The Role of Food in Company Culture

In the video below, we hear from Fedele Bauccio, founder and CEO of Bon Appetit Management. His company has built its reputation on locally sourced, seasonal, healthy foods, and is actively involved in sustainability issues affecting every aspect of the food industry.

We discuss the current interest among tech companies such as Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) and Twitter in providing healthy low-cost or even free food as a way of building company culture and promoting health and innovation among their employees.

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Isaac Pino: Just before our discussion, you were sharing some of your stories around the culture of Silicon Valley and some of the companies that you work with currently. At the beginning, perhaps companies were not necessarily buying into the idea of, "We need to feed our employees sustainable, healthy food and make it available for lunch."

What were some companies that started to tip that balance, how did that progress, and where are we today, at least around Silicon Valley? I thought you had some interesting things to share.

Fedele Bauccio: When we first started out in Silicon Valley, companies wanted...

The first interesting story was at Oracle (NYSE: ORCL  ) . Larry Ellison wanted us to create in his first building a paninoteca, which is like a little Italian sandwich shop that you would find in Milan.

I said, "I can do that; I'm Italian," so we created this little paninoteca, but realizing as he was starting to grow the company -- if you've ever been out at Oracle, there's a lake and then there's a number of buildings -- we created different concepts. We have a Japanese noodle bar, we have a Mediterranean marketplace, we have an Indian curry house.

We have all these different concepts in each building, so employees never have to leave. They wanted to be more productive, and so forth.

From that showcase, everybody wanted to have something unique and different, so we customize these locations. We have no menu cycles or recipe boxes or anything. Everything is like a small little cafe or restaurant.

At that time, the idea of having food service for corporations was to retain talent. It also was to make sure that they were productive -- they never left campus to go have three martinis at lunch -- that was the idea.

There was also some idea of breaking bread together, as you do a couple of times a week here. It creates a culture. We eat together, and we create culture.

Nowadays, if I took you to Google or Twitter, or some of the other locations that we serve, it's free food. They spend a lot of money on free food. The objective is to create healthy, really good food.

The word "health" is really important, and there is a connection between agriculture and health -- a huge connection. That's another whole story.

How do we create healthy food for our employees, so that they're healthy at work? Yes, they're productive, but it creates innovation.

I really believe the trends are, in corporate America, the days of these big cafes where they feed 400 people and they're all lined up like an army barracks, are gone. Because if you go to Silicon Valley it's kind of like... You guys remind me of Google in here, except I don't see the bouncing balls.

Isaac Pino: We have a few of those.

Bauccio: Maybe there's a few. There's no offices there, just like there is here. In some cases, like at Twitter, there's not even any cubes. There's living room kinds of spaces, with couches and bouncy balls that they sit on. You and I have a meeting someplace, and then we go to another place and have a meeting.

Our job is to create these small, little pop-up restaurants, or small, little places that people can eat, and eat all day long. Sometimes they're there at night and they sleep in these places, and they bring their dogs in, and we feed them all night long.

The idea is to create food that's affordable, or free in some cases, but food that is healthy and still brings a sense of community to that culture of that company. It's taken off like crazy. Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO  ) is now free, since Marissa got there as CEO. Twitter is now free. LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD  ) is going to be free. Google is free.

There's a whole different trend here, of how do we bring food that's healthy, and that works for the culture of the company? That's what's going on.

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