At Think, we eat, breath, and sleep health and wellness not just because we focus our consultancy services on helping businesses within this industry succeed, but because we believe in living in harmony with nature, nourishing our bodies with healthy foods, and incorporating true wellness into our active lifestyles. Of course, we also appreciate marketing strategies done right.
It is for these reasons, that we jumped at the opportunity to interview Denver’s own, Krista Roberts, Director of Slow Food Nations. Talk about someone who lives her passion! She is championing a better future for consumers, chefs, farmers, restaurateurs and our planet alike. Beyond that, she is advocating that our beloved Denver take center-stage as the long-term, international host of the Slow Food Nations festival which happens each summer.
However, with all of her tireless marketing work, there is still confusion about what Slow Food Nations means and why it is important. We cut through the myths and noise and explain why Slow Food Nations is perfectly positioned for huge growth.
Q: What is Slow Food Nation?
KR: A festival to celebrate culture, food, and coming together around food. It is inspired by a Slow Foods event that happens every two years in Italy called Terra Madre, which is about to happen at the end of September. The event brings about one million people to the city of Turin. Slow Food decided that we wanted to create something similar in the U. S that allows people to gather and experience slow, clean and fair food.
Q: Who is Slow Food Nation applicable to? Is is for restaurants, farmers and consumers?
KR: In some ways it's really every one of those groups, but Slow Food connects mostly with consumers. We all eat, and it's that common ground that we all share. Slow Foods has quite a big following. Our community around this movement is worldwide, millions of people. We want to allow those people who are already connected to come together, but also we want to create this space that allows people who might have heard of Slow Food (or may have never heard of it) to allow them to engage, better understand it and see if there's a place for them. We also created a space at this festival for farmers and for chefs. We have a chef's alliance program, and we had a chef summit at the gathering.
We want to make sure there's a way for those kind of smaller communities within the food community to connect with each other. They get to meet people from around the world who are connected, connected and committed to food in similar ways. It's very inspiring, and I think it allows people to take things away and apply them to their work. That's what makes it so special.
Q: Is Slow Food Only Organic?
KR: Most of the time, but that’s not a criteria. Slow Food is definitely an advocate for organic production. Even more importantly, we encourage people to get to know their food: who grows it? How is it grown? And also what is the story behind it? So you know, the cultural relevance, and the food’s heritage. It is more like good to know information - the who and the how. Then you, the consumer, can choose what is important to you and what matters.
Q: How is Slow Food Nations involved in local food production?
KR: The distribution of food is one of the biggest challenges we face. There's a saying, “vote with your fork.” You've heard that. It's about how do we as consumers make choices that show what we want, what we’re interested in and what we care about? We want consumers to think about their choices and intentionally shop based on where their food is coming from. Somewhere like Colorado, we can't buy local all year round. There are a lot of places like that. So it's really thinking about local but also sustainable food. Is it grown in a way that's good for the environment? It is also about are the people who are working in this space treated fairly? It's really piecing all of those together and there isn’t a perfect formula, but it's what can we all be doing to make a difference even even if it's just one thing.
Q: How does Slow Food impact farmers?
KR: Farmers are an important part of what Slow Food cares about. We do a lot of different work to support that part of our community. For instance, we advocate for policies that support farmers such as the Farm Bill. We also look for new ways to encourage people to connect with farmers. Locally, we promote the farmer's markets. We just held a series in Denver called Slow Food Socials. We host the socials at different restaurants that source from local farms and share our values. Typically, there's a guest speaker. At the last event, Clinton Buckner who is a farmer out of a ranch in Boulder spoke, and everyone got to hear what's important to him and what he does.
We're going to do a campaign right around Thanksgiving that asks to thank your farmer or a farmer. It's really about how do we create brand awareness and show support for the people who feed us.
Q: What are some of the biggest trends in the food industry right now that are shaping the future of food?
KR: I just read an article yesterday on the BBC online, it was about the future of food and lesser known crops. It's about the heritage of food, and how we preserve endangered foods. I mean if you look at the varieties of apples that exist, and what we actually see, or are able to purchase, in the grocery store as consumers. Generally, we see such a small portion of what's actually out there.
The idea is how do we eat these foods to save them? How do we profile these endangered crops or these foods that are really a strong part of our heritage. They’re also an important aspect of our biodiversity and the variety of foods that we eat and grow. It ties back to things like climate change. We look at the diversity that does exist in our food and ask how do we eat it to save it, and grow more of that?
Q: Tell us about your favorite Slow Food marketing campaign and why?
KR: Right before the Slow Food Nation festival, we did a campaign called The Taste of Slow Food Nation. We asked different restaurants to do a special menu item that featured endangered foods. For example, Colorado’s American Plains Bison. This was an opportunity to educate consumers about regenerative agriculture and the importance of our native foods, but it was also fun. We had over 50 restaurants participate. We have the ability to make connections across the board, which is what needs to happen for change. It was a really great campaign.
Q: Slow Food Nations has a great presence on social media, what do you attribute to your success?
KR: I think it is because people want to learn more. They want to see and hear these Slow Food Nation stories. Social media is great for that, for the visual and also telling the stories that connect with people. I also think that the Slow Food Nation's festival is a great way to generate more buzz. Through our social media pages, we can continue the discussion and allow people to stay involved until the next summer when it happens again.
Q: We always talk about an integrated marketing approach and connecting your campaigns holistically across platforms. How is Slow Food Nations accomplish this?
KR: They're all tied together. I think that that festival is the way to allow people to experience it, and live it in person. Our goal is that Slow Food Nation here in Denver becomes a destination event that people plan for, travel to, and participate in. We had over 20,000 people this year which is still small especially compared to what happens in Italy. The question is how does this continue to grow not only for people who are lucky to be here in Colorado, but also for people to continue to make plans to come from around the country and around the world.
Q: How are traditional food companies responding to the Slow Food movement? Are you seeing any brands step up and say, “we want to be part of this too?”
KR: Yes, one of our partners this past year, and this is a new partnership for us, is with Danone North America. They were recently certified as a B Corp, which I think they're one of the largest companies to get certified. They’re doing a lot of work around sustainability and also supporting farmers. It's great to see that a company who has the ability to have a large impact jump in and say “how can we help?”
Q: What are your main hindrances to growth?
KR: To start, creating awareness because Slow Food Nations can feel so big. How do we create ways that people can easily understand it. And then what you also pointed out around resources and touch. We're a non-profit. We have a small group of people and that's always going to be a challenge, but what I do find amazing is how much Slow Food is able to do with the small team. Seeing the people who are involved and how passionate they are, I think that's one of our greatest strengths. You know, if I'm talking to someone and I'm expressing my passion, they experience it. If they have the same, it just kind of creates this growth, and it really is in a grassroots style, but it's strong.
Q: If you only had a few words that you could use, what words would you want associated with Slow Food Nation?
KR: My favorite quote from our founder, Carlo Petrini, says “if you want to change the world, do it with joy. Not with sadness.” It's one of the things that draws me to Slow Food because it's the way it is approached. It's the joy and the justice. It's okay to celebrate the pleasure of food, and then, of course, Slow Food is about inspiring people to create change for good, clean and fair food.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the next 3 years?
KR: I’d like to see Denver and our community really embraced Slow Food Nations. Denver has a great collaborative spirit. The city welcomes the restaurants and the chef community here, and we’re excited to collaborate with folks who are coming in. The same applies with the different food organizations that are here. It's just very open and welcoming, which I think is Denver’s spirit. It makes a statement that things are happening here that we might not think of immediately like on the coasts. We want to really showcase the great things that our city has to offer. We're starting to see a more international recognition. I mean, we had a great delegation from Japan. We had folks from Cuba. It's just great to see everyone come together in that way. So that's what I hope it becomes, this well known event and allows us to build even stronger campaigns and stories.
To learn more about Slow Food Nations visit their website and follow them @slowfoodusa and @slowfooddenver.