Interested in learning more from Erin about Marketing and Distribution for your early stage or mid stage food brand? Join her in New York this Friday for a workshop designed just for you!
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
In college, I majored in Environmental Studies, and after graduating wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do - I just knew I wanted to have an impact. My "aha" moment came when I got a job working with Clif Bar's field marketing team. Clif Bar is an incredibly conscious company, and really 'walks its talk' combing a focus on food and the outdoors. It occurred to me that food was a powerful way to affect what happens to our world: we all have to eat every day, and the choices we make about what to eat, where it comes from and how it was produced have a massive impact on the health of our environment and ourselves, on many levels. I've been working in the natural food industry ever since, and I've never felt like I'm not doing meaningful work.
How did you get your current good food job?
I'm proud to say I created it! After working for Clif Bar and then Kind Snacks, I spent several years in New York City working for local distributors. Working in distribution gave me a unique 360 degree view into how all the moving parts of food retail work - it's complex! I was focusing a lot of my time on brand management, which often included walking potential new brands through the basics of distribution, and they were always SO thankful to have someone explain it to them. I realized there aren't many resources out there for learning about how distribution works if you're a small brand - it's mostly hands-on learning and trial-and-error - and the errors can be costly. I had always wanted to have my own business, and I realized I could work with small brands on my own to help them navigate this part of the industry. I love knowing I'm filling a void in the industry and helping out great new food companies!
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
I draw upon my experiences working with Clif, Kind, and in distribution every single day, with every single client I work with. I also completed a health coaching certification through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition a few years ago, and find myself utilizing a surprising amount of the coaching skills I learned with my current clients even though I'm not a "business coach" per se. Working with so many small, enthusiastic entrepreneurs who are pursuing their dreams of having a food business has made it clear to me how much we all need support from one another - not just for the logistics of running a successful business, but mental and emotional support as well. Working as a good food professional, and doing it with heart and from a place of humanity, feels good and right to me.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
Honestly, making the move from working for a company to working for myself felt like taking a huge leap off a cliff - it was scary! But it was also very motivating: once I started, I felt I HAD to succeed and quitting wasn't an option. Making that leap also gave me huge respect for everyone else who has ever started a business - namely, all the entrepreneurs I end up working with! Luckily, my instincts about what I was doing were right. Every brand I've sat down with has been very happy to have someone to learn about distribution from, and knowing I'm helping bring clarity to this otherwise very gray area feels great and keeps me motivated.
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
A woman who worked in human resources at Clif Bar once mentioned to me, "your biggest strength will always be your biggest strength, and your biggest weakness will always be your biggest weakness". That stuck with me and I've found it to be a useful tool throughout my career. It means I know the areas I can count on myself to do well in without too much difficulty or stress, and I also know where I need to push myself and keep tabs on my own performance to make sure I'm not getting off track. I don't think she realized how much of a mentor she was being to me at the time, but it's often those little one-off moments and casual conversations with more experienced people that can have the biggest positive impact on others.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
I'm really getting excited about all the projects that are getting started to reduce food waste. I just went to a pitch event and two out of the five companies giving their pitches were built on reducing and repurposing food waste. I think there is huge opportunity here, as about 40% of what we currently produce ends up in landfills. Changing that could have so many positive impacts in terms of waste and pollution reduction, job creation, hunger and food justice, and overall food system efficiency.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
The ability to ride a pony to and from work every day would be the best!