into creating and delivering personalized meals based on a person’s specific nutritional profile to simply creating personalized meal plans.
And with Campbell’s selling off Habit, it’s not that surprising a fast-riser like Grimmer would want to try something new. The biggest surprise it he’s leaving food since he’s spent the majority of his career there, but the reality is Grimmer’s built a name as an out-of-the-box thinker and charismatic leader, traits that he could no doubt transfer to a new industry.
Unless, of course, Harley really is planning on that new microbiome friendly jerky.
You can see Grimmer’s talk about the future of personalized nutrition in the consumer kitchen from the Smart Kitchen Summit here.