re:Supply Speaker Spotlight – Aaron Kleinert

reSupply Speaker Spotlight - Aaron Kleinert

We’re less than a month away from ArrowStream’s re:Supply Innovation Summit on July 28th, 2022. The summit will collaborate with and celebrate leading foodservice brands across the industry. In anticipation of the re:Supply Summit, ArrowStream is pleased to present an interview with Aaron Kleinert, Co-Founder and COO of StrawFish and a re:Supply Innovation Summit speaker.

A dedicated social entrepreneur who values building partnerships to advance the global movement of sustainability, Aaron specializes in helping businesses and sourcing teams become industry leaders by introducing StrawFish disposables to their portfolio – simplifying SKU’s and establishing a secure supply-chain for future growth.

1. Could you tell us about yourself? How did you get into the industry? How long have you been in foodservice?
I stepped into the foodservice industry in 2019, when the global movement of sustainability was ignited by media showing the impact single-use plastics have on marine life (believe we’ve all seen the turtle video). My partners and I set out to support businesses looking for an honest and affordable way to make an impact, leading us to give away our disposable alternatives for free. By selling the advertising space on our paper straws, we opened a whole new level of social collaboration between cross-industry partners.

Being in this space about four years now, our team had to navigate the pandemic and build a more resilient business to make sure we could further our impact moving forward. That is what lead us to the StrawFish you see today.

2. What has changed the most about the foodservice industry since you started?
There has been a lot of change in the ethos behind sourcing. People want, from their customer standpoint as well as operationally, to achieve new CSR goals, impact and improve their ESG, as well as show their customer segments that they are committed to making a change. We entered an industry at one of the hardest times, working through the pandemic and global economic shutdowns that led to supply chain disruptions for all in the foodservice industry. By adapting and innovating, we transitioned our entire supply-chain to near shore partners and focused on closing the loop on sourcing

Everything we knew StrawFish to be was revamped and relaunched at the beginning of 2021. Like many, going through one of the biggest shifts in foodservice, hospitality, manufacturing, sourcing, and logistics brought a new understanding to a vulnerable market. It’s been a rapidly expanding industry with a lot of innovation, and our mission stands to navigate growth with honesty, education, and a positive shift the culture.

3. What’s your favorite thing about working in foodservice?
The tangible impact we’ve witnessed as customers begin championing sustainability in their everyday lives has brought a newfound excitement around sustainable alternatives to plastic. Typically, the sentiment around ‘eco’ friendly products is that they’re not going to work, all while being too expensive for businesses. People can now be excited for solutions that maintain their dining experience, while allowing them to champion sustainability. It’s brought our passions full circle, reducing global single-use plastic waste while paving a model for sustainability that under generations can get behind.

Understanding the dynamics of sourcing and diving further into ways we can impact change through open communication and collaboration is awesome to nurture. The commitment and general enthusiasm from of companies when it comes to solving these sourcing hurdles has opened the door the making a real impact.

4. How do you think working in foodservice differs from other industries?
The foodservice industry has so many layers, and the general consumer may not understand how deep it goes in order to have the production run flawlessly. In foodservice, so much credit is due to frontline workers – employees that are on the ground making sure that all systems run flawlessly. With so many hats to wear and bandwidth to cover, there is always a lot to cover in a short amount of time.

Sustainability impacts disposables so much due to the environmental impact and quantifying how much of a toll that has put on our Earth has fostered rapid innovation. The ethos and pathos behind products are taken into consideration now more than ever, doing ‘enough’ isn’t necessarily enough anymore.

5. What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in your career so far?
Aligning with the right partners to educate larger communities on StrawFish and our mission to shift the perspective away from the traditional culture of disposable foodservice sourcing. Greenwashing in our industry is a term where products are entering the market and not sharing the entire story behind their products; exactly how they break down or how ‘eco’ friendly they are. For disposables, educating the end user on how to dispose of product is imperative if we want to advance the sustainability movement.

6. Where do you believe things are headed with the future of the supply chain in 2022 and beyond?
I think the supply chains are going to start coming more near shore, if not domestic, for manufacturing and supply. Businesses have an opportunity to align with regional and local partners to fill supply gaps and lower their carbon footprint. Using data and partnerships to expand visibility allows teams lean on each other for support, especially when it does come to sustainability. The future of supply chains is going to take our Earth, and the impact that we’re making on the environment, into more consideration. Processes need to be more streamlined than ever before to reach and exceed pre-pandemic volumes.

By having partnerships that align data with finished goods to create an environment of trust and intimacy across different channels, we can build a foundation for growth; one where manufacturers and suppliers can align with distributors and operators efficiently with shared goals in mind.

7. How do you think technology impacts the supply chain and your operations?
Having visibility with targeted, sector-specific data has made a tangible impact, as there are so many layers to foodservice sourcing and distribution. Also, having insights that pertain to an operator’s needs streamlines processes and increases likeliness of engagement. Developing a level of trust between partners in the industry and providing a support system where the data is already aggregated allows for quicker actions and results.

8. Who do you admire (company or person) and why?
I would have to say my brother. He’s an entrepreneur in his own right and a lot of the motivation as to why I became an entrepreneur. His creativity and ability to observe industry pain points and develop solutions for industry specific needs is inspiring. He has always pushed me to act on passions and develop solutions that can constantly be refined over time with the end user always leading the charge.

To hear more about Aaron’s experience around sustainability, request your invite to re:Supply here.

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