Economic Justice in the CPG world: An Interview with CEO Riana Lynn

"What is economic justice in the CPG world?"

When I think of economic justice:

  • I think of access for consumers.
  • I think of affordability.
  • I think of quality, healthy, clean products being available at every corner of our cities - at every small store in our rural towns.
  • I think of there being a knowledge transfer of what is clean and good and healthy for consumers.

When I think of economic justice, I think of improved and intentional supply and logistics chains. And because of this, more affordability for all.

As many of us know, the history of our food has largely been based upon a couple of things:

  1. Indigenous offerings and crops
  2. African slaves building up the growth capacity and much of the economy and basis of our country through slaveholding (through and past 1865… but also through sharecropping through the mid-1900s).

Over time this history has been built through cooks, servers, washers, and now it transitioned largely to immigrant communities - many of whom are immigrants from Mexico - but also small farm holders who’ve been around for decades.

And economic justice for them means that they are not without, that they have access to contracts and retail opportunities. That they’re given considerations because they make great products and they have a long history of building food companies and maintaining food systems in the United States.

"What are some of the injustices that have happened in the past (broadly speaking), and what is happening today?"

One of my most interesting food reads has been around capitalism. As we discuss justice and race, we are all thinking about capitalism and if it is an outdated system for the world in which we live.

The Walter Rodney quote (From the 1972 book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa) still speaks true to a lot of the systems throughout the world. He said...“There was a period when the capitalist system increased the well-being of significant numbers of people as a byproduct of seeking out profits for a few”.

And this is when we think about slave holding, crop building, international trade, and the industrialization of food in the 1900s - that it largely helped keep up with the growing populace.

But today, many have been left out as land has been shifted, and businesses have gotten an unfair share of contracts.

And that’s what I think about in terms of injustices and justices as well. Both on the consumer and business owner side.

"Could you talk a little bit about race and socioeconomic status in the CPG world?"

Race and socioeconomic status in the CPG world is a complex issue, and the current state of where we are is quite glaring.

We know that most people in poverty happen to have more access to processed and manufactured foods. The foods many of them have access to lead to deleterious and adverse health effects.

And if you think about the statistics that show the average household income or the percentage of people in poverty - they tend to be black and LatinX family members.

On the consumer side of the CPG world, low income and lack of access have led to poor health, fewer options, and non-allergen friendly options (such as lactose intolerance in milk.

On the food and business side of the CPG world, we don’t have enough business owners - especially black women - that are starting awesome food companies who are given the opportunities and access to scale their businesses up.

"What can we do better to promote equality in CPG? Are things better today?"

We can create more affinity groups.

We can make sure that we are intentionally abiding by more standardized methods like proportional contracting. For example, it would be beneficial to make sure that if 6% of the population is black women - then 6% of CPG companies in a grocery store should be run by black women.

"What can we do to better promote quality? Are things better today?"

Things are slightly better - we have the advent of e-commerce and community building where people have a lot more control and can go direct to consumer with Instagram and other avenues.

So that’s improving because we’re creative.

But we’re still not seeing large-scale growth. We need more national food companies that are run by women and minority founders.

And we also need to promote biodiversity because we all have different gut microbiomes - we all have different nutrigenomic histories and pathways. We need to make sure that we’re not feeding foods that are detrimental to the natural state of our bodies.

"How have you personally been inspired to make a change?"

I’ve been personally inspired by this because I’m a black woman.

I’ve had the opportunity to join rooms with great leaders around the world in the food industry. But I’ve also been one of the few in these rooms.

I’m inspired because I come from a family of food farmers, entrepreneurs, and food distributors. I’ve seen the effects of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease directly in my own family members.

The inextricable links have to be broken as much as possible when it comes to chronic disease and mental health in food. And I want to make sure that I build a world where I’m less affected by it…

I want to help build a world where everyone is less affected by these issues.

But my personal inspiration is not only about race, but also about the fact that food affects every person in this country.

Yes, some have the advantages to pay for better options, but we are still unhealthy or finding ourselves subject to the toxicity of food on a daily basis.

My vision is to make sure that we have freedom of choice and that we no longer have to worry about food being dangerous.

And unfortunately, this is the truth. Food kills more people every year than people who don’t have food.

And as a leader of Journey Foods, I want to be able to provide very actionable intelligence - and determine how we can exponentially accelerate change more rapidly to the companies that make products for millions of people every day.

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