Joey Jaraczewski

Shifts in the Trade Winds: IFT16 and the Opportunity of Conscious Consumption

If you haven’t met me, the basic introduction is that I’m using my time in the Oregon MBA to build a career that impacts sustainable food and agriculture. This path led me to interning with Mercaris, a startup that provides rare and valuable market intelligence to the organic grain industry. Also, nice to meet you, hope you’re having a nice summer, and welcome to the Oregon MBA!

The IFT16 Trade Show Floor

The trade show floor at IFT16

Two weeks ago, I represented Mercaris at IFT16, an international convention of food scientists and industry professionals. The conference promoted professional development through shared research. Meanwhile, an accompanying trade show attracted a cross section of the industry, all vying to show their “on trend” ingredients, equipment, and processes.

Being new to the world of food science, I noticed a unifying trend: the prevalence of informed, discerning, and wary consumers. If you have paid attention to food advertising in the last five years, you’ll recognize terms like “clean ingredients” and “sustainable sourcing.” You might also know a little bit more about technical ideas like probiotics, antioxidants, or minimal processing. You might be attempting a diet that is “free from” ingredients like gluten, sugar, sodium, and even meat. You might even classify yourself as a locavore, a flexitarian, or just a foodie in general. And the most interesting part of this amazing development is how it has taken the food industry by surprise.

A keynote seminar underlined the gap in understanding between the food scientists and the food consumers. A marketing executive presented the findings of C+R Research, which conducted a marketing study on the clean label trend. He stated that clean label claims and minimalist packaging are “a backlash and a challenge to Big Food companies” and they target a mainstream audience. 69% of those surveyed reported consistent label-reading behavior. Consumers are certainly awakened to the idea that some food products have negative health benefits. More importantly, consumers woke up to the idea that some companies have a consistent track record of stakeholder care. 47% of those surveyed reported the use of simple strategies to meet their personal dietary requirements, including trust in certain retail outlets or packaged products.

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Me and a 2,000lb tote, a standard of transportation for food commodities

In another age, health and wellness were confined to certain high-value customer segments. However, the final takeaway from C+R Research pointed to a tectonic shift in consumer behavior: when it comes to food, education and socio-economic status are no longer the reliable barometers they once were. Conscious consumption now cuts across class, with consumer age playing a key role for segmentation purposes. Millennials and Boomers are more receptive to clean label claims than are Gen Xers, but all generations exhibit some level of food literacy which impacts their purchase behavior. As one Gen X member of a live consumer panel remarked, “they put [high fructose corn syrup] in our food and we got fat as a nation… I’m mad at them.”

And so, to what cause do we attribute this disconnect between consumer and industry? Alarmist documentaries like “Cowspiracy,” and “Food, Inc.” paint a grim picture of multinationals that hide their nefarious production practices or actively sacrifice the health of people and planet in the name of profit margins. From my position on the trade floor, however, the disconnect seems to stem from reductionist science. As one executive from the GreenBiz Group noted, the purpose of a food company is to create products with an eye toward cost, safety, and taste. Within this spectrum of values, raw food commodities boil down to fats, sweeteners, and emulsifying agents. They are designed for shelf-stability and are marketed for mass appeal.

Once you add nutrition to this mix, the food scientists begin to scratch their heads. A food product is only the sum of its ingredients, and meeting dietary guidance is a matter of stacking nutritional values. Under this lens, food science looks more like product development, while nutrition separates into another discipline altogether. Food scientists are rapidly trying to address this gap in their education; one of my favorite seminars was amusingly titled “Nutrition and Food: An Obvious but Little Appreciated Partnership.”

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A consumer panel hosted by C+R Research

The trend towards health and wellness has seismic implications for the entire supply chain. Going forward, consumers will reward food companies for their attention to nutritional economics and transparency, rather than for their cost economics and quality control. Furthermore, as the world shifts towards more sustainable diets, food companies will be rewarded for communicating the environmental impact of their ingredients. The IFIC reports that for 41% of consumers, the sustainability of a food product is an order winner. And Big Food is responding with agility. A seminar on sustainable proteins illuminated the development—and the opportunity—of supply chains based around plant, insect, and cultured proteins.

At IFT16, I tasted the future of food. Protein bars made with chia, amaranth, and algae oil. Egg-free chocolate chip cookies made with a chickpea flour. 100% Guatemalan dark roast served on a nitro similar to Guinness, and an Indian spice cold brew made with tamarind. Naan pizza. Spaghetti-and-mealworms. I also had updated versions of trending classics like the mango smoothie and the grilled cheese sandwich. IFT16 stimulated all my senses and sensibilities, and I am fortunate for the experience.

Written by Joey Jaraczewski

Jaraczewski joins the Oregon MBA with a passion for changing the food industry. He grew up in rural Arizona and has spent the past four years exploring the world of food from multiple angles. He’s worked as a server and bartender in Flagstaff and traveled across the country visiting farms, feedlots, food distribution warehouses, and retailers. As an Oregon MBA on the sustainability track, Jaraczewski plans to build on that experience to explore ways to build a more sustainable food system for generations to come. Jaraczewski will graduate as an Oregon MBA with the class of 2017.

Catalyst

Snow was falling softly on the ground in the parking lot outside of the police station as my phone went off. I had just finished a meeting with Flagstaff PD regarding their strategy of “community policing” in the wake of a fallen officer. The meeting still on my mind, I answered a call from Paul Allen, UO’s Director of Admissions, which led to my acceptance into Oregon MBA. As I started my car and defrosted my windshield, I breathed a victorious sigh. I was going to business school.

Some might say that I had a wild roving youth, and one which doesn’t translate well to paper.

Singing for 'We Were There' in winter 2014

Singing for ‘We Were There’, winter 2014

Recognizing this shortcoming, I threw myself into creating the case for why I was a prime candidate to leave my current path and get on the Oregon trail. All of my community-college-attending, essay-editing, resume-tweaking, and GMAT re-taking efforts were steps toward rebranding myself and building that case. The funny part of the whole process? It’s what doesn’t translate well to paper that translates best to the program itself.

A large part of our discussions at Oregon are retrospective and reflective. Every day we are encouraged to synthesize our considerable learning in the light of our direct experience. After all, if you cannot find personal relevance with the material, you will not understand it properly. Different minds subjected to different training, interpret the same data differently (duh). The fun part of the program is collaborating with my peers to combine these interpretations and create additional value.

It is here that I find that my wide and varied skill set aids me most. My background in education allows me to facilitate group discussion for effective decision-making. My work as a tour manager aids me immensely in understanding accounting and finance, while experience as an event planner gives me the linear mindset required for project management. I draw from my time as a punk rock front man to be a commanding presenter, and my experience in the tattoo industry taught me that innovation is iteration. Buffalo Wild Wings taught me supply chain, while Criollo Latin Kitchen taught me supply chain integration. Hosting taught me capacity management, serving taught me how to segment markets, and bartending showed me that hustle is scarce and hunger is your greatest asset

Visiting Theo Chocolate with the OMBA, winter 2016

Visiting Theo Chocolate with the OMBA, winter 2016

Most importantly, however, was the time I spent as a crisis responder for victim’s rights. Becoming a crisis responder was one of my last projects before coming to the OMBA, inspired by last year’s civil unrest and a heightened consciousness of gender issues. Crisis response taught me that risk is ever present and many a well thought out deal goes bad. Crisis response causes me to remember that there is a much larger world outside of the Oregon MBA, one which is created at the community level, and one which demands conscious change agents.

If I could, I would go back to that parking lot and ask myself, “How does your experience color the way you process information? How do you leverage your insight into effective leadership? How do you find freedom in focus?” The answers to these questions are those which show a person’s true quality beyond their worth on paper. Yet, I know I would never have been able to answer them before coming here.

Written by Joey Jaraczewski

Jaraczewski joins the Oregon MBA with a passion for changing the food industry. He grew up in rural Arizona and has spent the past four years exploring the world of food from multiple angles. He’s worked as a server and bartender in Flagstaff and traveled across the country visiting farms, feedlots, food distribution warehouses, and retailers. As an Oregon MBA on the sustainability track, Jaraczewski plans to build on that experience to explore ways to build a more sustainable food system for generations to come. Jaraczewski will graduate as an Oregon MBA with the class of 2017.

Growing a Sustainable Diet

Ori Shavit Israeli VegansThe first quarter of the Oregon MBA offers unique opportunities to use the lens of business for cultural discovery. On the morning of November 18th, I had the privilege of Skyping with Ori Shavit, an Israeli food critic and cook turned vegan activist. During the conversation, we spoke at length about sustainable diets, about the passion and drama of the restaurant industry, and about using influence to be a catalyst for change.

In sustainability circles, the impact of the food and agricultural industry is a touchy subject. While the petroleum industry is an easy villain to target, many overlook the livestock industry’s contribution to emissions and ocean acidification. By choosing not to eat animal products, one can reduce their carbon footprint double as much over, say, choosing not to drive a vehicle. The simple reality is that people balk at the idea of switching to a meatless diet, with the idea that their food would just not taste as good.

Ori Shavit also regarded the vegan diet with wariness. Ori was an editor and writer for Al Hasulchan, the leading gastronomic publication of Israel. As a food critic, not only her lifestyle but her livelihood depended on the richness of food and on the vibrancy of the restaurant experience. This job contained a great deal of responsibility. Not only would her writings make or break a restaurant’s customer traffic, they also had a long term effect on the direction of the Israeli palate and a culture’s palate is a key indicator of their level of physical health.

In the pages of VegansOnTop.com and as a TEDx speaker, Ori is quick to point out that an animal-based diet has implications on a culture’s spiritual health as well. Israel is actually a net exporter of dairy products, as well as citrus and tomatoes. Many consumers are ignorant of the cruelty involved in the process of growing meat, eggs, and dairy products. For a culture like Israel’s, which is sensitive to mass-cruelty by their very history, the Israeli Ori Shavit TedXvegan movement maintains that it is unacceptable to be complicit in such violence. The idea is gaining traction: Israel now ranks as the country with the most people identifying as vegan per capita, and Tel Aviv has a vibrant vegan restaurant culture.

Ori Shavit has been a crucial part of this process. As a self-proclaimed “hedonist” and food lover, she has had to work hard to ensure that her passion for the culinary arts would not be sacrificed by her switch to veganism. For instance, she was instrumental in the vegan “pop-up” restaurant scene, where chefs changed the menu of their upscale establishment for one night and sold a prix-fixe menu to huge crowds. The draw for these events proved to mid-level restauranteurs that the demand was there, and they adjusted their menus accordingly. Now, there are even vegan restaurants opening in the back country (the “Kibbutz”). Every step of the way, Ori has used her influence in the industry to both grow demand and maintain it. This includes a creating and preparing the menu for the Israeli Parliament’s very first vegan lunch, a highlight of her career.

I believe that the restaurant industry is a mirror of its values, especially in terms of what it does and doesn’t view as “food.” In Israel, the legitimacy of vegan cuisine has translated to a shift in supply in the food industry at large. Dairy producers are now offering more dairy-free milks and cheeses, and 30% of Israelis have reportedly loweredIsraeli Vegan Food their consumption of animal products. All of this points to the power of the individual, which Ori Shavit is a firm believer in. That is to say, she is a firm believer in the purchasing power of many like-minded individuals, and her movement is a movement of the people. In a world of seven billion consumers, where many feel powerless in the face of environmental and social degradation, Ori has a message of hope: eat, eat consciously, and eat well!

 

Ori Shavit will be a visiting speaker at the University of Oregon in late March or early April.

Written by Joey Jaraczewski

Jaraczewski joins the Oregon MBA with a passion for changing the food industry. He grew up in rural Arizona and has spent the past four years exploring the world of food from multiple angles. He’s worked as a server and bartender in Flagstaff and traveled across the country visiting farms, feedlots, food distribution warehouses, and retailers. As an Oregon MBA on the sustainability track, Jaraczewski plans to build on that experience to explore ways to build a more sustainable food system for generations to come. Jaraczewski will graduate as an Oregon MBA with the class of 2017.