Dream big but start small. When you first launch a product you want the entire world to enjoy it, but distributing bottled water requires significant resources and infrastructure. Start locally and build the brand in your own region and grow from there. For us, the southeastern U.S. was our starting point, and now we are one of the top brands in the entire region. Today we are supplying water to retailers all over the United States.
It has been estimated that each year, more than 100 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States. That equates to more than 160 billion dollars worth of food thrown away each year. At the same time, in many parts of the United States, there is a crisis caused by people having limited access to healthy & affordable food options. The waste of food is not only a waste of money and bad for the environment, but it is also making vulnerable populations even more vulnerable.
Authority Magazine started a new series called “How Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies and Food Companies Are Helping To Eliminate Food Waste.” In this interview series, we are talking to leaders and principals of Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies, Food Companies, and any business or nonprofit that is helping to eliminate food waste, about the initiatives they are taking to eliminate or reduce food waste.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing George Sandrini.
George Sandrini is co-founder and VP of Marketing at TEN Spring Water. Previously, as Director of Marketing for Client Profiles and CRM4Legal, he led strategic development and tactical implementation of marketing and branding initiatives including digital marketing, communications, advertising, content/inbound marketing, seminars and trade shows, SEO, SEM, Social Media strategy and sales lead generation.
George has 20+ years of marketing, advertising and brand development experience. Prior to joining Client Profiles, he was Creative Director for EFK Group, a New Jersey-based advertising agency, where he handled marketing communications and brand development strategy for various companies in the financial, construction and education industries. As brand manager for Client Profiles, he was responsible for creating, coordinating and integrating brand–related plans from across the enterprise.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for taking the time to interview me. I have an executive background in marketing strategy and content marketing, which at the time I obviously had no idea would lead into what I contribute at TEN Alkaline Spring Water. Through my network and both business and personal connection to Jose Fernandez (founder) we started TEN together after working in different industries prior for many years. The TEN brand was about our passion for alkaline water, health and creating a product that raised the Ph bar and gave consumers the chance to enjoy the same high quality water we enjoyed at home.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company or organization?
I think the crash course in distribution, packaging, retail and relationship building outside your comfort zone was a big shock. Things moved so quickly when we first started that we had to just “jump into the fire” and figure it out. In hindsight that was an exciting time with no regrets, but at the moment we were trying to make our way though uncharted waters. Despite having a robust network of people that helped us along the way, many things you just have to figure out by taking the leap.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the beginning there were certainly a few mistakes made, though I’m not sure we were laughing about them at the time! But I never see mistakes as a bad thing, in fact I think they are necessary for the survival and growth of any new business. The important thing is, what did you learn from your mistake, if anything. Do you even recognize it was a mistake or do you keep pushing that same rock up that same steep hill. At TEN Water it’s important to recognize when it’s time to take a new approach, to start down a different path. Everything we do is for the satisfaction of our customers, the people who are going to be purchasing our water at the store and drinking it at home. If something we’re doing isn’t keeping us on track to ensure complete customer satisfaction, then it’s time to change course and do it differently, better.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Great leadership is acting as a partner to those in your company and with outside parties. It’s being resourceful, humble and always ready to take on new challenges to lead your team to the next level. It’s checking the ego at the door and being available to take on the steps that can happen at any level and any time.
We are a small team and have many partners and outside parties that we deal with. A good example amongst the TEN camp is how we collaborate and keep everyone included all along the way. It’s ensuring that each team member knows how critical their role is and that myself or Jose are there for them and can jump in where needed. It’s also knowing that trust is key, and good leadership is empowering your team to work independently while feeling we are there for them if/when needed. Many of the best ideas come from elsewhere, so we want to ensure that that freedom is encouraged each and every day.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The path to success is to take massive, determined action. — Tony Robbins
Sometimes it’s easy to put things off or to take things “one step at a time”, but really it’s about going big while staying smart, and learning along the way. If it wasn’t for making some bold moves and making some mistakes, we wouldn’t have learned so quickly, met so many amazing people and scaled the brand as quickly as we have. All entrepreneurs will carry some level of fear, but it’s really about pushing through and not waiting till everything seems picture perfect. Our industry is very competitive but we all need each other to bring further awareness to the idea of alkaline water better becoming a household name. We are all trying to reach a bigger audience and ultimately the “determined action” from all these alkaline brands is helping the bigger picture.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. What exactly are we talking about when we refer to food waste?
Plastics used in making bottles, caps and packaging elements are a part of a huge footprint in grocery stores and retail around the country. We recently released our 10ph alkaline water in 12oz aluminum cans to help lead the brand in a more sustainable direction. The aluminum cans are easier to recycle than plastics, and the cardboard used to package the cans is also recyclable and/or biogrades much quicker than plastics. Over time, we hope to create or be a part of a trend that results in other brands doing the same. The packaging of these cans also takes less space in retail stores, allowing more product to be sold and being a win-win for both TEN and retail.
Can you help articulate a few of the main causes of food waste?
Food waste in general is a byproduct of both the packaging and the product itself. In restaurants there’s the obvious problem of excess food left from unfinished meals, but also from the surplus of ingredients used to create those meals. In retail it is a similar problem of unsold produce, microwave meals and other products that perhaps lack the long shelf life of canned soups and ingredients. While some of the food waste may biodegrade quickly in a waste facility or dump, all this packaging made of plastics, metals and alternative materials may sit for years on end. Restaurants, retail, grocers, consumers and ultimately waste facilities do their best to sort for recycling opportunities but ultimately the solution must start at the source.
Can you describe a few of the ways that you or your organization are helping to reduce food waste?
We do our best to only create enough product to meet the commitments needed on the distribution level. We have also moved quickly to prioritize our alkaline water in 12oz cans which retail has responded positively to. If a grocer wants to purchase more cans than say our jugs or bottles, then we know that big difference is being made because those cans are going to be easier to recycle.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help address the root of this problem?
I think the root of the problem comes down to both the consumer and the brand, and everyone else in between will adapt as each end of the cycle makes positive change. Consumers need to be given the path of least resistance to recycle cans, cardboard and other bits of everyday waste that food is a huge part of. At the brand level, we are responsible for creating products that are easier to recycle, and are sold in a manner that leaves the smallest footprint possible. For the food brands out there and even restaurants, they need to be given access to partners that can best use the food product before expiration, and of course be packaged in a way that leads to biodegrading with ease.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Building a brand in grocery takes time, be patient. Grocery stores are always looking out for the latest and greatest products that will best serve their customers’ needs, but building enough credibility so that retailers will take a chance on you takes time if you are a young brand. Keep at it and build trust and eventually you will start to have more and more success.
- Dream big but start small. When you first launch a product you want the entire world to enjoy it, but distributing bottled water requires significant resources and infrastructure. Start locally and build the brand in your own region and grow from there. For us, the southeastern U.S. was our starting point, and now we are one of the top brands in the entire region. Today we are supplying water to retailers all over the United States.
- Be flexible and willing to change direction at any time. The market is always changing and things happen fast. As retailers began applying more and more pressure to suppliers to move away from single-use plastic, we quickly adapted and the result was TEN Water in aluminum.
- Not everything is about dollars and cents. When you first launch a brand you are mainly focused on getting your product out to the world, but things happen that remind you that you are a human being first and business person second. The water crisis in Michigan and the recent floods in the eastern U.S. are examples of moments when you realize you are needed and you have the resources to help. Those are the moments when you put being a good person and supporter of your community above all else.
- Work hard but enjoy yourself. Launching a brand is all-encompassing, so it becomes a big part of your life 24/7. Always try to maintain that same passion that helped you launch your brand in the first place and never forget the people who make it possible, your customers. If your product helps make people happy then enjoying yourself at work everyday is easy.
Are there other leaders or organizations who have done good work to address food waste? Can you tell us what they have done? What specifically impresses you about their work? Perhaps we can reach out to them to include them in this series.
I admire what Boxed Water has done with their brand and packaging. They keep it simple and most of their packaging/cartons are made of eco-friendly materials and are recyclable. Minus a plastic cap, their product leaves a small footprint both in retail and when thrown away for trash or recycling. We want to make the biggest difference possible in the alkaline and water verticals, so it’s exciting to see what others are doing to help make an impact.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I of course want to spread the word on the health benefits of alkaline water, which could be through the purchase of TEN or through people learning about us through others. I believe those that appreciate or try alkaline water are likely on a journey to improve their overall health, so if TEN can be a small part of that process then we will be proud of what we’re doing here. People learn about alkaline water in different ways, so the more that adopt higher Ph water in their life is a huge win in our book.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
It would be great to meet and speak with Oprah Winfrey (and Gayle King) about alkaline water. She has embraced some incredible brands over the years, and would love for her to learn more about TEN and why we are the best alkaline water on the market. Even if it’s just to get her on board with alkaline water in general, that would be a huge win for the industry overall.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.