“The Best Way Out It Always Through” With Jessica Grelle, Senior Vice President of Innovation at SAFE + FAIR
“Champion your peers’ interests, causes and passions. Whether it’s inside or outside of work, helping your colleagues further develop what they’re passionate about, will only help improve and diversify your team. But also, don’t forget to take care of yourself in this same manner; catering to your education and passions creates a better, whole person.”
I had the pleasure to interview Jessica Grelle, Senior Vice President of Innovation at SAFE + FAIR. As SVP of innovation at SAFE + FAIR, Grelle curates recipes and helps develop allergen-friendly and kid-approved foods, like cookies, granola, mac & cheese, etc., so everyone can safely enjoy the foods they love, together. Grelle is also the founder of organic food company, Mama Jess Organic.
Thank you so much for joining us. What is your backstory?A:
After studying nutrition and food science in college, I became fascinated by the fueling and healing powers of healthy food and quickly decided to focus on product development. I loved the creative and collaborative aspects of being in a lab and for many years, worked with food scientists to develop products for large national brands.
With some experience under my belt, I followed my passion towards the natural food world in an effort to stay true to my values and branched out on my own in 2012. My company, Mama Jess Organics, offers a variety of high-end sauces, using the highest quality organic ingredients with minimal processing — so families, like my own, can incorporate clean veggie-filled food into their daily diets seamlessly.
It was while I was working on my business that I first met Will Holsworth, who would eventually become the of CEO of SAFE + FAIR. When the opportunity came to run innovation with the allergen-friendly food company, I knew the role would continue my goal of making delicious, clean food accessible for all.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began your position?A:
At SAFE + FAIR, we’re constantly reimagining what’s possible for the allergen-friendly food category by breaking into new product lines. I’m always in the kitchen recipe testing our latest innovations, but sometimes after day-in and day-out of sampling different variations of the same recipe, I can’t bare another taste test.
Luckily for me, my team is always there to lend a helping hand. Most recently, our gluten-free brownies became a favorite post-breakfast treat for the office!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’ve always been amazed by transformative food stories where nutrition has healed or saved lives. I feel immense pride each and every day to be part of a team that breaks down barriers for children and adults with food allergies, so they too can enjoy their favorite foods.
For instance, hearing stories from kids who are so excited they can have chocolate chip cookies again, makes all the heavy requirements and rigorous testing all worth it to provide a safe product.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Product innovation is an ongoing process at SAFE + FAIR. We’re currently working on expanding our line of nut-free granola, which is currently geared towards children, to include four new SKUs of ancient grains in seasonal flavors that will appeal more towards to adults.
Traditionally, granola contains nuts and if it doesn’t, the facility where it was produced does. We’re so excited to not only offer nut-free granola, but also different varieties that will satisfy various demographics in need of an allergen-friendly options.
What advice would you give to other female executives to help their companies and employees thrive?A:
Champion your peers’ interests, causes and passions. Whether it’s inside or outside of work, helping your colleagues further develop what they’re passionate about, will only help improve and diversify your team. But also, don’t forget to take care of yourself in this same manner; catering to your education and passions creates a better, whole person.
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?A:
There was a product development scientist I met very early on in my career who had an enriching passion for food that expanded beyond our work and into all corners of the culinary world, from restaurant menus to agriculture. Not only was his excitement contagious, but it made me realized just how far-reaching the industry was. This was my light bulb moment and I’ve continued to pursue new learning opportunities in unexpected scenarios ever since.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?A:
Good food can bring joy to so many people and I’m so fortunate that the products I create are feeding a unique community who otherwise might not be able to enjoy their favorite foods.
I’ve seen the power of product innovation not only benefit sufferers of food allergies, but also help treat my son’s Crohn’s disease and I give back by working with hospitals to teach using nutrition as a tool for better living.
It’s exciting to put my spin on the food industry, but with power comes responsibility and I am very conscious when developing food products to make them as clean as possible.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” before you achieved your position and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)A:
1. Every success and failure is an opportunity for learning — At SAFE + FAIR, we don’t look at failures as deterrents to our success, but rather an opportunities to pivot towards better solutions.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask and hear ‘no’ — The saying is true — ‘If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.’ Whether you’re inquiring about a potential collaboration or experimenting with a new, untapped ingredient, don’t let hesitations and fear halt your progress.
3. It’s OK to be a beginner — Like many startups, the SAFE + FAIR team has met many obstacles that come with exploring a new space. It’s OK to not know everything at first; embrace the fresh perspective to explore new areas of expertise.
4. The best way out it always through — Focus your energy on solving one problem at a time and eventually you will get through it. When working through challenges, put your trust in your team and a positive attitude and everything will work itself out.
5. Things don’t always have to happen the way you envisioned them — Compare any two career paths and they are never identical. Unexpected events can be a blessing or great stepping stone. Getting rid of pre-conceived notions can open up endless possibilities.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?A:
“Positive minds live positive lives.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?A:
Chefs and recipe developers have always been my go-to inspiration when dealing with product innovation, so my dream lunch date would be either Martha Stewart or Ina Garten. Both are icons in the food space and I’d love the chance to discuss their career paths and how they each built their legacies.