Kris Malkoski joined Newell Brands in February 2020 as CEO to lead its Food Business unit, which includes such food storage and preservation brands as Rubbermaid, FoodSaver and Ball.
This role draws from her career as a brand builder — and as a girl growing up on a farm, where she grew and preserved food. “I was canning when I was 5 years old,” she says. When she thinks What the Future, she believes brands can empower people to waste less food.
Kate MacArthur: Can we guilt our way into wasting less?
Kris Malkoski: I hate to think that guilt is the right thing, because it’s a negative emotion. I think the best way to help people reduce waste is to make them aware, and then, empowered and accomplished to reduce waste by having easy, low-cost solutions like canning, vacuum sealing or just keeping produce fresh longer.
MacArthur: One idea to reduce waste is preventing it from the get-go. How do we do that?
Malkoski: I do think a big part of it is education and awareness, but then it’s also simple tools. One of the things that we think about as we look at product development is how do we help that consumer better utilize and manage their food? And then we’ve focused on embedding our technology with a silver shield antimicrobial. It’s actually launching as we speak, and it provides antimicrobial protection, 24/7, which helps resist bacteria growth in containers where you’re storing leftovers.
MacArthur: And poor planning is a significant factor.
Malkoski: Where I really see the future of food management going, which includes the planning piece, is that you make sure people don’t forget what they’ve preserved and packed away. One of the things that I’m exploring with my team right now is how to create smart containers and smart packaging so that we can remind you if you haven’t planned appropriately. And remind you perhaps via an app on your smartphone, that the shelf life is starting to get toward its end-state or that freezer burn is around the corner, so that you can be reminded of what you already have and use it in time so that it hasn’t spoiled or incurred freezer burn.
MacArthur: I like the way that you frame it as being about food management. Maybe that’s part of the cultural shift we need to make.
Malkoski: Yeah, when you’re really busy and you have kids and you have so many things going on in your household, it is harder to plan. So if you can’t get people thinking about the front end of the food management cycle, give them support on the back end so that they don’t have to feel guilty that they bought too much or there was a meal they couldn’t make that day because something happened in their life.
MacArthur: One cultural shift we are seeing is a rebirth of old school food practices that had been forgotten.
Malkoski: This year, largely driven by the coronavirus, I’ve seen new household utilization of canning and vacuum sealing increase by about 50%. It’s fascinating to me because it’s being driven by younger people. They understand this idea of keeping the flavor in food and keeping food fresher, longer. The exciting thing is the feedback we get on social media. People are saying, “Look what I achieved!” and proudly showing their first jar of canned peaches or rhubarb jelly. I do think there is a rebirth and a resurgence here of people really caring about naturalness, caring about freshness, and then feeling that personal satisfaction and reward of being able to make something that lasts longer out of it.
MacArthur: How could that help us get to less packaging in the future, including for restaurants?
Malkoski: We put pressure on the food industry. I mean that seriously. That’s how we will see a real movement to walk away from throwaway plastics toward packaging that you can use and reuse. If companies feel the pressure from youth — and sustainability and reusability is a big area for them — corporations are going to have to address it.
Next year, we are launching reusable bags on Rubbermaid. They are dishwasher-safe and will last at least 120 times versus a throwaway disposable bag. The other thing that Rubbermaid did last fall is partner with TerraCycle. TerraCycle will take all these products back and figure out how to recycle them.
MacArthur: Do you see the idea of zero-waste packaging, whether for soap or special coatings on produce, growing to mass scale?
Malkoski: Well, I don’t know that everyone’s going to be thrilled with a technology sprayed onto their produce, per se. But just as we never used to recycle beer cans or aluminum pop cans, I think we can create habits and practices where people bring their own storage containers to grocery stores to fill them, which is one form of zero-waste packaging. People are starting to move on the continuum. We have a long way to go, but I think we can get much better.