On product sourcing and strategic consulting for food companies: An interview with Johanna Kolodny, founder of NYC-based Food Systems Consulting

  • On product sourcing and strategic consulting for food companies An interview with Johanna Kolodny, founder of NYC-based Food Systems Consulting (cornsymp_090819_lizclayman_085.jpg)

Photo: Liz Clayman

Johanna Kolodny is a food system consultant specialized in product sourcing for restaurants and distributors.

Based in New York City, she started her company, Food Systems Consulting, in 2013. Johanna's clients and services range from product sourcing for restaurants and distributors, a food waste initiative, strategy and business development for farmers, to aiding food companies in bringing their products to market.

We talked to Johanna about her approaches to product sourcing and producer evaluation as well as about the food waste initiative that Johanna coordinated with the leading food distributors in New York.

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    Johanna Colodny
    Photo: Stephanie Sunwoo

You work in food systems consulting with various clients from wholesale, restaurants, farms and startups. Can you give us an insight into what you do?

I have been active in various aspects of the food system throughout my 19-year career and have been an independent consultant for the past 7 years. I am working with farmers and producers in the foodservice sector, CPG companies and food tech companies. My main work is around sourcing and supply chain logistics, but I also support and consult companies.

The food system is broken on many levels, so my work and interest revolve around effecting change throughout the food system.

You are known to be a sourcing expert for the food industry. Before starting your career in independent consulting, you worked as a forager in an upscale hotel restaurant. How do you source and evaluate the producers?

I am a very curious person and I am good at research. I like connecting people and solving problems; besides, I love food. A lot of the relationships I developed have come out of my hobby: traveling, visiting farms and speaking about food. Over the years, I have built a great network of connections among farmers and producers. I believe, that is one of my secrets behind efficient sourcing.

I don’t have a formal system or survey to evaluate the producers. I get an impression by visiting the farm, speaking with the farmer and asking questions. Thanks to my years of experience in farming, agriculture, ranching and fishing, I know which questions to ask. So while there is no process in place, it happens naturally and works out well.

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    Photos: Liz Clayman

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You have also worked on a food waste initiative with one of the leading food distributors in New York. From your perspective, what can wholesalers and retailers do to eliminate their food waste?

One of the most important things about food waste is that it comes back to the people affecting the chain of food waste. It is important to figure out how to encourage the people who are affecting the chain of food waste to buy into the project and make them participate in it.

You need to find a balance between giving people freedom of action and telling them what to do. This way they can take ownership and reevaluate the goal of the project, whether it is from a moral standpoint, or saving company money or time. That is one of the biggest lessons learned that applies to other problems that evolve in companies.

You consult companies on market readiness and development. What advice would you give to startups that want to bring their products on the market for a successful business launch? How should they start?

One of the most important pieces of advice I give to startups is to do market research before launching a product. The key is to identify who else is in that space and then understand how to find your own niche and fit into it.

What are your competitors doing? How do they sell their product and promote their brand? Market due diligence is one of the things I would advise to take care of first.

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    Photo: Jay Wennington, Unsplash

It is also crucial to test your product in order to get market feedback. I always recommend testing the product on friends and family first before going into commercial production.

Last but not least, make sure to follow regulations in production, packing and labeling and to know all the financial aspects and numbers pertaining to your business.

What are your sources of inspiration in business? Which videos, TED talks, podcasts, books or articles could you recommend for others working in the food industry?

I can’t point out anything particular because there are so many sources and I am constantly taking in information. I read books and magazines and go to the events. In general, events are great to gain knowledge and inspiration while also building up a network and making connections.

About the author

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Virginia Benz
Hospitality Consultant for HOSPITALITY.digital Inc. (A company of METRO AG)

Virginia Benz-Nicholas is hospitality enthusiast and consultant based in New York City. She supports HOSPITALITY.digital Inc. on a project basis, scouting local innovation and trends in the F&B, Hospitality and Retail sector to promote the transformation of the industry.

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