Questioning the Status Quo at the 2019 Food Summit
Written by Eva Gurfein, Sustainable Food Initiative Student Lead and MBA ’21 Candidate
On October 21st, Food@Haas hosted the annual Food Summit in partnership with the Career Management Group. The summit kicked off a week of discovery and reflection as the first industry-specific program held during Career Week – the designated time for first-year MBA students to delve into our career search.
Since joining the Berkeley Haas community this fall, I have found myself at home with a passionate group of like-minded students committed to advancing careers in the food and beverage industry. While some have previous industry experience, others are exploring food as a target industry to pivot into. For all of us across this spectrum of career exploration, the Food Summit provided an opportunity to hear alumni perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of working in food. The diverse lineup of speakers came from a range of food industry organizations and represented the different functions open to MBA graduates. In addition to a panel on entrepreneurship, we heard from alumni working in a variety of roles including responsible ingredient sourcing, marketing, and operations within CPG, foodservice, technology, and startups.
Over the course of the summit, a focus of the discussion centered on the evolution currently underway in the industry. Keynote speaker Jane Franch, Director Strategic Sourcing & Sustainability at Numi Tea, shared the unprecedented challenges the industry faces stemming from climate change. Franch also addressed the shifting consumer demand for products that deliver on sustainability, health, and transparency. For Numi Tea, the foundation of the company was built around the belief that if you honor people and the planet, and bring forward a product sourced with integrity, that will drive consumer interest and profit. Not all businesses are so forward-thinking. Dennis Macray, Former Senior Vice President Impact at Rebbl, Inc., commented on the food industry’s focus on food safety; arguing that much of the industry’s investments are not “progressive” but instead just concentrated on avoiding recalls. Macray and Franch introduced a rallying message that resonated throughout the summit’s panel discussions – the pressure to question the food industry’s status quo has reached a crescendo.
Each speaker provided unique insights into how this significant pressure spurs industry innovation. It is evident that this mounting demand to rethink industry norms has created unparalleled opportunities for those of us launching food industry careers. Given the sector’s potential for positive impact on environmental and human health and the pressing consumer demand, there has never been a more dynamic time to join the better food movement.
So, how can we build careers in food with this ambition?
For starters, Macray challenged us to reframe our conversations around the industry’s biggest issues. Instead of talking about supply chains, he encouraged focusing instead on ingredient networks. Talking about accessible food is important, but it’s more important to talk about just and equitable food. If you’re talking about sustainability, you’re too late – let’s evolve the conversation to focus on regenerative. Instead of safe food, let’s talk about traceable food – ultimately, you can’t have safety without traceability. And finally, instead of food waste let’s consider “re-ingredients” – how can we put what would otherwise be considered waste to good use?
Professor William Rosenzweig, faculty director of the Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI), offered additional words of wisdom, encouraging us to become “pragmatic imagineers.” To establish conditions for effective innovation, he argued, we must understand the pragmatic connections between policy, public health, and business systems. We must work nimbly, while taking the long view – understanding the long-term implications of food system decisions. Above all, we must champion big ideas by taking the small steps to get the work done. I feel lucky to be part of this Berkeley Haas community of food industry leaders and to grow over these next two years into a pragmatic imagineer for the future.
About the Author
Eva Gurfein, MBA ’21, Sustainable Food Initiative Student Lead
Prior to Haas, Eva worked as a Managing Director at RF|Binder, a communications and consulting firm focused on building, growing, and transforming brands. Her work included brand development, integrated marketing communications programming, and product launch strategy with a focus on positioning food and beverage clients for consumer adoption, including Corbion’s algae ingredients portfolio, Perfect Day Foods, and the German Wine Institute.