Updated: Feb 28, 2022
Welcome to 4xi's latest team member, Helene York, her focus is to help clients craft, review, and update, social and environmental responsibility plans or programming to achieve results that are meaningful, measurable, realistic, by providing adaptable choices with the greatest impact.
Helene is an environmental and sustainability supply chain expert, adding her talents in strategic sourcing on a global level to our capabilities under our banner of Sustainability Simplified©.
Introducing Helene York
Now a teacher and an independent strategic advisor after two decades as a supply chain innovator with global and national experience for foodservice companies, Helene has made a career of questioning business as usual, partnering with chefs, and building trust among suppliers and distributors to move in new directions.
At Bon Appetit Management Company, she developed new produce, seafood, meat, chocolate, snack, and coffee supply chains, and created the Low Carbon Diet, the first US national program to implement climate-friendly menus. This program was explored by a prominent science reporter and featured on the front page of the LA Times on Earth Day 2008. The key ingredient to this successful program was partnering with chefs, the 'choice editors' of our food system
As Global Director of Responsible Business for Compass Group at Google, Helene led a supply chain team supporting 60 restaurants and 300 micro-kitchens in Silicon Valley and supported on-the-ground procurement officers in 27 countries. She led the implementation of food waste reduction technology and practices across the world.
At Guckenheimer, she served as Chief Procurement Officer and as Head of Social and Environmental Responsibility. She developed and won support for a broadly responsible procurement strategy that embedded shared value and profitability, supporting chefs' ability to continue to serve delicious options, responsibly. She advised the global ISS team to adopt an industry-leading set of progressive sustainability goals including the Cool Food Pledge and aggressive in-unit waste reduction goals.
Over her career, Helene has visited countless farms, fisheries, and processors across the world in pursuit of understanding levers of change, creating channels for byproducts dismissed as waste, and encouraging biodiversity.
One effort resulted in planting pollinator plants and heirloom potatoes grown on a large farm in Ireland. She takes pride in having coached numerous emerging food business leaders and smallholder farms to get a foothold supplying contract food service.
She teaches a class, Supply Chains, Logistics, Manufacturing, and Legal Contracts, to master’s students at the Food Business School of the CIA. She also works with Postelsia, an advisory service, that seeks to expand opportunities for environmentally and socially responsible smallholder fishery and aquaculture operations.
Helene has served on numerous boards including Humane Farm Animal Care (animal welfare), Chef Ann Foundation (school nutrition), Fishchoice (traceability/sustainability), and Project Open Hand (food as medicine). She earned her MBA in Strategy from Yale.
Welcome on board Helene, and here's to getting Up Close & Personal.
Q1: Where do you live?
HY: San Francisco, California
Q2: What was your journey to 4xi?
HY: I have to admit that I fell into the foodservice and hospitality industry. It wasn’t by design or intention, but now I’ve spent two decades at the intersection of procurement and sustainability, before sustainability was even a commonly used term, working with wonderful people, piloting new ideas, teaching chefs about complicated concepts, and learning effective menu engineering techniques from them.
"I’m here to bring all that experience to clients who are looking to make meaningful change, and to communicate what they are doing."
Q3: Why is Sustainability so important and how can you make a difference?
HY: Three reasons. It’s a global imperative. Period. Everyone has an important role to play. We can’t simply let others do the work we also need to do.
Second, taking meaningful action is necessary to retain the best talent and recruit the best talent in the future. Marketing by itself is hollow. Action, (re)evaluation, reporting, and engagement is a virtuous cycle that builds a positive work culture and changes behaviors.
"Ultimately, sustainability is about using and wasting fewer resources, so it has a bottom-line positive impact and is a competitive necessity."
Q4: How does Procurement play a role?
HY: I’ve helmed procurement teams and now I teach supply chain development at the Food Business School of the CIA. Procurement is important for most companies’ bottom line and it is critical for smooth operations.
That said, contracting for the lowest-priced option in all categories is a big mistake, regardless of your market positioning. In times of market friction and supply chain disruption, companies that have negotiated the lowest prices are the first to experience broken contracts. I saw that happen way before COVID: during the Swine Flu crisis in 2009 and the Avian flu crisis in 2015, to name two. Treating suppliers as vendor partners, with mutually supportive goals, is a more rewarding way to operate over the long term.
This kind of relationship also allows you to signal you need better products, more innovative products and helps your supply chain partners move the market for you. If COVID has taught us one thing, it is that Procurement needs to be seen as a strategic business function and not simply a set of tactical functions, subsidiary to Finance, or Operations.
Q5: What are the most interesting Product innovations you see in the market today?
HY: There are so many different products being developed that substitute beans or fungi for animal-based products that anything I’d say now could be out of date next month. The key to success for any of these potential replacements will be deliciousness. Without great taste, consumers won’t accept them, regardless of cost or our distributors’ ability to have them in stock.
Q6: If you were invited to a dinner party of 10, who would you invite?
HY: A perfect dinner involves great food and charming company that would delight in each other’s association in a welcoming environment.
My guests would be curious and creative people. The dinner table would be in a space where 360-degree projections of different environments - under the sea, in the forest, on the beach at sunset, in a Gaudi-designed room - would change with each course.
The chef and guest #1 would be Niki Nakayama. I’d invite Julia Child because I’m told she was as lovely as her TV personality; Meryl Streep, because they’d play off each other; Jeff Goldblum, the actor and leader of the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, and “House of Cards” soundtrack composer Jeff Beale, who would do double duty to fill the space with music; comedians Mike Reiss, co-writer of The Simpsons and host of the podcast, What Are We Doing Here?, Rob Bryden doing imitations, and Olivia Colman; and food historian Mark Kurlansky.
"We’d have to eat oysters because I love them, they are a superior food from an environmental perspective, and Kurlansky has written a great book about them!"
Q7: How does Menu innovation help organizations and appeal to consumers - what are the latest trends?
HY: The key to sustainability is delighting our guests with offerings that appeal and don't heavily rely on animal-based foods. It’s so easy to promote food offerings using photos of big portions with a lot of cheese but we need alternatives. We need to menu dishes that are visually appealing, smell and taste great, and are satisfying portion sizes so they’re not wasted. We need to name the dishes creatively and place them high on the menu to become the ‘anchor’ choice.
"Perhaps, most importantly, Menu Innovation has to be two-way, with chefs using samples and getting true feedback from guests, who can influence how far you can drive innovation more than we realize."
Q8: What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would offer to our readers with regards to improving our approach to sustainability?
HY: Number 1: Sustainability isn’t about reducing to-go containers or having a singular focus on eliminating plastics. It’s fundamentally about changing our culture to see that resources are finite and shared. We need to use fewer resources overall and change our behaviors, which will drive innovation.
Number 2: We also need to accept that simply marketing any good practice - such as promoting reusable vessels - won’t create sustained behavior change. We need to adopt multiple strategies to be effective.
Number 3: One way we often trip up is by solving the wrong problem. Taking an innovative approach lets us figure out the key problem to solve, not the obvious problem. Are we trying to eliminate plastic to-go containers, for example, or achieve the most environmentally responsible foodservice operation?
Q9: If you could change one thing, anything, what would it be?
HY: To have a culture of open-mindedness. Where you are willing to consider new things without jumping to solutions immediately, which is an occupational hazard among earnest foodservice professionals.
Q10: What is your favorite food or cuisine?
HY: Itameshi! A fusion of Italian and Japanese. Think umami-bomb pasta and pizza.
Thanks, Helene, nice to get to know you, and welcome to the 4xi family! We looking forward to driving Sustainability Simplified© and making a real impact for the future.
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