Food Summit 2020: Creativity as the Secret Ingredient to Success in the Food Industry
This year on October 20th, the Food@Haas student group put together a Food Summit during career week for students of the Haas School of Business. The summit sought to give students exposure to the breadth of professional opportunities available to them in the large, exciting world of food. Whether you were new to the industry, there with an open-mind and listening ear, or a seasoned professional in the food space, looking to deepen your knowledge and understanding of the space, the Food Summit welcomed all. The summit featured over ten speakers from diverse perspectives across the food ecosystem, each offering a unique take on what a career in food can look like. The summit began with an hour-long Q&A panel discussion during which speakers dove into their professional journeys, their current roles, as well as challenges they are tackling. During the second half of the summit, students broke out into small groups for a speed alumni networking session, where students were able to ask targeted questions and engage in more intimate and transparent conversations with alumni. This year the summit featured the following eleven speakers:
Diverse Food & Beverage Career Pathways Panel:
- Jenny Eu, Founder & CEO, Three Trees
- Somiran Gupta, Supply Strategy at Dig
- Daniel T. McFadden, Senior Associate Brand Manager, Cheerios, General Mills
- Nicholas Mylet, Global Manager, Sustainability, ABInBev
- Victoria Williams-Ononye, Senior Associate Brand Manager, Kraft-Heinz
Alumni Speed Networking:
- Jenny Burns ‘12, Innovation Director, Applegate
- Helmut Drews ‘13, Co-Founder, Encina Farms
- Julianne Feder ‘19, Sr. Assoc. Brand Manager, Innovation & Incubation, Nestle
- Ali Gilbert ‘20, Product Marketing Manager, Farmers Business Network
- Alexis Green ‘07, Senior Brand Manager, Honest Tea/Kids, Coca-Cola
- Amanda Parker ‘18, Managing Director, Cowgirl Creamery
Centering on Creativity
The speakers at the summit came from all types of organizations, ranging from start-ups to restaurants to large food and beverage agribusinesses. And yet, a common thread connected them all. What prominently stood out was just how central creativity and innovative thinking is in their work and success in the food industry. Each speaker described instances in which they took bold risks, relying on a combination of passion, intuition, and hard work to convince others of an idea or path forward. While taking creative risks does not always pay off, experimentation is part and parcel of the growth cycle of putting new food products and concepts out into the world.
Julianne Feder described how her role as an Associate Brand Manager at Nestle meant re-imagining the possibilities for the brand she oversees and charting out a growth strategy by envisioning a new product line and its story to consumers. Meanwhile, Nicholas Mylet, Global Manger of Sustainability at ABInBev, described how ABInBev uniquely and thoughtfully incorporates sustainability into their supply chains. It quickly became clear that Nicholas and ABInBev took a very innovative approach to understanding the role of sustainability, “So often sustainability is seen as external to the business or in addition to commercial goals, but at ABInBev, it’s fully integrated. Sustainability is key to the security of supply. It’s really critical that supply is managed for decades to come – sourcing is long-term. A big part of my role is managing partnerships to ensure we’re using water and materials sustainably. It’s so powerful to connect the dots between sourcing sustainably from suppliers locally and consumers’ desire for locally sourced beers.” Jenny Eu, Founder and CEO of Three Trees, presented yet another example of how creativity is central to surviving and thriving in food. Three Trees, at the time of its founding back in 2012, was one of a few clean, plant-based milks. Jenny spoke of how, as an entrepreneur, her company has been a true labor of love, and she has played a role in developing every aspect of the business you see today – down to the design of the labeling and packaging. Ultimately, each of these speakers demonstrated how flexibility, grit, and, most critically, out-of-the-box thinking has defined their careers in food.
Creativity During COVID
One of the most interesting ways in which this theme of creativity came up during the summit was how the speakers have risen to the challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. Victoria Williams-Ononye, Senior Associate Brand Manager at Kraft-Heinz, described how Kraft-Heinz has led the charge during this crisis. She described how the company has not only made major donations to help feed hungry Americans but also their critical role in providing affordable food to families in need. She described her role as interrogating “what innovation means at such a large scale, and what does breakthrough mean in the specific context [of Kraft-Heinz].” Similarly, Daniel McFadden from Cheerios described this crisis as an interesting moment for cereals. With more Americans at home, the consumption of breakfast foods has significantly increased. As a result, he’s had to think about what this moment means for Cheerios and how to effectively meet the needs and wants of hungry Americans. From a slightly different perspective, Somiran Gupta, who works on supply strategy at Dig, described from first-hand experience how the restaurant industry has been hit by the impacts of Covid-19. His story was focused on how Dig has pivoted and evolved quickly to meet the moment during Covid-19. Somiran pointed out the “different considerations about the way food is served, cooked, and the acceleration of digital experiences” in how Dig thinks about its existence and relevance during Covid-19. He outlined how Dig’s product market fit was mostly tied to the office lunch crowd pre-Covid. Since the office lunch crowd no longer exists with the rise of remote work during the pandemic, he has helped Dig pivot their menu and grow beyond a narrow focus on lunch.
Words of Wisdom
As the summit drew to a close, the speakers offered words of wisdom to help the aspiring food industry leaders at Haas find success in this field. One main piece of advice, once again, drew from the principles of creativity and innovation. The speakers outlined the importance of putting yourself out there and being unafraid to pitch a role for yourself at different food organizations. Haasies learned it’s important not to rely exclusively on traditional recruiting. Companies respond positively to initiative and creative thinking. Some of the most interesting work is the result of you reflecting on what you want to do and then painting a vivid picture for organizations of the kind of role you could play and what you uniquely bring to the table.
About the Author
Sania Salman, MBA ’22 & Sustainable Food Initiative Student Lead
Sania is a creative professional with a background in strategy and design for social impact. She is currently a first-year MBA student at Berkeley Haas School of Business and is eagerly exploring the sustainable food world. Through her 6+ years of consulting experience, Sania has partnered with government agencies, Fortune 100 clients, as well as domestic and international philanthropies, NGOs, and nonprofits to achieve impact.