Caryn speaks with Julia Turshen, former host of Cherry Bombe Radio and writer of several cookbooks including Feed the Resistance (2017).Read More
Caryn speaks with Jeremy Salamon, executive chef of The Eddy, about the pleasures of creating food for others, mental health in the kitchen, and his one magic wish for the restaurant industry.Read More
My initial intention when starting this series was to post one interview each week for the final weeks of class. Well, class is over for the semester, and guess what didn't happen?
Which brings me to important Grad School Lesson 1 - going to school at night and working full time is hard. No matter how much I love food studies and genuinely want to do all the readings in their entirety, I'm not invincible - far from it. Sometimes I just need to watch 7 episodes of 90 Day Fiancé. And that's okay. Learning to appreciate learning for what it is, rather than worrying about grades and papers and projects, has been the most important lesson from my inaugural semester.
But now that the semester is over, my final interview project needs to be turned in. So I'm going to pack these pieces into one content-blasted week, and I really can't wait to share them with you. I am so incredibly grateful for the collection of food industry rockstars that agreed to speak with me for this project. Next up, meet Melissa Schwimmer, culinary producer for BSTV Entertainment.
So this is a little bit late because I was out last night tearing up Flavortown looking like this:
This week's interview is with Chris Beisswenger, Director of Insights and Analytics at Banza. Banza is a pasta made from chickpeas that is high fiber, high protein, and low carb. I'd tell you to go buy some, but it looks like they're completely sold out on their site, so they must be doing something right. You can use their store locater here.
A: It was all pretty lucky. I was working in finance out of college, but I knew it wasn't where I wanted to be for the long term. I saved up some money to travel and left for a year long trip heading east around the world. I was about ten months in when I got an email from an old colleague of mine saying that his friend from college was starting a company making pasta out of chickpeas and needed some help.
My interest in food deepened dramatically as I was traveling. Across cultures, I saw delicious and healthy food fueling astonishing human pursuits and bringing people together around the table to build lasting bonds. Banza in particular appealed to me as the hearty base to such a wide variety of tasty, creative, and convenient meals.
I did my interviewing in various internet cafes around Southeast Asia. I loved the concept and the three impressive people at the company, so I tentatively accepted having never tried the pasta. As soon as I got back I tried a box of penne and was very pleased with the taste and texture. I joined the team in April 2015.
Q: What are some of the major challenges in your work? A: While Grocery is modernizing rapidly, it is still an old-fashioned business. We often hear, "that's just the way things work," which is a frustrating response when you are trying to take a new approach that you truly believe is in the best interest of consumers. Luckily, we have found a number of progressive partners in the business who are willing to take risks and lead constructive change with us. We double-down on these relationships when we find them.
Educating the consumer and inducing trial are really tough. People have deeply-ingrained preferences and eating habits, so it's tough to tell them the benefits of a healthier pasta and even tougher to actually find a way to have them try a bite. You can't tell someone a food tastes good. They have to try it to know.
Production is a challenge for food brands regardless of size. Producing at scale, matching manufacturing quantities to sales, ensuring consistent quality, and maintaining an edge in product innovation are where a lot of great food brands get lost and discouraged.
Q: What are some of the major pleasures of your job? A: Being the reason people gather around a dinner table and share special moments is important for us. We believe food is family, and we aim to bring about more joyful meals in a time when so many people are snacking and eating on the go.
I love that we are changing peoples' perceptions of health food. Rather than accepting healthy food as unappetizing, time-consuming, serious, or expensive, we believe it should be accessible. To this end, we are always thinking about how to make Banza more delicious, convenient, fun, and affordable.
From what I have seen, helping people to eat more nutritious food often leads a ripple effect that brings fulfillment in other aspects of their lives. I love that we can set this chain reaction in motion by giving them a simple swap to improve their diets and livelihoods.
Q: What's the process like to make Banza pasta and get it to the consumer? A: First, Sourcing Raw Materials - This could be going as far as the farm level or purchasing from other ingredient suppliers whose capabilities match your requirements.
Manufacturing - Either you own your own facility, or you look for a third-party manufacturer who agrees to make your product for you.
Warehousing & Fulfillment - Logistical requirements for retailers and distributors can be complex. Again, you either build these systems yourself or you find a third-party logistics (3PL) company to handle it.
Distributors - Many retailers prefer to pull their product from a distributor, which is an intermediary that provides convenience for retailers (and in some cases brands/manufacturers). They add cost in the chain but can streamline if set up correctly, especially with smaller retailers.
Grocery Retailers - Getting on shelves is only the beginning in your relationship with a grocery retailer. Promotions, ads, displays, and other collaborative programs are key to understand. Often these relationships are managed jointly by a brand's sales team and a "Broker", which is an outsourced sales force specializing in certain retailers. Often a presence is required at the store level to assist with relationships with in-store decision makers.
Marketing - This is usually quite broad and diverse for many food brands. It includes areas such as field (often doing sampling of the product), digital, social, PR, customer experience, etc.
Q: If there was one thing you could change in this industry ... what would that be? A: Better technology across in the industry could help eliminate inefficiencies and bring innovative products to more people at improved prices.
Thank you to Chris for Interview #2 and thanks to everyone for bearing with all the pasta gifs.
Welcome to the inaugural post of Food Studies Fridays! Every Friday for the next 10 weeks, I'll be posting an interview with someone who works in the food industry as part of a final class project. (Yes, I'm in school, in case you missed that announcement. More info on that here.)
We're going to kick it off this week with a very special guest from Food Network. Food media is a large part of my graduate program as many students go on to work at media outlets like Food and Wine Magazine, Food52, and Heritage Radio Network.
Without further ado, meet Madeline Langlieb, Programming and Development Executive at Food Network!
So I'm cheating a little bit because Madeline is one of my best friends. I've had the privilege of tagging along with her to many awesome food events. Here I am mooching off her in the VIP section of the Big Apple BBQ this summer:
In addition to keeping me well fed, Madeline is the Executive in Charge of Production for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which was nominated for an Emmy this summer. Go Mads!
Q: How long have you worked at Food Network? A: 5.5 years.
Q: How did you end up there? A: My first job at a talent agency led me to my current company. I previously worked with talent and production companies that star in and create shows for Food Network. I was previously on the selling side, and now I get pitched shows and work towards getting them on TV.
Q: What are a few of the major challenges in your industry? A: There are so many ways to get content, especially food based content. Be it on linear tv, on Instagram, blogs, Snapchat, Facebook, there seems to be more and more options for food focused content. Keeping up with trends and staying relevant is always top of mind. We try to create compelling shows that will entertain and inform our viewers.
Q: What are a few of the major pleasures in your work or industry? A: A lot of people say I have the best job in the world, and I wouldn't say that they are wrong. I get to work for a beloved network, and make entertainment for a living. I also get to eat and drink some pretty bomb stuff.
Q: What's the most bomb thing you've eaten recently? A: Milk ice cream with honey over freeze dried honeycomb from The NoMad!
Q: What skills do you use to be successful at work? A: It all boils down to having great relationships, creativity, and being able to execute ideas.
Q: If there was one thing you could change about your work, what would that be? A: I wish there were more hours in the day, both to produce new shows and to eat more food!
Thanks Madeline for being Interview #1! Tune in next week where I talk to a food entrepreneur who is disrupting pasta.