This article is sponsored by Spiceology. In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with Spiceology CEO Chip Overstreet to explore the cutting edge of flavor creation and its impact on senior living dining. He talks about Spiceology’s role in bridging the gap between delicious and nutritious, and he discusses the important role salt-free spice blends are playing in the wellness of seniors and food enthusiasts across the country.
Senior Housing News: You’ve been CEO of Spiceology since May of 2019, but you had a long career prior to that. What experiences do you most draw from in your role today?
Overstreet: Remember when we were in grade school learning about the spice trade, and it was magic? These explorers got on ships and sailed halfway around the world, coming back two or three years later with their barrels teeming with these amazing spices. You typically don’t see people reacting to spices with that same sense of inspiration anymore, and we’re trying to revive it.
Spices were a currency, and coveted dearly. We forget about that. I don’t think many people wake up in the morning saying, “I can’t wait to experiment with flavor today. What spice should I use?” Back in colonial times, that was what they did. It’s fun to get emails from consumers who say, “You’ve changed my life. A couple of tablespoons of this and I’m suddenly a magical cook.” It’s awesome.
I spent my entire career in high-tech software, which was very different from putting flavorful powders in jars. However, there were an amazing number of similarities. Irrespective of the industry you’re in, you start with the customer and work backwards, trying to understand their needs, then mapping out how to serve them. In senior living, chefs are challenged with delivering highly nutritious food in a flavorful way, two things that are often incongruous.
Being able to provide them with salt-free blends that are truly innovative and delicious gets us excited about working with chefs in this industry. We are bridging that gap between nutritious and delicious.
At three-quarters of the way through the year, finish this sentence, “For Spiceology, 2021 has been the year of?”
Overstreet: Balance. In 2019, our food service business was just taking off. Then COVID hit. We had to pivot hard and fast to consumer, and our consumer business took off. Now in 2021, things are shifting back to “normal”, and we’re finding strength in both food service and consumer, and the two actually play off of each other. It turns out chefs are also consumers, and they’re interested in what we’re doing on the consumer side. The business is becoming much more balanced and it will continue to be going forward.
Spiceology delivers a dining lifestyle to senior housing, but as we discussed earlier in the year with Joshua Holmes, Spiceology goes beyond dining with four big areas of responsibility, all of which are more essential to senior living than ever: sustainability, environmental responsibility, social responsibility and corporate responsibility. Why do these areas of responsibility matter to Spiceology, and what is the ripple effect on senior living dining?
Overstreet: We are a chef-owned and chef-operated company, which helps us connect with chefs. They care deeply about the quality that comes out of their kitchens, also focusing on responsibility and eliminating waste. It’s not something that anybody can do single-handedly, and even though we’re a small company, we have a responsibility to focus on sustainability.
D and I (diversity and inclusion) is core to us. It becomes infectious when you start caring about and communicating those things. By focusing on these various pillars of responsibility and being vocal about them, we can leverage our platform to help everybody we interact with think more about them. When they think about it more, they start to communicate it, and it has a viral effect. The world needs virality around socially conscious elements and socially beneficial initiatives.
What does Spiceology do to create a sustainable dining experience, and what sustainability actions do you have in the works?
Overstreet: Our core focus on sustainability centers around packaging. That’s where we believe we can have the biggest impact. The majority of the packages that we sell today are made from recyclable glass. The products that we ship in plastic use PET number one (polyethylene terephthalate), which is the most recyclable of the plastics out there. We made a commitment early this year to become plastic neutral.
We partnered with an organization based in Germany called cleanhub.io. They have a network of people in various parts of the world that are removing plastic from entering the ocean. We’ve committed to remove 47,000 pounds of plastic from entering the ocean as part of our commitment to sustainability.
We recognize that it’s not a complete solution for sustainability, but what I’ve learned along the way is, if you’re waiting for completeness before you get started, you’ll never get started. You need to pick an initiative, lean into it and progressively add more to your plate, one step at a time. Plastic neutrality is the big step that we took this year. You’ll be seeing more initiatives from us as we move forward.
That reminds me of your comments about the spice trade, the idea that the spice trade ran on the ocean and now you’re cleaning the ocean.
Overstreet: That’s a great point. Everyone should check out cleanhub.io. They’re a cool organization, very grounded people.
What does Spiceology view as today’s most pressing social issues, and what is the company doing to address them?
Overstreet: I think it’s really hard to pinpoint the most pressing issue because new social issues come up every day, but one of the issues that I’m most passionate about is gender equality. I grew up as the only boy in a family of six kids. I’ve got five sisters and they’re all very strong women who I would hire in an instant. I have five women on my executive team out of eight executives, and I’m very proud of that. I did not hire them because they’re women — I hired them because they’re the best for the job, and I think that that set the tone for the rest of the company. We all make sure that diversity, equity and inclusion are at the core of what we do.
How does Spiceology define corporate responsibility and what work is it doing to be a responsible company?
Overstreet: We’ve touched on sustainability and gender equality, but I’d love to share with you a story about how we got into the salt-free market.
We had some designs and formulations for a new product line, and our head of innovation, Chef Tony, reached out to his former instructor, Chef Duane Sunwold, who is a stage-five kidney disease survivor. Stage five is the worst. He went into remission, fighting from stage five to stage one, through a healthy diet. We talked with him early on, and he explained that when you are diagnosed with kidney disease, the dietary restrictions cause many people to give up before they even start. It’s that prohibitive.
He said, “You guys don’t understand this, but what you’re doing really is a life-or-death type of thing. You can impact people’s lives by bringing true flavor to the salt-free world.” That was incredibly enlightening and eye-opening. We collaborated with Duane on the blends. He also encouraged us to put phosphorus levels onto the packaging because when RDs (registered dieticians) are formulating diets, they need to not only understand salt levels and other things, but they need the phosphorus levels.
They’ve been lobbying the FDA for decades. No one’s ever done it. We were the first company to put phosphorus levels on our salt-free blend. I don’t want to overstate it, but I feel like we’re focused on doing something that can help save people’s lives.
Any company can care about sustainability and feel a responsibility to the environment. Any company can feel a responsibility to gender equality, any company can feel a responsibility to corporate responsibility. Do you see a specific thematic relationship between the spice business and all of these areas of responsibility that’s specific to the spice business?
Overstreet: I think the fact that we were in the food business gives us an opportunity to touch people multiple times per day, and that puts us in a unique position. Your diet is so incredibly important to your health. If we’re able to help people eat delicious food and be healthy at the same time, that’s a win-win.
One of the interesting things about the spice category is it’s meant to be paired. You don’t buy spices and eat them on their own. They are meant to go with something else and make it better. That’s a cool thing, and if you look at the collaborations we do, we are very partner-centric.
We’re working with celebrity chefs, influencers and other brands to engage them and understand their thinking. We try to grasp how they feel about food and what’s important to them to formulate blends that speak to each individual we work with. There’s a partner-centricity to the space that we’re in, and we’ve really embraced that.
Entering 2021, no one knew what to expect in senior living. What is the biggest surprise you’ve seen in the industry this year, and what impact do you think that surprise will have on the industry in 2022?
Overstreet: When we started focusing on senior living, we had people saying, “Why would you focus on senior living?” The reason is that everyone deserves a great meal. What was surprising is how receptive they were to talking with us, working with us and ideating with us on how we could help them do their jobs much more effectively.
I don’t want to denigrate the competition, but I’d encourage anybody to go buy one of the salt-free seasonings that’s sitting on the shelves at grocery stores, and pour a little bit into your hand to taste it. It’s not good. They’re tired and they’re old, and there’s been no innovation, no thoughtfulness, and if you do that same test with one of our blends, you will genuinely taste the difference. It has a big impact on flavor and food outcomes.
Finish this sentence. “For Spiceology, 2022 will be the year of…”
Overstreet: Scale. We have been growing very quickly. We were just named the fastest-growing spice company in America for the third year in a row by Inc 5,000. We grew 537% over the last three years, and it was not until April of this year that we got our first automation lines up and running. We were doing everything by hand up until April of this year. In October, we will light up four new automation lines. We will go from no automation lines to five in the course of six months. It’s really in anticipation of meeting the demand we’re seeing across food service, direct to consumer, as well as retail and grocery.
It’s about getting all the pieces in place for us to really scale while continuing to hold true to our core values — our grind-fresh, ship-fresh ethos. One of the reasons our products are so good is, we’re not grinding in Indonesia or Malaysia and storing ground spices for months before bottling and shipping them. We will always be focused on quality and innovation no matter how big we scale.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Spiceology believes in better flavor, not just through good ingredients and killer combinations, but through responsible practices designed to create a more equitable food chain. To learn more about how Spiceology can help your organization, visit spiceology.com.
The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.