Finding my inspiration: Innovations for agribusiness
No problem is out of reach for Kellogg entrepreneurs. Supported by a generous gift from Larry Levy ’66 BBA, ’67 MBA and Carol Levy, the Levy Inspiration Grant Program gives students who want to build a startup the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world to witness their target market firsthand and learn about the challenges they can help solve.
At the helm of their own experiences, participating students chart their own course prior to embarking on the journey. Their schedules can include a wide array of on-the-ground observations as well as hands-on experiences, such as meeting with founders, clients and government officials. They return home with new knowledge and in-person learnings to help inform their entrepreneurial path.
In the second of our three-part series spotlighting recipients of the Levy Inspiration Grant, we sat down with Audrey Melville ’23 MBA and Emily Williams ’23 MBA, who traveled to New Zealand, a shining example of the best of the livestock industry, to learn about how meat producers there are bringing ethical and sustainable red meat products to dinner tables across the world.
Stepping out of the classroom: A hunger to know more about food systems
Kellogg isn't the only common factor Melville and Williams share. Their shared interest in the food space, particularly the role of red meat in health and nutrition, quickly became a focus in many of their conversations. “We found it was a really interesting space with a lot of different problems all the way from the consumer angle to marketing against some of that misinformation and even to some of the supply chain challenges,” says Melville.
Their strong personal interest in further understanding meat traceability in the food supply chain increased when they stumbled upon Force of Nature, a company focused on regenerative farming. Regenerative farming is seen as a solution to climate challenges, and animals on these farms where there is no tilling are raised in their natural environments without the use of synthetic chemicals, hormones or antibiotics.
Force of Nature served as a blueprint for the students’ entrepreneurial quest. “Something that Force of Nature does that is very unique about the company is they have these interesting meat and organ blends,” comments Williams. “I think there is a misconception both in terms of the health benefits, or detractors depending on where you're coming from, and cultural concepts when it comes to organ meat; especially in the United States. For a while, there was a lean meat fad, so we became very interested in understanding organ meat and why we should be eating it.”
“We couldn't really find a similar opportunity in our local neighborhood, so that’s what started to get the wheels turning: ‘How can we bring this type of product in a more accessible manner?” questioned Melville. “We continued to learn more and more about each part of the go-to-market process all the way up to the supply chain, and it was when we realized that there's so much that goes into producing any type of food. The more we learned, the more we saw different opportunities for potential innovation within the space."
When considering travel destinations, the pair eyed New Zealand. As they were researching, they found that the country has to export much of its meat — more than 80 percent of it — because there aren't enough people in the country to consume it. This has positioned it as one of the top 10 beef exporters globally, making the red meat industry a vital artery for its economy.
Knowing that New Zealand is one of the biggest meat exporters further motivated the pair, but it wasn’t the only factor at play. “One of the reasons we wanted to go to New Zealand was because it’s like the gold star when it comes to the way that they treat, raise and process meat — so it felt very natural for us to explore this shared passion in that country,” shares Williams.
Getting on the ground: New Zealand
Melville and Williams originally set out to better understand how New Zealand was able to raise high-quality meat products at a much lower carbon footprint than in the United States — and possibly replicate efforts. But their immersive experience gave them more than they could have imagined.
“We saw the slaughtering happening, and we had an opportunity to meet the men doing the slaughtering,” shares Williams. They were able to see an otherwise typically nauseating depiction of a slaughterhouse through a more humanized, transparent lens.
“Most people imagine a slaughterhouse as a kind of a scary concept, and it can be a dark experience to think about,” says Melville. "When we went in and started talking to all of the people that worked there, we saw that they were really happy and friendly. Some had worked there for 20, 25 and even 40 years. It was really interesting because of what can be considered a gruesome role, but ultimately, they felt really fulfilled by their work knowing that they were contributing to feeding people around the world.”
The students were also able to see beyond the slaughterhouse walls and the luscious green farmlands the largest Polynesian country has to offer. “Seeing the farms in New Zealand was a really incredible experience because they are so big, green and beautiful — and so remote,” says Melville. "You have to drive at least 30 minutes off of interstates, which aren’t very crowded at all, and down winding dirt roads to reach them.” The massive swaths of land and animals in their natural habitat inspired and impressed Melville, giving her a greater appreciation for the environment and beautiful natural spaces.
Applying newfound knowledge
Through entrepreneurship programming at Kellogg, Melville and Williams completed an independent study where they explored market opportunities for foods that use organ meat. “These are not typically the most desired part of the animal, and yet they are the most nutritionally dense,” explains Williams. After exploring the possibility of using the byproduct of the animal slaughtering process to make a product that is both tasty and nutritious, they decided to continue observing the space to better understand if there is even an appetite for this in the United States.
If Melville and Williams were conscious consumers before this experience left them even more steadfast in their beliefs and actions.
“Going to New Zealand validated that where I source my meat from is so important. Not just for my own health, but because I want to be supporting systems that have a net positive or, at the very least, a net neutral impact on the world in which we live,” explains Williams. "Coming out of this trip, I want to encourage others to do their research, so they can understand where their meat is coming from and the farmers and systems that they're supporting via their purchase to any extent that that is possible.”
Looking at consumption beyond the meat industry on a macro scale, they better understand the varying ethical, environmental and business challenges among other factors that come into play when it comes to innovation because of the experience in New Zealand. But they agree that improving upon practices is an inclusive process that involves consumers, business owners and governments alike particularly as it relates to the food system.
“Food allows us to create amazing memories and to have wonderful connections with one another,” says Williams. “And so, seeing the entire process — including the parts that people oftentimes very much try to stay as far away from — was so humbling and has given me a greater appreciation for food that ultimately connects us all.”
This article is adapted from Melville and Williams' appearance on the Levy Inspiration Grant Program podcast. Listen to the full episode below and explore the entire series to hear more stories from aspiring entrepreneurs.