My Passion, My Path: Making better food more accessible
By Alena Marovitz ’23 Two-Year MBA
My time at Kellogg has been incredible.
It’s been incredible because I’ve been able to curate an experience specifically tailored to my “ikigai,” my reason for being: making nutritious and sustainably sourced food more accessible for all.
Before Kellogg, I wore a bunch of different hats (including hard hats) at Divert, a food waste startup that helps retailers reduce, recycle and donate their unsold food. My favorite project with Divert was launching a food donation program for all 931 CVS stores in California where we donated 60,000 pounds of food per week that previously was going to landfills. This experience intensified my enthusiasm to redesign our food system to make it more inclusive and accessible.
That enthusiasm for change led me to Kellogg.
Here is my personal five-course menu that has helped me make the most of my Kellogg experience.
Course 1: Differentiate yourself
A few months ago, my mom offhandedly mentioned to me, “Alena, you are an exotic bird with beautiful plumage.” I immediately rolled my eyes and whined, “Mom, stop.” But, then I remembered our famous Negotiations Professor Vicki Medvec’s advice: “if you don’t differentiate, you commoditize yourself.” Both Professor Medvec and my mom were spot on.
Everyone has a personal brand, even if they aren’t aware of it (take Selling Yourself and Your Ideas to learn more!). As I entered Kellogg, I made a conscious decision to make my passion for food an important part of my personal brand. By leading tours of the Evanston Farmer’s Market, dropping off homemade cookies with Covid care packs or rallying my friends to run to my favorite bakery (shout-out to Evanston’s Hewn), I’ve become a walking billboard that flashes “Hey there, I’m Alena, and I promise to show up to improve our food system in a joyful way.”
Course 2: Opt-in
Once I figured out how I wanted to differentiate myself, I gobbled up as many opportunities to advance my personal brand and mission as possible. As Liz Williams ’04 MBA, Foxtrot president, advised in a Lavin Bernick Executive Chat, “You have to be present to win.”
Outside of academics, I’ve been present in the food scene in three distinct ways:
Major shout-out to the Kellogg Food & Agribusiness Club (kFAB)! Besides being the most fabulous club on campus, kFAB has helped me find my people at Kellogg. Some of my top memories from kFAB include:
- Inviting Forbes top food & ag journalist, Chloe Sorvino, to speak about the meat industry and her new book, Raw Deal
- Beer tasting and mixing master class with Kellogg alumnus Chris Rochester ’20 MBA, founder of Primary Colors Brewing
- Hosting Jello From the Other Side “ask me anything” sessions with recently graduated alums working across the food and beverage value chain
Also, shameless plug: we have our first ever food & ag branded week right after spring break! Get ready to turnip the beet with foodie field trips, cook-alongs, big-name speakers and more galore.
I have fully opted into experiential opportunities during my time at Kellogg. Specifically, I’ve done internships with Farmer’s Fridge and Supply Change Capital during the school year in addition to my summer internship with H-E-B Grocery. These internships have allowed me to test-drive various company sizes, sectors and functions to help me find my calling post-Kellogg.
Side dish: I highly recommend Farmer’s Fridge’s caprese salad, H-E-B’s tortillas, and Supply Change Capital portfolio company Partake’s chocolate chip cookies.
Did you know that over 4,500 food businesses call the Chicago metropolitan area home? Chicago is fertile soil for anyone interested in deeply exploring the food sector. I’ve taken advantage of the school’s geographic proximity to Chicago by:
- Joining Nourishing Hope food pantry’s Young Leader’s Board.
- Touring The Hatchery (food and beverage startup incubator) and attending its 2023 Trend Spotter event.
- Mingling among hundreds of industry leaders at Food Tank’s Technology & The Future of Our Food Systems Summit.
Course 3: Adopt a growth mindset
I came to Kellogg from a liberal arts school where I took classes such as, “Molecular Gastronomy,” “Bob Marley and the Globalization of Jamaican Music,” and “The Economics of Migration.”
Really helpful for someone hoping to become a “high impact, low ego” business leader someday, right?
Actually, it was.
At Kellogg, I’ve followed a similar approach where I’ve pushed myself outside my comfort zone. I know that I’m going to be challenged by certain concepts (apologies to my former Accounting group), but my skills can improve with reps, time, and experience. That’s what adopting a growth mindset is all about. Also, #gradesdontmatter.
With that said, here are some of my favorite classes where I’ve been able to nurture this growth mindset and incorporate my passion for food.
- Growth Strategy Practicum: GSP was an incredible class where I was able to dig into a real problem that Rise Gardens (producer of indoor home gardens) was facing. Our team helped Rise Gardens build a go-to-market strategy for the hardware-retail sector (which Rise Gardens actually implemented!). Special shout-outs to Professors Karin O’Connor and Lindsay Levin for their generosity and mentorship throughout my Kellogg experience.
- Marketing Strategy for Growth and Defense: Spoiler alert: I came to Kellogg thinking that I would take Intro to Marketing and never touch the 5Cs or the 4Ps again. Professor Jim Lecinski’s Markstrat class totally changed my perspective and now I am a marketing major! I really enjoyed building a GOST plan for Chicago food brand Quaker. Make sure to hit up Professor Lecinski for some unforgettable memes (my favorite in response to a case on The Cheese People: “sweet dreams are made of cheese, who am I to diss-a-brie”).
- New Venture Discovery: Professor Stef Farsht’s New Venture Discovery course gave me a delicious taste of entrepreneurship which is something I wanted to try during business school. My team focused on exploring the pain point faced by people with specialized diets who find it challenging to be surprised and delighted when shopping for new foods.
- Future of Food: Northwestern’s Institute for Sustainability and Energy (ISEN) is a fabulous resource that many Kellogg students don’t know about, let alone take advantage of. Professor Dave Donnan is a walking encyclopedia of food companies across the value chain. Professor Donnan hosted excellent guest speakers from Mars Wrigley, S2G Ventures, etc. I also savored learning more about the future of algae for my final paper.
- Ethnographic Customer Insights: Do you want to become an excellent gift giver? Or magically develop “an informed gut” and have the power to predict the behaviors of your customers? Then Professor Gina Fong’s Ethnographic Customer Insights is for you. Since this course, I have flexed my insight muscle in many contexts, including interviewing Fortune 500 food & beverage executives for my VC internship.
Course 4: Be curious, not judgmental
Networking was a dirty word in my pre-MBA mind. Ted Lasso’s “be curious, not judgmental” approach to life has helped me reframe networking as an opportunity to learn from another person with fascinating, unique nuggets of insight and figure out how I can help the other person.
Since then, I’ve become less intimidated by networking and have even come to enjoy it (most of the time).
I knew that my path at Kellogg would look different from my classmates. So, I blocked my calendar every Wednesday morning in the fall of my first year for coffee chats with current students and alumni working in various food roles. This led me to fascinating conversations with students and alums at Target, DoorDash, Mondelēz, Apeel, Nature’s Fynd and beyond. It also led to some deep self-reflection on my future path.
When I recently asked Shayna Harris, managing partner at Supply Change Capital, how she’s curated such an impressive network, she divulged, “I’ve tried to get to know a group of people who are committed to a higher purpose.” I couldn’t have phrased it better. I think it’s so important to have a strong “kitchen table,” as Michelle Obama would say. My classmates have pulled up many chairs at my kitchen table, and I’m so grateful for their support.
Course 5: Give First
The last step of my not-so-secret recipe for success at Kellogg is to give first.
My time at the school has vanished faster than the small chocolate lava cake my family shared in Paris (a major mistake to order just one, I know). Rather than getting swept up in the most recent popular event posted on Slack, I’ve tried to refocus with a sense of gratitude and a give-first mantra. By curating intentionality in my life, I’ve been able to organize my mise en place amid the craziness of Kellogg.
And finally, for dessert, I leave you with my two favorite quotes. Bon appétit:
“Behind every plate of food is a story. All together we must make sure that all the stories behind every plate of food are good stories.” – José Andrés
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou