Maisie Ganzler Channels Sustainability Advocacy Mastery Into New Book With Clear Prognosis of Foodservice Industry

Maisie Ganzler
Maisie Ganzler (Photo by Bart Nagel)

Maisie Ganzler joined Bon Appétit Management Company in 1994 and has since been instrumental in shaping the company’s overall strategic direction.

Ganzler oversaw Bon Appétit’s culinary development and purchasing efforts, leading Bon Appétit’s marketing and communications initiatives.

Additionally, Ganzler was also co-founder and president of the Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation, whose mission is to educate people about how their food choices affect the global environment and local economies.

In 1999, Ganzler helped develop Bon Appétit’s Farm to Fork program, a groundbreaking companywide initiative to buy locally.

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Since the program’s inception, Bon Appétit chefs around the country have spent tens of millions of dollars on food grown by small farms within 150 miles of their kitchens, creating positive changes in countless local food economies.

Ganzler has led the teams that launched a number of Bon Appétit’s equally progressive sustainable initiatives.

In 2003, Maisie created Bon Appétit’s Circle of Responsibility program to educate chefs and café guests on how their food choices impact their environment, community and personal wellbeing.

Ganzler also initiated Bon Appétit’s progressive Eat Local Challenge in 2005, in which Bon Appétit challenged its chefs to serve meals for a full day consisting entirely of locally sourced food.

The Eat Local Challenge is now an annual event that chefs and café guests alike look forward to every year.

Ganzler also conceptualized Low Carbon Diet Day, in which all Bon Appétit cafés are transformed into “low carbon learning venues” for the day.

The first Low Carbon Diet Day in 2008 marked the beginning of Bon Appétit’s customer education campaign around the climate impact of food choice, and the launch of the Low Carbon Diet Calculator, an interactive Web-based tool where consumers can assess their own “foodprints.”

In late 2015 Ganzler oversaw the company’s shift from a diet to the ongoing Low Carbon Lifestyle, as well as the launch of the Food Standards Dashboard, an internal software tool to increase transparency and accountability for all our initiatives.

In addition to developing sustainable initiatives for cafés nationwide, Ganzler also takes a leadership role in setting food procurement policies for Bon Appétit as a whole.

She worked alongside the Environmental Defense Fund in 2002 to issue a far-reaching company policy on the use of antibiotics in farm animals: Bon Appétit now buys only turkey and chicken raised without the routine use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in their feed and water and serves only natural beef burgers.

Also, after learning about inhumane battery-cage operations in 2005, Ganzler drove the policy changes behind Bon Appétit’s decision to buy only Certified Humane and cage-free shell eggs.

These moves were followed by commitments to switching to Certified Humane ground beef companywide and phasing out pork raised with gestation crates in 2012 (completed in 2016).

Maisie Ganzler
Ganzler’s approach has included close relationships with the nation’s boutique producers including Pure Country Pork.

For the past several years, Ganzler has been focused on overseeing the company’s efforts to fight food waste (including introducing the Imperfectly Delicious Produce program in 2014) and on the issue of farmworkers’ rights.

After a trip to Immokalee Florida in 2009 to meet with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and to see firsthand the difficult working conditions of tomato pickers in that region, Ganzler and CEO Fedele Bauccio collaborated with the CIW to usher in a sweeping Code of Conduct for how our Florida tomato suppliers treat their workers.

Maisie realized the need to explore what Bon Appétit’s role could be in facilitating fair labor practices throughout their entire supply chain, and so created the Bon Appétit Fellows program.

Ganzler manages the Fellows’ work in the area of labor. They have met with farmers around the country to assess overall sustainability, including their labor practices in agricultural operations that supply Bon Appétit kitchens.

Under Ganzler’s oversight, the Fellows worked with United Farm Workers (with help from Oxfam America) to compile the Inventory of Farmworker Rights and Protections in the United States, a comprehensive report about current laws and practices.

Ganzler was also instrumental in bringing to life TEDxFruitvale, a special conference focused on farmworkers, which she co-organized and hosted in 2011.

From 2010 to 2013 Maisie served on the board of Food Alliance, North America’s most comprehensive third-party certification for the production, processing, and distribution of sustainable food.

She is currently on the boards of the Equitable Food Initiative, an integrated labor standards project; the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law; Food System 6 Accelerator; Food What?; and Juma Ventures. She was named a Silicon Valley Woman of Influence in 2012.

A graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Maisie previously worked on behalf of a number of national food brands and ran a hospitality training company.

Let’s start with your new book, You Can’t Market Manure at Lunchtime. What inspired it?

The inspiration actually came from a friend who proposed that we write a book together. She was on the advocacy side and thought that it would be an interesting partnership between somebody who’s spent their life advocating and implementing on the corporate side.

She had put together a table of contents and it was very scientfic. I looked at it and I said, no one wants to read that book. But what they do want to read is a how-to guide of how to actually take this science and create a brand based upon it.

It was like lightning struck me and I had this vision. She said, great, go forward, write that book.

Maisie Ganzler book You Can't Market Manure At Lunchtime

How did it all come together?

It started about two years ago. It took me a year to write the proposal. I had never written a proposal for a book before.

And with no one waiting for it on the other end and a full-time job, it took me about a year to do. I then was lucky enough to get an introduction to an editor at the Harvard Business Review Press, sold the book and given six months to write it.

And with a deadline like that, bam, bam, bam, it came out.

As my editor said to me, that’s the proof that you’ve got a book in you and not an article.

A lot of people have an article in them and then they painfully try to stretch it into a book.

Talk about how you got to the point at which somebody knew there was a book in you.

I’m from Santa Cruz, California. I grew up with parents that really valued travel. We lived overseas when I was young. We lived in Kathmandu and I decided I wanted to be a hotel manager when I was nine and I don’t really remember why. We never stayed anywhere fancy, I’ll tell you that.

I got my first job in a restaurant at 14 and first job in a hotel at 16. Hospitality is the only industry I’ve ever worked in. I had kind of rebelled against my parents who were in the social services by going into business.

But it turns out that those values that your parents instill in you come with you no matter what industry you go into. When the opportunity to start working in a really values-based corporate environment focused on sustainability came about, that just lit me up.

I was lucky enough to have a CEO that wanted to go fast and far and to really re-center the brand of the company on sustainability. Together we’ve been able to create something really special at Bon Appetit Management Company over the last 30 years.

How did you get to Bon Appetit?

After graduating from the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, I went to work for the Taco Bell Corporation, which was a pretty different path.

They were really focused on self-directed work teams and doing really interesting things with organizational structure. That captured my imagination but didn’t really pan out.

Then somebody showed me an article in Restaurants and Institutions Magazine, which gave me a warm spot in my heart for trade press.

There was a story called ‘Piping Hot, A Baker’s Dozen of Hot Companies to Watch.’ Bon Appetit was one of those companies. I read about the commitment to scratch cooking with a goal of really reinventing of the industry.

I thought, I want to go work for that company.

How did Bon Appetit become part of the Compass family?

The company was founded in 1987. I joined in 1994 and we were acquired in 2002 by Compass. They have done a fantastic job with letting us own all the pieces that touch the customer.

They’ve made our lives easy by consolidating back office systems, and putting in a lot of discipline around purchasing and IT, that is run centrally through Compass.

When it comes to our brand, the food we deliver, our marketing, how we talk about ourselves, they’re totally hands-off. Our business has become quite capital intensive.

Without a company the size of Compass behind us, we would not have been able to grow and maybe not even survive, quite honestly.

Is that the capital needed to go in and to build kitchens or to add to staffing?

Mainly for renovations and investment in locations. I saw that one of your questions later on was, are we in the people industry or the real estate industry?

We’re very much in the people industry. We don’t own any real estate. We never see a location and think that would be a great place to lease.

However, one of the marketplaces that we serve in particular is education food service, they really need our capital to build new cafes, to build new student centers and things like that.

So that’s amortized over the length of a contract. There’s an investment we make up front.

Maisie Ganzler
Maisie Ganzler (L) has built Bon Appetit’s ambitious commitment to sustainability by working closely with the company’s vendors including Clemens Food Group.

Can you share the target marketplaces you serve?

We serve three verticals, private colleges and universities, corporate headquarters that are mainly high-tech and bio tech and some retail.

We also serve specialty venues, which are museums and a couple ballparks and arenas in our hometown: the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park and the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center.

We don’t differentiate those lines of business. We’re the only company that runs all three together, which means that a district manager could have two colleges, a corporation, a specialty venue, all under his or her purview.

We also don’t have different standards between the three. We see them all as cross-pollinating. The college student of today is absolutely the LinkedIn employee of tomorrow.

Right? And those are the people that have money that are going to those cultural institutions.

We see the trends moving between the sectors and it’s kind of like we can look at the colleges and know what’s coming next for corporate.

What do you see for the future of corporate dining given the growth of hybrid and remote work?

Well, it’s really a paradox because in one-way, corporate dining has become even more important. Our clients tell us they need the perk more than ever to bring people into the office.

We need the place for people to have the casual collisions. We need the culture building of breaking bread together. Yet we have the financial reality that people aren’t there every day.

We’re feeding fewer people. And I think that we’re still ping-ponging. We have clients that had said, open everything up five days a week, all the stations, go for it.

And then they see the numbers and they go, oh, close things. And then they say, oh, no, no, no. Somebody came on Tuesday and what they wanted wasn’t there.

You’ve got to open it up again. We haven’t yet found that equilibrium. Every company sees it differently and is willing to invest in different ways.

But as we see in the tech sector, where there’s been a lot of layoffs, that hasn’t actually resulted in less dining services yet because they still want people who are there to be served properly.

I don’t think it’s shaken out yet, but it’s been this realization that actually feels good about how important food is to corporate culture.

You began building a brand at Bon Appetit that focused on sustainability long before it became a focus of the industry?

First and foremost, we have to start with the fact that it’s food that people are going to eat and that should be a wonderful, sensual, delicious experience.

I say to my team all the time, healthy foods are only healthy if somebody actually eats it. If not, it’s food waste. We have to start with good tasting, craveable food.

Now, there’s an interesting question. Now I’m wondering about the impact of drugs like Ozempic that actually threaten the cravings we have.

I’m very glad that I don’t work for Frito-Lay right now. But we fundamentally have to start with good tasting food.

A lot of the stuff that we talk about from a sustainability and wellness perspective is about enhancing flavor and the eating experience.

With that in mind our take on plant forward or plant based is never about the things that you’re losing.

It’s always about culinary techniques that make vegetables unctuous with caramelization We are always thinking about how roasting and braising with the right types of herbs and local foods that enable a deep dive into the dining experience.

Oh and by the way, that’s better for you and the planet. But you can’t lead with that. Nobody wants to do the right thing to their own detriment. They might on a survey, they might claim that, but they don’t really want to do that.

That said, the other thing that I think is unique that’s emerged in the last few years is different than past generations, is that food has become identity. ‘I am vegan or I am keto or have celiac issues,’ becomes part of who you are.

We understand as a company that food is that important to you and that we have to be respectful of that, honor it, and give you pathways to feel seen through the menu.

Maisie Ganzler
Maisie Ganzler has become a much sought after panelist at sustainability events across the nation.

As you look at such a diversity of dining patrons, how do you approach your culinary R&D?

Every chef has a clean sheet of paper to start their menu with every week. They have a budget and they have a particular audience to cater to. They dictate what goes on the menu.

We don’t have any of the traditional cycles of menus. There are no corporate recipes. What my team does is educate, inspire, and provide feedback.

That feedback is not subjective. We don’t look at menus and say, oh, that looked good this week or I would have liked to have seen this.

We have actual data that we share through our menu management system to show trends with plant-forward items. This is how much animal protein you purchased this week. Here’s how much produce you purchased this week. Here’s what the goal should be.

Get there however you want to get there. I don’t care if you’re doing masala or caponata. Your masala is going to be different depending where in the country you are.

Some are going to be spicier. That’s between you and your customers. We at corporate have nothing to do with that. It’s really about hiring really skilled culinarians and then giving them training, freedom and feedback.

Sounds like a great place to work and grow?

It is. We have a really long tenure if you make it past the first year. It’s a hard job because you’re expected to cook Indian, Italian, barbecue, Thai and Mexican and change the menu every day.

In some ways, it’s much easier to work in a chain restaurant or for a food service company that says, here’s the cycle and here’s how to do it. If you’re a great fit, you stay forever.

We see people starting as chefs, moving to general managers, to district managers, to RVPs. I haven’t done the math, but I would say at least half of our regional vice presidents are trained chefs.

Our CEO, says that the chefs are the rock stars. He’s right but I also truly believe that our GMs make it all happen. We certainly are a chef-driven company, and there is so much opportunity to move up.

How does that impact the type of broadliner and local distributor relationships you need to succeed?

We operate two different supply chains. We run the more traditional, where we have a relationship with SYSCO’S and PFG’s. We are very clear that there are certain products that need to come from those broadliners.

You better be buying your salt, your sugar, your pasta, your French fries, your American cheese, your cheddar from them. That creates fiscal responsibility. There are contracts in place for that.

Then we have a set of local ‘fresh houses.’ So every market will have a fresh meat house, a fresh seafood house, a produce house, and a specialty house. The next layer is what we call farm-to-fork.

That’s our local purchasing from farmers and producers that are owner-operated within 150 miles of the cafe and under $5 million in revenue. For us farm-to-fork trumps all.

If you can get those three things together, then that is your number one go-to. It is produce across the country, meat in some pockets, and then coffee and baked goods in others.

We also have a carve-out for BIPOC-owned businesses as well that are small. We actually administer those local farm-to-fork relationships from our corporate headquarters.

We take the enrollment forms and make sure that they have insurance, that sort of thing. Then we turn that relationship over to our local chefs.

The real value in the program comes from hearing a chef in Portland, OR, talking to somebody from Omega Pears about, how are you going to use those pears?

I’m going to use them as hand fruit. Okay, I’ll let them ripen a little bit. I’m going to poach them. Okay, let me take them off the tree today instead.

In fact, study the analytics that come from our farm-to-fork scores. We always want to know why within one sub-geography, why are some farm-to-fork scores higher than others, if technically they have access to all the same vendors?

And it really comes down to that relationship. That relationship between the chef and the farmer.

What does the profile look like of chefs that succeed on your system?

I’d say it’s mixed between whether they have formal training coming from a culinary school or having worked their way up. Both are great paths.

The community college culinary schools, I think, are a fantastic way to get a really affordable education. Culinary school can be quite expensive.

Restaurant chefs do really well with us. We have a lot of people who have had their own restaurants, that they’re entrepreneurial. They had a vision.

They’ve been the captain of their ship, but the lifestyle is too hard. What makes our opportunity attractive is for instance if you work with us on the corporate side it’s basically a five-day-a-week job without many dinners.

On the education side, there’s more meal periods, but the people who do well on education love the students, love being part of that community.

They become athletic boosters. There’s nothing like a university environment. Those chefs have to work hard. Commencement time is a huge push, but it’s seeing people that they’ve loved for four years graduate.

They want to meet their families. I’d say we do well with hotel chefs also. Not so much from other food service companies. That’s not a great path to us.

Maisie Ganzler
Ganzler’s agenda has been highlighted by the humane treatment of the animals that share our planet.

Where will the next generation of chefs and management come from at Bon Appetit?

In the last decade, there was this explosion of the celebrity chef. A lot of people went into culinary. My boyfriend went to Johnson & Wales in the ‘80s, and he said it was like him, people getting out of the military and ex-cons, right?

Going into being a chef at that time was not a glamorous thing. It changed, right? But then people realized the reality of cooking. I think that there’s still a lot of people who truly love food and that it’s been made okay to be a chef.

There used to be certain cultures that didn’t want their kids to be in the kitchen because they had worked so hard to get out of the kitchen.

Now there is cachet. Now it is seen as a viable career. And then we offer a balance of lifestyle, a steady paycheck, good benefits, that sort of thing.

I think we do have a pipeline. Now, of course, we’re having the same labor issues that everybody’s having, primarily in the hourly workforce.

But I think we still are an employer of choice.

What role does immigration play in finding that next generation?

Even more than in our direct ranks, it’s more about our supply chain. The crisis is more acute, with our vendors and we need a balanced, sane immigration policy to keep our supply chain healthy.

How is our industry doing in terms of opportunity for women cracking the glass ceiling?

I think we are making progress. We certainly see more female chefs. We have a nice distribution at the district manager level. I think that there is less of a vision in people’s mind about what a CEO looks like than there used to be.

I think that we’re still in a phase where the old guard hasn’t retired yet. And so there just hasn’t been the movement yet in our industry, but I think it will happen.

I’m more optimistic about the glass ceiling being cracked than whatever the corollary would be about racial diversity.

One thing that has really helped in terms of the glass ceiling in the food world in particular was the Me Too movement. I think that a lot of women self-selected to leave the industry because of the kitchen environment.

Now that type of behavior is clearly not okay. With that more women stay longer and therefore can move up.

Let’s look back with sustainability to see what the path looks like moving forward.

We were the first company to make commitments around sustainability, first to recognize the issues and make commitments.

The initial sustainable agenda included local purchasing, sustainable seafood, and the use of antibiotics in meat production. Those were kind of the first three that kicked us off.

Then we added animal welfare. We were the first to recognize the issues and make commitments. We’re still in a place where we’re the only company that has actually lived up to all of our commitments.

The key is that we have always been completely transparent. For example, we were the first to make a commitment to cage-free eggs.

We started with shell eggs in 2005 and met that commitment. Then we expanded to liquid eggs but there was a huge avian flu outbreak and so we didn’t fulfil the commitment.

We ‘owned it’ and put out a press release saying we didn’t make the commitment and by the way we made it six months later.

Nobody does that!

Right. And that’s one of the things that I talk about in my book, it is about transparency being the antidote to greenwashing. And when I mean transparency, I mean at a level that you’re probably uncomfortable with.

So the place where we’re at right now is around where our point of differentiation really is, is around the proof and the data. Make a claim about whatever you want to make a claim about.

Can you prove it? Well, we can. And sometimes our numbers don’t look perfect. And we’re going to tell you anyway.

How do you use technology to track those commitments?

We built something called the Food Standards Dashboard. Every time a chef logs into the menu management system, they get a dashboard of how well in the last period they met our standards.

They can print that and share that with their client. You want to know if we’re living the dream? There it is. I challenge anyone else to give that information.

And as more of our clients are making sustainability commitments, mainly around carbon, they need that data.

Talk a little bit about some of the fun stories that are in the book including trips to pig farms?

The title of the book, You Can’t Market Manure at Lunchtime, comes from a time that Fedele [Bauccio], my CEO, my boss, had been on something called the Pew Commission for Industrial Farm Animal Production.

He had toured the country talking to people related to CAFOs, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, factory farms. He had gotten really hung up on these manure lagoons.

He was badmouthing this big pork supplier, telling people they do terrible things and they don’t treat people right. Well, it happened to be our pork supplier.

Their VP of Sustainability flew to Palo Alto and said, why are you badmouthing us? You know, basically, shut up. And Fedele said, you’re doing all these terrible things.

And I’m cheering him on. You know, this is great. I work for the right company. And he’s like, we got to get rid of these manure lagoons.

And I thought, that’s fantastic. But how do I tell a story about that? You can’t market manure at lunchtime. Telling stories like that about our now former pork supplier enable a for-profit B2B business to create differentiation.

It’s all about storytelling to our customers and making real change, setting realistic goals, measuring properly and living up to those claims every day.

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  • Day & Nite
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • RAK Porcelain
  • Imperial Dade
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  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
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  • Cuisine Solutions
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • Atosa USA
  • DAVO by Avalara
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