New Board Advisor Michelle Gloeckler Discusses Customizable, Contactless Food Solutions

Michelle Gloeckler is an experienced business leader with 30 years in the food and retail industries. She’s held senior roles at Walmart and Hershey’s, and is a current board member of BJ’s Wholesale Club and Benson Hill. In 2015, Michelle was also named to Fortune’s list of Most Powerful Women.

Michelle recently joined Blendid’s advisory board, and we sat down for a (virtual) Q&A to get to know her better. We chatted with Michelle about why she joined Blendid, why she believes customizable, contactless solutions are the next frontier of the food industry, and how food service businesses can survive the pandemic.

Watch the full conversation between Michelle Gloeckler and Covahne Michaels, Blendid’s VP of Marketing. You can also read a condensed version of the conversation below.

This pandemic is driving some form of change within every type of business. What are some of the long-standing changes you see emerging in the food and retail spaces specifically?

The food and retail industries are working really hard to continue serving their customers safely. Retailers have adjusted their operating practices and procedures with the safety of their team members and shoppers in mind. This includes enacting new protocols for cleaning, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves, checking temperatures, shortening hours of operation, and metering store capacity. Shoppers are also likely to see in-store changes such as new signage, plexiglass, and one-way aisle markers. 

Retail businesses have also suspended many services — everything from covering fountain drink stations to removing food from self-service bars. When you think about the long-term effects of this pandemic, I believe some of these changes around self-service and communal food stations will remain. I recognize that it’s been a challenging time for these businesses, and I thank all of the retailers out there for responding so quickly and updating their operating practices.

You’re a board member and advisor for a few businesses. Why were you interested in joining Blendid’s advisory board?

Personally, I am committed to enhancing the idea of “modern food”, which to me means highlighting how what you eat impacts your health and ultimately our healthcare costs. But in order for people to eat healthy, they need to have access to fresh, delicious, and affordable foods. Blendid is working to solve this challenge with its food technology platform, and that was really appealing to me.

How do you hope to draw from your previous leadership positions when offering guidance to Blendid’s executive team?

One of the things that attracted me to Blendid is their emerging consumer food technology. The Blendid brand is poised for rapid growth, but its long-term success will require continued, effective brand building and retail operations management. 

I’m hoping to leverage my experience of over 30 years in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) and retail industries to help Blendid succeed. My experience at The Hershey Company gives me a strong foundation for building brands that span over 100 years. And through my retail experiences at Walmart and Academy Sports, I’ve developed a solid understanding of retail operations and the fast-paced mindset required to meet the needs of customers. I look forward to leveraging my experience in the CPG world as well as in retail to support the Blendid leadership team on their journey.

What role do you think robotics and AI will play in the future of foodservice operations (say in the next five to 10 years)? How prevalent will these technologies be for the end consumer?

I spent a lot of time studying the consumer while leading Health and Wellness at Walmart. I think we’re in unprecedented times — consumers are paying more attention to their health and wellness. There’s been a shift in mindset where consumers now see that each of us is responsible for our own health and what we put into our bodies. I believe that in the future, technology will allow more people to become more attuned to their unique health needs.

I always like to step back and think about my own behavior and that of my family’s — how we exercise, how we eat and sleep, and the numbers we monitor like heart rate and blood pressure. Apps and wearables that can measure these numbers are now at our fingertips, helping us determine what each of us needs to be healthy. 

The precision of Blendid’s technology and use of AI gives the consumer confidence in what’s inside their Blendid product. For example, my son has a nut allergy and needs to know there’s no trace of nuts in what he consumes. Blendid’s technology is precise, so consumers with unique dietary needs can enjoy Blendid products with confidence. I believe AI and robotics are two essential components of technology that will help accelerate this journey of personalized food and ingredient-sourcing transparency.

Blendid is currently in the process of expanding into new markets. How do you think we can succeed in light of the current economic challenges many businesses are facing?

Blendid is fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. As a contactless robotic kiosk, Blendid already offers a built-in solution to food safety that consumers and operators desperately need.  When you add the allure of robotics and the ability for customizable food on demand, you have a highly attractive food solution package.  

I believe this is the next iteration of food service. The consumer is telling us what they want, and that’s what Blendid delivers. It’s fun, but it’s also highly desirable.

What advice would you offer to business leaders in the food and retail spaces who are trying to navigate the challenges of the pandemic?

COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into just about every business. The foodservice industry is suffering from COVID-related food safety concerns. Consumers are afraid to purchase if they can’t be confident that food has been prepared safely. Businesses need to listen to the consumers and make safety their key priority — and then communicate and be transparent with consumers.

The consumer has the loudest voice. We have to listen to what they are saying. Be responsive. Don’t be afraid. Evaluate your investments carefully, but always listen to your customers.

Michelle, thank you very much for your time.  It was a pleasure speaking with you.

Thank you, I enjoyed it. I always enjoy talking about the industry and, more importantly, about the future.

You can learn more about Michelle and her position as a Blendid advisory board member in our recent press release.