Remember that joyful, nearly ecstatic and carefree feeling that overwhelmed you as a kid when you were able to really enjoy your food – alone? I’ve recently felt that again, at this age!
The “strong and barely controllable emotion” (Google’s definition of “passion”) is just what came over me at a January event. It was very clear that people armed with passion for what they do truly are unconquerable. And inspiring! Those ancient Greeks…how did they figure all of this out so long ago!!!
It was at the Specialty Food Association’s 42nd Winter Fancy Food Show (WFFS17) where, as the Association president, I had access to a lot of behind-the-scenes action and great face-to-face time with many of the exhibitors and attendees. These are people brimming over with passion for what they do and how they perceive the future of food. Passion everywhere – at every exhibitor booth, in every education session. Really. A whole lot of passion on display.
I’ve always seen passion as a messy proposition, a turning away from reason and sound business planning. Passion, an uncontrollable emotion that has challenged me to manage it — though I admit it can get away from me and being an ol’ school Greek man doesn’t help. Well, I’m rethinking my whole approach now. How’s that for developing emotional intelligence as a leader?
It seems extraordinary, but the folks I talked to at WFFS17 shifted how I think about business. Look, I’m educated about the bottom line – about the true measure of success, key performance indicators, etc. Dollars and cents, share growth, measurable metrics on the five-year plan, right? Well, my world is rocking now because I just spent a few days with people who measure their success by depth of connectivity, creating and satisfying tastes, sharing knowledge (even with competitors!), doing good in the community, preserving traditions, and discovering remarkable new ways to leverage today’s tech. There is no question that they do NOT sacrifice product integrity for their Profit &Loss statement. My big learning here is that they do make money and are profitable.
The sheer amount of innovations tied to improving the community and the planet was humbling. And fascinating! And taste-wise, I bit into everything from plantain-based flour to bee-less “honey” to coffee infused in wine barrels (wine-coffee?) to hot-dogs made of bacon to…. Sheesh, the list is unbelievably long.
I had a great talk with some young guys who have started using the leftover grains from beer brewing to make small batch granola bars. They call their company ReGrained. Seriously, they started out home brewing, saw how much great-smelling grain they were tossing out after making beer and realized, “Hey. This can be turned into something tasty.” They see themselves as a go-between for the brewing industry and local food systems. They’re both a service provider and a manufacturer. Eventually, they believe that it will be possible to “upcycle” all of the grain from every urban brewery in the world!
What a treat is was to meet the guys from Back to the Roots that utilize the same sustainable practices by using discarded coffee grinds in order to build in-home garden kits – grow your own mushrooms – or use a mini-aquaponic system to grown herbs and tomatoes right on your window sill! They are showing families and kids how to grow organic and all nature vegetables in the home kitchen. They also see themselves changing the world.
Those are just two of the more than 1,800 examples of people (WFFS17 exhibitors) in my industry discovering a passion, following it to a career, and building a thriving business, all while doing good for their fellow man. Our magazine profiles the 2017 Leadership Award winners to give you more on how are members are changing our world.
As for my own journey, I spent the lion’s share of last year working on learning about my new organization’s processes, budget, organizational structure and talent, strategic direction, and day-to-day operations. I had long nights inundated with data, and employee and member surveys and research reports. At WFFS17, it was fantastic to be a part of the “spaghetti sauce” of the industry I serve. It was eye-opening to see the industry’s passion on display in the aisles.
It’s true that passion may be messy, it may be a rough road, it may seem a bit crazy sometimes. But in this world of experiential lifestyles – of people looking for mindfulness and balance, and true meaning in their lives – the specialty food manufacturers I’m meeting have found something remarkable. They are living out their passions. Feeding their communities. Promoting the idea that cooking is connection, that a shared table is a shared understanding. Transferring the love of food to making one’s life less complicated – making it joyful, ecstatic and carefree because of food and its story.
Their passions create larger and larger circles of influence and even delight.
And more traditional businesses are taking note. There were a lot of reps at WFFS17 from the largest retailers and foodservice suppliers in the country and they’re looking for an “in” to specialty foods. Also at the show were venture capital guys roaming the floor looking for the next big food idea they can invest in! Those passions to create and innovate spell success on the shelf, the menu, on-line and the P&L.
I’m excited to know that my association truly makes some of these connections happen. That we’re a partner in the passions of thousands of entrepreneurs and millions of consumers. I’m a lucky man to have a part to play in the future of specialty food – an industry that is born of passion and that satisfies appetites. Talk about humility as a leadership principle huh? …no pressure (Ha Ha)
I invite you to join me in staying curious and hungry and ready – a lot of extraordinary new tastes are headed our way. We invite those of you in the food industry to join us at our 65th Anniversary celebration in New York at our SFA Summer Fancy Food Show. Come rediscover the hunger and passion for food you once had!
Follow me on twitter @philkafarakis
Article Published on Linkedin on 7th February 2017