We interviewed EADA Alumnus Peter Odemark, who graduated from the International MBA in 2004 and is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Gullspång Re:food, which he set up in 2020. His purpose is to accelerate positive global paradigm shifts in the food and beverage industry by choosing the best companies to invest in. Previously, Peter worked for Coca-Cola and the Danone Group, where he learned how to transform and innovate in sustainable supply chains as well as develop healthier products.
How have you committed to contributing to a better world?
We founded an investment company with the purpose of contributing to a change in the food system. It is the largest system on the planet, and every individual is involved in some way every day. If we can shift the food system to becoming more sustainable, more regenerative, more circular and healthier, we will contribute to the purpose of having a good life on this planet for many years to come. At Gullspång Re:food, we allocate our capital and apply our know-how to the food industry by finding the best companies, the best founders, the best CEOs that can contribute to making this shift around the globe.
Could you give us some examples?
For instance, we have invested in Oatly, which is shifting people from animal products to oat-based products. We also invest in health food companies including cultivated fat companies, micro algae companies, and snack companies that make great tasting snacks, but without the sugar. In my role as managing partner, I ensure that we follow our strategy and honour our investors’ targets. We support the portfolio companies by sitting on the boards or advising the CEOs or founders. We help them with whatever we can, which is not everything, but there are a few things we are good at and we try to help with that.
What is the major challenge for the food industry in terms of the impact on the economy, society and environment?
The most important challenge for large corporations is to change the system of producing, marketing and selling food in a way that makes the planet more resilient to climate change and at the same time offer people healthier diets. This is difficult for these large corporations and big systems that have grown on the basis of balance sheets for 100 years. In contrast, there are more flexible, fast growing, highly innovative companies that incorporate a lot of new tech in the products and put a lot of new thinking into new distribution and sales channels and make very good products that the consumers value. This is where people, talent, community and culture are created from a leadership point of view, where you can really grow a food company 100% or 200% per year, which is happening to some of our companies, instead of the 3% growth of large companies.
Is innovation one of the keys to facing all of these challenges?
Innovation is one factor. What I learned at EADA 16 years ago is that value chain and strategy are important components. Innovation is essential if we want to change the system. Capital is also important as you need investment to innovate. However, for those of us who invest in very high risk, high growth companies, it comes down to leadership, the entrepreneurs, or the founders. We are an evergreen investment company, which means we would like to exist for as long as we possibly can, but if there is no chemistry, or if we think we won’t be able to support each other well, regardless of innovation, the product, the business model or the CEO, it won’t be a good fit.
How would you define the concept of ‘business with a purpose’?
When it is absolutely clear for everyone working in the business, and their customers, and their suppliers, what the higher purpose of the business is, which is not only about making money or serving the customers better than the competitors. It must function as a motivator to do another 20-30% every day in order to succeed, because although success means more than profit, it also means contributing to a good cause.
What about a ‘leader with a purpose’?
There was a lot of focus on leadership when I was at EADA. I don’t think leadership in itself has changed much. However, there are a lot of new tools and a younger generation to lead. It is a specific time in history when a CEO may lead people from five different decades and they need to work together despite coming from two culturally and historically different worlds. I think this is a new aspect to understand when becoming a leader. Regarding leadership with a purpose, if you have a purpose as a leader from a personal and professional point of view, you never switch it off. Honouring that purpose is when it really works and comes naturally. It also makes you better at recruiting people who have the same purpose as it becomes a common motivator within the organisation.
Could you summarise your purpose?
My purpose is to contribute to a major shift in the global food system by choosing the best companies to invest in. When they do well, others will follow. This food system movement needs inspiration from those who have the courage to take risks and execute major changes. More talent, more capital and more ideas will come which will hopefully produce a snowball effect. For example, look at Tesla and electric cars.
Could you tell us about your experience working for large corporations as they also have their part to play in this shift?
I was lucky enough to work for both the Coca Cola Company and the Danone Group. Danone is a company that has been on a mission for decades, longer than most other corporations in the food industry, to contribute both socially and economically and take responsibility ‘outside of the factory gates’ as they say. During and since my time at the company, it has accelerated its view on taking a greater responsibility for the bigger players in the industry, of how to transform and be innovative in making more sustainable supply chains and by taking better care of their suppliers, farmers etc. This is the social aspect but there is also the health aspect with healthier products with less sugar, a better function, more plants, less food from animals, etc. I was very lucky to learn a lot about how to operate the food culture and business with sustainability at its core during my time at Danone.
How do you see EADA today in terms of purpose?It is great to come back after 16 years and see the newly renovated, very modern, and also sustainable building in terms of choice of materials. I think that this is a new era of business with a purpose, having more classes anchored around this topic and developing the next generation of leaders who will take on the responsibility to shift systems across the globe to a more sustainable one. If you learn about purpose, gain tools and become engaged it will make you become a better leader when you leave EADA. For my generation, it was not as clear so this gives me a lot of hope for the improvement of these sustainability aspects in different industries.