With over 15 years of experience working in hospitality, Jerome Pagnier is the first to understand and acknowledge just how wasteful the industry can be. From food waste to energy as well as the abundance of animal products on the menu, it's a space that's overlooked by many when it comes to veganism and environmental resilience reform. Having a desire to change things, Jerome and his cofounder set up WiseFins, a company that aims to transform the hospitality industry, both by helping already-established businesses build a more purposeful and sustainable future for themselves, as well as a stealth project which sees to create self-sufficient living and hospitality complexes. We spoke with Jerome about his work at WiseFins and how the idea came about, as well as the importance of network and branding when it comes to entering the space. We also touched on who makes decisions when it comes to new products, and how to know if you have a chance at getting on the menu.
While the world is in standstill, dealing with the coronavirus, Jerome and his cofounder at WiseFins are working hard on another crisis: climate change. With an aim to help businesses in the food and hospitality space enter into sustainable practice, the company takes a firm stand on increasing environmental resilience.
Jerome: 'I really think climate change is the most pressing issue the world has to deal with, apart from COVID, but that's a different beast.'
With over 15 years of experience working in the space, he's also the first to understand and acknowledge just how wasteful the industry can be.
Jerome: 'We produce food that we get from all around the world, and we waste it. 30% of the food that goes into the kitchen gets wasted. That's tremendous.'
When asked whether the demand for change was coming from within the industry, or from consumers, it seemed that there was a push and pull from both.
Jerome: 'There's a desire to change, but there's a lack of tools.'
And that's where WiseFins comes in. Combining his work experience, with his passion for having a positive impact, WiseFins has embarked on a journey to transform the space, one hospitality business at a time.
It was also our first time getting to understand and hear about what happens behind-the-scenes at a hotel. The area we were most interested in learning about? Food.
As a plant-based business maybe wanting to get on the menu, it's important to know who will be judging your product and making that final decision. Luckily, Jerome held a position as Director of Food & Beverage at the Grand Hyatt in Singapore, and with his experience launching alternative proteins Beyond and JUST, he was able to give us a run-down of what really happens.
Jerome: 'It depends. But more often than not it will be an executive chef, or a director of food and beverage.'
The best way for startups to enter this world? Finding early adopters in the industry with the idea that they'll be your proof of concept for the product. Jerome used Singapore as an example, which set a trend using Beyond, that enabled other surrounding businesses to follow through.
Jerome: 'People told me we were making a big mistake putting mock meat on our menus. And we proved them wrong.'
Okay. But even finding an early adopter can be difficult, especially if you don't have the connections.
Jerome: 'My advice to startups is always go to a distributor.'
The chances of your product being evaluated and even chosen, rises higher once you have someone presenting it who the industry already trusts and has a connection with.
Jerome: 'We tend to forget it's one of the oldest industries in the world. There's a fear of change, as well as a fear of upsetting existing clientele.'
We also asked Jerome on the importance of building a brand. Do you need to have a strong brand, if you're only planning to sell to food service?
If you use a manufacturer to make your product...
Jerome: 'The brand is all you have.'
So long answer short YES. The brand is a part of the dining experience, and without that there's a fundamental part missing.
I was also curious to hear if hotels and restaurants have a preference when it comes to looking out for new vegan products. Did they find meat alternatives more favourable over a plant-based egg?
It turns out, that they're looking for replacements. And with that, in Jerome's words:
Jerome: 'They're not trying to add on, they're just trying to have one.'
Which means, despite what we want to believe, these industries don't see alternative products as a category of their own. They simply see them as a substitute for an animal product, that ticks a box for the conscious consumer. So, if you're planning on approaching a hotel, or a fancy restaurant any time soon, make sure your product is one that they don't yet have.
We hope that you enjoyed this weeks episode. If there's a vegan business, or a founder that you think would like to come on the show, then please send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org, or @veganstartuppod on socials.
Have a great day, & remember to #biteforwhatsright!