An Exclusive Interview with Steven J. Singer of the FODY Foods Company
In our on-going Interview series we are committed to bringing you Q&As with all of the people out there who are dedicated to making the low FODMAP diet as approachable as possible. Whether it is a RDN on the frontlines working with children, to researchers from Monash University or, visionaries such as Steven J. Singer, the Founder and CEO of FODY Foods.
Steven was a co-founder and CEO of Glutino, which became a one-stop shop with over 80 gluten-free products. Steven has set his sites on creating the best low FODMAP products possible and creating a practical and educational low FODMAP brand with depth and breadth. Full disclosure, we at FODMAP Everyday are partnered with FODY Foods to bring you articles and recipes to support you in your FODMAP journey across each website. Here, I chatted with Steven about the diet, his role as a serial entrepreneur and his favorite FODY product.
Dédé Wilson: Steven, thank you for doing this interview. Before we met – even before I had become acquainted with FODY Foods – I was a Glutino fan. The pretzels might have been my first gluten-free convenience product ever! Let’s go back a bit and tell us about your prescience in relation to the then-nascent gluten-free industry. What compelled you to develop a gluten-free line?
Thanks Dédé, yes, we’re talking way back in 1999. We’re talking President Clinton’s 2nd term! After looking to buy a business or start a business with my close friend David Miller, we stumbled upon a company that was importing a few lines of products from Italy – some of which were gluten-free. We were intrigued about the gluten-free aspect and started researching to see what was going on in Europe and beyond. The answer was that gluten-free seemed to be already developing across Europe, Heinz UK had already acquired a gluten-free brand, and McDonalds in Finland was already looking at adopting a gluten-free menu. But when we looked in America, there was practically nothing. Once we confirmed that it wasn’t a European phenomenon and that all studies seemed to indicate it would only be a matter of time for the diet to catch on here, we jumped in, in a big way!
And now, we are at this similar time, where there is buzz about the low FODMAP diet, but public/patient awareness is still building. When did you know that it was time to put what you had learned building Glutino to work on a low FODMAP brand? What was it that suggested this business direction?
I guess there is something in my blood about food brands made for special diets…with a medical twist. Since my time building Glutino, and trailblazing in the gluten-free world, I was always wondering what would be next. What other medical condition could be helped with food. I had a paper on my desk from 5 years ago about the low FODMAP diet. I kept it…and when I re-investigated a couple years ago, I saw a very similar story to the early gluten-free craze. Once I read the clinical trials and the overwhelming data of the diet’s effectiveness in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, I was hooked. I looked deeper and deeper, called a few dietitians and researched any food brands with low FODMAP. All signs pointed me down the path “you need to do this…there are 45 million Americans with IBS and you can help a lot of them!” So here we are!
Describe the typical FODY buyer. Do they have many things in common with the gluten-free buyer?
I think in a lot of ways the 2 buyers are the same – except that now the gluten-free buyer has extended far beyond celiac disease, and far beyond a need – it has become a want in many cases. The FODY buyer is very relieved to have found a range of food they can trust, similar to early Glutino buyers. In many cases, they have been suffering for years and until recently didn’t know there was an effective dietary treatment for them. FODY buyers are excited about the diet and that they can leave the house with confidence. Our buyers are back in business, they are excelling in life again simply because the food they eat is no longer hurting them. They are ingredient readers, in many ways are confused as they try to figure out the diet (it’s a tricky one…) and overall our buyers are just very passionate to simply feel better.
You are apparently entrepreneurial in nature. What is it about developing a start-up that drives you?
It’s the ultimate challenge! Take an idea, dream big, and make it happen!! But it’s not just start-ups, it’s all about building a company and helping as many people at the same time. I love the challenge of coming up with some ideas, researching, putting together a strong plan, and then executing! It’s not easy, there are tons of hurdles, and considering 90% of start-ups actually fail, there are no guarantees. But when you see it flourish, start building a team, it just makes business that much sweeter.
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, what do you think you would be doing?
I would hopefully be in sports management in some capacity – always dreamed of that. Sports are another of my passions.
What has been the greatest challenge in educating the low FODMAP consumer?
I think the fact that the diet is still being defined as we go makes it super challenging. Consumers are also very confused by quantities of foods they are allowed to eat – and how soon they can eat more. Since everybody is different, it’s not always black and white. Also, we try to explain that you can actually use some ingredients or foods higher in FODMAPs in your cooking or baking provided they are in low quantities – and just a small part of an overall recipe. Back to Glutino days, it was a lot more black and white!
Do you have a favorite FODY product and way to use it?
Hmmmm, tough call. I guess I would pick the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Bars…they are addictive. But I love the Salsa, the Pasta Sauces are fresh and delicious, and who can forget the Ketchup. A lot of good ones… I use the Pasta Sauces in different ways, from simply using it on pasta, to using it as a base for a Bolognese, or even as a dip for Chicken Tenders (homemade gluten-free ones of course).
Let’s talk about our partnership. Robin and I had reached out to you via LinkedIn a while ago. We figured, you are the leading low FODMAP food product company and here we were developing our FODMAP educational and lifestyle brand. We wanted to say “Hi” and introduce ourselves. I don’t think either of us saw what was coming! What was it that compelled you to suggest a partnership?
I was super excited to talk to two people as passionate as I was about low FODMAPs. Your low FODMAP lifestyle Company was very complimentary to our food brand and some sort of deal just seemed very much aligned with our plan. FODY consumers are hungry for knowledge on their diet, recipes, and overall just a low FODMAP life helper! So working with top dietitians, gastroenterologists, and having a resource like FODMAP Everyday is what it’s all about.
We are certainly excited about what we can accomplish together. Educating the low FODMAP consumer is key to helping people feel better and understand how to navigate their IBS, but I know for us, the fact that we are both really interested in delicious food was really important. It is truly humbling to hear people say how they are afraid of eating; that they have lost their joyful relationship with food. Being someone who follows the diet herself, I understand, because I was at that fearful point. Luckily for me, I know how to develop recipes and FODY’s mission and philosophy of helping IBS sufferers enjoy their food was a key attractor for us to your brand. Tell us what you can about the future of FODY. Can you share news about any upcoming new product releases or where you are steering the company?
The FODY future is bright! We have big plans, product innovation, retail distribution, and international partnerships as well. We launched our FODY Salad Dressings on December 1 after listening to our customers ask for them! We have a lot more where that came from. I think FODY fans will be excited for everything to come! The low FODMAP diet will become clearer and clearer, and FODY plans to take a leadership role to help as many as we can.
Steven, thank you so much for your time – and your belief in bringing high-quality low FODMAP products to all of us who need them.