This Fall AFAM decided to launch its “FOOD FOR THOUGHT” interview series.
“FOOD FOR THOUGHT” is a way to unveil and understand what is behind some engineering jobs in the Food/Agriculture Industry in the US. AFAM has no intention of analyzing this big and complex industry but wants to gain some understanding of what it is to be an engineer in the Food sector, what opportunities it might open up and skills it requires.
Above all, “FOOD FOR THOUGHT” is a great way of getting acquainted with our diverse and vibrant gadz community in the US!
Today we meet Jean Prévot (Ch 98). Jean started as a Production Engineer at Danone in 2001 in France (Neufchatel en Bray) and has been working for Danone for 5 years before moving to Hungary where for several years he was a Plant Manager at Bongrain.
His next step was moving to the United States to work for a cheese company Laura Chenel’s Chevre and then for a plant-based foods startup Kite Hill for almost 6 years.
Today Jean is back to Danone, more precisely at Danone Manifesto Ventures as a Director of Operations.
AFAM: Hello, Jean, and thank you for taking the time to reply to our questions. What do you do on a daily basis for your job?
Jean: As the head of Operations for Danone Ventures, most of my day-to-day tasks is to bring operational support to our portfolio companies (AFAM: Danone Manifesto Ventures’ portfolio include such companies as Michel et Augustin, Farmer’s Fridge, Yooji, Harmless Harvest, to mention a few). I can work with them as little as being a sounding board for their CEO/COO, or as intense as acting COO -VP Operations/Quality. I hence travel to all these companies headquarters or production facilities to work on multiple projects at the same time: from building and starting a coconut water extraction plant in Thailand to improving the Quality/Food Safety system for cookie manufacturing in France to defining the industrial roadmap for a Greek yogurt company in India, it is a very rich and diverse job.
I enjoy working with a very wide spectrum of products, companies and cultures. I am also in charge of building the Opstech/Agtech deal flow for our investment activity, and conducting the operational due-diligence process for our selected candidates.
I'm very lucky to work on both sides of the coin: interacting with great entrepreneurs and also leveraging the immense resources of a great worldwide institution like Danone.
AFAM: Is working for a Food Company your initial choice or a coincidence?
Jean: Since my 1st year at Arts et Métiers, I always wanted to work in the food industry. I guess this is linked to my dream job as a kid: I wanted to be a pastry chef. I chose all my internships in the food industry, starting with an engineering angle, gradually working towards people and product management. Back in these days, we were not so many Gadz to work in the Food Industry, but that was definitely a starting trend.
AFAM: What makes the company you work for unique?
Jean: Danone Manifesto Ventures was founded to bring the Danone Manifesto to life by partnering with a tribe of disruptive entrepreneurs across the world. Danone Manifesto Ventures has an ambition to make investment choices guided by the highest standards of social and environmental impact, in line with Danone’s One Planet, One Health vision to promote healthy and sustainable eating and drinking habits. In September 2018, Danone Manifesto Ventures became the first corporate venture fund independently certified as a B Corporation. Danone, One planet. One health agenda is a truly unique and powerful mission, and I am glad to have a chance to be a part of it every day.
AFAM: Did the fact of being French help you get where you are now?
Jean: It sure did play its part! After a first expatriation in Hungary, where I ran a cheese manufacturing factory, I found a job in the US to build and run a goat cheese plant in Sonoma, CA. These 2 jobs helped me build competences as a cheesemaker. A couple of years later, a startup contacted me as they were interested in my profile of French Cheesemaker. A year later, we had launched the world's first artisanal plant based cheeses, made with Traditional cheesemaking cultures, and 2 years later I had my name on a patent! This was the beginning of a 6 years adventure, allowing me to build on the long term in the US, and eventually work for a corporate VC.
AFAM: What can you say about Food Industry in general in the US, how is it different from that in France? Any thoughts?
Jean: Historically, France has always been looked as the cradle of Savoir Vivre, great food, great wines. Nothing new was really happening in the food world in 2012. I left a comfortable expatriation position in a 100+ years old company to work in a pre-revenue startup. We had no products but a great idea and a potential client. Back then, stores were not selling much kale chips, certainly neither cricket flour snacks, nor plant based meats. This was the early stage of the food revolution we're witnessing today. Back then, Silicon valley was, yet again, the origin of many great companies, such as Impossible Foods, Just, Beyond and many others. Few years later the trend has spread to other areas in the US: Austin, Portland, New York. And today the ecosystem in France is as dynamic as it is here, in the US. We could even say that not only France has caught up, it might have taken the lead in some areas. We still see a strong difference in the way regulators look at novel foods. It is MUCH easier to commercialize innovations in the US than it is in France, certainly for the best of consumer's protection, but not for the dynamism of the industry. However, I would not be surprised if the next breakthrough innovation comes from France. But beware! Competition is fierce all across the world and a lot of other countries are following in the footsteps of Innovation!
AFAM: Thank you, Jean, for sharing!
More about Food innovation:
Read other interviews of Food for Thought series in our blog:
Interview with Guilhem Bau (Cl 215), 6Dbytes
Interview with Jérémy Berros (Li 206), Pellenc Group
Interview with Pierre-Edouard Brasseur (Li 208), Impossible Foods