In the first of a series of 60-second interviews with movers and shakers in the US food and beverage market, FoodNavigator-USA caught up with Karl Kramer, a 30-year food and beverage industry veteran, on how he got into the business of commercializing innovation for global ingredient supplier Tate & Lyle and how working his way through the ranks helped fuel a lifelong passion for travel.
Tell us about your current role.
I‘m the president of the Innovation and Commercial Development (ICD) arm of Tate & Lyle. We established this business unit in 2010 to become the growth engine of the company by providing a dedicated team to develop and commercialize new ingredients and ingredient solutions in partnership with our customers.
How did you get into the industry? What's your background?
I’ve been in the food and beverage business for my whole career – over 30 years. From research and development to manufacturing to marketing and sales, I’ve been fortunate to work in various functions, giving me the business perspective necessary to become an effective global executive. From the US to Mexico to Brazil to Switzerland, I followed my aspirations and the opportunities, and took a few risks along the way. I found the risks to be highly rewarding and they’ve kept my career interesting.
What do you like most about your job?
My favorite part of the job is having the chance to work with smart, dedicated people who share our customers’ love for food. We are working on something that everybody can relate to and solve real-life problems that allow people to enjoy the food they eat.
What's the hardest thing about your job?
One of the hardest parts of my job is making the decision of which projects to discontinue. We look at the innovations from external or internal idea portals and rely on the quantitative facts to do the talking. With dozens of interesting projects in the queue at a given time, there comes a time when we know certain projects aren’t technically feasible or commercially viable.
Is there such thing as a typical day for you? If so, what does it look like?
There’s no such thing as a typical day for me. Tate & Lyle is a dynamic, entrepreneurial organization working side by side with our customers through the changing tide of consumer demand. The landscape can change at a moment’s notice, which makes things very exciting and is one of my favorite parts of the job.
What advice would you give people interested in a job in your field?
The best advice I can give someone in the innovation setting is to provide a healthy balance between technical feasibility and commercial viability. You don’t have to be a technical expert–but make sure you have a team that understands what’s practical on a technical level. For commercial viability, make sure you have the pulse on your customers’ needs and then work toward innovation that fulfills those needs.
If there is anything you could do over in your career, what would that be?
As I mentioned, I’ve lived and worked internationally, so I’ve developed a deep appreciation and insight for global dynamics. If I could go back and change something, I would double that number! I still travel, but there’s no substitute for actually living and breathing a new culture. After all, we are a global innovation center. It’s imperative that we understand local tastes to create new eating experiences for customers around the world.
Has working in the food industry made you watch your diet more carefully?
Working in this industry makes you more conscious of the role innovative ingredients and solutions can play in your food and beverage choices, from making healthier choices to the importance of taste. There is no 'magic bullet' for a healthy lifestyle. I believe it’s a combination of exercise and moderation. But, I also love food. If it doesn’t taste good, I won’t eat it, regardless of how good it is for me. That’s a constant reminder of the importance of working side by side with our customers to develop food that’s healthier and tastier.
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