What I Wish You Knew: Ian Ronningen, Ph.D., Founder, Revision Food LLC
Food Scientist and Entrepreneur
Written by Ian Ronningen, Ph.D., edited by Laura Schaefer
I work as a food industry consultant specializing in how food companies can better use data to improve their food quality. I work with them to better understand how ingredients and processes work together and how they can tweak these to make better food. I ended up being an entrepreneur because I was motivated to do my own thing and to find and understand my own customers, business case and value proposition, rather than working for a single food company.
The pace of change in the world of food
The food industry is wild and complex. In an odd way, it can be really slow moving but also dynamic. There are companies of every size in it, and this allows for some strange dynamics and expectations. When consumers want a food reformulated, it can be a massive challenge. Small companies might not have the skills to make a product using different ingredients or processes and still have the consumer like it as much.
Large companies need to change so much about their process, sourcing and production – and then tie it to communication plan to make sure customers know something has changed. I think it is interesting to see how consumers interact with these slow and fast moving companies, because it really has created some interesting consumer expectations.
The challenges of bootstrapping
Getting customers and working in a nebulous space is really challenging. Working in a bootstrapped area is really challenging because what will make or break my business is effectively communicating with the people I work with. As a small player, it takes a lot of communication and engagement to get projects and buy in from companies, so if anything is off or not exactly where it needs to be that is on me. The impact of shortcomings and failures is much more immediate.
I knew that communication strategy would be important, but I did not expect it to be a significant part of my job. I do not have any regrets because it is just something else to continue to improve on. I think scientists really need to get better engaged with communication and engaging the public, and this has really allowed me to practice my communication at all levels.
I feel very proud if I've done some really innovative data analysis, but I get even more excited if I have excited a customer about what we've done together. From my perspective, having something I've spent time and energy on embraced is really fulfilling because so many things had to happen right for us to get there.
An evolving industry
I really hope that the food industry evolves to equally support consumer desires, purchasing habits, and health. What I mean by this is over time, food companies can make food that fits the wants of consumers and is healthy. A lot of food has healthy aspects to it, but is bad in other ways to make consumers like it.
I'd like to see food companies get to a place where whole grain products can be formulated without added sugar, where distribution systems are optimized so fresh produce is affordable and accessible in old food deserts. I would also like for consumers to be more connected with their food and nutrition; diet has a long-term health impact, so I think it should be taught younger to increase the chance of impact.