People are your greatest asset. But give them space to grow. They’ll almost always outshine you if you do

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 Roman Jewell.

Roman Jewell is the cofounder of Fix & Fogg, a nut butter company based in New Zealand. Roman and his wife Andrea left their careers as corporate lawyers in 2013 to start the company, and their award-winning nut butters entered the U.S. market in 2018 when they opened a store on Fix & Fogg opened a storefront in Houston, Texas in 2020 and began making their products in the U.S., and they’re now available in Whole Foods Market, Sprouts Farmers Market and over 2,000 stores nationwide.

Committed to their values, the company is B Corp certified and prioritizes reducing food waste, minimizing their environmental impact and giving back to the community.

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?

My journey to this career path wasn’t exactly straightforward. Up until 2013, I was working as a corporate lawyer (which definitely doesn’t have much to do with peanut butter!). My wife and I were expecting our first child and we both had a bit of a realization that we wanted to be doing something with more purpose. We tried our hand at many different crafts (beer brewing, pottery, sewing) but finally landed on peanut butter.

The aim of “doing great things with peanut butter” is not just about great flavors and ingredients, but about doing meaningful things in the community, donating to charities, and reducing our environmental footprint as much as possible.

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?

There were many, but the best was probably our first big purchase — a grinder. To get production started, we emptied our savings account purchasing a grinder from overseas. It took months to arrive and when it finally did, we turned it on and it was a complete dud. I hauled it to a mechanic and his advice was to take the whole thing apart and dispose of each part separately so that no one could ever put it back together again.

There were a couple of lessons learned from that. Firstly, don’t try to take shortcuts. It always pays off to invest time and money in quality — whether it’s ingredients, equipment, or people — it’s worth seeking out the best you can. Secondly, you must remain resilient when facing a failure. That was a major hurdle for us at a very early stage of the business, but we kept going. There will always be things that don’t work out like sunk costs, mistakes and accidents, but you have to pick yourself back up.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership is ensuring that your team is aligned and that everyone is aware of the ultimate goal. It’s important that everyone knows why they are showing up for work each day and to understand their piece in the puzzle.

A great tool that I always come back to is setting OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) — these are goals that must have a timeframe and must be measurable. You can set these with your employees together and then you must put trust in them and give them ownership to reach them. Once they achieve their goal it’s their win and they get to celebrate that and share their success with the team.

It’s about giving people value in their work and ownership of their tasks. Empower your team and make sure they always know what the ‘why’ is.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A favorite quote from “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook” by Gary Vaynerchuk is: “If you’re in business, first and foremost, you have to be nice. Show your customers that you care.”

Our whole focus in business is the customer. Without them — there is no business. We go above and beyond with our customers to turn even a somewhat negative situation into a positive. We never leave someone disappointed in their experience with Fix & Fogg.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the 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?

Food waste to us is anything we produce that is of good quality and fit for consumption that ends up being discarded.

Can you help articulate a few of the main causes of food waste?

There is a multitude of causes for food waste in any food business. For us, we’re lucky as our products have a relatively long shelf life (around 2 years) so we don’t really face challenges around ingredients expiring. Our main source of consistent food waste is from the change-over between different products through our machinery. When moving from our Smooth Peanut Butter to say, our Chocolate Almond Butter, there would be a fair amount of byproduct created as we transitioned, creating a blend of the two butters. While this is perfectly safe (and delicious) to eat it wasn’t something we could jar up and sell based on allergens, labelling etc.

There are also always one-off accidents every now and then too — human error in following a recipe can mean thousands of jars of the finished product that are also unable to be sold.

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?

We have always wanted to donate food to those in need, but it can be challenging in many ways.

We’re very fortunate to be producers of nut butter which is a nutrient-dense food. It’s healthy, high in protein and importantly for food banks (which are tight on refrigerator space) it’s shelf-stable so it can be stored for a long period of time.

However, it can be hard to know where it’s needed most, and it’s a time-consuming process reaching out to individual organizations in every area to decipher that. It also becomes expensive to distribute food widely — when we have hundreds of jars to donate it’s much easier for us to send them to one place, but many charities cannot accept that kind of quantity.

A total game-changer for us here in New Zealand has been the New Zealand Food Network — they provide a centralized hub for people to donate food to and take care of the distribution for you, ensuring that it goes to the areas that need it most.

We’re also partnering with a similar organization in Texas called Second Servings.

These guys do an amazing job in Houston by rescuing surplus food from businesses and events and delivering it to approved charitable meal sites. They offer same-day delivery service for free which makes all the difference for the charity recipients as well as the donators.

In addition to that, we also like to be involved directly with local organizations in our community and we donate regularly to Search Homeless in Houston. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the options of places to donate to so we find creating a long-term relationship with a few key organizations within your community is a great place to start.

Can you describe a few of the ways that you or your organization are helping to reduce food waste?

The biggest revelation for us has been creating our Lucky Dip Butter. Prior to that, we were donating pails of nut butter to local charities but sometimes even they couldn’t accept the volumes we were creating.

As far as we know our Lucky Dip butter is the first of its kind. It’s a product which can never be bought, only given — we haven’t seen anything else like it around the world.

Our Lucky Dip butter allows us to nearly eliminate all food waste, re-use returned glass jars while also helping those in need. We donate these jars to amazing charities and food networks. They contain nut butter from the end of our production runs and you can think of them as a lucky dip — they could be sweet, savory or even spicy — but always delicious. This was our solution to the byproduct created when going from one flavor of nut butter to another.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help address the root of this problem?

I think businesses need to take a lead on this issue and try to set an example in the community with the idea of prioritizing good over profits. It’s a costly and time consuming exercise, however, I’m a firm believer that the community you support will end up supporting you. We’re all connected and it’s just the right thing to do. The more you give the more you get back.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. The more you give the more you get back. It makes you feel good and it always comes back around. Donating to charities, surprising customers, and being generous is what makes us “tick” at Fix & Fogg, and I firmly believe it has contributed a lot to our success.
  2. According to businessman Gary Hirshberg, the key to being a successful entrepreneur is persistence, persistence, persistence. I couldn’t agree more. It made me comfortable with the fact that running a business is hard at any stage of the journey.
  3. People are your greatest asset. But give them space to grow. They’ll almost always outshine you if you do.
  4. The founder journey is more important than the business journey. I’ve seen too many founders suffer from burnout, mental health issues or breakdowns in their personal relationships. Look after yourself and your loved ones. It’s a lonely and hard path to running a business, so look after yourself. You deserve it.
  5. Breadth is the enemy of focus. Adopt an “inch wide, mile deep approach” to your key markets instead of spreading yourself too thin.

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.

Imperfect Foods in San Francisco are doing great things. They collect blemished food rejected by grocery stores and redistribute it in customizable boxes to customers. In a way it reminds me of our Lucky Dip Butter, the products might not be perfect (and who really is eh?) but they are still good quality and have been made and handled with care.

** Below example in New Zealand

The team at Everybody Eats take rescued food and turn it into restaurant-quality meals on a pay-as-you-feel basis. Their motto is to “feed bellies not bins” and they bring the local community together. The pay-as-you-feel structure means that whoever partakes in the dinners can pay whatever they are able to at the end, even if that is nothing. Those who can afford to pay sit alongside those suffering from food insecurity — both parties enjoying the same meals — which cultivates a spirit of respect and camaraderie. The way they have built their branding is what impresses me most: they have managed to create something that appeals to both those who have money to spend on a meal and those who don’t. They’ve broken free from any charity stigma to create something trendy but accessible.

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’d love to see more businesses operating as a force for good. Sometimes it feels like as an individual you can’t make a huge impact, but as a business, you have a lot more influence. Focus on treading as lightly as possible and being a role model for the next generation. It can be done — it’s just a matter of prioritizing values and creating a shift in our focus.

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. 🙂

Jane Goodall has been high up on my list for a while. I have always admired her for dedicating her life to making the world a better place in such a selfless manner. She once got her hands on a jar of Fix & Fogg at a Climate Conference in New Zealand, so even if lunch doesn’t happen, I am pretty happy with that!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Our social media pages (@fixandfogg) are the most up to date places to follow our journey.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.