Tarun Malkani: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”

That life is a marathon and not a 100-meter dash…one must take the long view. Also that life never follows a master playbook, but rather as John Lennon said, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, […]

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That life is a marathon and not a 100-meter dash…one must take the long view. Also that life never follows a master playbook, but rather as John Lennon said, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tarun Malkani, President & CEO at Gerber Products Company (a Nestlé company).

Tarun has been CEO since the beginning of the year, returning to the US from his previous assignment as Global Business Head for Wyeth Nutrition, based in Vevey, Switzerland. Tarun has a long career in US and Global roles focused on Nutrition and OTC categories and brands.

As President & CEO of Gerber Products Company, Tarun is focused on providing early childhood nutrition that helps babies grow and thrive at every age, while leading the industry in cutting-edge research to inform product development, education offerings and services. An accomplished global business executive with a sustained track record, Tarun has been part of the Nestlé family for more than twenty years, and during that time has led teams across multiple geographies and product categories. To follow along with Gerber’s climate journey, visit: https://www.gerber.com/climatejourney

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

A mainstay in my career is providing products to consumers that bring value to their lives, which has led me to my current role at Gerber. One of my most profound experiences was our partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which demonstrated the potential impact of nutrition on the first 1,000 days in a child’s life. There is nothing more gratifying than knowing the work one does not only serves immediate needs, but also has a lasting impact on lives.

Ultimately, what drives me every day in my chosen career path is the power of the brand. To this day, I remain absolutely fascinated by the affinity and loyalty a consumer or healthcare professional can develop towards a brand that shares their values and attitudes. And it is an absolute privilege to lead Gerber, where we are part of the fabric of our nation.

What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?

At Gerber, we are committed to making and keeping the same promise that parents do from the very first moment they hold their baby — to do anything and everything to keep their baby healthy, happy, and strong. They would do anything for baby — and so would we. We will never settle for anything less than the most nutritious and delicious food for all Gerber babies.

Our team knows that having a new baby is an amazing experience, but it can also be a stressful one, so we aim to support parents along the way. We are available 24/7/365 through our Parent Resource Center to support and empower parents. In 2020 alone, we interacted with almost 100,000 parents! Parents can reach out to Gerber experts by calling, texting, video chatting or even messaging us on social media — in English and Spanish. Our Learning Center — which can be found on our MyGerber website — is another resource for parents, with articles covering teething, feeding, nursing and more.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

We take action to help protect the planet so Gerber babies will grow and thrive for generations to come.

We’re very excited to have just announced a bold new Climate Forward Nutrition ambition to invest in regenerative agriculture techniques to ensure the ingredients for our nutritious food for baby are produced in a way that increases biodiversity and soil health and reduces water usage. As part of this ambition, we have also committed to carbon neutrality across our baby food portfolio by 2035 through collaboration with a third-party carbon neutral certifier, with 100% of our Organic portfolio and Natural pouches and glass jars set to be carbon neutral in 2022.

We will introduce our carbon neutral products in 2022 with a donation of 100,000 dollars worth of products to our longstanding partner Feeding America. Our donation will be the first ever carbon neutral baby food donation to the organization — but it won’t be the last!

I am also quite proud of our newly announced fruit and vegetable farm demonstration plots in Western Michigan, where we are partnering with Rodale Institute and Michigan State University to conduct unprecedented research in innovative technologies and advanced regenerative farming practices. This research aims to identify practices that replenish soils, increase biodiversity, and understand potential improved nutritional benefits associated with these practices.

More generally, our sustainability initiatives ladder up to three core pillars: Responsible Agriculture, Responsible Packaging and Responsible Supply Chain.

The Responsible Agriculture pillar focuses on sourcing high-quality ingredients that nourish baby and help to protect the planet. We work closely with our farmers to ensure that our strict sustainable farming practices are implemented in growing and harvesting the fruits and veggies that make Gerber purees nutritious and safe. Agriculture research has been at Gerber’s core since our founding in 1927 and we continue to seek sustainable solutions to this day, evidenced in the research partnerships with the Rodale Institute and Michigan State University that I mentioned earlier.

The Responsible Packaging pillar encompasses initiatives to help reach our goal of 100% recyclable or reusable packaging by 2025, all while reducing our current packaging’s impact on the planet. Since 2018 we’ve reduced our plastic usage by more than 6 million pounds through various programs. For example, we have a partnership with TerraCycle, which has collected more than 250,000 pieces, or 8 thousand pounds, of packaging since its inception. Additionally, in May of last year, we introduced the IncrediPouch TM, the industry’s first single material spouted baby food pouch, which was designed to be easier for recyclers to break down and repurpose into recycled material.

Within our Responsible Supply Chain pillar, we are working to reduce our energy use, water use and carbon emissions in our production. In 2020, we achieved the 100% waste free milestone in all our factories, which means that Gerber factories will not contribute any waste to landfills from 2020 forward. Through another initiative started in 2020, we’ve also scaled back our water use by 35%.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

At Nestlé, our view has always been that business should be a force for good. It can make important contributions to society and help find solutions to global challenges, such as climate change or packaging. We believe that our company will be successful in the long term by creating value for both our shareholders and for society at the same time. Our activities and products should make a positive difference to society while contributing to Nestlé’s ongoing success. For example, our work with regenerative agriculture will help us meet consumer expectations of sustainability, help build agricultural communities that are resilient to climate change, and ultimately reduce our climate risks and increase brand loyalty.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

That life is a marathon and not a 100-meter dash…one must take the long view. Also that life never follows a master playbook, but rather as John Lennon said, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

None of us can 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?

There are too many to thank, from my early days at Warner-Lambert to now at Gerber/Nestlé. The ones that stand out for me are the ones who saw something and believed in me when I perhaps didn’t share the same perspective. I am very fortunate to have received a lot of formal training and informal mentorship that results in who I am today. A couple of years ago, I concluded a Nestlé executive training program in partnership with the London Business School, which was very enriching, learning from some of the best and from my very esteemed peer group.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Ensuring that babies and children have the nutrition and resources to thrive is a personal passion of mine. As a dad, I know how important it is to nourish our babies’ bodies and minds and help to create a world where they can fulfill their greatest potential. Supporting our youngest generation is an investment in the future that can benefit our communities and the planet for generations to come.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” There are very few things that I have achieved in life, personally or professionally that has been in isolation. Our commitment to our carbon neutrality is very relevant here as well — this must be a joint commitment across multiple stakeholders to achieve our very lofty ambitions.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

I encourage them to follow @Gerber to stay up to date with what our team is doing.

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