When does food go beyond nutrition? We explore with Marissa Epstein of Springdale Ventures

Jan 12, 2022

We explore various food topics from the psychology of merchandising to Marissa’s experience in working with Michelle Obama on the Let’s Move! campaign. In this episode, Marissa Epstein reminds us that culture and happiness play a impactful role in our lives when it comes to food choices we make.

Show Notes:

Learn more about Springdale Ventures – https://www.springdaleventures.com/

Pretty ok transcript:

[00:00:00] Mason: Okay. So today we are talking with Marissa Epstein Murcia, and I met kind of randomly, right as at a birthday party. I think I was already coming from a happy hour. So I was approaching my obnoxious level of alcohol. At the point. She sat through almost an entire dinner with me and I was completely fascinated by her.

Quite the scholar with a double major, including nutritional science. She’s got an MBA, a whole bunch of other credentials, mostly in academia, right up until this. Where’s she entered the food venture world as a general partner at Springdale ventures. Now, first question though, the most interesting part of your background that I thought is working with Michelle Obama in 2012 to 2013, he went from being a registered pediatric of registered pediatric dietician at Seton hospital here in Austin to work in with the first lady.

Talk to us about how that felt going from small town, Texas girl, to landing a job at the time.

[00:01:01] Marissa Epstein: It was very much that, uh, I am a small town, Texas girl, and I’m going to the white house was extraordinary. I think anyone who gets the opportunity to work in public. Uh, should test it out, um, understand, get a better understanding of how the world works, how America’s political system works, uh, was really fascinating.

You know, I was in that role, not because of a political affiliation, but because I was a pediatric dietician and the first lady decided that she wanted to, uh, launch a campaign to improve children’s health and wellness. So the idea that it’s such a young age, Could have such an impact in the area that I was so passionate about, really just felt.

It was extraordinary on a, on a day-to-day basis. Um, pretty, pretty special. And then I’m really proud of what we were all able to achieve. You know, we were very small, but mighty team, um, very startup-y, uh, in, in this. Of the word. Uh, you’ll appreciate Mason. And did, you know, rolled up our sleeves and did everything we could.

We were just kind of counting down the hours, basically, you know, the first term you’ve got four years. Right. And then it just starts to cut down from there. And so we were racing against the clock to do as much as we could to, to help shape. The next generation of kids health. Yeah,

[00:02:26] Jess: absolutely. Um, it seems like an incredible opportunity.

And we also imagine that you had to work very long hours, 80 plus hours a week with nonstop action. Was that the case? Definitely.

[00:02:37] Marissa Epstein: I had this back in the day of blackberries. So really roll back the clock. I had multiple blackberries. I slept with one under my pillow. Um, you know, you’re just on call. And like I said, with a small team, we all have.

Going around the clock to get things done. Um, I wasn’t one who liked to be in the limelight. I liked to do the work behind the scenes, but that usually meant lots of writing, lots of number crunching, lots of strategy, lots of planning. Um, you know, the. Trenches work, um, to, to make sure that, you know, the public facing work that we were launching and announcing, and that she was, she was really leading, um, was, uh, was, was the best possible, uh, product that it could be.

[00:03:25] Mason: So how many people did you have to beat out for that job was. An apprentice style workshop.

[00:03:32] Marissa Epstein: Now, I mean, I get asked this question a lot, the question being like, how did you get it right? And no, there was no reality TV show behind the scenes. You know, what I learned is that, that, you know, when an administration enters office, they are trying to staff as quickly as possible.

And so they’re really drawing from, um, their network and they’re drawing from lists of. Professionals who are, who are known for, for being experts in their fields. And I just happened to be, you know, at the time nutrition was a really taboo topic. You know, parents didn’t want to talk about nutrition with their kids.

No one wanted to talk about the obesity crisis in America. I was, um, doing what I thought would turn into PhD work at the time at nights, working in a lab here at UT Austin. Well, during the day I was, I was in the clinic. Um, and I thought I was gonna end up going getting a PhD. And I, the research that I was working on, um, got me an invitation to a conference in DC the year that the, the same month, actually, that the Obamas came into office.

And it was, you know, by virtue of. Yeah. What is that phrase? Luck is when preparation meets opportunity and it was just, you know, working as hard as I worked, I think got me into this moment in time where I was in the right place at the right time and then kind of luck. Um, the, the other dynamic of that being the opportunity came to, to walk through.

That door and get invited to, to use that expertise in a meaningful way when she and her passion and her vision really, uh, created the opportunity in the first place. So it was really for two it’ss. Um, but I, you know, Tell so many young people who are looking to make an impact on the world. The very first thing that I found in my career to be true of, of being able to do that starts with you, really knowing your shit to put it, to put it mildly, you know, there’s a lot of noise.

And I think that when you become reputed for someone who, you know, I’m not good at that much, I’m just do this one thing. You know, I am. Um, and I think trying to do what you choose to do in the world as to the best of your ability is just a pursuit that’s served me really well.

[00:05:54] Mason: Wonderful. And so it was the let’s move campaign.

Is there any, what was your top kind of take away or did you have a highlight from that?

[00:06:04] Marissa Epstein: Yeah, I mean so many highlights. Gosh, but I, I would know that one of the top takeaways that I find still sits with me on a day-to-day basis or that I still draw from is how my assumptions. Completely reversed about why people eat and drink the way that we do, um, in America.

You know, I used to hear all the time, oh, if people just knew better, they would eat healthfully. And I, we learned that that’s actually not the case, that everyone pretty much knows that you should eat your vegetables. That that is a phrase that’s rung. True. Thousands of years for humans. We’re not the first to say it.

And, uh, my grandmother wasn’t even the first to say it as much as I think that in my head as a kid, she was, um, you know, we know what’s good for us. And there are so many different life situations and environmental informants that. Um, you know, by persuasion or by necessity, um, or by want and desire, you know, have us choosing differently.

And I think that what I learned was just an incredible open-mindedness to every American’s walk of life, where they come from, how, how different we all are, how, how there are some values that unite all of us, um, and how people have aspirations and they want to. Good about getting closer to the data aspirations.

And so one of the things that I love about the work that we did was really, um, the inspiring message, you know, not the traditional government. Oh, you need to eat this or not that, or like stop drinking soda or stop eating candy. You know, none of the messaging that really pulls people down, it was really about lifting people up and, and meeting anymore.

Where they’re at and inviting them to think just a little bit more about what they wanted for themselves from a health perspective. And, you know, I think there was no one better in the world than Mrs. Obama to represent that message in that moment. Um, but that’s, that’s something missing that lives with me every single day.

And when I’m thinking about brands and when I’m thinking about product market fit with new ventures, You know how they talk to their customer is so deeply important to me because that learning. Uh, it is imprinted on my mind, like how, how it really resonated with people, how authentic it was, how true, um, and meaningful it is, you know, to, to really lift people up as they’re thinking about, um, their health, as opposed to, you know, tear people down and tell them what they should be doing.

[00:08:52] Jess: So yeah, less of the scare tactics and more of the hope tactics.

[00:08:56] Marissa Epstein: Yeah, definitely.

[00:08:58] Mason: You know, we it’s. Mostly green here and what we see as a problem with some of the sustainability and environmental messaging out there is that there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of scare tactics out there. And there’s some campaigns that I think are, are not doing good for the American public.

One thing in particular that you mentioned, it’s almost a, a contradiction that we all know what we need to do to eat healthy. And yet you’re saying nutrition is a taboo topic. Can you talk about that tension there a little bit?

[00:09:29] Marissa Epstein: Sure. Nutrition, uh, and food or such are two different things, right? Um, to start off with, you know, many of us think about food in a highly functional way.

We think about it as a source of nutrition. We think about what it can do for us nutritionally. Um, we have an optimizers mindset. We want to live longer. We want to look better. We want to feel better. We want to be more active. We want to perform better physically. Um, but food is so much more than. Right.

And so when we start to acknowledge that food is cultural and in certain cultural environments or settings, we’re going to eat a certain way or it’s familial and relational. And when we’re in relationships or when we’re in, in social settings, you know, that’s going to cue different food behaviors. Um, food is emotional.

You know, humans have gone to food for comfort for forever. And, um, and many of us, uh, you know, do today. And I think that it opens up. A better and more holistic conversation around how food. Uh, the role that food plays in our, in our lives, um, beyond functionality. And so, you know, the tension, I think, gets to the heart of how we relate to not just food, but the dynamics in which we experience food.

Um, and I think that’s the conversation that was so taboo. It’s super easy to talk about, you know, Starches have complex carbs in which proteins have certain amino acids. Like everyone throws out that info. Like it’s nothing, but it’s just factoids. But when you think about, well, why is it that you feel the need to.

More protein every day, you know, or, or, you know, touching back to your, your relationship with your body, your relationship with your culture and the aesthetic. You feel you need to portray to the world. Like that’s actually the taboo, that’s the heart of the issue. Why is it that when, you know, we go home for the holidays that.

More than I usually do. It’s because my parents stressed me out. Right. Um, yeah. Really excited about Christmas this week, but that aside, you know, that’s the stuff that none of us really want to talk about, you know, that, and so I’m, I’m, you know, I think maybe as a dietician, you get training. A lot of the, the psychology around eating, but I, and so I, I’ve always the awareness that I have that I think that I wish we could just have a more open dialogue about and a healthier dialogue from a mental health perspective is that it’s really, you know, how we’re eating really.

Isn’t always about food and the functionality of it. It’s actually much more about, um, the socio-emotional dynamics of our, of our mental health and well,

[00:12:21] Jess: Yeah, that is so true that it can be very cultural or depending upon the time of the year, you know, things change and life happens. And so sometimes people find it hard to eat healthy or the way that they would hope to eat all of the time.

[00:12:35] Marissa Epstein: Yeah. And then sometimes it’s not so much about sometimes health. Isn’t the most important outcome of why you choose make certain food selections. Sometimes relationship is more important. Sometimes fun is more important sometimes. Um, Uh, delight and happiness and that hedonistic instantaneous pleasure can be more important and there’s places in our lives for food to take on each of those roles.

Uh, and I think that that people, um, are well-served to give themselves permission to make those choices in a, in a concerted way, you know, that the more awareness and mindfulness that we have as we eat, the more you can own those decisions and like, yeah, eat. You know, mostly I, for example, like I rarely eat, um, a cheeseburger and fries, but there just one spot in my hometown, that’s on the way out of town.

And, and every time I pass by it, when I go back home again, small town, Texas girl, um, I. I stop or I let myself stop because it reminds me of when I left home for the very first time, and I knew you were so on point Mason, like leaving a small town is a huge deal. Um, I was, you know, no one in my mom’s family went to college.

I was the first one to like leave little, my little town to go to the big, bad city of Austin to go to UT. And so I remember, um, I got, I stopped. Little burger shop that I, you know, the group that I grew up in, or the, in the town that I grew up in, on my way out of town, like on my first drive out of Austin, I mean, out of Rosenberg ever to get to Austin to do this drive alone by myself.

And it was just like comforting and it was a little sense of home and you know what it is totally. Okay. That, that burger joint serves that purpose in my life. Every so often I get a burger there, you know, so I guess what I’m suggesting is like that, that however food serves us. It doesn’t have to be hyperfunctional.

It can actually, we can eat different foods for lots of different reasons. Actually completely. Okay.

[00:14:45] Mason: Yeah. And to geek out on that complexity, just for one second more, I’d heard, which I don’t know if this has been, has held true, but 10 or 15 years ago, I heard that they were as many neurons in our gut as there are in the brain.

And when I first, the person who told me that I asked why on earth was that. Their answer was that, well, it turns out digesting food is a really difficult task and so that our gut needs all these neurons in order to digest it. But I wonder if there’s, if you came across that one and two, if this connection that you’re talking about may actually be a deeper connection between our gut and our emotional.

[00:15:28] Marissa Epstein: It’s not disconnected for sure. Right. Uh, and you’re, you were, well-advised gestion is a heavy load on the body. And it’s also like our first barrier of defense from an immunity perspective. And so 80% of our immune system actually lands inside the gut. It would, there is, you know, these bodies of research.

Unfortunately, don’t talk to each other too much, but it is well understood that how the body responds emotionally to physical threats and they’re deeply connected, you know? You know, the, the idea that you have anxiety or stress, um, the result of that is your body going into an alert state and suppressing digestion, because it takes so much energy and therefore your body creating a way for all of that energy to be re uh, directed to, uh, that alertness.

And so, uh, the, the emotional connection. To the immune system to what we eat and the load we put on the body, it’s intimately intertwined. And that’s that’s I think goes, eh, yeah, you’re, you’re, we’re building the same point, Mason, exactly. That is that, you know, our emotions are connected to what we eat and what we eat is connected to our emotions.

And I think that acknowledging that and like just letting ourselves. They live in a way that, um, that creates, you know, permissiveness and freedom and intention around that, um, could, could reduce a lot of stress related

[00:17:06] Mason: to food. At least he didn’t help. He doesn’t have to be a suffering of practice and suffering.

[00:17:12] Marissa Epstein: Totally, totally.

[00:17:15] Mason: And so is this kind of, uh, you know, touches on the better for you food movement and the. You talked about Michelle Obama being the right person at the right time to carry a particular message of that. What do you think is the better for you food movement? Is it a recent thing in your mind or has it really just taken off lately?

[00:17:37] Marissa Epstein: So we measured this, uh, acutely when I was in the white house, trying to understand how Americans think about food, um, and how that’s changing or changed over time. And I’ve kept tabs on this. And it is, uh, I would say it’s, it’s a growing, but it is a recent phenomenon. We really saw changes in that attitudinal shift happened when, when they were, um, you know, when during the let’s move campaign, um, Americans are thinking differently about what they put in their body.

And that started, you know, I guess now 10. 12 years ago in a real, in a significant way, from a data perspective, but it was kind of moving earlier before that. I think we started to see, um, Inklings of it when whole foods came on line and people started waking up to the idea or were introduced to the idea that there were differences in produce quality between organic and non-organic.

And that may be the way we were growing. Our food needed to be questioned. Um, obviously there were, there were huge trailblazers that, that wrote about this prolifically. Michael Pollan came on the scene and really woke up a lot of folks. Food documentaries galore, et cetera, et cetera. Um, but I do think that when Mrs.

Obama put a relatable, you know, face who was a working mom, highly educated, but still like past. Mother of two kids, you know, in America, that narrative was new and it gave a voice to, to many parents, I think, who were trying to raise kids in a healthy way, despite an environment that wasn’t conducive to that.

Um, and I think it started what we’re now seeing, which is a household reckoning where ed not just products. In your body, but on your body that your kids touch that you handle day to day from the air that you breathe in your home to the furniture that you sit on, you know, is it, where has it been? What’s it?

What is it touched? How has it wreaked habit on the. You know that we’re asking all these questions that I really do think started with the, the food and beverage, um, better for you movement, you know, where more and more people we know now would report themselves as a nutrition label literate. Um, more grocery shoppers are flipping to the back label.

On packaged foods, more grocery shoppers are conversant in, um, in nutrients and there’s still a ton of confusion out there, but the self-education of the average American consumer has skyrocketed. And that’s been a phenomenon that we’ve seen in the last decade and they’re becoming, and I think kind of the, the highly impassioned, um, Group within that has also started to push the edge around expectations of other products that we use, um, you know, across the whole 360 lifestyle.

[00:20:54] Jess: Yeah, absolutely. It certainly goes beyond food in our household for sure. But, um, across many other households, you know, it’s not just what you’re putting in your body, but it’s what’s going on your body or what you’re touching and what you’re sitting on and what clothes you’re putting on too. Um, so definitely agree with.

And, um, so earlier you talked about this idea that, you know, eating whole foods and not necessarily the company

[00:21:18] Mason: Walter would say

[00:21:19] Jess: yes, uh, that it’s good for a human health, but also good for the planet. You know, that the concept of, uh, nature, packaging food in a nutritious way for us. Do you agree with this?

And if so, you know, when did you come to that understanding.

[00:21:33] Marissa Epstein: You know, my, uh, relationship with food started I’m with my mother. She’s Mexican. I think I mentioned, and her ethos around communicating that she loved us was, uh, primarily through cooking and, uh, she just, and she’s a phenomenal cook and every, every member of her family is a phenomenal cook.

It’s like a Rite of passage. And so I’d always thought of food as, um, just a medium by which my family came together. I didn’t think about it from a critical perspective. Uh, I didn’t know. I needed to, I just assumed that in the way my mom took care of me through feeding me that any other venue was also.

Uh, you know, serving me food through that lens, whether it was my cafeteria or if it was a restaurant, you know, I just never questioned the portions that showed up or the ingredients that were in them. You know, my only experience eating was being fed by the most loving, nurturing woman on planet. Right.

So my first kind of big experience, um, was when I was graduating. High school. And I had, I had been a lifelong athlete and then I got, um, it, a recurring injury and I was benched on and off the bench for a couple seasons. Um, but I was still eating like an athlete and I’d never thought about food and weight and my appearance until my graduation, my high school graduation party.

And my mom true to form had like, She had this photo collection of me at every year of, since I was in kindergarten, such a mom thing to do yes, absolutely. Also like horrifying, is it 18 year old? Graduating,

[00:23:18] Jess: some are cute. And some you’re like, oh, that was a bad year. And you’re like,

[00:23:21] Marissa Epstein: this is not the venue for this mom.

Like, why is this at my graduation party? Um, so I was just, and I saw how, um, I had gained weight. I’ve gained a lot of weight and I had, I was experiencing the result of that. I had acid reflux. Um, I, a few months later, or maybe a month later, I was getting my pre college physical that you have to get for admissions.

I had. Prediabetes markers. I mean, it was a really shocking moment and I didn’t, I don’t remember how I accessed such solid information, but I remember reading that the way to healthfully lose weight. And I was really concerned, cause I didn’t want to get an eating disorder or start really messing with my head.

I’d seen a lot of friends go through. We’re really hard situations. And I was scared to even tinker with losing weight because it seemed so challenging and mysterious and hard to do, um, you know, without really screwing up your head. And I was like, I, how do I do this in a way that I stay mentally fit, um, and stay confident and stay and appreciate my body still.

So, uh, I think I met with, um, With like a, a dietician at UT. And she was like, and she showed me the literature on the best methods for long-term weight loss. And it turns out it’s one, one method that is very evidence-based is keeping a food journal. And this was so amazing to me. Cause it was. It was mean as a college kid.

I was like, yes. Um, so I did three things. My entire freshman year of college that changed my life. First. I slept for nine hours. I wasn’t drinking coffee. I wasn’t drinking alcohol. Um, I had a very lame freshman year at UT, like hardly made any friends. Cause I slept, I slept every night. Um, I, I walked every day and um, that walking over the first few weeks, uh, would involve, uh, some, um, Uh, time limit of running incorporated.

So I wrote one for five minutes for a couple of weeks, and then I turn that into 10 minutes and then, you know, however many months later I was running for 45 minutes straight and then I would just get faster and faster. And within that first year I ran my first 5k, which at a faster time than I was running, um, my sprints in high school soccer.

And then the third thing I did was keep the food. And the fruit journal was amazing because I would just log what I ate. And then, um, this, I would learn what was in that food and you, and then I would also journal how I felt, and it just became really clear and just a number of weeks at how the days that I ate that I didn’t skip meals and that I.

Full meals, you know, that had all three macronutrients that had a lot of plants that were mostly vegetables those days. I not only felt great, but I felt fuller like more satiated. And I just started realizing, wow, there are so many foods that are just in my environment, sort of being thrown at me that are terrible for me, that I just took for granted as a kid that you know, were easy to eat.

And I, I just couldn’t believe it. I felt like the wool was finally taken. Um, over my eyes, like are what the opposite of that is enlightened and that’s the right word. I was blown away. You guys, I mean, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, wait, you’re telling me that I could have three Oreos, um, for the same sort of like caloric trade-off as I could have an apple and peanut.

And obviously the ladder is so much more filling and, and makes you feel so much better. And I didn’t have, and I know people really, you know, talking about calories is like a very, as now sort of a taboo thing to do, but like, just from a straight scientific perspective, when you. When you’re looking at the trade-offs between two food choices, the one that has the best nutrient density.

So the lowest calories for the highest number of micronutrients, the vitamins and minerals, obviously that’s the one you want to choose. Um, if you’re trying to lose weight, Um, I’m taking a health full long-term approach to incorporating, um, nutrient dense foods into your, your regular lifestyle. And that’s what I want to try to do with this food journal.

And it was extraordinary

[00:27:53] Mason: and freshmen year experience. I mean, that is a, the most conscious broach. I mean, I didn’t really start learning about the connection between food and. My body until I had a parasite when I was living in Spain and it destroyed my GI system. And all of a sudden, I couldn’t even, I couldn’t digest potatoes anymore.

And so I had got a crash course in it, and I think it’s pretty amazing that you’ve just decided to do it that way.

[00:28:25] Jess: And that you decided to go to the, go to a dietician at UT to figure out the best and the healthiest way to do so. Um, I mean, in high school I had struggled with bulemia and I had never considered, how do I want to change my weight, or I want to change my weight, but how do I do it in the healthiest way, in the best way.

So for you to have the wherewithal to figure it out the right way and the healthy way, and you know, people start. Being able to do that. So kudos to you for sure.

[00:28:52] Marissa Epstein: Well, you know, it’s, uh, it’s so nice if you say, and it’s a little bit of a commentary on our society, right? I mean, we don’t equip everyday people with basic nutrition education, right?

I’m T I have a three-year-old and an almost. Eli already knows that if he gets a booboo, that there are such people that are called doctors that will give them a thing called medicine that will help him heal his boop. And like that’s extraordinary, right? Like, like, think about how bolstered the medical community is by the simple everyday education.

We give our kids around how to heal and how to handle medicine. And the idea that, you know, both of you, who I consider to be incredibly intelligent, well-educated high achieving successful individuals could go through life with that. Um, knowing that there’s one, a professional resource for you, uh, that that’s available to answer these questions and to help you and to what the basics are around, what constitutes healthy eating.

I mean, can you imagine how communities across the country are just devastated by a lack of lack of, of that education? I mean, you hit the nail on the head and I feel so lucky. I don’t remember how. The impetus that I had, but I do remember feeling very, very angry after I had that experience. I remember going back home and I didn’t have a mirror in my dorm room, which was really helpful.

Um, I was not focused at all in how I looked and it was, it was incredible. And I went. That summer. I did have a mirror in my bedroom. I was like shocked at how different I looked. And I remember just being so angry because my family was like, you know, Hispanic Americans statistic. We have diabetes, we have gallstones, we have cancers, we have obesity, we have heart disease, like all of it.

And I was, I was still, I was like, why. Is this only available to a kid who broke out a Rosenberg, Texas to get a college degree at UT like w this is so unfair. Um, and I really think that that’s, that anger is what spurred me to work so hard in nutrition. Cause like, this is ridiculous. Like I cannot believe we’re the most, like we have the highest GDP in the world as a country and we can’t afford to educate.

Our population about such a basic elemental life skill. Uh, it’s a travesty. I, yeah, it’s um, it’s really sad.

[00:31:34] Jess: Yeah. Information is power. And so giving people the tools that they need to eat healthy and helping them with those decisions. So that sounds like a very big passion point, right.

[00:31:45] Marissa Epstein: It is. If, if I could make money doing this, I would, but I have to, um, support a family families one day.

No, I, I, this is one of the themes I worked on, really. I think, you know, up until I, I, my most recent role was on. Novel methods and technologies, um, in nutrition, education and marketing is one of those ways of doing it. You know, Frank it’s arguable that today’s, uh, nutrition informed brands are doing more to educate the American consumer than public schools are.

So, um, you know, I’ve, I’ve worked at public schools on nutrition education. I’ve worked with. Tech industry on health and nutrition education, and, and frankly like storytelling without the, without nutrition, as part of the public education system and every school in every state. Um, I think I’ve kind of come around to this thesis that a really great brands ability to tell a story is actually the fastest way to get to real impact.

[00:32:47] Mason: Yeah. That, I think that’s a really interesting segue to, to some other questions about merchandising and CPG brands in the store. And you spent some time studying the science behind. Techniques that can play a role in our purchasing decisions. Can you share some of what these are and you know how we can game the system?

[00:33:09] Marissa Epstein: Yeah, well, considering, um, I love CCS. Uh, thank you. Thank you, sir. You know, it starts with a great product. Uh, in my experience, you can, you can only say so much about a product. Only has so many interesting things about it to say, you know, I see a lot of companies that are actually marketing and not companies that are actually product.

Um, the, the story it’s like people, you know, brands are like people. We, we love relating in an authentic way to other people. We derive so much pleasure from that as humans. Um, we, you know, when you meet someone that you want to get to know, they’re kind of like onions, you know, you just peel back layer after layer and with great products, you know, the more you find out about them, the.

More, you like them, the more you might fall in love with them. And, and I feel that that actually the heart of that, uh, infatuation and that what, what turns into, well, you know, long-term customer loyalty starts with how good the product is. So for me, like merchandise, And store presence it’s really important to get.

Right. Um, but you know, most of that’s gonna come back to your packaging and your packaging can only say so much and only be so beautiful depending on how awesome and beautiful the product does. So, um, you know, merchandising. Packaging marketing. It only lasts so long. And then customers, you ha you know, the customer’s going to get to know you.

They’re going to try you. They’re going to read about you. They’re going to read the side label, the back label. They’re going to look at your reviews. They’re going to talk to other people who use you and, um, The leave if they don’t like what they find out. So, um,

[00:35:11] Mason: yeah, kind of the on shelf, uh, you know, packaging and like eye level for kids versus adults.

And they’re a crazy, the industry knows about, but people don’t know

[00:35:22] Marissa Epstein: about, yeah.

[00:35:25] Jess: Specifically you have this amazing video, um, the power of conscious eating. And so there’s some really fascinating topics that you touched on and one was about merchandising and the science behind. The maneuvers that retailers or large CPG companies.

[00:35:39] Marissa Epstein: Yeah, I think in that video, I talk about the nag effect where, um, which is, uh, the. Desirable outcome of a products placement on shelf to make a kid nag if the kids shopping with mom. So you’ve got a product at the kid’s eye level, which mom doesn’t automatically see at her eye level. And. You know, as that kid, who’s walking with her, sees it and starts asking for it.

You start snagging her for this, this product. Um, that’s just perfectly placed at a child’s height. Right. So I think that that’s a good example of the environmental inputs that we’re not even aware of. That’s sort of sabotage our well-intended grocery visits. And that happens everywhere. Um, you know, I think y’all all you have to, I mean, any one of us could have come up with that idea.

If we were being paid a lot of money to figure out how to sell products to kids, right? Like we would, if your incentive right there

[00:36:45] Mason: is

[00:36:46] Marissa Epstein: that they have really comfortable plush beds. They sleep really well.

[00:36:53] Mason: So how do we beat that? Is there. Tactic going into the store or do we just change where we shop and where we take

[00:37:00] Marissa Epstein: the kids?

You know, I think that, you know, it’s a yes and. At a micro level, you change where you shop and where you take the kids, right. Those acute decisions, you just make them differently. Right. And you decide, um, what is going to make that experience easiest for you as a parent to get the outcome that you. For your children.

Um, my kids think that the grocery store is actually a dog food store because almost everything in the grocery store is dog food, which is what I call anything. That is something I don’t want them to eat.

[00:37:36] Mason: That is amazing.

[00:37:38] Marissa Epstein: Yeah. It’s incredible. Especially, you know, most of it’s brown too, so it’s like, it works out really well, you know?

Um, you know, just something for when they’re older, not right now. But I think at a metal level, your implications, right? Mason, like we’re a capitalist society. We actually vote with our dollars. And if we want that environment to change, you know, there has to be. Some willingness to spend for, um, you know, higher quality, um, for, for values informed products, you know, that resonate with the world that you want to be living in,

[00:38:17] Mason: um, for cheap food with healthcare.

And, you know, I want to. Speaking to that about food and sustainability. So the, my passion is started with sustainability in my first company was actually a landscaping company, but as I dug into sustainability, I realized that I thought food was the most important thing we can do for sustainability and for the planet, it consumes saying 80% of the potable water in the U S and uses 50% of the energy that we do.

So I want to get your take on food and sustainability. And how you think about the connection between the two?

[00:39:00] Marissa Epstein: Well, you were ahead of your time, Mason, um, because you know, the world economic forum just. Launched its report, you know, the year before last about, um, the food industry and food consumption’s impact on the planet, but it’s something that people have been talking about for, for quite a long time that I don’t think has gotten, do attention.

It’s actually, I think much more. Um, speaking of fear base information, like it’s scarier to think about how our food production impacts the planet than it is to think about how it impacts our health, because the planet’s issues are so urgent and pressing. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s I get excited, I guess I think hyper rationally about this, right?

I’m like, okay, if we want this to change, let’s back out, you know, kind of back into that outcome with more people need to know about it. How do we get more people to know about it? You know, more thought leaders need to be educated and talking about. How do we get more thought leaders doing that while we need to publish more information?

That’s valid, that’s easy to site. That’s easy to communicate. How do we do that? Well, we need to get more of our think tanks and our, our researchers kind of, um, getting the right, um, economic and macro economic cases built for, for the, um, the fact base. And so I kind of think about it in that way. Like how does information move.

And so that’s what I’m really excited about right now is that information on this topic is moving faster than I’ve ever seen it move. Um, and it’s getting traction. And I think that that’s kind of the first hint that there’s going to be something that we have to do about it. Right. Um, I also think that.

And you

[00:40:40] Mason: come back down on the kind of a micro level when picking up a food so that, you know, we call our and listeners and cohorts here that mostly green crew. And if the mostly green crew is in the store, sometimes when we were talking about packaging with a recycling expert, there. Kind of struggles of, do you buy the organic product with a ton of packaging or do you look for a whole food lowercase w a product because of packaging issues in, in the store, kind of, how, what do you think are the important drivers and indicators of kind of go forward quality that we need to.

[00:41:25] Marissa Epstein: Oh, it’s so hard. Mason. Um, I

[00:41:28] Mason: guess that was a big question.

[00:41:30] Marissa Epstein: I mean, you know, better than I do, but one thing I’ve heard from entrepreneurs like you is that the supply chain isn’t ready for it. Like we actually there’s bottlenecks at the co manufacturing. Um, and at the packaging level that is really preventing us from getting sustainable materials around organic products so that there is this horrible tension downstream.

Presented to the end user. Um, you know, I think if they were side by side and priced the same, everyone would choose a sustainable packaging. Uh, but they’re not, it’s more expensive to be sustainable right now. And so I actually am starting to think about what our supply chain technologies that are going to, or that are emerging, um, that could help us change.

And that, um, you know, that cost, that ends up being swallowed by the customer. Uh, I think what you guys did with CCS in create in thinking about shelf, life, extension as a potential, uh, Dimension of the overall solution to consuming produce was extraordinarily. And I love, uh, I think there’s a lot to do there.

Um, what I want is everyone. Who’s excited about food to get more excited about the food supply chain, you know, and, and try to get more capital into the manufacturing tier of our industry. So that there’s more competition there for more sustainable goods. I mean, you. Entrepreneur with a consumer facing brand would definitely pick the more sustainable packaging if it were competitively priced and didn’t, um, you know, put your margins in a situation that you couldn’t really defend them to your investors.

And so when I think of. The, the, the brand’s conundrum of how to make selections around packaging. That’s who kind of, I’m really empathizing with. It’s like, oh God arbitrary. They want to do better. Everyone wants to do better. But, um, our

[00:43:32] Mason: retailers would help us pay for the sustainable packaging.

[00:43:35] Marissa Epstein: Right, right, right.


[00:43:37] Jess: Yeah. Anytime we had a new product innovation, I think, you know, recently we’ve been trying, or we were trying at CCS to transition to sustainable packaging. We found a great supplier. We found a great product, everything, and it was like, well, the cost is here. What’s the retailer going to say the retailer is going to say hell no.


[00:43:54] Mason: Yeah. And at that level at a unit level of a food product, it’s pennies, we’re talking about, we’re just like at six more pennies for this. And, uh, retailers were not into that.

[00:44:06] Marissa Epstein: Yep. Yep. And so

[00:44:07] Mason: that is, they’re not getting the signals from the consumers.

[00:44:11] Marissa Epstein: Well, the consumers don’t really get the opportunity to vote yet.

Right? They’ve they’ve put a lid on it. Um, there are going to be ways in which retailers are threatened in the future and will have to respond. I move confident about that with the growth of e-comm because as you know, Everything’s being shipped. Investors are very much accepting of the costs of shipping as part of the overall cogs structure nowadays.

Um, and so what’s happening is that the consumer who then intimately interacts with the packaging materials through the shipping experience and unboxing experience is like looking for the sustainable packaging solution and willingness. It many consumers we’re seeing in the data, don’t, don’t convert to repeat customers because they don’t like how your product was packaged and they just don’t want to handle it and they feel guilty about it and they just don’t want it.

So I think we’re going to start to see it there. And as we get economies of scale, then maybe it won’t be so price competitive to the retailers or the retailers look at e-comm and they’re like, oh my God, we’re losing this category is market share to. To e-comm retail competitors. Um, and I, you know, and hopefully they dig in and, and start to see that packaging could be one competitive aspect of keeping consumers onsite in store.


[00:45:30] Mason: Jessica has been very aware of that and even reaching out if she has a brand that she loves, but she doesn’t like the packaging and she’ll actually send them a note and tell him, yeah.

[00:45:39] Jess: Great. Awesome. Yeah, we get great brands and products that are delivered to us that have all sustainable packaging.

So I have this stack on my desk that I keep. So when a brand comes across or is delivered, that doesn’t have sustainable packaging, I have a list of. Alternatives that I can share and send them. Cause it’s pretty,

[00:45:57] Marissa Epstein: you’re like, no, I have, I like the use that that’s right, Jessica. It’s like, I have some criticism for you and I also have this solution for you.

Right. So let’s just solve this problem in one shot.

[00:46:07] Jess: I love your product. I hate the packaging

[00:46:09] Marissa Epstein: right now. You need some like bamboo Ray on t-shirts.

[00:46:16] Mason: Right? Any other. Really exciting trends or important trends that you’re seeing in the market right now?

[00:46:26] Marissa Epstein: Uh, well, um, so many, one of the ones I’m really excited about

[00:46:35] Mason: you, can you hear that plane going by?

Okay. It’s just, that was right over head here. Um, so we can just start over there. I mean, we’re going to edit out on all this.

[00:46:49] Marissa Esptein: Yeah, you can, you can shut off your microphone and all three of us are separate. It’s pretty awesome.

[00:46:57] Mason: And we’re doing it to zoo. We’ve got a mixer as well here. And so we’ll actually, we’ll take whichever track on each of them.

We liked best. Um, so,

[00:47:08] Marissa Esptein: so trends, I’m excited about, um, I am loving watching the mom to preneur trend where, you know, you’ve got women who are, um, super compelling and have, I mean, it’s, I I’m like, God, this is incredible. Moms who. Different expectations of how they’re going to be served by the marketplace and who we’re going after.

Um, next generation products to support parenthood. I think this is a very exciting space to see of, you know, a population that hasn’t really had a voice in the marketplace. Who’s only bought baby products designed by men, uh, historically, no offense Mason and who are reinventing. Um, everything, you know, baby food to high chairs, to accessories for kids to toys, um, to educational and entertainment categories.

I mean, we’re seeing it across the board, but like this next generation of kids raised by these extraordinary parents who are now starting companies, I mean, it’s going to really, I think, change the, the American childhood experience. Um, So we have a couple of investments that I really love, like literati, which is a curated book subscription coming.

For children, um, based on age and, and they’re, they’re just, it’s an incredibly well curated product. We’ve got another one called tiny organics. That’s uh, that’s a baby food company, um, that you can start solids with with your child, which for any mom or dad who’s ever tried to. Uh, six month old is incredibly challenging and time and time intense.

Um, but what they’re realizing is, you know, this, I think generation of entrepreneurs is like, look, there are better ways of doing this and I’m not seeing the solution in the market. I’m going to go create it myself. And they have it with, you know, this, um, a long-term view for the betterment of children in their mind.

And that always just, you know, that tugs at my heart. Obviously, but more importantly, there’s a marketplace for it. I think the other trend I’m really excited about is, um, Latin X brands, um, going national and really having strong presence domestically, um, communicating and next generation version of, you know, maybe traditionally sidelined, um, Especially Mexican American brands and foods and beverages that maybe we’ve taken for granted, but that actually have more complexity and multidimensionality than, than we’ve appreciated before.

So I’m really loving here in Austin. I really love Lolo tequila, something I’m excited about. Obviously

[00:49:49] Mason: you have trouble a bottle doesn’t last for

[00:49:52] Marissa Esptein: long enough. Yeah. And, um, Uh, yeah, there’s some really, I think, special activity happening in that space. Um, so yeah, maybe broadly, broadly speaking. Um, there’s been underserved markets that now with the onset of e-commerce changes to alcohol and spirits regulations, uh, and, and I think better, um, you know, product marketing are now going to get to.

To those markets, um, in a way that, that traditional retail, you know, hadn’t really allowed, uh, historically. So I get really excited about

Thanks to Marissa Epstein!

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