How Food and Beverage Brands Can Better Serve Consumers Nutrition Needs featuring Paula Reichel

Gooder Podcast featuring Paula Reichel

“When you eat the foods that are good for your health, it’s also good for the planet.” – Paula Reichel

This week on the Gooder Podcast I had the pleasure of talking with Paula Reichel, the Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives & Senior Advisor at Partnership for a Healthier America. We discuss the importance of improving food equity, cultural relevancy, and cultural competency in our society. We also learn about the positive impacts and changes the food industry has had on the average American diet, especially through the pandemic. Along the way, we hear the story of an innovative leader who helps set the flame on entrepreneurism in the food space.

In this episode we learn:

– A little background about Partnership for a Healthier America.
– How the CPG or consumer packaged goods relationships fit into the conversation in Partnership for a Healthier America.
– About health washing, what it is, and its implications on the food that people are eating and the food that people are also producing.
– How the lack of diet and cultural representation in the manufactured goods exacerbate the health divide.
– Opportunities in the naturals food industry that investors need to know about.

Gooder Podcast

How Food and Beverage Brands Can Better Serve Consumers Nutrition Needs featuring Paula Reichel

About Paula Reichel:

Paula Reichel serves as the Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives & Senior Advisor to the CEO at Partnership for a Healthier America. Partnership for a Healthier America is a national nonprofit founded alongside Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Initiative to transform the food landscape in pursuit of health equity so that all children grow up healthy and free from obesity, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.

Paula grew up in the Midwest and experienced the effects of the toxic food environment on her, her family, and her community’s health and quality of life. Her passion propelled her to identify new ways to create access to good, nutritious food for economically disadvantaged communities through innovative programs, partnerships, and entrepreneurial ventures and systems, policy, and practice change. She has deep experience working with the private sector, the charitable food sector, and public schools and consults on organizational strategy and business development. Paula is a frequent guest lecturer and holds a Master’s degree from Cornell University where she studied education and inequality and a Bachelor’s degree in marketing from Butler University.

Guests Social Media Links:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paula-reichel/
Email: preichel@ahealthieramerica.org 
Website: https://www.ahealthieramerica.org/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/paulaereichel?lang=en
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/preichel/?hl=en

Show Mentioned:

Let’s Move Initiative – was a public health campaign in the United States, led by then-First Lady, Michelle Obama. The campaign aimed to reduce childhood obesity and encourage a healthy lifestyle in children.

Through Veggies Early & Often, PHA is convening leaders in the industry, health professionals, and early childhood education to consolidate evidence and outline an action agenda with the goal to raise a generation of veggie lovers.

Darden Restaurants, Inc. – is an American multi-brand restaurant operator headquartered in Orlando.

Mars, Incorporated – is an American multinational manufacturer of confectionery, pet food, and other food products and a provider of animal care services, with US$33 billion in annual sales in 2015. It was ranked as the 6th largest privately held company in the United States by Forbes.

PepsiCo, Inc. – is an American multinational food, snack, and beverage corporation headquartered in Harrison, New York, in the hamlet of Purchase. PepsiCo has interests in the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of grain-based snack foods, beverages, and other products.

Frito-Lay – is an American subsidiary of PepsiCo that manufactures, markets, and sells corn chips, potato chips, and other snack foods.

Mondelez International, Inc. – often stylized as Mondelez, is an American multinational confectionery, food, holding and beverage and snack food company based in Chicago, Illinois. Mondelez has annual revenue of about $26 billion and operates in approximately 160 countries.

Top Insights

Transcript:

Diana Fryc: Hi, welcome again to the Gooder Podcast, I’m your host Diana Fryc. As partner and CMO of Retail Voodoo and award winning branding agency, I have met and worked with some of the most amazing women in the natural’s industry food, beverage, wellness and fitness and as such, I decided to create the Gooder Podcast to interview these great people and subject matter experts and have them share their insights expertize to help businesses all around the world become gooder.

I am super excited to introduce my guests today Paula Reichel serves as senior vice president of Strategic Initiatives and is a senior advisor to the CEOs at the Partnership for a Healthier America, a national nonprofit founded alongside former first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Initiative to transform the food landscape in pursuit of healthy equity so that all children grow up healthy and free from obesity, heart disease and other chronic conditions. Yes, love it. Thank you.

She has a deep expertize, working with the private sector, the charitable food sector and public schools and consultants on organizational strategy and business development. And Paula is a frequent guest lecturer and holds a master’s degree from Cornell University, where she studied education and inequality and a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Butler University. I love all of that mashed together. That is awesome. Welcome, Paula. How are you? How’s DC today?

Paula Reichel: Thank you, Diana. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s a little gloomy and rainy today, but I am looking at the glass half full. So we’re going to get some good water on the plants and sort of let’s ring in spring.

Diana Fryc: Okay. I love it. Being in Seattle we’re used to that. So I can appreciate that looking at the glass half full. Well, listen, I am just excited to talk to you today just because part of my larger initiative here with the Gooder podcast and really one of the reasons I initially reached out to you was my interest in having kind of an outsider’s view on what is happening within the natural and better for you world. Sort of what you see, how we’re doing it good, how we could be doing it better for our consumers and people at large. But before we jump into that, maybe you can remind us, most of us, when and why Partnership for a Healthier America started and what was a high level goal?

Paula Reichel: Yeah, absolutely. So Partnership for a Healthier America, as was mentioned, was founded in 2010 alongside former first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Initiative. And the real focus at the onset and continues to this day is to engage the private sector, to transform the marketplace with a stated goal of ending childhood obesity in a generation. So at the onset, we focus both on kind of food systems changes as well as changes to that increased physical activity. And over time, we’re really focused in on where we knew we were having the biggest impact, which was on food and diet quality, and since then have taken a really holistic view of how do we transform the food landscape so that we can reduce health inequity, which is such a huge problem to this day.

Diana Fryc: Yeah, absolutely. And tell me, how does the CPG or consumer packaged goods for those that don’t know the word or the acronym, how does that CPG relationship fit into the overall conversation or how are you working or how to work with brands?

Paula Reichel: Yeah, I love that. When I started at my job, I was like, what is a CPG? And I quickly learned all of the jargon and acronyms because CPGs have historically played an oversize role in PHA. So what I would say is we’re now in 2021, almost 11 years. It’s almost hard to remember that 11 years ago we were really facing headwinds when it came to the proliferation of better for you products in the marketplace. And so there was this real need to be for the public health community to have an advocate like PHA working with major CPGs to primarily reformulate products so that they removed added sugar, salt, saturated fat, decreased calories with the goal of working with major CPGs that were really ubiquitous so that you would continue to make the choices that you might have been making, but they were incrementally better for you. So historically, we’ve partnered with PepsiCo that partnership is still ongoing. Darden, MARS, to give you just an example, Darden, and we worked together to remove sugar in 78% of their portfolio.

[00:05:05]

Which is amazing, and then where we are today. So that was 10 or 11 years ago, really, that that focus of that work was at the very onset and then now when there are such a proliferation of better for you, the natural’s market has exploded and mainstreamed. What we see is really utilizing diverse CPGs, smaller CPGs to try to carry forward a bigger message. So one example of that is this really great initiative we have right now called Veggies Early & Often, which is about how we raise a generation of veggie lovers, particularly with a focus on a healthy palate formation among infants and toddlers. Yeah, so we’re working with amazing baby food companies to become veggie led, meaning vegetables as the first ingredient. Pediatricians with providers are really trying to raise awareness around feeding kids vegetables again and again to help them love them for the lifetime.

Diana Fryc: In my head, I’m like okay, so on the one side, as we discussed before, this call or this recording, I talked about how naturals food we are on the extreme end. We’re talking to people who are already educated, have an immense amount of access to better for you and just even living in environments or in neighborhoods where there’s multiple opportunities to buy healthy food and how I was seeing these multinationals like the Frito Lays and the Mondelez of the world, starting to make incremental changes to develop kind of a path from unhealthy to healthy and in a way that the natural industry hasn’t naturally necessarily moved the opposite direction. It’s fascinating to hear that this is your group’s work behind the scene that’s making those opportunities happen. But just through educating them, you’re educating these organizations what that opportunity is and kind of driving it through innovation.

Paula Reichel: Yeah and for us too, this is an area where even the most educated consumers may not be as educated.

Diana Fryc: Really?

Paula Reichel: I think so. I do. I think so. A lot of baby food products out there are, if you look at the label at a sweet potato pouch, for example, sweet potato and carrot and then if you read the Nutrition Facts panel, it leaves with Apple and there is nothing inherently wrong with fruit we love and we celebrate fruit. But what we’re trying to do is we realized that humans have an intrinsic love of sweet taste and so we don’t have to work to train our palates to like sweet things. But we don’t love bitter foods and it can take up to 14 introductions of specific tastes of bitter foods especially among kids and babies, to get them to appreciate them. And so if we start that process early, then you really set someone up for a lifetime of appreciating and valuing vegetables as a part of their diet.

Diana Fryc: I love 14 introductions. I would love every parent on the planet to know that, including myself, because I’m constantly trying to introduce new things to my children and when I introduce something and they don’t like it the first time, the second time, by the third time, I’m like, okay, I’m removing it from the opportunity and what I’m hearing from you. Just keep going. Got to get to at least number 14 before we decide that’s going to stick or not stick.

Paula Reichel: That’s right. Persistence pays off in this case.

Diana Fryc: Now, many things have changed over the last several years; politics and pandemic being kind of the biggest accelerations in change, probably pandemic being the most in the food science. There’s an overlap between the pandemic and the fact that food science itself is accelerating. From your point of view, how have things changed for the better? Like we can talk about where the outages is, but what do you think we’re doing better right now just across the board?

Paula Reichel: Absolutely. Well, there’s so much positive change really to dwell upon. So I’m going to speak a bit more in generalizations here, because as I think about my work, it’s really about the generalized movement that’s made a significant change. But the biggest thing is that there is just mainstream awareness right now that food is critical to health and that didn’t exist over 10 years ago.

[00:10:00]

It did existed among certain subset of the population, but not this broad consumer movement that we see now that is also now at on a nascent stage of embracing not just how food contributes to individual health, but how it contributes to planetary health. When you eat the foods that are good for your health, it’s also good for the planet. So I think the major benefit is the mainstreaming of this concept, of the availability of these foods. The incredible proliferation in the marketplace is a good thing. It really is; the fact that you can go to a mainstream grocery store and find choices that enable you to adopt different dietary patterns and to try new things like go vegan for a day, eat less meat, be a Flexitarian, be a Pescatarian and that’s an amazing opportunity for everyone, all the consumers across the US.

And I think too, one of the things that’s been important in the movement is to move away from healthy. So I laugh because here I am working for an organization called A Healthier America, but what we realize is in consumer science, healthy is not a good term, we make decisions based on taste, based on deliciousness, based on flavor, based on convenience. That’s ultimately what’s going to drive our decision making and the proliferation in this space has enabled a lot of brands and a lot of products to say not only is this good for you, but it tastes amazing, try it and that reinforces those positive patterns of behavior. So I think those are really the positive changes that I’ve seen in the space.

Diana Fryc: Is there anything that we’ve gone backwards on? I guess what are we not or maybe that we’re ignoring, what’s the opportunity that as we’ve strengthened has become more apparent?

Paula Reichel: Yes, absolutely. It’s always 50/50. So many unintended consequences from changes that are on the whole beneficial. But one of which is that this concept, this kind of uplifting of health and functional foods has in a way helped the wealthiest part of our society get healthier and have more access to a greater number of products, while at the other end of the socioeconomic pyramid, there continues to be less access to healthy food and the innovation that’s happening in that for those folks who are low income is in the processed food space. So there’s tons of innovation in the healthy space that are again, you’ll see if you go to your Whole Foods and you think, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is crazy, lacto fermented, whatever. Amazing, I want to try it. This is going to help improve my Microbiome.’

And then when it comes to low income communities, we’ve got a fast food, convenience food, processed foods, doubling down on innovation that makes food more addictive and sort of like let’s merge all of the things that we eat that we shouldn’t be eating into one to make you want to eat it more. So I think that’s been challenging. I also think that the kind of growth in the space has really forced brands to differentiate and it’s, again, provided this extra level of nuance around what is healthy, what do we need to be eating to have optimal health. And what that does is, in a way, it muddies the understanding of healthy eating because it overly complicates it. It makes it very complicated, makes it complicated for me and it also, in a way, distracts from the fundamentals, which is none of us like 5% of all Americans are eating enough fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. It’s very limited. You think we’re doing well, but we haven’t even gotten the basics right and we’re sort of like going all the way off to the other side of the spectrum. And so when you think even about lower income consumers, it muddies the messaging and it does make it more difficult to just focus on the fundamentals of health.

And then the other thing I’ll mention is and I’ll bring this up probably again, but affordability hasn’t come into the equation at all and we have to think about affordability, because when we make food, decisions, a lot of it’s based on risk tolerance. And as a higher income person, I have a pretty high tolerance for risk.

[00:15:00]

I buy a bunch of different things at the grocery store, and if I don’t like them, it’s not the end of the world. I don’t like them. But if I am a consumer of limited means and I’m buying something new for my family and they reject it that is a considerable risk. That’s a considerable financial risk. So we just have to take that into account.

Diana Fryc: I’ve talked with a number of people just about some of these elements, and maybe we can quickly touch on them, but I know when I have spoken publicly about like in social formats like LinkedIn or similar, where I talk about challenging kind of the naturals community to look at the way we’re manufacturing products, look at the margins that we’re asking for, and try to kind of ask ourselves, can we afford to make this for less money? Can we afford to squeeze our margin a little bit? Just considering this category has a high margin, and I get a lot of pushback from people saying, well, I can’t make my product for less money. And those small startup CPG people, the ones that are founder, owner and entrepreneurs, don’t have the ability to leverage scale and size and command a price for volume product.

And my conversation back is always like, well, when you’re developing the product from the very beginning is when you need to do it, not once you’ve decided you need this ultra-biome macro localizing. I know we’re going to talk about this a little bit more, this kind of public private relationship, it sounds to me if you have means, if you are of upper middle class, you’re more likely to create something that fits your existing lifestyle and so then we’ve got this other group of people that doesn’t have access to even the idea of how to start up a CPG or where to find financing or how to run a company that could have the most opportunity to kind of start breaking away and creating those products. How do we move? I don’t even know how to phrase that question a little bit, but it just feels complicated and maybe that’s because I’m on my end. Is it as complicated as I’m thinking?

Paula Reichel: It is complicated. No, it’s absolutely complicated and that’s why we’re seeing the outcomes that we see today, which is people of higher major right are creating products that speak to their lifestyle and they also have the ability to find either have the means or the ability to find financing, to be able to take their vision to and create it and make it a reality. And so there’s a lot that needs to change to enable entrepreneurs of all backgrounds, of all income levels, to be able to be successful in this field and you have to realize that the playing field is leveled against them. And so part of that recognition is educating financial institutions and investors around like we need to be investing in this and on the nonprofit sector and we as PHA, we consider our role. We also see an opportunity to sort of test and underwrite risk. So there could even be we have a lot of philanthropy now who also do impact investing. So what if for profit, small for profit CPG worked with a nonprofit to test their product in a low income community, had that risk underwritten by philanthropy. So it’s not on the burden of the entrepreneur, maybe in a lower income entrepreneur, and then use those learnings to be able to seek deeper funding and or take that concept and scale it. That’s kind of the shifts we need to see in the system and the kind of deep cross-sector collaboration, I think, that can make that work where it isn’t now.

Diana Fryc: And almost feels a little bit like in sports, they have scouts that just go and they go everywhere. They’re there looking for possible talent and diamonds in the rough and in any places. Almost feels like that format needs to happen a little bit more. Instead of waiting for the innovation of the entrepreneurs to come to them, they might need to go a little bit more the other way. And I think it’s going that way a little bit, but I think it could be more that way.

Paula Reichel: I agree. I agree wholeheartedly. I think one of the things I notice, I work with a group of about 30 to 40 stakeholders from the Mississippi Delta, and we’re about to have a conversation around entrepreneurism and in the food space. And there’s not even the sense of that;

[00:20:00]

This is a possibility for people and so there has to be some introduction of the possibility. There has to be some organization stepping in to help set the frame and then you can enable this kind of what we know is this deep creativity that lies within those communities to create solutions for their communities and beyond.

Diana Fryc: Well, one of the things that we discussed was in our planning together was this lack of diet and cultural representation in the manufactured goods space, everything from the actual product creation to even recipe creations like Food Network and through food service and hospitality. In your opinion, how is this lack of diversity or the visibility exacerbating the health divide?

Paula Reichel: It is 100%. I think when we talk about food equity, cultural relevancy and cultural competency has to be at the top of that alongside affordability and convenience and accessibility. Because I think when we look back on the development of the maybe the natural space around these conversations around healthy eating, it has been a predominantly Eurocentric message around what creates a healthy diet. It’s a Mediterranean diet; this is what healthy food looks like. This is what healthy food is and what that does is for people who are coming from different cultural perspectives, it makes them think healthy good food is not for me. This is not for me. And so there’s this immediate kind of removing themselves from the concept of even though they want to eat better, that this type of eating better isn’t for them.

So the other piece I’ll say, too, is one of the things we’ve been trying to promote is that there is a rich tradition across all cultures that sort of really uplifts health. So often where we’re talking about again, like olive oil and all of these products that are so specific to just a few a handful of regions. But we know within the African tradition, within Asian tradition, within the Latino tradition, all of those food cultures were ultimately built with health and nourishment in mind. So what we really need to see is the door opening for individuals from those communities to be able to be responsive to those communities and to create authentic products, authentic recipes, to speak to those communities so that we have a more inclusive definition of what it means to eat well.

Diana Fryc: So there’s a lot of opportunity here at what I’m hearing. What is it that we need to hear? I feel like you’ve already touched on it, but what is it that we need to hear or understand about these unmet needs and how we’re looking at product innovation, because they do product innovation and innovators listening, we do have investors listening to this podcast. What is there? What’s the opportunity?

Paula Reichel: Yeah, absolutely. Well, there’s so much opportunity. I feel like there’s right now just this race of we’ve got a situation where we have this incredible influx of energy fighting for the same consumer over and over again, which makes it hyper competitive. So let’s think about how can we serve consumers on the moderate to lower end of the spectrum where they’re still purchasing power, where there’s still interest, but there just needs to be a flight adaptation to make it work. So I think there are three main areas of opportunity that are ripe for exploration. The first is what we just talked about tying products to traditional cultures and backgrounds and elevating those traditions, not just those food products, but also like how people eat and what’s a part of eating together in those traditions and wrapping that into mass marketed products and particularly uplifting food that comes from the community and is built for the community. Just think what would happen, how our world would be different if seven years ago instead of like going nuts on kale, we all talked about collard greens. This is just a prime example, one of many examples of how that influenced our thinking. I think the second piece is – I thought we talked about this.

[00:25:00]

But affordability and what we talk about with affordability is being price competitive. And so you have to think about your less healthy alternative. And there are companies, maybe not the smallest companies, but there are mid-sized companies and larger companies that can be price competitive or they could think about differentiated pricing. That’s more on the retail side. But we think that’s a huge under leverage trend where you continue to reap very high margins from your high income consumers and then you use that profitability to be able to seek, to be able to maintain providing the same foods at a lower margin to people of lesser means. It’s worked and that’s proven.

And then I think the third piece I talked about is innovation. Innovation primarily is now top down. Why not have it be bottoms up? I mean, we know there’s innovation in product creation and formulation in delivery. And none of that innovation is really, we’re not using it to solve deeper problems. We’re using it to make changes at the margin for people of higher means. And so I challenge folks to think about leveraging innovation, leveraging knowledge and putting it toward this kind of broader, bigger market that just hasn’t had that exposure and is deserving of it.

Diana Fryc: Great, thank you for that. I want to kind of now just shift a little bit and start talking about health washing I feel like it’s a kind of a little natural pivot here. You use the term health washing in our conversation earlier. I’m assuming I know what it means, but I would love your definition and its implications on the food that we’re eating and the food that we’re producing.

Paula Reichel: Absolutely. I use health washing is sort of stemming from the concept of green washing from the environmental movement, where when there was a considerable shift toward consumer interest in environmentally sustainable products, all of a sudden every product on the planet had some sort of claim that tied to environmental sustainability. So what it did was make it very difficult for folks to actually make those decisions when every product is trying to jump on the halo effect of environmental stewardship. And so I think where we were with the environmental movement eight to 10 years ago is where we are now with the health movement. So we have products of all stripes, including those that are just not good for you, claiming that they’re high in vitamin K. And what does that mean? And it sounds really good, but is that actually going to be impactful to my diet quality?

So, for us in the US, the real challenge here is we don’t exist in a society that has a robust regulatory environment for this, and nor do most folks in the US want that. So we just have to think about, there’s lots of great examples of that working in Chile. They have warning labels on foods that have shown to have tremendous impact. But living in the reality that we do that, that just won’t work here. We have to think about how we can create agreement, kind of a noncompetitive agreement around what is healthy among either a set number of retailers or a number of brands that we stick to that agreement and that we use that to educate the consumers. And that’s certainly what we’re trying to do at PHA we’ve done it with a commitment by Old International, which is a large retailer with multiple brands in the US and it’s really a top area of focus as we’re engaging in international dialogs around the upcoming Food Systems Summit that will be taking place in September of this year.

Diana Fryc: Yeah, I think there are countries in Europe that seem to be ahead in regards to all of these things that we’re talking about right now, specifically around what’s good for you, what’s not good for you. The health washing thing, I think is challenging because professional organizations don’t necessarily want to hold the proverbial feet of the brands to a fire that says we all are going to say this because there’s this. Nobody wants to kind of make waves because of the financial implications either to the organizations or the brand.

[00:30:02]

So it’s tricky. And I can appreciate the challenge that you as a team have in kind of nurturing the conversation along. However, like you said, as we look back, how far we’ve moved from, 11 years ago is pretty seismic in a pretty big structure. But the year to year sometimes doesn’t feel like big moves.

Paula Reichel: No, absolutely not. I mean, really, it does take in the absence, again, of regulation, it almost does take like a big old carrot, which is like an international commitment and carrot literally, like a big old carrot to say, “Hey, this is something great that we can all line around. This is pretty competitive.” And there’s also the consumer pressure for companies to be doing the right thing. So it’s a benefit for companies to be stepping along, to be stepping out and to be working together on the forefront of this. So I think that movement is possible. I do think it’s challenging, but I think it’s possible.

Diana Fryc: Yeah. And I would say millennials did a shift. But what we’re seeing, at least with Gen Z is even more of a push against doing the right thing, kind of piggybacking on what you’re saying. Right now they don’t have a whole lot of financial power, but as they grow and become established in their life, I think we’ll probably see a few of those levers start to push a little bit more aggressively. At least that’s our opinion. I don’t know if you see it that way as well.

Paula Reichel: Yeah, absolutely. From what I’ve heard around Gen Z, they’re also going to be a slightly more price sensitive. And it may not even be related to ability to pay as much as to just growing up in the midst of some huge financial challenges. So I do think every preceding generation is going to continue this movement. And so it’s incumbent. We’re not going to see a movement backward, let’s just say that, we’re not going to see a movement backward. So it’s through the benefit of the company to align with the direction of the waves.

Diana Fryc: Absolutely, and lead it. And then you have even more power, in my opinion. That’s another conversation over a glass of wine, I think. Let’s talk about what feels like or at least to me and in twin scenario, that that lies here within the food emergency system and food waste and the lack of support and creating real healthy eating, all of these things that we’ve talked about here kind of ladder to this kind of kind of exacerbation of a need state. Can you talk about that a little bit more?

Paula Reichel: Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, the food system in the last 50 to 60 years has gotten just incredibly proficient at producing junk food, highly processed, shelf, stable foods that can move across the country in an instant and end up if they’re not purchased by consumers, being directed to people who are most food insecure. So one of the things I’m really passionate about, because I worked at a food bank for five years and continue this work at PHA is not. So there’s a huge, robust conversation right now happening about food waste. And it should be happening because we should be trying to reduce food waste to whatever extent possible. And yes, yes, yes, we should be capturing and repurposing food that’s good for you. Like lean proteins, beans, fruits and vegetables and making sure that those go to the folks that need them.

But what ends up happening is, as a part of this sort of generalized process of capturing food waste that we capture the good with the bad and the bad is taking up a disproportionate amount of the space in the emergency sector. In 2018 study showed it’s 25% of all food reaching vulnerable communities through food banks and pantries is sugary sweetened beverages, sugary baked goods and salty snacks. And those folks who are recipients of that food have said again and again, that’s not what we want. And also that’s what’s available already in their communities, not the good stuff. So it’s not difficult for them to access that, but it is very difficult to access, again, those staple foundations of a healthy diet.

[00:35:00]

And so I think that the conversation needs to be more nuanced. I think that we need to say, “Look, not all food waste is good. And part of what we need to do is source reduction. We need to just not produce as much of these holiday candies, which is like a holiday candy for every holiday.” And they cycle through and they’re overproduced. And then they end up being given to folks who are already very, very vulnerable to the health effects of diet. So it just needs to be a more nuanced conversation.

Diana Fryc: Yeah, did you say 40% of all produced food goes to waste? Is that right?

Paula Reichel: That’s not me, but I think that is the national statistics. So it’s pretty considerable. And a lot of that is on the household level. So there is education there. But as I think about the food that’s reaching vulnerable communities and the food waste conversation, it’s more about elevating, working with mainstream donors and even individual donors to say, like, here’s what people want. Here’s what we don’t want and even here’s what we won’t even accept. That’s where we’re getting to.

Diana Fryc: I think that would be really valuable. I know even especially during the last 12 months, during the whole pandemic, as the needs have increased and that the list that are given are pretty remote, it’s always the same 12 items. We need peanut butter and oatmeal. And not that those aren’t healthy and sustainable, but I don’t typically see the requests for vegetables or beans or anything that kind of bases it out. And that might be another conversation. And there might be a rationale behind that. But I don’t necessarily see the diverse requests. It tends to just be the stuff that’s easy to keep. Everybody has on tap or is inexpensive to buy.

Paula Reichel: Yeah, and there is a reason for that, and it’s mostly because for individual donors, if you’re going to make an income donation, it’s better for you to donate dollars than products because these institutions have purchasing power. And so if you give them a dollar, they’ll be able to buy more fresh foods for that dollar than if you spent your own dollar. So there is a reason for that. But I will say, for me, this is more of a conversation around bigger food donors that they should just be cognizant of the food that they donate and the quality.

Diana Fryc: Okay, well, this leads me to this. We already talked about this idea of merging altruism and capitalism. How do we leverage these ideologies to meet the needs of all of us? So we tapped into it a little bit earlier, but maybe we can be real specific here.

Paula Reichel: Yeah, absolutely. Well, even as an organization that works to transform the charitable space, one of the things we’ll say is the charitable system is inherently unsustainable. It’s going to always require more dollars. It’s always going to require more donations. And so that’s where capitalism has a role to play in helping to solve some of these social challenges. And in helping to see some of the gaps and fill them and use that innovation that is coming and is so prevalent in the private sector and putting it towards a social good. And what that looks like can look differently. I think there is this proliferation now of social enterprises, which are organizations that have a committed social impact but are also doing well by doing good.

One of the interesting things I just thought about is that I’ve heard from — we talked a little bit about investment. I’ve heard from folks who run social enterprises that they are thought is inherently less profitable than non social enterprises by investors because they are linked not just to their outcomes are not just revenue based, but social based. And that’s not the case. And so I think there needs to be a shift in perceptions there about how those businesses can be effective and also can be solving social challenges. And then I think as we think about the intersection between altruism and capitalism, I just encourage people, no matter where they sit and which organization they sit with, to think about the way that you can best effect change, the most consequential action that you as a company or you as an individual can take.

[00:40:00]

And to take that consequential action, because I think there’s always an easy way to do altruism and to feel altruistic. But there’s also a hard way, and the hard way is the path that eventually we’ve got to take. And it’s also what people are going to look for more and more is for people to not just take the easy path, but to do something challenging and to see that impact. So I’m hopeful and I call out. It’s always good to have a challenge. Everybody likes the challenge.

Diana Fryc: Yeah. And I love that. And I think there’s a whole other conversation, distribution and accessibility, literally deserts that could be had in all of this same vein, but right now for the sake of conversation, it’s about food and getting the right food and making food affordable. So I really appreciate everything that we covered here. Thank you so much. I don’t know if there was anything that you wanted to cover or say that we didn’t tackle or did we capture everything important for you today?

Paula Reichel: Well, I feel like there’s always something else, but we touch, again to make a message stick. It’s reinforcement. So let’s focus on the basics. I think we covered the basis, the most important basis.

Diana Fryc: Awesome. Well, there’s a set of questions that I like to ask every guest and before we jump off here. You shared so much information about the industry and kind of opportunities for us, but is there something about the work that you do day to day that might be interesting for us all to hear, whether it’s in your office area or at a global level that people can take with them to their next cocktail hour?

Paula Reichel: I wish I had it like a really compelling statistic like that. I’m not sure I have something that might roll off the tongue the next time we’re able to have in-person cocktail hours. But what I will say is PHA, we love busting myths. We’re all about it. We’re all about saying, what’s common assumption people have and let’s bust it. And the one myth we busted during the pandemic is that lower income people will not pay for produce. In fact, we showed that after giving them a risk free trial, 12 weeks fruits and vegetables, again, that habit, over 80% of people want to eat more fruits and vegetables on an ongoing basis, and 50% of them are willing to pay the wholesale costs. So price is the biggest barrier.

The second piece that was a revelation to me as of this week, this Tuesday, was that there may be this assumption and sort of still filling this out, that lower income communities don’t care about local foods. So when we talk about trends that feel old to us probably in the natural space, local food is a trend that feels real old. But what you realize is it’s not promoted. And it may be because people think people who are price sensitive don’t care about buying local and that it’s just the exact opposite of what exists. People want to buy from their neighbors. They want to support their communities no matter where, what station you’re in or where you said you want to do that. So that’s another one of those untapped market opportunities. That was just a mind blower to me to think how long in the space we’ve been promoting locally sourced foods. And yet there’s a whole potential, whole group of consumers who’s not getting that messaging at all or very limitedly.

Diana Fryc: Yeah. Interesting. Awesome. I love that. Tell me what other women leaders or rising stars you are wanting to elevate at this time, people who are having an impact in either the work that you’re doing or even in CPG?

Paula Reichel: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I have to say, I’m almost in this weird bubble because I work almost exclusively with women. Which I know isn’t the case in the field. So I’d almost encourage men out there to also care about diet quality. But what I will say is I work with such amazing women and I’ve gotten the opportunity to interface with so many. But at this point in time, I just want to recognize two emerging leaders who I’m working with in Mississippi right now, Yasmine Malone and Emily Shy. They are two of our Mississippi Delta Food Systems fellows. They are both seniors at the University of Mississippi and they are and giving their time and energy to try to work across this community and transform the environment to improve health and community ownership. And those women are outstanding.

[00:45:00]

They’re so creative. Tyler is our third man also fits the bill too, but in the line with women, love them. And I am just always impressed college students how much amazing energy and thoughtfulness they bring to the dialog if you just take the chance to engage them.

Diana Fryc: I love that. I can’t wait to learn more about them. I’ll go and take a look out there. What brands or trends are you watching? What’s fascinating you? What are you hopeful for?

Paula Reichel: Yeah, I think I try to keep my eye on all the trends and there are things that we know we’re just going to grow. So plant based is going to continue to proliferate and we’re tracking that. And I’m excited to see again that the mainstreaming of that over and over. I think the trend I’m most interested in and this relates to the pandemic, is how our habits around cooking at home will. How sticky will they be as things return to normal? So we know that the more you cook at home, the better your diet quality, just general research. And so I’d love to see CPGs and others being responsive to that and keep in helping that trend persist, even as we’re able to break out from our houses and experience the world again. Eating at home just has so many benefits for families, for individuals. And so let’s help that become a part of who we all are waiting for.

Diana Fryc: Yeah. I’m curious as to how that’s going to happen. I personally think that there’s going to be a shift once things open up. And I think there will be a lot of people eating out and then going, “Oh, I kind of enjoyed making meals.” I think it is a swing and then it’ll come back, is what I speculate, but who knows.

Paula Reichel: I agree. I mean, there’s nothing I want to do more than just have a meal in a restaurant and not be fearful for my life. So I want that too. But yes, I think that this is really demystified cooking at home. So hopefully it will open the door.

Diana Fryc: Agreed. How are you keeping yourself centered and sane these days especially in the world that you’re working in?

Paula Reichel: Yeah, I wish I had some, like, amazing trick or tip that would be just like revolutionary. But unfortunately, I am doing the same things we all are. I have a dog who’s currently in the office with my husband today who I take on 45 minute long walks every morning. It’s great to clear your head. Good to be out in nature. Hike a lot. Can’t wait to be in the garden. Can’t wait for spring. I’ve grown my own food for years and I would encourage everybody to do it. So rewarding. It’s like super meditative to do it. And then the other thing that I think the pandemic has allowed me to do a little bit more voraciously is read. So I know that’s strange. And I was like, I’ve got a lot of throwback habits, let’s put it that way.

Diana Fryc: It’s not strange. In Seattle, we are readers around here. So I make an assumption that everybody is, of course. That’s how bubbles work.

Paula Reichel: Yeah, I think the volume of reading I’ve been able to do, but I find it honestly that there’s even think we’re all on our screens so much. Those screens are in a form of escapism for me, but books are. A really great book is the best form of escapism.

Diana Fryc: Agreed. Well, the last thing I’ll ask is if anybody wanted to reach out to you, what types of conversations are you interested in and how can they get in touch with you? What’s the best way?

Paula Reichel: Absolutely. Well, I never am one to turn down a conversation because you never know what you’ll learn, even if you are unsure, it’s always good to just engage with new people and get new ideas. So I would encourage anyone who wants to reach out to me personally or to think about working with PHA to just send me a note on LinkedIn. I’m actually fairly responsive there. You can also send me an email at preichel@ahealthieramerica.org.

Diana Fryc: Paula, I am just, first of all, honored and so thrilled to have spent this time with you. And I thank you for sharing this information with the community. I think there’s just more and more opportunity that we can create that visibility around what’s possible and meeting those unmet needs, using the super powers of our industry and looking into what the needs. I think it’s just great. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

[00:50:02]

Paula Reichel: Well, thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it.

Diana Fryc: Of course. This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo, a creative marketing firm specializing in growing, fixing and reinventing brands in the food, beverage, wellness and fitness industries. If your natural’s brand is in need of positioning, package design or marketing activation, we’re here to help. You can find more information at retail-voodoo.com. And so there you go. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. And if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to this channel and share with your network. Until next time, be well and do gooder.

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Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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