Most of the time it’s not about you. When customers, employees or vendors do something that frustrates you, just remember that in most circumstances they aren’t really considering you in their decision-making process. It’s so easy to take things personally and get upset. Take a step back and keep in mind that it’s not about you.
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 Josh Allen.
Josh Allen is the Founder of Companion Baking. Born and raised in St. Louis, MO, Allen was immersed in the food and baking industry from an early age through his family business, Allen Foods. Today, Companion’s award-winning bread is served in more than 400 restaurants, grocery stores, and businesses around the Midwest and across the country, including at Companion’s two cafes in the St. Louis area. Josh looks forward to continuing to develop curated bread programs for regional and national multi-unit operators by helping them tell their story through bread.
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?
After graduating from college, I was a competitive amateur triathlete working in the restaurant industry. I took a job working overnight in a bakery to free up more daylight hours to swim, bike and run. I just fell in love with it. The simplicity of the craft. The meditative nature of shaping hundreds of loaves per day. It was so fascinating to me and so distinctly different than the high-pressure work of restaurant kitchens. The triathlon career fizzled out shortly thereafter, but my love for baking continues to this day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company or organization?
A few years into business, we decided to expand our offerings to include breakfast pastries. We invited our 25 best customers at the time to a morning event to sample some products and discuss the items we were looking to add to our mix. We anticipated the discussion to center around flavors (blueberry or raspberry, chocolate chip or raisins) and sizes (1 oz., 2 oz. or 3 oz.). Our newly hired pastry team was ready with notepads and pens. The feedback received was entirely different. “Can you be there everyday at 5 AM?” “Can you pack the pastries by specific event for us?” “Are you sure you can be there at 5?”
What we realized quickly was that their pain did not revolve around the product mix. Their anxiety was all about trusting the bakery to be there on time in the morning. There are no resources to fix an issue at 5 AM. The chefs and the purchasing agents just did not want the call from their team that they are serving breakfast to a few hundred people and they have no baked goods.
We learned an incredibly valuable lesson that day — our job is to take care of our customer in whatever way is most important to them. It goes without saying that we have to produce delicious items and make them approachable, affordable and accessible, but, most importantly, we have to address and resolve the real underlying issues facing our customers.
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?
I’m not in the business of saying no. Cameron Mitchell’s book “Yes is the answer, What is the question?” really resonates with me. That philosophy can lead you down some incredibly interesting paths and certainly some pitfalls. Over the years, we have opened up a few locations (a wholesale bakery in Kansas City in the early 2000s and a bakery/café in 2007) that were positive responses to customer and market chatter that ended up failing pretty miserably. Those mistakes have helped us develop a strong sense of who we are and, perhaps more importantly, who we aren’t.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Show up. Be kind. Neither are particularly easy to deliver on.
Showing up day after day, week after week, year after year is hard. As the leader, you not only have to articulate the vision and the direction, but you’ve got to walk the walk. Folks watch your every move. Do you walk past some trash in the parking lot on your way into the building? Do you bring a positive attitude to every situation and every encounter? You have to remember that you’re always on stage for your people and many of them are watching and looking for instances when you’re less than ideal.
Being kind is different than being nice. Nice is saying “good morning.” Kind is asking how folks are doing and caring about the answer. Even when you’ve got a million things going on. To me, leading with compassion is what truly matters. You should care about the personal and professionalism development opportunities you are providing to your people. Take care of your employees and the rest will generally be taken care of.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
PRACTICE, AND ALL IS COMING — Pattabhi Jois
I have had a committed yoga practice for well over 15 years. The yoga mat teaches humility and perseverance. As in the leadership question before, simply showing up is half the work. Most people do not have the discipline to practice consistently. I believe strongly that good things come to those who make the commitment to practice.
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?
Can you help articulate a few of the main causes of food waste?
I come to this conversation as a manufacturer. The biggest culprit for us is mistakes. Product produced out of spec — under or over weight, under or over fermented, under or over baked, or simply mishandled somewhere along the line and smashed, mis-shaped or dropped on the floor. Additionally, in order to deal with potential for out of spec products, we have a tendency to overproduce to ensure we hit our targets. So, even when we do it right, we end up with waste. Our customers (primarily large food distribution centers) penalize shortages to such a degree that it makes more economical sense to create excess than to risk shortfalls.
What are a few of the obstacles that companies and organizations face when it comes to distributing extra or excess food? What can be done to overcome those barriers?
Fresh baked goods are extremely difficult to donate because of their short shelf life — they generally cannot get through the distribution process to those truly in need before they stale or mold. Frozen product is obviously an efficient way to move perishable baked goods, but the added expense to package, freeze, store and distribute out of spec product makes it unattractive to the manufacturer. If accounting practices were changed to provide the manufacturer with value to complete the cycle (but not so much as to incentivize the production of excess waste), it would go a long way towards making that food more accessible.
Can you describe a few of the ways that you or your organization are helping to reduce food waste?
At Companion Baking, we have focused on reducing food waste at our factory for the past 40 months. When we first moved into our new facility in late 2015, we didn’t anticipate the challenges we’d encounter with growing the business. Those challenges manifested themselves as mistakes in our production, which essentially means lots and lots of waste. At our low point, we were generating nearly 1,600,000 pounds of annual trash. That amount of trash will cover an entire football field nearly 5 feet deep in waste.
I’m really proud to say that through a series of micro-innovations, we have reduced our annual trash by over 1,000,000 lbs. Lots of little changes and adaptations to our process added up to lots and lots of trash saved. For example, we are reclaiming the dusting flour on one of bread lines that keeps the dough from sticking to the belt on the machine. In the past, we simply emptied the catch trays into the trash. With the trash initiative, one of our bakers decided to calculate the amount of flour we were throwing away since the line runs 16–18 hours a day. A total of 175 lbs. per day, six days per week — nearly 55,000 lbs. per year!
The million pounds, coupled with a comprehensive composting and recycling program that has evolved through the initiative, represents a 76% reduction in our landfill contribution.
By measuring and managing our trash, we have changed the thoughts and actions of our bakers. Waste reduction now plays a role in each and every decision at Companion — sales, production process, automation, packaging, etc.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help address the root of this problem?
As challenging as composting is for our manufacturing facility, it’s even harder for folks to do at home. Unless a family is willing to manage a compost system in their backyard, it can be frustratingly difficult to commit to composting in our communities since a system has not been created to re-capture excess food. If we could address the lack of community-wide composting through our governmental agencies, we might easily find adoption amongst families along the same lines as recycling.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Less is more. This is especially true when it comes to product mix and processes. The notion of keeping things simple is sometimes lost on us business owners. We tend to think we need another product, another system, another something. Do fewer things, but do them all great.
- Building culture is crucial. Many small business owners push culture-building downstream and focus first on finding customers, creating capacity, working on the financials — there’s always something to do to delay focus on culture. In hindsight, it should be first and foremost on the list. Take care of your people, and they will take care of the rest of it. We’re proud to be able to say that 25% of our bakers have been with us for more than 10 years.
- Make time for yourself. Self-care falls pretty fall down the priority list when you’re starting a business. It shouldn’t. You’ve got to prioritize yourself to stay healthy and engaged, which will ultimately be better for your business.
- Cash is king. My grandfather actually did tell me this, but I was too naïve to listen. Weathering any business storm requires the preservation of cash.
- Most of the time it’s not about you. When customers, employees or vendors do something that frustrates you, just remember that in most circumstances they aren’t really considering you in their decision-making process. It’s so easy to take things personally and get upset. Take a step back and keep in mind that it’s not about you.
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.
Goodr: A nonprofit based in Atlanta but operating nationwide. Goodr uses its technology platform and logistics network to help businesses save money on taxes, feed more people, and reduce food waste by rerouting surplus food from restaurants to people in need.
Too Good To Go: An anti-food waste app that connects consumers with restaurants, cafes, bakeries and grocery stores at closing time, so food doesn’t go to waste at the end of the day.
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. 🙂
Be kind. I try to practice kindness every day. It’s certainly not easy, but if we all did little things (hold the door, allow someone to merge on the highway, say thank you, compliment good service) it would go a long way to making the world a better place.
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. 🙂
Mike Dooley, creator of Notes from the Universe. I find the daily inspiration from his notes to be incredibly engaging, uplifting and thought-provoking. And they regularly challenge me to adopt a different perspective to life’s circumstances.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.