Something Rotten in the State of Food Service

A leader in the culinary world shares how a new concept revolutionized an industry.

Isaac Pino
Isaac Pino, CPA
May 3, 2013 at 11:39AM
Consumer Goods

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.

Bauccio tells how, pursuing his dream of building a sustainable food service company, he became involved with NGOs and the Pew Commission on Farm Animal Production. Learning more and more about harmful agricultural practices strengthened his resolve to create a socially just, economically and environmentally sound model of food production.

Fedele Bauccio: Do you want to ask me more questions, or do you want me to keep going?

Isaac Pino: Feel free to tell stories for an hour.

Bauccio: I love to tell stories. I think it's part of the culture.

What happened was, I got very excited about what we were buying, and so did the chefs. A lightbulb went off in my head to say, "You know what? What we're really doing is supporting community -- the community where we live, work, and play -- and we're putting really great food into people's bodies."

I didn't know what the word "sustainability" meant at that time.

To me, that was the emotional attachment to the brand, so I started to message that in a way that customers would say, "We're working with local people in your community, and farmers and ranchers and honey makers and cheese makers, and here's the product we're serving you."

We started to call it Farm to Fork Food Service. No one had used that word, "Farm to Fork." Now it's everyplace. We started that in the early '90s, but I didn't put a ribbon around it until the late '90s. I wasn't smart enough to say, "Wait a minute. This is something that we could market, that could give us some differentiation and could start to change the industry."

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Our competitors were saying, "These guys will never make it. It's too expensive. There's no distribution." They were laughing at us. They said, "Your food costs are going to go through the roof," and all that, and I didn't care.

I said, "You know, we're going to do something different. We're going to stick to our knitting, take care of our brand, and we're going to be a sustainable food service company."

It was then that I started to work with a number of NGOs, like Environmental Defense, the Humane Society, National Resources Defense Council -- all of these NGOs, and I challenged them to get me the science behind a bunch of stuff that I could then start to message to consumers.

Then something really happened to me. I was asked to join the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production and I spent three years, while trying to run the company, not only in the fields but in every factory farm in this country, to look at the way we raise animals. The issues of the impacts on rural communities, the impact of non-therapeutic antibiotics and how we shoot up animals with hormones for growth promotion, the issues of waste and how it's liquefied and sprayed over fields, and how that seeps into the oceans and creates dead zones in the oceans, the issues of animal abuse and animal welfare.

All of that started to crystallize in my head to say, "We've got to do better. We've got to start to fight that and make some change in this industrial agricultural system we have in the United States, and move it more toward an ecological model that's more socially just, economically feasible for everybody to enjoy, and environmentally sound."

If you read anything about the company, that's what we've done. We've created lots of initiatives in terms of hoping that the industry will star to follow us, and they have. I feel really good about that, that we've been a leader in that area.