Maisie Ganzler of Bon Appetit Management Company: “Go with the fewest features possible”

Go with the fewest features possible. It’s counterintuitive to reduce features, but it’s a positive thing. You can inadvertently obfuscate the primary purpose of your technology by making it too complex. For example, we found that when an economic value was assigned to waste, chefs spent a lot of time arguing about whether the number […]

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Go with the fewest features possible. It’s counterintuitive to reduce features, but it’s a positive thing. You can inadvertently obfuscate the primary purpose of your technology by making it too complex. For example, we found that when an economic value was assigned to waste, chefs spent a lot of time arguing about whether the number was right rather than trying to reduce waste. Another example: When individual log-ins were created, tracking went down. No one wanted to be blamed for wasting food. So, we got rid of log-ins and just focused attention on why food is being wasted.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course, many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making an Important Positive Social Impact.” We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maisie Ganzler.

For more than two decades, Maisie Ganzler has been instrumental in shaping the overall strategic direction of food service pioneer Bon Appétit Management Company (www.bamco.com), overseeing Bon Appétit’s strategic initiatives, culinary development, purchasing, and more. She helped develop the groundbreaking Farm to Fork local-purchasing program in 1999 and has since launched many of Bon Appétit’s progressive initiatives in animal welfare, sustainable seafood, antibiotics, farmworker rights, and food waste. More recently, she has focused on antibiotics in agriculture and aquaculture, plant-forward innovation, and the development of a proprietary kitchen waste-tracking tool.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

Being the child of “bohemian” parents who worked in the nonprofit sector, I rebelled by going into the business world. I wanted to focus on restaurant service, not social service. Yet the value my parents put on community seeped in somehow, and when the Bon Appétit Farm to Fork program was born in 1999, a piece of my heritage was awakened.

Since then, I’ve become an activist in a way that surprises even me. I’m proud of my ability to use Bon Appétit’s purchasing power to make changes in the supply chain. (Watch my TEDxManhattan talk “How the Humane Sausage Gets Made” for the inside look at our commitment to gestation-crate-free pork.) I thrive on the passion I hear from our people when they talk about our company Dream. I take great pleasure in pushing the company forward and proving that a for-profit business can act with both a warm heart and a scientific mind. And I only cringed slightly when in conversation with our CEO Fedele Bauccio, I heard myself quoting my mother’s frequent invocation of the Buddhist Eightfold Path to say my work at Bon Appétit is “Right Livelihood.”

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

It’s two combined stories — experiences, really — that changed my perspective and continue to drive my work today. In 2013, I joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) on their March for Rights, Respect, and Fair Food. The Coalition is a worker-based human rights organization comprised of people working in Florida’s tomato fields and other low-wage jobs throughout the state. When CIW began in 1993, many farmworkers in Immokalee, Fla. and surrounding areas faced issues ranging from declining wages and unfair treatment to atrocities such as involuntary servitude and violence. Bon Appétit was the first food service company to sign CIW’s Fair Food Agreement, which frames acceptable working conditions for tomato pickers and enforces those conditions with a strict code of conduct.

For two days, I joined a core group of about 50 marchers making the entire 200-mile journey from Immokalee to Lakeland, Fla. Along the way, they were joined by hundreds of supporters, including me. Over the two days, I marched, shouted, sang, danced, swung a flag, sweated profusely, and got blisters. Gerardo Reyes-Chavez, one of CIW’s leaders, remarked that my colleague, Cheryl Queen, and I joining the march was “historic.” Before us, no one from a food service company had walked with workers to demand change. I didn’t feel like my contribution was historic. What moved me, and what still feels meaningful to me today, was the expression of our collective constitutional rights. Before this experience, I had never so dramatically seized my right to assemble nor exercised my right to free speech in service of others’ pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

The second experience was in 2016 when I joined members of the Issara Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program in a clandestine meeting with people in Thailand who had been victims of human trafficking and had been enslaved doing work in the seafood industry. I met a man who, out of desperation, took illegal transport from Myanmar to Thailand to get work, going into debt. He was told it would take him eight months to pay off his debt. After eight months at sea, he was told he still owed a year’s worth of work. His debt had increased while he worked but he received no explanation about the change of terms and had no recourse. His captors beat him, once so severely with handcuffs that it left a jagged scar on his ear. He eventually escaped. One woman described working seven days a week in shrimp peeling sheds. She was not allowed to leave the premises. If she tried to take a day off, the “company store” refused to sell her food, so she would have to go hungry. No records were kept about how much she’d worked or how many shrimp she’d peeled, so she never knew how much she would get paid.

Marching alongside farmworkers for their rights and hearing firsthand accounts of what people experienced in the Thai seafood industry changed me. It took everyday purchasing decisions off the page and into the real world — beyond the corporate boardroom. It made the food system’s impacts tangible in a new way for me. Experiences like these fuel my work today and make me stick through difficult processes when the answers aren’t easy. In those moments, I know we can do better, and I know exactly why we need to.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am so lucky to have found a mentor and partner in Fedele Bauccio, CEO of Bon Appétit Management Company. I’ve been working for Fedele since I was 24 years old, so he’s truly shaped me as a manager and strategist. One story early on in our relationship stands out to me in particular. I was working in Bon Appétit’s Employee Services department and discovered the employee handbooks were being offset print. This was 1995 and digital printing was just coming on the scene. I very proudly proposed to Fedele that we change printers, which would drop the price of each booklet by more than half. The covers of the books would no longer have an embossed logo, but this was an internal-facing piece anyway. I was sure I’d be a hero. He simply asked: “You mean you want to lower quality to save money?” He then pointed out that this was the first thing we give to new employees and it set the tone for how we showed care toward them. Eventually, we did make the change, but I understood the tradeoff.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The principle that I live by and try to instill in my team is this: Leadership is awkward. It’s messy. Sometimes you don’t know where you’re going, and the path looks…unpleasant. But if it were easy, someone would have done it before you. You have to be willing to step into the unknown.

Often when I am considering taking on an issue, I ask a member of my team to go and learn about it and how our supply chain impacts or is impacted by whatever subject I’m mulling over. I often don’t have a specific policy proposal in mind. I just want to discover if we could be a fulcrum for change in that area. It’s a nebulous task and can make high-achieving team members uncomfortable. That’s when I tell them this: “If the path was clear, someone would’ve already followed it. We need to explore more broadly, chase down dead ends, and be open to surprises if we want to do new things.” This approach sometimes feels like we’re spinning our wheels, but it also results in Bon Appétit being able to claim that no competitor has ever beaten us to market with a sustainability commitment.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Bold about asking questions — It may sound counterintuitive, but you have to have the confidence to acknowledge what you don’t know. I’m never afraid to ask questions — even if I think everyone else in the room understands. Sometimes I uncover details that were implied but not explicit. For example, when our pork supplier asked us to change the language in our marketing materials from “gestation crate-free” to “group housed,” several companies simply agreed but I dug into the nitty-gritty of exactly why they wanted us to change the language and discovered a delta between how we thought the sows were being raised and the actual practices. We changed suppliers and have been touted by multiple animal welfare organizations for having done so.

Willing to be the fly in the ointment — When I first started working on sustainable seafood issues, I was the annoying person at the party asking whether the salmon was farmed or wild, which at the time was not a socially acceptable question. I remember going to dinner at Craft in New York when it was one of the hottest restaurants in town. A server approached my party with a tray displaying an amuse bouche of Bluefin tuna presented in a porcelain soup spoon. We asked the server if they would take it back to the kitchen, with a smile, and provide the chef with a Seafood Watch card. A few minutes later, the same tray of soup spoons returned — each spoon had a slice of cucumber in it. I would like to think I had a small part in opening chef Tom Colicchio’s eyes to sustainability. Being willing to do what I think is important without worrying about people liking me has helped me make change in my industry.

Override my own first instinct — Critical thinking is essential in business, but if you’re as pragmatic as I am, it’s easy to dampen your own capacity for innovation if you get mired in the details. Here’s an example: A few years ago, our CEO, Fedele Bauccio, wanted to ban plastic straws. To him, it was an easy way to help reduce plastic pollution. (Spoiler alert: we became the first food service company to ban them.) My first instinct was: “No way, we buy tons of straws and paper straws are expensive and hard to come by!” I had to disrupt my first instinct that it couldn’t be done in order to move to thinking creatively about how it could be done. When I started breaking the problem into small parts — thinking about what the actual policy would be and how we would implement it — I realized we could phase the initiative in over one calendar year but that would span two fiscal years and give our accounts with tighter budgets more time to plan for the change as well as give the straw suppliers notice.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on the planet and the environment. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

According to ReFED, a nonprofit dedicated to ending food loss and waste with data-driven solutions, 35% of food in the U.S. is wasted — with a greenhouse gas footprint equivalent to 4% of total U.S. emissions. We have to be part of reducing that number if we want to combat climate change. Bon Appétit has been actively working to mitigate climate change since 2007, first with our Low Carbon Diet and then in 2015 with our Low Carbon Lifestyle program. Fighting food waste is an important component of doing this. In order to reduce food waste, you first have to understand what you’re wasting. Our chefs were dissatisfied with existing third-party waste tracking systems, so we built our own to help chefs actually reduce waste, not just measure it. Dubbed Waste Not™, the proprietary app and system is designed to create behavior change in our kitchens. We started beta testing in 2018 and it has been translated into Spanish and French. This year we rolled it out to universities, corporations, hospitals, and sports stadiums across the country. Wasting food also wastes the labor, water, energy, transportation, and other resources that went into producing the food, so there are significant benefits to preventing it beyond the climate change impacts.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Technology isn’t the ultimate solution, but it is a tool to create behavior change. We involved our chefs in the development process for Waste Not because we wanted to remove barriers for users — the people working in our kitchens — and ensure we were truly focusing users on the issue of waste, not distracting users with bells and whistles.

Waste Not uses a simple interface on a tablet mounted in the kitchen to allow:

  • Users to adopt the system with minimal training
  • Ability to make entries in less than 15 seconds
  • Use of simple equipment that most people are familiar with (and that is inexpensive and doesn’t break)
  • A stable system that doesn’t require consistent Wi-Fi
  • Common vernacular, in multiple languages, that’s easy for users to understand

The system is primed to create behavior change because it focuses on why something is being wasted, not what, or the amount of money lost, or who is to blame, which can be red herrings that discourage tracking and prevent positive action.

While it’s too early to report the companywide impact of Waste Not because we just rolled it out nationally this year, pilot testing results are intriguing. One of our technology clients adopted Waste Not™ in its pilot phase in February 2019 across three cafés and a single warehouse. During the pilot period, they managed to steadily cut their overproduction food waste by more than half while tracking with the program. The program made it easier for them to streamline their food donation process as well. Waste Not™ helped the team improve the accuracy of production numbers while fully utilizing their ingredients. We see this as early evidence that our purpose-built, human-centered approach to technology development generates positive outcomes for both our teams and the environment.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

It all started in a lettuce field. Fedele Bauccio and I were trying to learn more about the issues facing farmworkers, so we were visiting fields in the Salinas Valley. As we watched people harvesting lettuce, we noticed that after the workers were done picking, the field was littered with what looked like actual tons of lettuce leaves. It was a dramatic amount. While we’d both understood that there was waste in the food system, we suddenly understood the scale and it bowled us over. What Waste Not is asking us as a company is: What is our equivalent to those lettuce leaves?

How do you think this might change the world?

I think Waste Not could change the world because it makes everyone in the kitchen a waste fighter, and they will carry that beyond our operations. When people have actionable information, they feel empowered — and they change their behavior. I think this will ultimately lead to a culture shift, not just in our kitchens, but in the homes of our employees and beyond.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

One fear that’s been raised to me is that by reducing food waste, we will also reduce the amount of food available for food recovery — that is, feeding people in need. I hope we can address food recovery as a society without counting on kitchen mistakes like overproduction to do so. We need a more stable source of food for everyone, and I think preventing food waste can be a step to ensure that.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

Go with the fewest features possible. It’s counterintuitive to reduce features, but it’s a positive thing. You can inadvertently obfuscate the primary purpose of your technology by making it too complex. For example, we found that when an economic value was assigned to waste, chefs spent a lot of time arguing about whether the number was right rather than trying to reduce waste. Another example: When individual log-ins were created, tracking went down. No one wanted to be blamed for wasting food. So, we got rid of log-ins and just focused attention on why food is being wasted.

Make data actionable. People can’t focus on too many indicators. Big data has its place, but for most users it is small data that has the real impact. Determine what are the fewest and most impactful things you can manage and focus on those. There’s a good corollary here to our approach to nutrition at Bon Appetit: To be healthy, we tell people to eat whole foods, not to worry about getting X mcg of Vitamin A per day or Y mcg of Vitamin D. If people eat a diet full of whole fresh produce and lean protein, they’ll naturally get the nutrients they need without counting. We used a similar philosophy while working on an upcoming update to our proprietary Food Standards Dashboard. One of my team members identified an elegant way to calculate the carbon footprint of any given plate of food. It was truly cool. But we don’t need our chefs to calculate the carbon footprint of every plate, we need them to reduce the ingredients associated with the most greenhouse gas emissions, in this case, beef and cheese. While calculating the CO2e emissions for each plate seems slick, it doesn’t drive actions that give us the results we want.

Let users be the drivers. When developing Waste Not and Café Manager, which is our foundational tech platform that is an integrated menu, marketing, and data tracking application, we put actual users (in this case chefs) at the forefront of technology development. Chefs actually direct the developers! Beyond the development stage, our chefs provide feedback, grounded in their lived experiences, which helps us continuously improve our systems and gives them a stake in outcomes. Interestingly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Café Manager users increased even though more of our cafés were closed. Lean teams found the efficiency and ease of Café Manager a welcome tool for keeping operations smooth while working in ever-changing environments. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of Café Manager users has nearly doubled. When technology is user-centered, people use it!

Get it out there. Don’t sit on your product until it’s the prettiest, tested with the most people, and perfected. By then it will be irrelevant. If it’s going to make change in the world, it’s got to be in the world. I tell my team that we‘re building Priuses not Cadillacs. We want to be efficient and forward-thinking but not fancy or oversized. That means we give up some luxury features too (like sometimes we have too many sign-on steps) but our products work, they’re affordable, and they’re revolutionizing the industry.

Catch two birds with one app. Double points if your technology solves a problem for users on both ends. For example, for a person with food allergies or following a special diet, having to ask for detailed changes to a dish is time-consuming and laborious, and a chef’s rhythm can be broken when having to modify dishes to accommodate dietary requests, resulting in a loss of kitchen efficiency. We built an app-enabled ordering system called Curated that is integrated with Café Manager to allow guests to order meals from 12 different special diets, including plant-forward, high-protein low-carb, and options for guests needing to avoid any major allergens or gluten. After selecting their dietary preference, guests are presented with a list of delicious options curated by our team of chefs and Registered Dietitians, eliminating the need for complex conversations with servers and highlighting what the guest can eat rather than focusing on what they can’t — making for a much more hospitable experience.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Start with the problem you’re trying to solve for others. People get enamored with their own ideas and perspectives and lose sight of the outside world. If you want to make a meaningful impact, you’ve got to be focused on what someone else needs, even if their desires don’t align perfectly with your initial idea. Here’s a story that illustrates that. I was at a conference and an entrepreneur was persistently, no, relentlessly, pitching me a meal replacement drink made of beans. I sell lunch. I’m not trying to replace lunch. In contrast, I’d recently been approached by a plant-based food company about their vegan mayo. At the time, I didn’t have a mayo problem, I was fine with the mayo we were buying. But in our discussion, they let me taste a vegan cookie dough they were developing. I did have a cookie problem: I didn’t have a national supplier of frozen cookie dough. This company had been planning to package their dough in pints, but once they learned about my cookie problem, they changed their production plan to create single cookie pucks that could be put straight on a tray and baked. Not only did they get a contract for cookie dough, but they also got a contract for mayo, too.

Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love to meet Maya Lin. At just 21 years old, she had the courage to defend her artistic vision for the Vietnam Memorial in front of the U.S. Congress!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My team reports on my work and on all sorts of other news and activities on our company blog at https://www.bamco.com/news/blog/.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.


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