Meet Lori Hatcher of Truss Beverage Co., CB’s Newest Leader-In-Residence

“Diversity in leadership builds stronger business plans, a richer culture and develops a greater sense of empathy for the consumer”

With a fresh look and redesigned print magazine, Canadian Business provides innovative leaders — and those who want to learn from them — the resources, networking opportunities and inspiration to connect and continue challenging the status quo. One of the ways we are doing this is through launching the Canadian Business Leadership Circle, CB‘s leader-in-residence program where each month we engage a different C suite-level executive making an impact in their field. As part of the program, readers will have the chance to connect with these progressive-minded business execs for mentorship and professional development through exclusive content, virtual fireside chats and more.

This month, our first of two CB leaders-in-residence is Lori Hatcher, Marketer and Business Leader at Truss Beverage Co. In conversation with writer Joseph Cicerone, she shared her journey as an entrepreneur, the growing need for women in leadership roles, as well as exciting ventures within cannabis-infused beverages.

When you reflect on the experiences that made you the leader you are today, are there any particular ones that come to mind?

One of my first roles was as an Assistant Marketing Manager at General Mills. At any given moment of any ordinary day, our VP Marketing would show up and ask, “Lori, what’s your big idea today?” Naturally, I found myself waking up every morning and preparing myself for this question, asking: “What’s the big idea today?” That practice has driven me for the last twenty plus years of my career. Upon reflection, I truly believe that it is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself as a business leader. I’m in the business of big ideas after all, especially in marketing. I’ve seen them change trajectories for a brand and find new ways to connect with consumers’ hearts and minds. It’s completely shaped how I approach my work. 

From then to now, what important lessons in leadership have you learned along the way?

When I think about the start of my career, there was far less diversity in leadership. I always felt that I had to fit into a certain mould, which upon reflection, translated to a male-designed mould. Early on in my career, I acted in a way that wasn’t always authentic to me, and because of that I felt like an imposter. Thankfully, I’ve had amazing teams, mentors and coaches who always gave me the feedback I needed. For the last ten years, I’ve been focused on developing an authentic leadership style that’s right for me and leading with purpose and passion, which I consider one of my biggest strengths.

What advice do you have, particularly for other women entering the world of business?

There are a couple pieces of advice: The first is that business needs you. I’ve seen repeatedly, examples of how diversity in teams leads to better results. It builds stronger business plans, a richer culture and develops a greater sense of empathy for the consumer. Second is that when opportunities come your way that make you uncomfortable, take them. So many of the most rewarding moments in my career came when I had the opportunity to do something I had never done before. And those moments made me incredibly uncomfortable. But by saying yes, I had amazing experiences that led to new and exciting milestones in my career. Lastly—and most importantly—if you are in a company, organization or team and you find yourself pretending to be someone you’re not when you go to work, that place is not good enough for you. This is something I wish I had been aware of earlier on in my career. Authenticity will drive you, inauthenticity will slow you down.

You’ve previously held senior marketing positions at Canada Goose and STACK – from a marketing perspective, how does the Canadian cannabis industry compare to that of fashion or finance?

It’s interesting because the industries are so different but with many similarities. The similarities are being consumer first and knowing your consumers better than anyone else does. Having a focus on building the very best product that meets their needs and delighting them with brands and values that reflect their own. These 3 things are even more important in cannabis and with strict advertising regulations we need to get even more creative to reach and add value to our consumers. With strict advertising regulations, we’ve got to get creative and double down on these values and that’s something unique to this industry.

Nearly a year ago, the Canadian cannabis beverage industry didn’t exist. What role does innovation play in establishing a new market? What is the megatrend when it comes to the product? 

Innovation is crucial in brand development and generating excitement around the product. Just over a year ago, we launched the largest portfolio of cannabis-infused beverages (CIBs) in Canada with an objective to work alongside consumers every step of the way. Initially, we launched a broad portfolio of five brands, and our sixth brand, Bedfellow Liquid Arts, will be coming out this fall. This past summer, we added seven new SKUs to our base portfolio as a result of consumer feedback and how their wants are evolving. In an early focus group, we learned that one of the biggest appeals to cannabis-infused beverages is the absence of negative components that are common in other beverages, like sugar and artificial flavours. We also learned how important consistency is to the consumer in terms of both taste and dosing. Leveraging this knowledge is what makes us unique.

Ultimately, we believe that an innovative approach has allowed CIBs to become one of the biggest trends, not only in cannabis, but in beverages across the board. We know that a growing number of consumers are moving away from, or at least lessening, their consumption of alcohol, which has raised an interest in cannabis. Maybe they don’t want to inhale smoke, so alongside these changes, CIBs really fit the bill.

Do you see any commonalities among sectors in the kinds of obstacles women face in moving their careers forward, as well as in how organizations can break down those obstacles?

Business needs to change. The cannabis industry does not have a lot to be proud of in terms of diversity; it’s still very much a boys’ club. I think the industry would hugely benefit from having more women in positions of leadership and on boards. It’s hard to have empathy from your consumer when the boards are almost exclusively older white men.

What I can say about Truss is that we’ve aimed from the get-go to build a different kind of beverage company and a different kind of cannabis company. It’s important for us to have a portfolio reflective of our diverse customer base, and choose to build our team in a way that also reflects this. We’re proud that over half of our leadership team are women; we take unique hiring practices from the ground up and we are intentional about giving opportunities to leaders within the organization so that they can grow. It’s important that businesses break the traditional mould of leadership, and prioritize the value of an eclectic leadership team. I think we’re lucky because we are not only building a portfolio of brands, but a new category of products from the very beginning. Because of this, we can start without making the same mistakes that companies before us have made.

You clearly have a passion for entrepreneurship; is this the career you’ve always sought for yourself? Do you see yourself in cannabis?

When cannabis came up, it was definitely intriguing to me as a marketer. It’s not often that you can build a new company within a new market. I wanted to be a part of a consumer-led, brand-making company, and that is Truss. I’ve also seen cannabis impact the lives of many people in beneficial ways. I think that CIBs can offer a whole new relationship between the average consumer and beverages, and that’s something of importance to me.

What has you most excited about the future of cannabis beverages?

In the last year, it’s been so fun to see what consumers are gravitating to. But a lot of these consumers are already experienced with cannabis, and they’re figuring out how CIBs fit in their lives. What I’m most excited about in the years to come is how CIBs can actually bring in new consumers who have never tried cannabis before. I’m excited to see that expansion.

What can we expect at your CB Insider Fireside Chat?

We will be delving into the world of cannabis beverages as a whole, what it takes to build a brand, and offering a sneak-peek into Truss’ newest launch, Bedfellows Liquid Arts. I love interactive sessions and chats like this, so I’m really looking forward to it.