Degree from Michigan: A.B. Psychology (Business, Systems, and Organizations) and Entrepreneurship
Current location: Chicago, IL
Year graduated: 2013
Student Organization Involvement: MPowered Entrepreneurship, Pi Beta Phi, UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program).
Other jobs held or graduate programs attended since graduation: Research Services Manager at Hyde Park Food Innovation.
JG: I work in Chicago at Technomic, a food industry consulting company. We help restaurants, operators, and suppliers to address their business needs, typically focusing on consumer insights, operator insights, or any variety of information that clients might be interested in. We’ve actually expanded our capabilities to help other types of companies as well; our data has also benefited cleaning supply companies, companies that make special food products for people with dysphasia, etc.
KC: Can you tell me more about the specific work that you do at Technomic?
JG: I focus on consumer insights related to restaurant operators. I help restaurants understand what consumers are saying about them; identifying their strengths, weaknesses, and areas of opportunity; and using that information to guide them in what their next steps should be to improve their brand.
We as a company use a lot of online surveys – that’s primarily how we gather information. We also use the whole Microsoft Office suite, SPSS, SQL, and we have our own online dashboards with portions of our data that we’re able to sift through as well.
KC: What other jobs have you had since graduating from U of M?
JG: For my first job, I was a research manager for a company called Hyde Park Group. They did food innovation through the whole product life cycle, so everything from market research, to ideation, to developing package prototypes, to testing those prototypes, and ultimately figuring out how to execute operationally. What I do now, however, is much more focused on the research part of that whole process.
KC: What was it about your academic or extracurricular background at Michigan that made you want to go into this field?
JG: During my time at Michigan, I didn’t have a specific idea of what industry I wanted to go into. However, I always knew that I wanted to do consumer insights; a lot of my psychology classes talked about this topic, and I even took some classes in Ross that were specific to consumer behavior and consumer marketing. While studying abroad in London, I landed an internship at a strategic consulting firm where I had my first exposure to working with a client in the food industry. That’s when I decided that this was the industry I wanted to be in full-time after I graduated.
KC: What are your favorite and least favorite things about your job?
JG: First, I love the relaxed culture and my coworkers - that has played a big role in why I like the company so much. Another one of my favorite things is being able to use my analytical abilities when presented with a problem. It’s really exciting for me to figure out how to solve an objective using data. I also enjoy the process of working with a client!
My least favorite thing about the job… I like the company, I like what I do, and I like the hours that I have, BUT I do think that the company could do a better job of training managers to manage people. In other words, it’s lacking a bit in the professional development aspect. I think that goes with being at a smaller company, though – they don’t have as deep of pockets to invest in this part of the business.
KC: What are other food industry consulting companies that students could look into if they’re interested in this field?
JG: Datassential is a close competitor of ours. If you’re looking for more of the market research component, check out Nielsen. These are two companies that PROVIDE information, but there are plenty of companies that have these capabilities in house. For example, Pepsi has a consumer insights team, as does Conagra and Kraft (all based in Chicago!). Chicago is one of the top cities for food companies, so Chicago is definitely the city to be in for this industry.
KC: What do you see as being the biggest issues within the food industry/where do you see this industry going in the next several years?
JG: I think when you’re working in any sort of consulting or professional services capacity with other companies, one struggle is that there will always be businesses who can’t afford certain services. That has presented a challenge… how do we create cheaper but meaningful products, reports, etc. that are accessible to smaller companies with smaller budgets? And how are these companies supposed to grow if they can’t even gain access to information about the rest of the industry?
The direction we’re taking now is giving a more 360 approach to consulting and product development. Right now, there are very few companies that go through the whole product development life cycle from the initial research to ultimately working with chefs and creating the products. I think more of those companies are going to pop up in the next several years as well.
KC: What advice could you give to current students hoping to follow in a similar career path?
JG: Go on LinkedIn, find someone who works at your dream company (or even just a company that you’re mildly interested in), reach out to them, and try to talk to themabout their experiences. That way you’ll get a sense of 1. if it’s an industry that you’re interested in, 2. what they do on a day-to-day basis, and 3. if that really aligns with what you see yourself doing full time.