Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Iván Jiménez de Sandi of Exponential Foods and Asanté Is Helping To Change Our World
By: Yitzi Weiner -
Authority Magazine 2022
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure to interview Iván Jiménez de Sandi. Ivan is the Co-Founder and CEO at Exponential Foods and Asanté.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’m very passionate about cooking, particularly Mexican and Ibero-American flavors, which are my favorite. Food has always been important to me, first as an emotional connection to friends and family, and as a canvas to express and innovate. After working for several years in the food industry and getting my MBA at the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago I returned to Mexico City and worked in real estate, infrastructure and energy where I realized the exposure that Mexico had to climate change. But I also realized that no one was really making climate change a priority.
During this time my wife Gaby and I became inspired to start Asanté when we first saw a documentary about how much of the existential threat of climate change was tied to our current food system. It was an eye-opener for both Gabriela and myself and we immediately started reducing our meat intake. From there we realized that there was an opportunity to make a greater impact on the health of the planet — and on the health of people — by developing plant-based, planet-friendly versions of the foods we grew up on. The day we created our first plant-based meal and tasted like meat to us, we shouted !Salud! (Cheers in Spanish) to celebrate that if we can change, everyone can once they have access to the right substitutes. From this moment, Asanté was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading Asanté?
Actually, I think the most interesting thing that has happened since we began is learning about mycelium and mushrooms. When we started the company we thought we’d solve anything and everything with plants! But we soon realized that we were not using a complete kingdom. The way the fungi kingdom operates is simply amazing. We had no idea that mycelium as the root, is actually 95% of the weight of the mushroom. So few people realize that. It’s a biological internet which connects one tree with another and another and we are only scratching the surface of our knowledge of fungi in the food space. So when we started developing our mycelium technology we kept being surprised by fungi at every turn.
What was so fortunate for us at Asanté was to have the former President of the Fungi Association of Mexico on our team. Trust me, without him we probably would have made innumerable mistakes!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting the company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well as with any new business we’ve made a few mistakes along the way. I suppose one that specifically comes to mind is a funny story about the time we needed to deliver our first products to our first retailer here in Mexico.
We had some logistical problems with the production so the product ended up arriving late. We were supposed to deliver the first order to this new account on a Tuesday but when we got the product we quickly realized that for the sake of time we would have to make the delivery ourselves. But the issue was, we didn’t have a delivery pallet and it was already getting pretty late in the day and we were starting to panic. We furiously tried to find someone in the area to sell us a pallet so we drove around every retail store and the industrial area of Mexico City.
After some time I finally found one and bought it and figured our problem was solved. I quickly realized, however, that there was no chance whatsoever of fitting this huge pallet into the little sedan I was driving at the time. So I made the decision to ask the guy who sold me the pallet to cut all of the nails and I would then reassemble it when I got home. So that’s what I ended up doing, hammering nails into a pallet and hoping that it was sturdy enough to hold the product shipment, which it was, thankfully!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
We know that for generations people have clung to a diet that revolves around meat and dairy. And that has led to the current deteriorating state of human health where heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses are at an alarmingly all-time high. Our Asanté products have the taste that consumers crave but are low in fat and calories and have zero cholesterol but are still packed with protein, all at a fraction of the cost environmentally as if it was animal-based.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Governments need to realize that the negative effects of the meat and dairy industry (health, environmental, animal welfare) are getting worse year by year. What they should do, in my opinion, is:
- Dramatically cut back or eliminate the subsidies they are giving to these industries
- Stop with the regulatory “naming” issues such as what plant-based brands can label meat or dairy. To insinuate that consumers can’t tell the difference between dairy and plant-based dairy, for example, because the carton says “Oat Milk” is silly. Same with plant-based meat.
- Control the amount of land that is dedicated to the cattle industry. The harm to the planet has to be considered in how open land is divided up.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
To me, leadership is about guidance but also defining a vision and making sure that vision is contagious within your organization. It’s also being able to take that vision, transform it into the mission of a team, and have everyone working in the same direction for one goal.
Stay tuned, very soon we will publish the second part