Adam Melonas is the Founder & CEO of Chew, a food innovation lab that boldly redefines what is possible in the world of packaged food and drink by creating products that are delicious, nutritious, sustainable, profitable, and scalable. Through his work and “anything is possible” mindset, Adam and the team partner with the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers to overcome barriers to innovation by creating game-changing snack food and beverage items.
Welcome to Lost in the Supermarket. Today, our episode is going to go behind the scenes and then we're going to look at the future. And with us is Adam Melonas. Now Adam has a unique background, culinary background. He, as you'll hear in a moment or so comes from Australia, u h, now up in Boston. U h, but his background started out at culinary and really doing some fascinating things with folks like Ikea in h aving a guest, u m, Spanish people, u h, to go to the Ikea stores, which obviously is known for being Swedish. So with that, Adam, welcome to Lost in the Supermarket.Adam:
Thank you very much. Good to be here.Phil:
So let's talk about you. You're the founder, you're the CEO of Chew. It's a food innovation lab, but what I love about what you say is that anything is possible. Explain that ,Adam:
Uh , live my life and operated my career under a very simple principle that I , uh, really define impossible as a, as a moment in time. Um, I believe it's our responsibility to try to kind of navigate around that moment in time. What may seem impossible today , uh, with new advances in technology and methodologies and techniques, et cetera, hopefully , uh , many of those that our own hands. Um, but , uh, with , with the creation of each one of those that gives us the ability to , um, navigate around each one of each one of those. So , uh, I start every particular day with , um, with no preconceived notions of what's possible and what's impossible. Um, and , uh, again, I believe it's my responsibility to , um, either do or this, these days hopefully , um , um , set the stage for , uh, for people to do their best work and inspire others to do therefore giving us the ability to amplify and magnify our , our potential impact .Phil:
So you and your team at CHEW , uh , have developed over 3,500 products, you've got over 40 different patents. I'm going to put you on the spot and I know you're going to say you can't tell me because all your clients are going to be upset, but what let's start out . What is the favorite product that CHEW has developed?Adam:
So Phil on, I'm sure you're familiar with this one. That's , uh, like , um, my children. You're not supposed to have a favorite. You often, you often do it. I think that depends on kind of day by day. Um, but you're not supposed to have a favorite, you know , um, anyone who knows me well enough by now , um, knows that I get bored very easily. Um, so frankly in the , uh, I can tell you probably what I'm least interested in these days, and those are , um , kind of those pods that are well-trodden. I will tell you again, just in order to snake my way around some of this confidentiality , um, the things that the categories and the kind of the macro level movements that I'm most excited by , um, when you think about, you know, sustainability and things like that , um, I'm very, very excited by things like synthetic biology. Now, if you take the me of seven or eight years ago , uh, that, that, that old they would have punched the new me in the face , um, because of the fact that , um, it's the opposite of who I was back then, old GMOs are bad, this and that, but the fact of the matter is when you actually start to pick into it , um, I just find so much excitement in the intersection of trying to really humanize these modern techniques, modern technology , um, and make sure that they really pass the sniff test of , of what , what I would feed to my own children, which I'm maniacal about. Um, but I will tell you the, the things that scare me are the things that get me the most excited. And when I hear some of these things that I've got to go to Google it, or I've got to go to my, a team of scientists to say, what the hell is this thing? Um, typically the things that excite me the most.Phil:
So what's, I know you're very particular about the clients that you take on, and you're very demanding about that whole client relationship and what that should be. What's the number one problem that food developers, not just you, but across the globe have when they're working with clients, what's the biggest impediment.Adam:
So we, we try, we try to solve each one of those one by one, right? And I think the historically , um, and, and, and , and this is the Genesis for starting to, right ? Historically the market was divided really in what people consider to be two hops of the whole. Um, you've got , uh, your , uh, outside pod is colloquially agencies who you go to for concepts, right? We call those , um , pretty pictures on pipe , up , you know , cupcakes and rainbows, but things that can't necessarily ever be scaled because no one's ever done the work. Um, on the other end of the spectrum, you've got , um, commercialization, right? They simply take a widget. They , it doesn't matter what that widget is. It could be a hand gun , it could be a water pistol, it could be a cupcake. It doesn't matter. They take that widget, they get it through the , the commercialization cycle. Um, and then their measure of success is simply, can it be manufactured, right? Not, is it , is it equal to a creative to diluted to , um , the original proposition that went in? So for me , um, this was one of the greater , um, weaknesses that existed because there was a bunch of box ticking going on. Um, people were saying, yep, great. You know, we did our pot , we, but, but the problem is, is they looked at it very myopically as to their pot and their pot only. Whereas, you know, as, as you know, with your great career , um , and reputation that you have, it's so much more than just the singular box ticking exercises. So what , um, you know, that , I will say that that's one of the , um , challenges that people work with. I would say , um, another one of the great challenges are, you know, the level of confidentiality that exists in this , uh, in this industry. Rightly so. Um, because of the level of, you know, corporate espionage that happens here, where everyone's trying to beat the other one to the, to the announcement, not even the launch, the first to announce we're going to remove all the artificial colors , uh, nobody ever remembers the second announcement. Um, so the reason why we implement our own , um, uh , you know, CIA level , um, confidentiality, and we've got, you know, all of those firewalls in place is because we can't operate in hypotheticals. We need actually , we've had , um, billion multi-billion dollar formula was in our hands in which our developers have felt extraordinarily nervous. Um, but the reason why our partner's trust is so, so much is because , uh, you know, within seven and a half years that we've been in operation, we still have clients today who have been with us for longest one is about six and a half years. Um, still today, even after being in our lab once , uh , once a month , um, uh, on the telephone, at least once, once a week videos, et cetera, they still, today don't know another company or another product we've ever made . Um, so, you know, I wear that as a badge of honor, and I think that's how we , uh, how we navigate around some of these challenges that other people have in the industry. Um, but we, you know, we, we typically accompany of solutions, not necessarily , um, lamenting these , uh, these challenges people deem to be insurmountable.Phil:
So what do you think about focus groups?Adam:
Uh , another form of group thing ? Um, I don't necessarily typically , um, I let, let, let me rephrase that. I like to use them as a data point, but nearly a data point. I don't necessarily stake my reputation or the director direction of anything. Um, I would say it's merely a data point. What I want to prefer is , um, like creative consumer groups where you can collaboratively build, someone says something, and it's not just out there in the ether, you can actually start to kind of tease out , um , what did they mean by that? And you run less chance of , um, misconstruing what they thought. Um, so, so I , I pursued that kind of a setting. I think, focus groups again, let me, I'll take a very short tangent, but , um, I'm that guy, I'm that guy. And again , my background is culinary, but I'm that guy in , um, wine tastings . I love wine. Uh, I'm a very big , uh, uh , red wine fan , um, and white wine as well. Uh , I, I definitely don't discriminate, but , um , I'm that guy in those, in those tastings, I will see different people in the room with different things. You taste, you taste this or red wine, and you said, well, you know, I , I taste wet tobacco. All of a sudden everybody's tasting wet tobacco and then I play with them. Right. Um, because I think the psychological perception of taste is so powerful. Um, and group think is such a, you know, this social thing that happens in these particular settings. So again, focus groups are as oughta point. I think that it's very skewed data, particularly, and I live , uh, I, frankly I live and die by the , the, the, the, the, the old analogy , um, that Henry Ford once had , which was, you know, if you , if you ask people what they wanted, it was faster horses, right? I'm not interested to go from horse and buggy to model, model T Ford. I want to go from a horse and buggy to Tesla. I want to do it in a foreign yet familiar way. I want to take them all the way, hopefully to the present, which some deem as the future. Um, but I want, that's the kind of interaction I want. I want to use that as a data point or at least the beginning of a seed of an idea, but I want to verbalize that and kind of propagate that with so much more the data, the intuition, et cetera. I don't know if I answered your question, some of them.Phil:
Yeah, you did. Um, and, and I'll give you my thought about focus groups , um , I've sat behind the one way mirrors and hundreds of them , um, over the years , um, I I'll be a little stronger than you. I hate the idea that I could , um, pre pandemic, you know, have somebody come to a focus group facility and pay them 50 bucks and they don't have teeth and they really enjoy stale potato chips. And I'm going to bet my career on that. Uh, I don't think so, but let , let's stay with taste , uh , cause you're bringing up something very important, especially now during the pandemic , uh, where we're hearing that a majority of people who do it , um, unfortunately get COVID-19 , um, has either a temporary or permanent change in their taste buds and in their sense of smell, what effect does that have on the future of food?Adam:
So I would, I would say it's a very, I'd say it's a very fleeting one. You know, I think , um, what , what happens with tastes , it's , it's something that's learned, right? We've got all of these particular tastes that are socially learned taste . And if you take for an example , um, bitter, bitter is a socially learn taste. Uh, and the bitter is typically introduced by these things, these social norms that people believe to be a part typically of growing up. Right. And all of a sudden when you start to then consume and repetition, these , um, these bitter compounds, all of a sudden, you then open up this, this, this widely new taste . So , um, this is something, again, this is a social, we learn taste. Um, but as well, the, the , the flavor adaptation adaptation , um, and how quickly the palette changes is something that I've always been intrigued by. And I don't know if you've ever done the test of the , um, the different truest solutions. And when you step up and step down on the step back, and the step up always seems so dramatic or not so much, it's all relative, right? So if you think about the relative context of taste , now, you think about what the pandemic has done. And I think the , um, the unintended consequences of the pandemic in the beginning had a soul waiting , uh, you know, what resembled , uh , industrial revolution , uh , war rations, where , uh, you know, I think we all panicked and got as much Campbell soup and toilet paper as we could possibly fit into our houses. And , uh, we're willing to pay whatever it took. And then we've been working our way through it. Um, I say we , uh , liberally, I wasn't one of those, but , um, we've gotten somewhere , uh, we went through so much time of trying to reduce sugar, reduce , uh , bad fats, reduced salts. And all of a sudden we flip the switch and we're back to heavily processed macro micronutrient blends that we're not, that we've evolved from, and now we've gone all the way back there. My field , not my field , uh, that sounds quite a rational . So , um, my concern and my hope in the very near future is that we can start to find our way back to center. Uh , and back to sense , it looks like we start to prepare more of our own foods. We start to , um, uh, rid our houses of the heavily processed and we start to get into, you know, processed enough to be building blocks due to , to kind of fit within everything that we need it to be. So , um, taste , I believe has adopted in a short period of time, but I think I, you know, optimistically, I think it's going to snap back pretty quickly.Phil:
So I want to read the four tenants. Um, that CHEW has to pack a full serving of greens into your favorite on the go snacks to infuse the plant-based market with healthier options, to re-imagine, how teenagers get nutrients, and lastly, to bring America's favorite fruit into the snacking space.Adam:
So those, those are for blind if projects that we're currently working on, because again, we try to, we try to navigate through this confidentiality stuff. Um, but if I , if I may, our five core principles of the company , um, and again, I , um , I , I think the evidence is to the contrary today, but I used to be much more wordy than I am today. Uh , surprise , uh , believe it or not. Um, but , uh, I wanted to boil it and distill it down to things that were easily digestible, pardon the pun, but , um, delicious, nutritious, sustainable, profitable, scalable. We say fail one farewell . So beyond that, every project that we take, every partnership that we get involved in every joint venture business, we start with other people, everything needs to tick all five of those boxes, not one or the other sort of menu choose your favorites. It's all of the above. So , um, those are our five core principles.Phil:
So Adam, thank you for joining us. Uh, hope after the pandemic, we get to hear a glass of delicious red wine have to be wet, wet tobacco and we'll have to get together because I want to pick your brain more. No doubt loves her and vice versa. And thank you all for joining us today on Lost in the Supermarket.