We are honored to recognize Naomi Sundalius for this months Females in Food member spotlight. Naomi has blazed a trail from Food Scientist to New Ventures Manager. Read this short Q&A to learn more about Naomi, her career achievements, and the advice she has for other women in the industry.
Q. Tell us about your current role/company.
A. I am currently a New Ventures Manager at Bellisio Foods which is a role within our business development group in a blurry line of Marketing/Sales. Bellisio Foods is a frozen food manufacturer focusing on entrees and snacks (pizza snack rolls and small baked goods). We started over 30 years ago with one brand, Michelina’s and now have a portfolio of brands: Boston Market, Atkins, EatingWell, Authentic Asia and a couple smaller players making their entrances here and there. The New Ventures group is tasked with Asian Synergies, Growth Innovation and M&A/Licensing Opportunities.
Q. How did you decide on a career in the food industry? What has your career path entailed?
A. I wanted to do Food Product Development. As I was in high school deciding what to study in college, I thought about going for culinary arts or mechanical engineering and I feel like I made a decent compromise. I was a rare freshman Food Science student in the early 2000s (might be more common these days). I attended Michigan State University for my BS and Louisiana State University for my MS in Food Science. I did internships with Amway and Kellogg’s and started my career with Michael Foods. While at Michael Foods (and through the internships), I realized that the food scientists do not decide what to develop, that comes from marketing and so I started a part-time MBA at University of Minnesota Carlson School of Business. I did my MBA slowly over 5 ½ years while mostly taking one class per semester (including summer) so that I could stay focused on both work and school without making major compromises to either. While working on my MBA, I transitioned from Michael Foods to work at Bellisio Foods. I spent over 7 year in R&D Product Development at Bellisio Foods working on various projects and moving our office from one of our factories in Lakeville, MN to downtown Minneapolis a block from our corporate office. In 2018, I transitioned to a “marketing rotation” to gain hands-on cross-functional training and expertise I never would have gained staying in an R&D role. The New Ventures team decided to keep me as part of their team longer term to leverage my years of experience and connections with individuals across the company. When I started at Bellisio Foods, we were still owned by the original founder, Jeno Paulucci, he sold the company to a private equity group the day before he passed away in 2011 and in 2016, the private equity group sold us to Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, a Thailand based company.
Q. What accomplishments are you the most proud of?
A. I am extremely proud of the work that our R&D team did in the creation and launch of the Chili’s at Home frozen line (we received IRI Pacesetters and Nielsen Breakthrough awards for this launch) as well as the EatingWell frozen line. But my proudest moment on both of those initiatives was handing them off to my first official employee and seeing her excel in the relationship with Brinker International (owners of Chili’s) and Meredith Publishing (owners of EatingWell Magazine). Sadly, the Chili’s line was discontinued in the last couple years due to reasons outside of the products themselves.
Q. What are your areas of expertise for Females in Food members to connect with you on?
A. Product Development, Agile Development, MBA Benefits, Marketing through the lens of a Scientist
Q. What do you enjoy doing most in your free time?
A. Prior to COVID (and pregnancy prior to COVID but birthed in COVID), I enjoyed playing co-rec soccer – mostly defense. I am a crafty type person, enjoy cross-stitching, knitting, sewing, painting (mostly acrylic) and other creative activities.
Since I now have two boys (3 ½ and 6 mons), in my free time, I enjoy taking them for walks, playing with play-doh, kinetic sand, baths (swimming prior to COVID), playgrounds, etc.
Prior to college, I was an avid baker but haven’t done this as much in the last 20 years… although I did make my grandma’s carrot cake with cream cheesing frosting on Christmas.
Q. What advice would you give your younger self? Or What advice do you have for those who are just coming into the food industry?
A. I would tell myself, be in the moment, don’t worry about the future, it has a plan for you and it possibly will be challenging along the way, but it will get you where you are meant to go.
For those coming into the food industry, take time to network, it is the connections that you have that make everything so much easier and so much more rewarding.
Specific to this group, try your best to empower other women. I have been suppressed by many women in their attempts to get ahead to know how much it can hurt.
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