Adam Yee - The Interconnectedness of Food Science
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Adam Yee is a passionate food scientist who develops food products ranging from protein bars to plant-based meats and who, in his spare time, hosts the well-known podcast “My Food Job Rocks” that just recorded its 200th episode.
Adam's contact info:
Transcript (Semi-automated, forgive typos!)
John: So, Adam, thank you very much for being on the show today.
Adam: Thank you for having me on.
John: Okay. Awesome. It's really an honor that you would join us. And I would just like to start by asking you, in your conversations, what are the trends that you see? What are the important ideas that you see up in these many conversations that you've had with these various food science professionals?
Adam: Great. So as a scientist, I like to sort out all my answers to everything and chart them out. So I did a lot of it in my 100th episode. And I guess it's kind of change, but it's kind of like shifted to a certain direction. So when I first started My Food Job Rocks was about three years ago, almost everyone said 3D printing. It's still relevant and there's still some new technologies like with cell based media and pizzas. But it's kind of gone in the back-burner for more exciting trends to see. So a big portion of the people who are now talking about is now is plant-based meat is probably the biggest, I would say, one because I'm kind of in the industry, but also that with the explosion of beyond meat and the explosion of possible foods, there is a ton of different. Plant based meat solves, a lot of issues are popping up in the world today. So that is probably the biggest one just because of all the hype and all of the interesting and what's really interesting about that is as plant based, it gets more popular. People are noticing some problems with it. So sometimes when they talk about plant based meat. Now we're focusing more on is it truly nutritious? We still get the same taste profile or even better profile, I'll make it healthier. So just like with all popular things from Harry Potter to the president, there are a lot of things people notice that some are good and some are bad. It's just how when things get popular that happens. You do get multiple sides of it just because not everyone agrees that this one thing, I think anything that is truly popular will have to divisive sides on.
John: Interesting. Well, that kind of reminds me, and we're talking a little bit before the show, you're talking how everything is interconnected and how there's this kind of interplay between the various different aspects of the field and actually even between cultural trends, how we've got an even wider than cultural trends. You've got environmental trends that are interacting with culture, which are then interacting with the food industry. So maybe we can be a good time to talk about plant based meat obviously plays into the kind of wider push for sustainability, which is supported by technology. So I think it'd be interesting to hear your thoughts on how you see this kind of sustainability movement playing out in the food industry, including plant based meats, but maybe more widely.
Adam: Well, John, there are a ton of companies solving the issue in terms of visibility in multiple different ways. So I think one is about how do we reduce animal consumption, especially factory farming. And that can be through a variety of methods, from vegan foods to plant based meats to growing meat in using only the cell and even focusing more on premium meat products like actually growing pasteurize farm and really premium rising cuts of beef. I've been noticing some trends in that, and especially as people talk about how cows can really boost up regenerative agriculture. And there's also things outside of that scope of factory farming, such as upcycling or using something like Spanbauer grains like regrind is doing or or soy or I guess tofu waste, like what is that renewal mills doing. Those are also really big avenues on sustainability. Packaging is also on the forefront, though surprisingly, not much innovation has come out of it just yet. But it is something, I guess I Etheline, because there's a lot of people like I think Coca-Cola just announced using ocean waste plastic to make their bottles. And so there's a lot of people doing some really interesting innovations to help sustainability. And I think there are many forces that are causing this. And the biggest one is there seems to be an environmental crisis multiple times throughout the year. So in California, for instance, it's now regular that we have fires, wildfires are worse than ever before. Australia has had like 120 degree heat waves and this hasn't been really heard of. It melted tires because their roads can support the heat. Well, the East has been having like a rush of really cold storms. I think one of the colds ever. And, some can argue that these are cyclical changes and we just have better technology to track it better. But I think it is really affecting a lot of things. I do talk to some environmental advocates on the podcast, I think many many climate organizations say that because the weather affects the food supply chain, it put things into a cost perspective. Right? So one example is I interview the CEO of Legal Sea Foods, and he said that he's been noticing that the fish are moving away from the colder waters because the waters are warming up. So now he has to invest in a better method. So in his case, it's fish farming in controlled areas. I think there's no plots of land and the stone a lake, but it is farmed fish rather than from the ocean. So people are noticing a change, whether they like it or not. And it is affecting and cutting profits. And when things cut profits, people either innovate or tell the government to do something about it.
John: Right. Or some combination suppose.
Adam: It is mainly a combination. Some are easier than others.
John: Yeah. Right. Yeah. So the other thing I think is interesting about this is that I am actually kind of curious, how much does sensory science come up when you're talking to the various food scientists that you talk to? Because obviously, going to sensory questions when you've got fish that are now farmed in a different way. That's natural question, do they taste? How do they taste compared to the way they used to taste, you know? How do you see sensory interacting with these kinds of changes that are.
Adam: I think it's super important. And but what's interesting is context versus not context, sensory science. So as a product developer, we do sensory science. We do interest for us. We do triangle tests. We do the very basic, compare this to that. And in most tests these isolate a certain variable that we want. Right? Like, does it taste better than this? Can you rate it on the scale of 1 to 9? Most of time, we're very good at doing that. We're very good at isolating a component of understanding how food works and just playing on there, which sometimes can work and sometimes might not work. What is interesting now is that I think food is shifting to not just a taste for clean label, you know it, even though the still is true that taste is king, there can now be more context associated with your purchases. So clean labels follow the biggest example in terms of the context. So by removing whatever you think is bad, depending on your brand, which is a different story altogether, you can you have to convince consumers that this is healthier. And there are some angles. Ideally, you do want to taste the same or better. And sometimes you can manipulate that data to say so. But in general, the consumer is making a choice based off of things they might not even have tasted yet. And this is the same with ethics like such as fair trade chocolate versus regular chocolate. You know, Tony is chocolate slavery free chocolate, for instance, is a good that they'd like is a tagline that really attracts people. And the same with all these upcycling products. That taste does matter. It is the key driver of repeat purchases. But what is grabbing people's attention is what food stands for. And sometimes there are sacrifices in a branding perspective that if the brand is strong enough, that might also repeat the purchase. However, what's interesting is that certainly back to plant based meat is that even plant based beverages, a lot of big brands leisure's like I think Quaker Oats, for instance, lotion oat milk that didn't work. I think they pulled it off the shelf. And yeah, people say, oh, why is that, is plant based milk really is it really at its peak? And no, it's because the product was terrible. A lot of my friends said it just tasted bad. Right? And so but, you know, it's also funny that why is this giant organization that has tons of sensory money? And they have so many good tests. They have billions of dollars worth of sensory equipment and procedures and people. And they've lost the bad product. As we all know, there are many complications in launching a product. It could be a bureaucratic move. It is just something where they have to get a product out there. Many of my food science friends know that feeling. But those are complexities so to say. So you could have a trendy product, a cool product. But in most cases, taste is king. But there are other external factors that might mess up your sensory data.
John: That's interesting. Yeah. I mean, I know a lot of people are busy trying to test in context, trying to set the context in a meaningful way, trying to explore the impact of context. I mean, that also comes up when it comes to setting the experimental paradigm. You know, it's a lot of use right now of augmented reality to try to help set experimental paradigm in a more meaningful way. But it is interesting what you're saying, you know, evaluating a product with or without a clean label. I mean, that does happen. You know that the surveys are conducted with those context. But, yeah, I mean, it'd be interesting to see it, are these context more relevant now as people are more connected, more idea. It's very interesting on the Internet like you and I are talking across what 3000 miles? Having a nice conversation. I had my last podcast with someone was in New Zealand and was just fine. You know, you have all this information flowing from all around the world. So I might get your kind of thoughts on how, like podcasting itself is impacting the industry, the flow of information and ideas. What do you even do in for three years and just had your 200 episodes, which is really very impressive to me coming on episode number 7, I guess your number 8 now. Yeah, well, I like it. But like, how do you see this sharing of information? How is that accelerating, like you've been doing some three years, what is the kind of trends that you notice as far as the Internet, podcasting, how that's impossible to you?
Adam: What's interesting about podcast is that they were introduced like maybe 10 years ago and no one knew what they were. Like just maybe five years ago, probably a little bit less than that. They've been starting to pick up steam. And there's many reasons for that and the biggest reason is because a cellphones. Right? So cellphones have intuitive apps that you can just pick it up and choose what you want to do, what you want to buy, what you want to pick, and you choose a podcast or whatever you want. There are also kind of adjacent trends, right? Now we have streaming services like Netflix and Disney plus that we can now choose what we want. So podcasting is in that same vein is that you have the ability to do to, one, make whatever content you want. You're not committed to a time slot or ad space or a certain hour of TV. You can choose anytime you want. Any place you want, any quality you want and make a podcast. You did it. I did it. We're just average people. We don't have like this is what a $100 to a $500 project. It's not that expensive. And so, therefore, there's a lot of people in the market. There are people who have championed it. I think a lot of like celebrities like Joe Rogan, for instance, has championed and if invited so powerful that, you know, Joe Rogan is now, I think, more known as a podcast than anything else. But even authors have championed it a lot. And newsy part is a chapter in a lot. So I like Jim Paris, for instance, a very popular author who wrote The Four Hour Workweek. His podcast is actually more well known that his books in some cases, I think it depends who you ask, but that's the beauty of podcasting, is that you have the ability to choose what you want to listen to. But not only that, but when you choose to listen to someone, you are actually committing a lot of valuable time to absorbing their content. And that builds a relationship between you and the host, even though you're not really friends with them like in real life. But it actually does matter a lot. And that's why things like influencer marketing does play a little bit of a bigger effect. People want to hear more about your life. People want to hear more about what you have to say and your opinions as it was you want your considered authority. I guess that those are pieces in the grand scheme of how podcasting is really shaping, how we interact and how we gain knowledge, right? Like, I can just do a health podcast and they'll give me three products they use. And most likely you're gonna buy those, maybe you'll buy those products. Maybe you'll buy a green supplement powder. Or maybe you'll buy Akito Cookie.
John: I refinanced my house using rocket mortgage because of Joe Rogan.
Adam: Yeah, I used nine nine designs to find my first designer. They cited various ads on nine nine designs. A lot of companies in this podcast for instance because that's important. That's how a lot of people find their purchases from people they trust. And podcast is actually surprisingly the most, it's a very cheap way of getting people to trust you.
John: That is funny. I mean, I think it's also interesting that, like you said, the hyper personalisation or hype, like the fact that you can pick exactly all these podcasts out there, right? And everything is keep competing for your attention. So you really have got the thing you pick is going to be the thing that you really want. That's like specific to your interest.
Adam: No, that's a good point. It actually gets me to a really interesting topic when you translate what we're talking about into food. Right? If you go to the grocery store, any grocery store, you don't even have to go to a grocery store. You can order it online. But now, yeah, you have always had the ability to choose what kind of food you can buy, depending on price, depending on quality quality, depending on what it means to you. And instead of, I guess, a voice and having you connect with that voice, you're connecting by a taste. So when you buy a product, you might like it. You say, oh, this is interesting, just like a podcast, you are going to podcast. And then you listen to it and it might sound terrible. The podcast might sound terrible. Or you hate the host or sound like that and it's just not you.
John: I hope that's not true for either of us.
Adam: I haven't had any hate yet. So it might just not be good for you. It just might not work. So you're just not going to listen to, same with the food product.
John: Right? You're not going to repeat purchasing.
Adam: Exactly. You're not going to repeat purchase, repeat downloads. Exact same with food because when you buy a product and you eat it, you might not like it, it's just might not be for you. That paleo granola bar made out of collagen and might not be for you, but it might be for other people who are in the paleo based.
John: Well, I just think it's a fast game because I think that the big companies are really having trouble dealing with this level of mass personalization. Right? When almost you just like you know, we talk about how easy to start because it's not that hard to launch a brand of something right now that like look at breakfast bars or protein bars. Right? That they've become in fact, you have experience with the protein bars. That it's not that hard to get. Okay, you've got all of these attempts at protein bars and maybe one of them are X bar, makes it big. And what it does do? It destroys, you know, power bar or whatever the big brand is. It just, you know, just or whatever kind of mainstream breakfast bars just end up getting eaten alive by our X bar to the point that eventually, I believe it was Kraft acquired our X Party, Kellogg's. It was one of the major food companies acquired our X bar. That's what I see is that increasingly the big companies are really having trouble fending off all this. It reminds me of like Gulliver's Travels, where he's pinned down by the little Putins or something like that. I don't remember exactly, but he's pinned down by all these tiny tiny people. But there's a lot of them. And that's the way I see the big companies dealing with these challenges. And a lot of that is facilitated by technology, because if you have a nice brand, you got a social media, you get the word out to try your thing, you can even potentially deliver it directly to customer.
Adam: So, yeah, and I think the biggest issue is just working, one being in a big company and it's not it wasn't even that big. Two, working in a startup and building that out and then selling like our ingredient to a big company. There are surprisingly, a giant takes a long time to move. Let's just say that. It just so many people, so many check marks that you make with a startup like you can associate with only three people on your team. You can bust a products almost instantly. You're always going to have a big market hit compared to a big company. But it is at least something we could quickly iterate. Big companies, however, they have to get through so many stage gate processes. They have to communicate with retailers and stores and launches and invest all this money into making sure that this launch is safe. Because if they fail, this kind of strategy, you know, never is. But the profit is it a successful launch outshines a failure by like so much for what I've noticed. It seems like it's the nature of the beast, I hope that's not the case, but there is a lot of approval process and bureaucratic chains that have to happen for somebody to launch a big company. Yes, because of the impact a company needs to have on who they're selling to.
John: Alright. Yeah. You know, I just see the larger companies becoming aware of this issue. Like, you know, I just read an article yesterday about how Unilever is trying to take more of a startup mentality as much as they can. You know, they realize they've got to react faster that technology's caused everything. For me, I think the single biggest impact of technology is speed, that everything's happening faster now. You know, you have a good idea. You can get it out there. In fact, I'd be curious what your opinion on this is. What do you see as the impacts of kind of big picture impacts of technology on our fields, on food science more general.
Adam: That's a really good question. So I used to ask this question to a lot of my guests, especially the younger guests. Where do you see yourself in five years? And now I don't, because that question doesn't matter anymore. The question is obsolete because you don't even know you're gonna be next year. And that is a mentality that a lot of companies, I think are getting on bored with this. Like we don't know, like we want to grow. We want to grow a lot. We want to make more money, of course. Yeah. We want to make our investors happy so they can give us more money. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But most people always say, like, yeah, next year we're gonna make more money. They're not going to say we're gonna make less money unless you are a super high growth startup. No, they want to make more money and just burn more money. But point being is that like, that's hard for, it's just an interesting way of how technology affects speed, is that with big companies, it's just so hard to move by human. There's a lot of old mindsets and there's a lot of people that just need to have the processes to be completed. And so you have actually this kind of amalgam mass of people who want to go slow. And people can go fast. The top executives might want to go fast. Maybe that just can't work because of regulations. I think what is probably the vital, most vital thing is that the food industry is not just your company. Blazey pass everything. Food is different from tech, in that, if you make something wrong and you kill someone for doing like a food safety properly or not having the proper food safety checks properly, you know you can end the company pretty much. And that's a different from tech where, you know the worst I can have is they get frustrated because the webite is slow. Maybe steal your credit card information. Who knows? It happens. So that is a big factor, is that when you're dealing with a physical product, that a simple granola bar can have like 30 ingredients from the oats to the sugars and chocolate has certain components from the cover to the fat. And these are all from all over the world, right? Like you get your chocolate from Ivory Coast, you get your maybe rice in Japan, like the food industry is so goal ball. And there's so many people that are responsible or even just one ingredient that and especially in terms of scale, it can be quite messy. And there are tons of factors, so many factors that even I can't comprehend sometimes that can really affect the speed of how fast you're going and the bigger you are, the many more factors that has to happen for it to be successful. How that make sense.
John: No, it does make sense. Okay, so we actually are almost out of time. It's amazing how fast. It's great. It's really interesting. So just before we wrap up, like you say, as you think back on your 200 episodes, what are some of the terms that you kind of keep hearing again? I mean, are you hearing about blockchain? Are you hearing about machine learning? Are you hearing, what are the kind of technologically focused terms that you have noticed, like the trends that you're spotting yourself as you speak to the kind of, you speak to all a big swath of the community, kind of broad cut? What are you noticing as the technology that people are paying attention to or that are having the biggest impact on their work?
Adam: So there are two types of technologies. There is consumer technologies, which I would say in this context would be like plant based meat, 3D printing and like a cell based meat in that sense. So technology that people can see and can like tangibly be excited for. Like really future stuff. And then there's like the business end, which does include block chain. And genome sequencing. So in terms of profession, there are people who are very very specific on a certain type of technology. Food safety, for instance. Most of the foods safety person I interview are super interested the whole genome sequencing or the ability to, I guess, scan a puddle and see what's in it. Like, is it salmonella, or is it E. coli? And just pinpoint it right there so that is a concept of speed. Right? You're using technology to make sure something that you're targeting the right microorganism to make sure the food is safe. Block chain not so much. I think it did die down because the whole Bitcoin situation. And now is being more refined. But I don't hear too much about that. I mainly hear a lot of social CRM companies more efficient ways to collect documentation. Block chains can be a solution, but it's so hard for people to explain it especially the food industry because we're not experts and fairly no one knows unexplained block chain properly or not, as I explained block chain in one sentence. That's what I've noticed.
John: Secured distributed leisure.
Adam: Of course. That makes total sense. And so most people in supply chain or our CRM programs focus more on documentation collection. Sensory scientists, they actually do focus more on flavor lexicons and focus more on getting information that way and proud developer.
John: Scraping the information off the web for lexicon development. Do you see much of that sort of like web scraping?
Adam: Not really. It's more of interest of, actually to be honest with you, most sensory people love trend like the ones I talked to. We don't really talk too much about in-depth tech. Like to be the V-Tech or more the consumer tech. Like trends people are interested in I think food trending or why is it better than not ethnic food. So more sensory scientists like they really love their jobs. But most of them focus on loving food, which I think is really cool. Same with product developers. That's pretty much the same with private developers. They're more focused on the consumer level type of technology because that's what interests them. Right? That's how they get their ideas. So depending on how deep the science goes in all of these companies really matters in terms of what they're interested in, into the technology. And as you know, the fields can be, the food issue is so big and so small that. But there are so many really interesting things going on in that specific field.
John: Alright. So we're pretty much out of time, but just to kind of wrap up. Do you have any final thoughts? Any advice? You know, the next what you see the next couple years as far as things people should be watching out for? Like keeping their eyes open, you know? What are you kind of see in the immediate future as important things to pay attention?
Adam: So I think food is constantly changing and it's very hard to predict. I think what can give you some background career advice because that's all we do in my future rasbias. We ask everyone for career advice to understand how people have navigated and created their careers in industry. And I think the most important thing is if you want to be the exceptional, irreplaceable professional, is to understand everything about the food industry. For my food job rocks, I could have just interviewed product developers, but I chose to interview everyone because food safety, supply chain packaging, packaging design even those are very important to understand the landscape of food. And you don't have to know, like super in depth the things, but you have to understand the role that each company or each person and each department or division does to help push food forward. And I think understanding that will allow you to do projects faster, respect people more in what they do. And ultimately, as we get more surprises that require more innovation and more quicker ways of communicating or executing, that will help you in the long run.
John: That's a great answer. It's very inspiring. Thank you. Alright, Adam, so where can people find you? First off, where can we find your podcasts and then where can they find you if they want to reach out to you and talk to you about any various topic?
Adam: Right. So you can contact me at email@example.com. Our website is www.myfoodjobrocks.com. Our Instagram is @myfoodjobrocks. You can find us on Facebook. I think the biggest method of contacting me is actually LinkedIn though, so you can search of Adam Yee. It should be food scientist by day and food podcaster or by night. Send me a message, say that you've listened to this podcast and I'm happy to connect with you. I think LinkedIn is probably the best place for both of us to I guess marinade in.
John: That's how we connected. We're here because of LinkedIn.
Adam: Exactly. And that's how I find my own guest. And I think it's an amazing platform, especially for career based advice. Right? Obviously, that's the point of my guess. I mean, that is the point of the social network. So I recommend LinkedIn or you could just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John: Okay, I will put all of these links in the notes so people can click on them. They don't have to frantically write it all down. Okay, it was great, Adam. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Adam: No problem, John.
John: Yeah. Alright. Well, take care. That's it. Hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you did, lease help us grow our audience by telling a friend about AigoraCast and leaving us a positive review on iTunes.
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