Eric Quick has two decades of experience in food operations, manufacturing and consulting including senior leadership positions at McDonald’s, Disney and Safeway. In recent years Eric has engaged himself in more entrepreneurial pursuits which include launching the successful iPhone app MY FOOD FIGHT! and starting the consulting firm Cloud 9 Performance Solutions which assists food service organizations create healthier food supply chains while also reducing their costs.
Here are my 5 questions with Eric and his answers:
1) In the book Fast Food Nation it’s stated, “What we eat has changed more in the last forty years than in the previous forty thousand.” This is primarily due to advancements in technology. Your latest two entrepreneurial endeavors use innovative technology to promote better nutritional habits and choices. What do you believe technology’s role is in getting us moving in the right direction again regarding personal health as it relates to nutrition?
My belief is technology is going to play a significant role, but I’m still concerned that it will continue to play an intrusive role as well with the integrity of food. Over my career in food we have seen technology used to really over commercialize the food supply. To be fair we cannot blame the technology itself… but we can blame a lot of the people behind the technology and the pressures of Wall Street to maximize profits. That said, technology is also an enabler of the clean food movement.
Personally, we are using aseptic packaging to offer an organic product in a more convenient way. This gets us away from having to use preservatives, stabilizers, coloring, and other foreign agents to provide a “convenient” product for the end-consumer as well as a more nutritional nutrition back panel. Ultimately it is up to us (the producers of food) to make sure technology moves us in the direction of healthier end products. For instance, there is a company in the Bay Area using clean room technology meant for science labs to grow food indoors without pesticides with high yields. It is companies such as this that are moving us in the right direction.
2) With your answer from question one in mind, what currently excites you the most regarding emerging technologies that will help elicit positive change regarding globesity and an overall improvement in global health and wellness?
It is not necessarily the technology that excites me, rather the emerging entrepreneurs behind the technology. They seem to care more about food quality than their recent predecessors and are pushing the cleaner food movement. It excites me that people in our industry seem to be more cautious about their choices and I can see intent is changing. I see companies emerging worried less about profit and more pushing the limits of what is possible. As a manufacturer of food I’m excited that these new innovations (being built) allow me to make a food product that can still have a decent shelf life but does not require garbage ingredients to accomplish this. From the farm to fork people are looking at the entire chain and trying to make each part of the process better and also cleaner. That’s what excites me.
Technology as a communication tool also excites me. Chipotle’s innovative ad about the horrific use of gestation crates for pig farming went viral on social media and generated interest when there was limited visibility prior to the ad going viral. Phone apps like MY FOOD FIGHT! that help communicate/teach better health choices to consumers. These are also steps in the right direction.
3) Given your extensive experience in scalable food manufacturing and distribution, what is one thing you think the industry could change today that would make an immediate positive impact for the greater good of public health?
In my personal opinion it is the use of pesticides and chemicals in the agricultural food supply. The trickle-down effect is profound – neurological issues, environmental factors, the economic impact on local farming – it is almost impossible to know all the ways these products have a negative impact on society. Organic has proven you can produce without it. Admittedly it is more work, and it does come with a higher cost, but put against scrutiny I believe it is worth the effort given the hard to quantify social costs of doing business as usual. What is the cost of health care for those affected by pesticides? What are the economics of environmental conditions left over from chemical use? These are important questions to answer and we do not have the studies to give a clear picture of the long-term impact of chemical use in the food supply chain. Is it easy? No. As a society we have a desire for cheap food and so challenging the status quo is a tricky proposition but a very important one none-the-less.
4) In your twenty years of experience, and in the research and development of MY FOOD FIGHT!, what methods, campaigns, schemes and/or technologies do you believe to be the most effective in lasting positive behavioral change?
Gaming is a very powerful medium, especially for younger people, to create behavior change. I believe we are wired to enjoy games. I spoke at the Games for Health Conference on this topic and during the Conference was blown away at the extremely innovative games emerging that also deliver a value in the form of influencing positive change. You don’t hear about these games the way you hear about the latest Zynga game because they are developed for a particular niche audience… and let me state they transcend nutrition. I saw applications for PTSD, and improving the lives of autistic children, and many others. It is really quite remarkable what games can do to help people in a fun way.
5) Your current project Froovie is a pioneering approach to offer consumers a healthy, organic alternative to notoriously unhealthy beverage choices at the soda fountain. What do you deem as imperative to making sure your disruptive technology is successful and benefits from a lasting product cycle?
Simply put, if our product is not great tasting it is going to fail no matter how healthy it is. I know the theme of this interview is technology but it is just as important to share that consumers aren’t going to be impressed with our technology; rather they are going to want something they enjoy as much or more than soda. If our product does not taste great the technology is not going to matter. We have to cater to a palette that has been conditioned to like things that are extremely sweet. In my lifetime I’m confident the advances in technology are going to be mind-blowing and yet what I have just shared with you will be just as true then as it is today. Your product has to be as good or better than the alternative to survive.