Food Tech’s Role in Expanded Food Accessibility with Karuna Rawal

January 25, 2021 | by Diana Fryc

Gooder Podcast Featuring Karuna Rawal

Listen on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Podcasts, and Youtube

In this episode I had the privilege of chatting with Karuna Rawal, Chief Marketing Officer for Nature’s Fynd, a food tech startup where she’s commercializing a new-to-the-world, sustainable alternative protein that can help feed the world. We discuss the incredible origin story of Nature’s Fynd, how the food tech industry has widened the funnel of food accessibility, as well as the importance of mentorship in empowering women leaders. 

“To me mentoring is about being more open, vulnerable and sharing, and being able to offer perspective or insights.” – Karuna Rawal

In this episode we learn:

  • The origin story of Nature’s Fynd, what it does and what the company is up to now.
  • How the pandemic has positively and negatively affected the business. 
  • How the food tech industry has contributed to the accessibility of food to many people around the world. 
  • Karuna’s thoughts about consumer adoption and how consumers in the market are responding to their products. 
  • The importance of two-way mentoring and Karuna’s advice for being a good mentor.
  • Karuna’s thoughts on how she wants Nature’s Fynd to define food tech’s role in the world.

About Karuna Rawal:

Karuna Rawal is the Chief Marketing Officer for Nature’s Fynd, a food tech startup where she’s commercializing a new-to-the-world sustainable alternative protein that can help feed the world. Karuna brings over twenty-five years of experience in brand management and shopper marketing across CPG, retail, and healthcare industries. She also serves on a number of nonprofits and is dedicated to supporting and mentoring women leaders.

Guest Social Media Links:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karunarawal/

Website: https://www.naturesfynd.com/press-release/cmo

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KarunaRawal

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thekarunarawal

Blog: https://medium.com/@KarunaRawal

Show Resources:

Miyoko’s Creamery – Miyoko’s Creamery is the leading organic plant dairy creamery that’s reinventing the dairy industry.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and space research. 

Yellowstone National Park is a nearly 3,500-sq.-mile wilderness recreation area atop a volcanic hot spot. Mostly in Wyoming, the park spreads into parts of Montana and Idaho too. Yellowstone features dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs, and gushing geysers, including its most famous, Old Faithful. 

Leo Burnett Company, Inc., is an American advertising company, founded on August 5, 1935, in Chicago by Leo Burnett.

Farmers Fridge is a service that makes meals from scratch, packed with care, and delivered overnight by our dedicated team of drivers.

The Good Food Institute’s (GFI) conference is the world’s leading event focused on accelerating the marketplace for plant-based and cell-based meat

Transcript

Diana Fryc: Welcome to the Gooder Podcast, I’m your host Diana Fryc. Thanks for joining us again. As partner and CMO of Retail Voodoo, an award winning branding agency, I’ve met with 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 women and subject matter experts and have them share their insights and expertize and help businesses all around the world become gooder.

I’m very excited to introduce my guests today, Karuna Rawal. She’s chief marketing officer for Nature’s Fynd, a foodtech startup where she’s commercializing a new to the world sustainable alternative protein that can help feed the world. Karuna brings over twenty five years of experience in brand management and shopper marketing across CPG, retail and health care industries. She also serves on a number of nonprofits and is dedicated to supporting and mentoring women leaders. Hi, welcome Karuna. How are you today?

Karuna Rawal: I’m great Diana, it’s nice to see you. How are you?

Diana Fryc: I’m so good, thank you. How’s Chicago? Are you guys cold, windy, warm? What’s happening over there?

Karuna Rawal: It’s cold. Hardly ever warm except if you’re here in July. But yeah, it’s kind of typical. I guess we can’t complain. We don’t have 18 inches of snow or anything like that, so it’s good.

Diana Fryc: Not yet. Knock on wood.

Karuna Rawal: That’s right.

Diana Fryc: Well I am so super fascinated by the foodtech industry, especially as I recently interviewed Miyoko from Miyoko’s, of course, and then I’ve interviewed companies that are more foodtech centric. So I’m excited to talk to you today, especially as I’ve been spending a lot of time learning about the genesis of Nature’s Fynd. I don’t want to spend too much time on some of the deeper details. But I thought before we talk about anything else today,let’s talk a little bit about what is Nature’s Fynd. Tell us who you are and what your team is up to these days.

Karuna Rawal: Sure. So I am the chief marketing officer of Nature’s Fynd, and I joined the company about a year and a half ago and really came on board to commercialize, as you said, this new to the world protein. And so Nature’s Fynd is an alternative protein company, a space that’s very, very hot right now, and what we are doing is bringing a new to the world protein to market. And it’s a protein that’s based on a microbe that was actually discovered by our chief science officer in the volcanic hot springs of Yellowstone National Park.

The company started as a research project for NASA and our chief science officer was actually investigating environments that are probably as close to sort of extraterrestrial environments in regard to what kinds of conditions are needed for life to thrive and that took him to Yellowstone National Park because the volcanic geysers in that environment is actually pretty close to what you might find in other parts of the galaxy. So that’s how the company got started. And since then, we’ve developed a novel fermentation method that allows us to grow the protein anywhere, any time. We don’t need rain, sun or soil. So it allows us to really be able to have this purpose around really providing nourishing food that also nurtures the planet, because we are able to do it with a fraction of the land, energy and water that’s required for traditional proteins.

Diana Fryc: That’s fantastic. I was reading some of the details and the science for me is super fascinating. At one point in my life before I went into this marketing and advertising direction, I had thought I would go into the sciences. So it’s so funny how it’s just like intersected again. You too right?

Karuna Rawal: Me too. I started out thinking I was going to go into medicine way back in high school and college and discovered consumer behavior in marketing and just fell in love with it. But yeah, it’s brought me full circle too.

Diana Fryc: That so incredible. That is incredible. I was reading about Food Navigator in 2019 and this was before you guys were Nature’s Fynd. Thomas Jonas – did I say that correctly?

Karuna Rawal: Yeah.

Diana Fryc: He was talking either at the Good Food Conference or about the Good Food Conference, about kind of the vision and the plan. It sounds like from the timing that you just mentioned, you were with him already at the time when he was speaking and was talking about;

[00:05:00]

We want to launch all these products in there. It sounded very big and grandiose and exciting. From this year, you guys have been very busy, really significant capital raises. You’re getting a lot of attention. But I wonder if or how 2020 might have kind of collided with some of the goals or if it hasn’t, maybe it’s accelerated it. I don’t know?

Karuna Rawal: Yeah, that’s a great question. So 2020 for us has been obviously like for many other companies, it’s been a challenging year in some ways, but because of the, I think the nature of what we’re doing, it’s also been an accelerant for us in some ways. So I’ll explain that in that from a challenge standpoint, obviously it’s a year that we were all set to open and have a grand opening of our plant in March, 2020. We just managed right before the market’s collapse to raise our series B of $ 80 million. We were really glad to have kind of accomplished that as we turn to sort of commercializing and launching our brand, obviously faced with an unprecedented level of turmoil in the world. So that definitely gave all of us a pause to figure out, like, okay, how do we pivot? What do we need to change? What needs to move forward or not?

And then I think the interesting flip side of it is as time went on, the other thing we realized was we do a lot of consumer research to stay on top of where consumers are in this space, and what we started to see was a remarkable accelerant as people started understanding more about the meat industry and where their food comes from. And so we saw plant based proteins kind of really take off, and then it also really ended up accelerating the interest in what we were doing. So I think that’s part of why you see the momentum. It’s been kind of a year that in some ways it’s been challenging in our conversations with retailers and suppliers and some things have been a little bit delayed. But we are actually still right on track for what we were planning, which is exciting because we were very fortunate to close that funding round. And then I think as you saw, we just raised money and a debt financing last week. So, yeah, we’ve been fortunate in that regard. I think there’s some challenging situations, obviously, getting the health of our employees and seeing everything that’s going on. But it has also really–  I think what might have taken us three to five years has really condensed in terms of consumer interest in what we’re doing. So that’s pretty exciting, too.

Diana Fryc: Yeah, well, we’re seeing that on technology as well and I think the last report that I saw or that I read was that the Covid crisis has put forward from a technology standpoint, moved us forward five years in regards to how we interact and how we utilize, how we shop, how we live, it’s moved four or five years and it’s almost a hiccup. A lot of people are still kind of catching their breath. And it’ll be interesting to see how the adoption, how much of it is sticky once things go back to normal. So that will be interesting. So in that line, kind of going back to that question that I was asking around Food Navigator, what was the drive to move so quickly at that time? Was it just a good idea and your team wanted to hop on the front end of it, or was something else kind of driving the speed to market?

Karuna Rawal: I think it’s really what you were saying. It’s that we were starting to see a rising interest in this whole alternative protein space has been borne out by all the investment, as you can see since that time, but we’re also seeing what we were picking up was a consumer inflection point. Again, we hadn’t predicted Covid, which simply just accelerated it. But I think we were, especially with young the younger generation. So Gen Z and Millennials were more and more interested in really understanding where their food comes from. More interest, more curiosity around trying new things and really a high level of interest in sustainability and being conscious of that as well. And so we saw all these trends coming together. So the thought was, yeah, this is the right time. And seeing sort of the tailwinds of the plant based proteins for us to write on. So I think those were all of the things and obviously as a company, we want to get out there and make that difference and offer consumers that choice as soon as we possibly can.

Diana Fryc: Yeah, another component that I like about it and I don’t know if you guys talk about this much as well, but one of the brilliant things that is kind of a side benefit of the work that you’re doing not only is that environmental footprint in regards to getting product processed and then developed into market, but it also allows the ability to create smaller scale, multiple production areas, be in areas where there’s underemployment all around the world.

[00:10:22]

And I don’t know, that’s like big picture talking and this mean is in my head, of course. But I just kind of think like the future of foodtech allows us to be able to not only produce better food with a smaller footprint, but then also has the benefits of being able to give employment in areas that maybe have been underserved in the future. Am I thinking crazy time or is that a reality?

Karuna Rawal: No, not at all. I think that’s absolutely true. In fact, our current facility is located in the south side of Chicago where actually the old Chicago stockyards used to go and we were very purposeful in being able to demonstrate our capability in a city environment and being able to provide access to food where people most need it. And one thing we also know from looking at population trends is more and more young people are going to be living in cities and the cost and the energy required to transport food from one part of the world to another part of the world is pretty significant. So one of the things that I am really excited about and frankly, our investors are excited about is the ability to scale in a pretty efficient way because we can be anywhere in the world, whether it’s in the middle of Chicago or in Mumbai. And so having food access where people live is, I think going to have to be one of the ways that we solve this challenge of our food system.

Diana Fryc: Absolutely. This might be a tricky question, but here it goes; the natural’s industry has changed so much in 10 years and foodtech, of course, has allowed us to do such amazing innovation and foodtech was kind of a swearword in the natural category for a very, very long time and depending on who you talk to is still somewhat so. But it’s really helped capture a new audience of different audiences and its catapulted natural’s towards the mainstream consumer. There’s a lot of opportunity. Every day I feel like we’re learning about things. From your perspective, what do you believe is really driving the demand? What’s your thought on that?

Karuna Rawal: Yeah, it’s really interesting because like you, I’ve been sort of part of this industry and seen how it’s evolved and I think there’s a lot of pendulum swinging in this space. But I think what we’re starting to realize and I think one of the key things that our company’s philosophy is based on is this idea of nature and science working together. We’ve too often seen them as sort of opposing forces and the way we talk about it is we actually have something that we discovered in nature, but it took science to take that and create something that can be produced at a much larger scale, in a safe way and in a way that can be efficient, which is through our fermentation technology.

But interestingly, even that fermentation technology is millennia old and we needed to put a new twist on it, using the latest thinking and the latest technology to be able to get it to be something that we can do anywhere, any time. So we think about nature. We’re uniquely positioned, which is actually from a branding and marketing standpoint has been a really interesting challenge. How do you bring together this idea of a company that’s all about science and exploration and discovery, along with a company that’s also based in nature? So that for me was a very unique marketing challenge. But to kind of get back to your point, I think more and more as people get educated, they’re realizing that this is not an either of, these two things have to come together and work together and science can help us solve it. It’s the language that we use to translate nature. So I think that’s really how we look at it and I think more people are starting to realize that the challenges that that we have ahead of us are so huge, that we need our best scientists and explorers and people who can kind of figure out solutions. I think there are a lot of solutions in nature that just need to be unlocked with science and new kinds of thinking.

Diana Fryc: Yeah, that’s one of the things that I struggle with, with the natural’s industry as it’s evolving particularly in the last two years; we’ve seen a lot of Silicon Valley investment come into food.

[00:15:04]

It’s been very exciting, and it’s because the kind of a natural relationship, you’ve got one kind of research with another kind of research. The natural’s industry has become very Hollywood. There’s high price points natural’s and better for you tend to cater to an audience that is upper middle class, Caucasian, most of the time very well educated about health and wellness to begin with. And I feel like Foodtech offers the opportunity to start bridging the gap between the people who are uneducated and maybe unwilling to try something because of its foreignness, because foodtech allows us to kind of mimic things that are already comfortable and start to move people from that place of unsustainable, unhealthy living conditions and really use the superpowers of the natural industry to bridge that gap. And I don’t know, that’s my POV; that’s what I’d really like us to be able to do, is start to open our eyes and kind of go, “We can’t just keep making healthy people healthier. There’s a whole host of other people that need some help. And why wouldn’t we be sharing that with them?”

Karuna Rawal: Yeah, absolutely. I think you’re exactly right. And I think figuring out we’re going to need a lot of solutions. It doesn’t mean one little magical switch we flip and then we’ve solved this. So what we see is the opportunity to offer another choice to consumers and to do it in a way that is better for them in terms of nutrition. We’re a complete vegan protein with fiber and calcium and vitamins and minerals, and we taste great and we’re better for the planet. So we should offer those choices broadly. And I come back to the earlier point of where people live and where people can access food is really important. So how do we do it in a way that allows us to scale efficiently; is the sort of the Holy Grail at this point?

Diana Fryc: Yeah, accessibility and education, really, because there are more people that are uneducated about what our industry is doing than there are people that are just the market opportunity, even in and of itself is pretty big.

Karuna Rawal: Yeah, I totally agree. 

Diana Fryc: It’s curious because I’m already kind of hearing it, but I don’t want to take the words out of your mouth. How do you as an individual within the organization and maybe speaking for yourself, not for the organization, how do you want Nature’s Fynd to kind of define Foodtech’s role. Do you want Nature’s Fynd to help define foodtech or the other way around? And if so, how do you want that to be? 

Karuna Rawal: That’s a great question. I feel like one of the reasons I was so fascinated by what this company was doing was because I do think we have a unique opportunity to define what foodtech is, because I think there is a lot of misconception and everyone assumes it’s again, it’s like an either or and I think trying to kind of bridge that sort of the theme for the country, for the world, like how to bring those things together, because when one is the best possible solution. And sometimes, does that mean that we can’t be, we have to make some choices and compromises. 

But at the same time, if we’re all kind of focused on a bigger goal, which is healthier food for more people, that’s easily accessible and that doesn’t harm the planet. I think that’s what foodtech, in my opinion, should be about. 

Diana Fryc: Yeah. So let’s just talk a little bit about consumer adoption. I don’t know how much your product has been tested out in the market, whether it’s through trade or with the consumer. How are people responding to the products that you’re testing or they’re out in the market right now? What’s the response been? And what’s the input? What are you hearing? 

Karuna Rawal: Yeah, so that’s a great question. So that was actually one of the first things I did when I joined the company was I said, “Okay, we got to get this in front of consumers.” And I want to understand where people are because that defines the marketing challenge for us. And having been in food marketing for a long time, we all know you can talk about all the great attributes. But if people don’t like the taste of it, they’re not coming back. So we did a lot of really deep dive consumer research right when I joined the company, which was actually very encouraging. And this was about a year and a half ago. 

And what we were seeing is, as we described and we were very straightforward because one of my goals was we have to be 100 percent transparent. We’re going to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes. We’re going to tell them it is a fungi we found, where we found it. So we tell the full origin story. We talk about what it is. 

[00:20:00]

We also talk about the benefits and then we had people taste the product. And what was fascinating even a year and a half ago was a huge level of excitement and interest initially in the concept and then sort of seal the deal with how it tastes. And what we were able to demonstrate at that point is there were kind of four areas that emerged for us in the consumer interest. One was around neutrality. So what I think about is our natural origin story, as well as the fact that we aren’t highly processed because our fungi has sort of a natural filamentous texture. It doesn’t require a lot of processing to get the meat like texture versus if you think about both soy or a protein, you’re doing is extracting the protein in a powder and then you have to reprocess and hydrate to get it to that texture. So we have sort of an inherent natural advantage there. 

The second thing was around health, recognizing that it’s a really nutrient dense product. So you get both protein and fiber sort of we talk about it as a protein of the animal products would give you, along with the fiber that my products give you, kind of have it packed into one. And then the idea of sustainability was obviously very, very compelling. And then the last one, which I think is kind of important, was this notion of versatility. So one of the things we’re able to do because we’ve created this sort of great protein platform, we can take it into a pretty wide variety of applications. So solid, liquid, powder, sweet to savory meat to dairy. What was really exciting to see was consumers are really excited about the fact that everyone is excited about the plant based burgers. But we also heard, “I don’t eat burgers every day, but I want to. So, how do I do more?” 

And what we are able to do is literally meet consumers eating occasions all throughout the day. Those are some of the initial learning we got. There was a lot of excitement. Then we went ahead and did a full blown what I would call a classic Nielsen segmentation study that was quantitative based. Not something typical in a startup, but we wanted to make sure we had a really solid foundation for the work we were doing. And again, we saw really strong interest to the level of almost half the general population in very high interest. Now, the early adopters clearly are going to be those people who are a much smaller group and are the ones who understand the connection between food and sustainability. But what we were surprised by was seeing the sort of broader interest in a much broader group of people. And what I’ll tell you is we’ve been doing kind of testing now. That was back in 2019 at the end of the year. And then, as we saw, 2020 come forward, we went back and tested a number of times and we saw it jump by double digits. 

So, it was remarkable because I do think that people are getting more educated, are more open and curious to try new things. So we feel and we’ve done a lot of consumer taste testing since then with our products as well, and we’ve been very, very encouraged. Our products are able to deliver. And I go back to as a marketer, I think our story is going to be what pulls people in. And then product and our taste and the functional attributes we can deliver is what’s going to keep people coming back, because if it doesn’t taste good, no one is interested. So we’ve learned our lesson over and over again in natural foods. 

Diana Fryc: Yes, we have. It’s interesting to hear the interest in the gen pop because that’s really a testament to the industry as a whole. I really want to give kudos to the multinationals, they’re the ones that are really driving, I think, the normalization of naturals in a way, because they can. They’ve got the funds, they’ve got the distribution, they’ve got the ability too, they’ve got all the research. So, really a testament to the fact that we’re starting to see more of a normalization and that something is — around the world, fungi is not obscure, but in the US, we have a fairly limited palette when you compare it to the rest of the planet. And so, it’s super exciting to hear that.

Karuna Rawal: Yeah, it is. And frankly, I was, myself, quite really surprised because I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life and it’s been challenging, but all of a sudden it’s like things have changed. And everywhere you go now, there are vegetarian vegan options. So I think there’s a big cultural shift happening. And it’s not just on the coasts. I think it is starting to become much more, to be very fair, it’s much more predominant amongst — we definitely skew younger. The interest level also skew interestingly, to more ethnic and diverse populations. That makes sense more to city and urban dwellers. All of those things are so true. 

[00:25:00]

But what was remarkable was to see there’s definitely an overall shift happening in how people are thinking about natural foods, which I think is long overdue in this country. But yeah, and I think quite a few countries in Europe are ahead of it. What’s been fascinating is I’m also seeing more and more data globally, countries that you would consider to be very difficult to shift like Argentina, are starting to see a big shift there as well. And a lot of it, to your point, you give credit to the multinationals, but I also give a lot of credit as well to the sort of this Hollywood celebrity, Sports figures and others who are coming out and saying, “Hey, I’m vegan and I’m super athlete.” I think that’s starting to really influence people broadly. And I think people are getting educated about the impact of our food system. 

Diana Fryc: Yeah, well, it’s sorely needed. I mean, we’re still seeing ridiculously high levels of obesity and cancer. And it’s just systemic of our food system. And I know that like the Cokes and the Pepsis of the world can’t turn off the machine that they need to keep the big blue brands. But in the meantime, as they’re growing these other initiatives and starting to shift people, they no longer fear losing the consumer anymore because the consumer could naturally transition, especially as they build their brand portfolio. And it’s really quite smart from a business perspective instead of fighting it, embracing it and creating your own model.  

Karuna Rawal: Exactly, and that’s really encouraging to see. I think that is a shift. In my previous life before I came here, I was at Leo Burnett working with a lot of the big CPG’s we’re talking about and everybody sees the shift that’s happening. So which is why I think you see a lot of them jumping into the space as well. 

Diana Fryc: Yeah, I want to talk a little bit about leadership and mentorship. I know that that’s an important part of your day, something that you see yourself wanting to continue to grow and being able to help women. When I was researching a little bit more about you, I see that in the past has been primarily on the creative side. That’s where you’ve spent a good deal of your career up until recently here. Tell me a little bit about why that’s important to you right now. Why is mentoring women, maybe particularly, I don’t know if it’s the same in creative as what you’re seeing in foodtech, but just talk a little bit about why that’s important to you right now. 

Karuna Rawal: Yeah, so you’re right. I mean, I think throughout my career, I’ve always taken on that kind of role because I think it’s really important. I feel very lucky to have been mentored by so many amazing managers and leaders. But the reality is there are very few women as I was growing up that I could be mentored by. Male mentors are amazing. And I have quite a lot of them. And it’s important that they continue to mentor. But I think I felt this responsibility as I progressed in my career to be able to sort of reach down and help others. 

So on the creative side, it’s really interesting because it is such a challenge. You would think it’s an industry that brings in so many women at the entry level. And then we were losing so many women that would go through. So that was one of my own personal challenges to make sure as I had the ability and a position where I could make a difference in bringing more women in, but also retaining them, I think that’s always the challenge. So, one of the things I’m really proud of when I ran an agency over at Leo Burnett was the number of moms that were able to stay on the advertising side of the business because it’s really tough. 

We’ve also continued to be involved in the three percent movement, which is on about getting more women on the creative side into senior roles. And again, I think that you have to — I’m a firm believer and you have to see it to be it. So those of us who are fortunate enough to be in those senior positions, I think the more visible we are, the more we’re able to reach out and help people get through that some of those rough spots, because I’ve been through them as a mom, as a leader working in different parts. So I think that’s always been sort of how I see myself being able to help. And I’ve continued to do that as I’ve come into this role, obviously now more on the startup side. And there’s several younger women that are trying to work their way through as they’ve made the switch from big corporate to startup. And I’m learning as much from them as they are from me. So I don’t want to make it seem like I got the answers. But I just think mentoring and ideally two way mentoring is just it’s important for us to do because there aren’t enough women, especially as I’ve discovered on the startup and venture side. 

Diana Fryc: Yeah, I find it interesting because I was in advertising for a while and then moved over into brand development. 

[00:30:05]

They’re related, but they’re not identical. I remember that being a big conversation at the time and it still is, especially in the ad industry world and frankly, in the entrepreneurial world, if an organization isn’t necessarily set up to take into consideration all of the needs that particularly a woman that’s a mother, whether they’re caring for their own children or an older parent or anything else, an organization is going to really lose good talent. And women, I think, are not really great kids. And that’s really where kind of comes into play, I think, on your part where you need — I’m just assuming, of course, but I think it takes a lot.

When you become a mentor, I think it’s a really important quality to be able to understand the situation and mentor based on the situation and not just, “Well, I’m going to mentor because I know something.” And that’s what I’m hearing from you. What did you call it? Co-mentoring, dual-mentoring. What did you call it, two way mentoring? 

Karuna Rawal: Yeah, I think that is really important because it is very contextual because there are different stages of your career, there are different stages of whatever else you’re managing on your personal side. And how do you bring those together? That’s one aspect of it. There’s also contextual in terms of, hey, I’m working with a really challenging manager who is not allowing me to get the kind of experience I want. How do I approach that? So I think there’s a range of things that you sort of learn over the years, either by trial and error or by figuring it out. So I think sharing those experiences — and I just had a situation this morning where we had a really challenging situation that a team was trying to solve yesterday and just kind of taking the time today to sort of reflect on it and talk to the team about, “Hey, I can tell you, I was in a very similar situation early in my career and here’s what transpired and here’s how I handle it. And here’s what I learned from it.” 

I think people need that. And if we all walk around looking like we have it all figured out all the time, that’s not very helpful mentoring. To me, mentoring is about being more open and vulnerable and sharing and being able to offer perspective or insight. At the end of the day, I often find it’s giving people that room to have perspective, because in it it’s really hard, whatever the situation is for all of us. And so being able to step back a little bit and say, “Hey, you know what, I’ve been down that road, or I know I can share kind of what my thoughts are,” just provides another perspective. 

Diana Fryc: Yeah, I kind of want to go one step further into this mentoring and I’m going to make up something here which I’ll call lateral mentoring. One of the things that you talked about as a woman of color was being this one and only or being the lone woman or being the lone person of color or the lone woman of color, and kind of having to represent a whole lot of people in a particular scenario. And I noticed that the leadership of your current organization, you are the lone woman at least of what’s presented on the website. You are the lone woman. You are the lone person of color. And yet the other men that are on your team have such interesting backgrounds too. So they’re not like all Wharton MBAs, they all have very unique and different kind of backgrounds. 

And so I wonder if this mentoring that you’re talking about kind of extends laterally, like in that scenario where you’re helping them understand what your needs are. There’s a lots of different ways to kind of address the thing, the scenario that I just represented. But I wonder if that’s might be filling some of your desire to mentor. Is this, I’ve frequently been the one and only in this room. 

Karuna Rawal: Yeah, you’re right. I think there are a lot of places throughout my career where I am the one and only. I try to look at it as an opportunity to help teach other people, and I don’t mean teaching people, to share and to provide new perspectives because you have to go into these situations with that positive intent of people haven’t spent time with someone. I’ll never forget, when I was a brand manager at P&G, one of the employees I had came and said to me, until I went to college — and it was a male or a white male. 

[00:35:03]

And he said, “I really hadn’t met anyone who wasn’t white.” So that was my first experience. And now you’re my manager. And I just want to say to you, if I do something inadvertently or say something — it just because I haven’t really been. I really appreciated that because he was admitting, like, “Okay, I need to learn here and I’m willing to grow. And if I make mistakes, please understand that it was not intentional.” And I think that’s really valuable when people come into it with an open heart like that and open mind. And so, it was a great experience for him. It was a growth experience. And for me, having the opportunity to kind of provide a different perspective was also valuable. 

You brought up my leadership team here at Nature’s Fynd. You’re right, if you just look at sort of the pictures, you can say, “Okay,” but they each bring a very unique perspective. And I really enjoy our time together because we learn from each other. And I often have a very different perspective and they’re very interested in hearing that. So that’s what makes it, I think, really something of value and a two way partnership. The other thing, in their pictures, if you looked at my actual team that I run, it’s nine of us, it is about the most diverse team, at least both on in terms of where they come from or backgrounds culturally, but also small company, big company, very global, more US, just very, very different perspectives, which I think makes us such a strong team. It’s not hard to do. And what I think I find frustrating is when people say, well, there isn’t a pipeline or there aren’t can’t. That’s not true. 

I think you have to keep your mind open and not assume that everyone has to look like you. And that goes for all of us. I know it doesn’t have to have the same, if in fact it’s more valuable if I have someone who hasn’t had the same experience as I have had. So I’ve been very fortunate to build a team. And it’s great perspective because we are going to be a global company and we are going to be a company that’s going to be doing things in a variety of different channels. And we need all of that different experience and it just makes us better. And I’m seeing evidence of that every single day. So it was the same the leadership team I built on the agency side. And I’m a big believer in that. I also try to put myself out there. So, younger women as they’re kind of going through building their professional careers, they reach out and I do my best to always try to be open to having a conversation and to providing perspective. And it’s the only way we all have to kind of reach up around and down and help people with a helping hand. So I think that makes a big difference. 

Diana Fryc: Yeah, it’s kind of the ultimate manifestation of mentoring. I can assume that at times it’s a little bit exhausting having to carry the torch. 

Karuna Rawal: Yeah, sometimes I do get, if I go there for a minute, I pull myself back and I say, “You wouldn’t be where you are today if you didn’t have all of the support and resources I’ve had.” So I want to make sure that I pay it forward. 

Diana Fryc: Of course. Well, as this kind of pay it forward type of POV, the women that you have spent time with in a leadership or mentorship role, whether it’s friendly and in business or even socially, are you finding that there’s a common something, there’s a common outage? It’s not the right word, weakness, blind spot, filter that you’re seeing that women use that hold them back. 

Karuna Rawal: Yeah, I think the one that’s probably most common and it sounds cliché, but it is, I do see it over and over again, this notion of, we hold ourselves back a little bit. We’re not going to apply for that job unless we can do one 100% of it, whereas men are more than happy, they can get to 60 to 70%. That’s just one example. But I think I do see that over and over again that we hold ourselves back. We are afraid to ask. And so a lot of the younger women I work with, a lot of the encouragement is around, think it through, but what have you got to lose? You’ve got to ask for it. If you believe you deserve it, you’ve got to put yourself out there. So this notion of putting ourselves out there, I think I see all the way from the junior levels to very senior level. And it’s frustrating that it still hasn’t changed. But I think it is a commonality that I’m struck over and over again and I’m no exception. So just to be clear, I think we’re all guilty of it. And I think that’s where I found having a really supportive women network of my peers has really been helpful because they do push you on.

[00:40:11]

 There are times when you do have a blind spot and they say, “Hey, wait a minute, of course, with you, you would encourage me to go after this, so I’m encouraged you.” I think that’s really important because we do tend to pull ourselves back if we’re not feeling 100% confident. And like I said, I hate that but it’s true. It’s still there in all of us a little bit. 

Diana Fryc: Yeah, I think it’s changing. I see with each generation I’m seeing a little bit of a difference millennials. I feel like millennials started to go there and then something happened and they fell back a little bit. But I’m definitely seeing Gen Z. Gen Z seems like a very powerful group. I’m excited. 

Karuna Rawal: Me too, they gave us hope and optimism for the world. I totally agree. 

Diana Fryc: And they’re more optimistic, I feel, than millennials. This is such a big, broad brush strokes, of course. So, I don’t mean to offend anybody, but I feel like Gen Z seems to be less self-centered as a group as well. So it’s just interesting how the generations kind of have some certainness about them. 

Karuna Rawal: I think you’re absolutely right. I’m definitely, more so in my own children than I guess some people I’m mentoring. But I definitely see that Gen Z aspect. They want to be able to, and they believe they can, change the world in this action to demonstrate that, which I think is really exciting. 

Diana Fryc: Oh, that’s so great, when you’re thinking outside of yourself, or you just thinking about women as we’re talking about women leaders, is there any woman that you want to point out and just kind of going, “Yeah, I love what she’s doing for herself or her brand or her company,” and it doesn’t have to be in category can be anywhere. And I don’t even have to know who they are. But anybody want to raise or highlight?

Karuna Rawal: It’s actually funny. The women I think about when you’re describing it that way are actually not necessarily even in business. But I look at someone like Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand and how remarkable she is as both a compassionate and a really strong leader. And she’s a mom and she’s done amazing things for her country and continues to do it with a strength of purpose and conviction, but in a kind of way. I think, a leader like that to me is really impressive. And there are women, I think, in the business world as well. But she really strikes me as someone I look at and go, “Wow!” and she’s so young and she’s got a career ahead of her. 

But I do think that the women I’m always impressed by are the ones that can combine sort of all of the different things we have to juggle as women and do it in a way where they can still be effective leaders and get the kinds of results that are expected of them, but not do it in a way where they can’t be themselves or be who they are and still be kind and compassionate. And I think that’s really important. I try very hard to keep that in front of me. 

Diana Fryc: Yeah, well, all anybody can do is try. I mean, you can go all Yoda. If some people want to go Yoda, there’s no try, there is do. But the reality is, is that if you’re trying it, you’re actually doing it. That word try is such a tricky word that we use. We’re almost done. I’ve just have really enjoyed all of these things that you shared with us and learning about you personally. And I always have a couple of just sort of non related questions or sort of related questions. But they go a little bit off roading and one of them is, is there any kind of I call it cocktail hour, bite sized snack that you like to share about Nature’s Fynd that people can just tuck in the back of their brain for whenever we socialize again? 

Karuna Rawal: I think what I would say is probably around this notion of we found a microbe that can help feed the world. I always find that story to be really compelling. And I think it’s really built around this notion of optimism that we can find solutions in nature that are going to help address some of the biggest challenges that we as a people have. 

[00:45:01]

Time and again, we’ve got to figure out how to feed ourselves. We started out 11000 years ago with kind of traditional agriculture. And it’s time for us to kind of think about new solutions because we’ve worn out the earth by kind of overdoing it on those very small group of plants and animals that we are reliant on. So I think it’s an opportunity for us to do a reset and to think about this third kingdom that we really haven’t been focused on and that’s been there all along. And if we tap into that, I think we can find some new solutions. So how’s that? 

Diana Fryc: I love it. What are the brands or trends outside of Nature’s Fynd, or are you excited about? Who do you secretly or not so secretly have your eye on? 

Karuna Rawal: Good question. I think a lot of the brands I’m seeing in health and fitness, I think we’re seeing a whole new change in how consumers are looking at DIY fitness, I guess. I think there’s a lot going on there. Again, along the trend of how do we help people get healthier and lead better lives, I think is pretty exciting. I think the whole, I’ve always been excited by the food and beverage space and the whole range of brands. Now, every day there’s a new one popping up. But I see lots of brands that are trying to kind of make healthy food more normalized and more commonplace. So I think brands like Simple Mills or Farmer’s Fridge, big fans of brands like that, and then even the bigger companies that are trying to really reinvent how we eat, I think are brands that I’m excited about. But yeah, there’s a ton of great marketing going on. I just love watching all of it and seeing how we can carve out a unique space for ourselves. 

Diana Fryc: Well, I know coming from the ad industry, we are ourselves consumers of content. So it’s no surprise that you’ve got like a couple of backpacks full of stuff that you’re watching. That’s not surprising to me at all. 

Karuna Rawal: Yeah. 

Diana Fryc: Last question I like to ask everybody is, how are you keeping yourself sane these days? 

Karuna Rawal: Oh, that’s a good one.  I tell you for me, the things that are keeping me sane is I’m a big yoga aficionado. I really tried during this year to make sure that I take the time every single day to do a little bit for myself. And sometimes it’s 15 minutes, and sometimes it’s an hour. Most days it’s not as much as I would like. But it does that. And then meditation kind of what can really from completely unraveling. But they have been real gifts. I do miss other things in terms of being able to go to a yoga class, but it has helped me stay grounded and keep things in perspective. And then I’m fortunate to have a family that also keeps me grounded. But those two things have been really, especially working in an environment that we’ve been in with the pace and all of the crazy changes we’ve had this year. I think staying grounded has been really, really valuable. 

So definitely for me, that’s a big part of it. And trying to eat healthy and take care of myself, put on your oxygen mask first before you can help other people, I think has been through. And I think as a leader, it also sets a good — I talk about it a lot so that my team knows that I take that time so they can make sure they do that as well. 

Diana Fryc: Yes. Always the mentor you are. You are really impressive. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Karuna. I really enjoyed meeting you. I wish we could do this in person. Maybe someday we’ll get to meet and have a cocktail or coffee or maybe do a yoga class together. 

Karuna Rawal: Yeah, that would be amazing. So, if you ever make it out to Chicago, I’d love to have you into our facility and show you around, and I think if I could make it out to Seattle one of these days which will happen, I think, we can definitely have a cup of coffee. 

Diana Fryc: There’s a little company around here that we know that makes coffee that we can. 

Karuna Rawal: Yeah, I actually spent a lot of time in Seattle when I was working on Folgers way back in the day, we were looking at the whole specialty coffee right before the company bought Millstone. And I’m not even a coffee drinker, but I became one when I was there. 

Diana Fryc: Oh, well, thank you so much. And we’ll talk soon. 

Karuna Rawal: Yeah. Thank you, Diana. This was a fun conversation. Take care. Have a good holiday. 

[00:50:00]

Diana Fryc: Thank you. Yes, you too. 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 you’re 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.