Alumni interview: Shauna Sadowski, AFE ’05

by Laura Held

The Sprout recently spoke with Shauna Sadowski (AFE ’05), the new Director of Sustainability for Annie’s, Inc., the organic macaroni-‘n-cheese (and much more!) company. We were curious to know about Shauna’s journey, what led her to Friedman, and how she got from Friedman to Annie’s.

Shauna grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada. The cost of running the farm business was very expensive, and as a result, the family did not have much money. She attended University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business for an undergraduate business degree, because, as she says, she was a “pretty naïve teenager” who believed that if you wanted “to survive and have a good life, you went into business.”

So how did a farm girl turned business school student end up back with her agriculture roots, at the AFE program at the Friedman School? After graduating from Wharton, Shauna worked in management consulting, found it to be an excellent learning experience, and became a manager at a pretty young age. At a certain point, though, she realized that she wanted to go to graduate school, and although she says that she enjoyed what she was doing, she “wasn’t passionate about it.” Shauna explains her thought process:

“What makes me click? What, as a career path, could I really love? In my years from undergrad to being a young professional, I loved to cook. I loved food. I was reading a lot about food, like about organics [USDA certification] coming into effect, and I read Fast Food Nation, for example. And I realized this whole ‘food thing’ isn’t just about the culinary side of things. There’s a systemic point of view. Having grown up on a farm, I had a lot of relations to it.”

When she started to look into graduate school programs, she found that the Friedman AFE degree was the “perfect fit.” Shauna entered Friedman focused, knowing that she wanted to concentrate on what she called the ‘private/public-sector partnership.’ With a background in business, she knew that she wanted to continue to gain skills for work in the private sector and that the skills would be transferable for potentially working at a non-profit. She also wanted to increase her knowledge of the policy side of food and agriculture to work in policy in the future. Toward that goal, Shauna took a cross-section of courses, both domestic and international. She took a course on Agribusiness, a Fletcher class on International Environmental Law, and the UEP course: Corporate Management of Environmental Issues.

From Tufts, Shauna consulted for the non-profit Business for Social Responsibility helping food and agricultural companies incorporate environmentally and socially sustainable practices. After a year, she realized that she could have a bigger impact on sustainability within a for-profit company itself, and she moved on to work at Clif Bar, Inc., as the Sustainable Food Systems Manager, focusing on the supply chain of the company. For Shauna, the big question there was: “How can we make tweaks and changes to improve our supply-chain practices?”

Now at Annie’s, Inc., her position is similar to that at Clif Bar, Inc., but it is what Shauna calls a more “holistic” approach to sustainability. As she explains it, the title of Director of Sustainability will have a different meaning at different companies. Whereas at Clif Bar, Inc., Shauna focused on sustainable sourcing, at Annie’s Shauna has responsibility across the entire sustainability spectrum. There are three main pillars of sustainability that Annie’s stands on: Food, People, and Planet. The food: where it comes from, the organic ingredients, and also the packaging. The planet: water, energy, and waste. The people: workplace, community, and education – “being an advocate for the issues that you think are important and you believe in.” That framework guides the company forward.

Between Clif Bar and Annie’s, Shauna worked briefly at a start-up company, where she engaged directly with farmers and ranchers, visiting them and seeing their practices. At Annie’s, a much larger company, she still feels her role is to be the bridge between the consumer and the source and to message each side’s goals appropriately. As Shauna sees it, her role is “to convey a message to the consumer and to the producer or farmer, and try to bring those two bodies together” because the expectations of those two parties can diverge. Therefore, she tries “to understand so [she] can interpret and hopefully translate.”

Since Shauna grew up on a farm in a financially difficult situation, she wants to improve that situation for farmers today. She asks, “Is it possible to have a happy life on a farm?” and can she make a difference in the lives of farmers? She says:

“I know that I can and that’s why I chose the job. At Annie’s, we have a pretty short supply chain to our wheat farmers. We are one of the largest or the largest buyer of organic wheat in the US. All of our wheat pasta is organic, so we have pretty good leverage. My goal in the next year is to get out and meet with these folks. I am a firm believer in relationship building. … To me, ultimately, it’s about digging down to the source; how we can better engage with farmers, indirectly or directly. Not only ensuring you know where your food is coming from. It’s going to help you make better business decisions.”

Shauna has advice for current students who might want to work in the private sector food industry. Learn how a business works, but know that every businesses is different. She explains that,

“’understanding a business’ is about getting the fundamentals — if you are in B2B (business-to-business model), perhaps operations is more important. If you are in CPG (consumer packaged goods), such as Annie’s, then the marketing/brand side will drive decisions. So choose coursework in the areas that you are most interested in working in (from a functional perspective). And then think about how your content expertise (be it nutritionally or agriculturally focused) aligns with the business drivers.”

To contact Shauna, you can follow her on Twitter at: sjsadowski.

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