Women in the Food & Beverage Industry

‘Manufacturers making bold sustainable moves now will be winners’ – Solveiga Pakštaitė [Interview]

While working on a design project for visually impaired people, Solveiga Pakštaitė realised that, when it comes to when our food goes really goes off, we are all in need of help to identify a product’s freshness. This inspired her to develop a new way to help reduce food waste.

Can you give us a brief summary of your professional career to date?

“I went to study Industrial Design at Brunel University London because of my interest in people and problem-solving. I believe that design is applied-psychology and that fascinates me. I learnt that it’s possible to solve problems in physical, informational, aesthetic, experiential ways… the list goes on.”

“I’ve always loved the idea of inclusive design – it’s when you make something easy enough for somebody with a specific disability to use, it makes it even easier for people without that disability to use it, and therefore making the whole design smarter, without excluding people. That’s the approach I took to creating Mimica Touch and the inspiration hit when I was working at CCD, a design and ergonomics consultancy in London, on a project about visually impaired people and public transportation. Blind people perform many everyday tasks in cool, different ways to sighted people, but chatting to our participants made me realise that food is also an issue – specifically printed expiry dates.”

“I went back to my final year of university with this as my project question and quickly realised that we’re all ‘blind’ to when our food really goes off, not just people who can’t see, and that’s why we waste so much. I collaborated with a chemist on campus to create the first versions of Mimica Touch. I filed a patent for the concept before graduation.”

“I never thought I’d start a company, but it was market pull that made it an exciting opportunity. I won the UK James Dyson Award for the concept and the giants of the food industry started contacting me. This is what I’ve been doing ever since graduating, learning ridiculous amounts. I also am a board member of Fast Forward 2030, consult of innovation projects for global brands and teach social entrepreneurship at UCL.”

How did you discover your passion for sustainability – was food waste always an interest of yours?

“I’m Lithuanian and was brought up by parents that remember food rationing under the Soviet rule, so food waste was not an option in our house. I assumed that this is how every family lives until I went to university and was horrified to see how much food people waste. Only then I started learning the shocking stats about food waste such as, if food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitted after China and the US. Mad, isn’t it? I believe if you have an idea that could move the dial in the right direction, you owe it to humanity to try to make it happen.”

What advice would you give other bright inventors who want to get their solutions on the market? What or who was pivotal in helping you launch Mimica?

“Don’t believe you know what you’re doing, nobody does. Not even the big decision makers at the top do. You might as well learn as much as you can from others and constantly challenge your thinking. Bringing in an experienced and successful entrepreneur from the food industry into Mimica has been hands down, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I think that’s what women are better at, on the whole, we’re better at recognising our shortcomings and asking for help. It’s a superpower, trust me.”

You founded Mimica Touch to tackle food waste. Can you explain how your innovation works?

“Our first product, Mimica Touch, is a patented freshness indicator that experiences decay at the same rate as food because it contains waste materials from the food industry. It provides accurate, real-time indication of the product’s freshness with a tactile interface. Having a more accurate and responsive system will reduce food waste and improve food safety.”

When it comes to product choice, protecting our environment is a key element for consumers today. Do you think the F&B industry can do better in this field?

“Consumers have never been as aware of the environmental impact of their consumption habits. This is particularly true for the industry. F&B manufacturers launched some initiatives but many consumers feel that it is too little, too late. The whole world is watching what food companies are doing and particularly large multinationals. Manufacturers making bold sustainable moves now will be winners down the line.”

Are women more aware of this necessity than men?

“One often hears that women are generally more likely to be aware of sustainability issues and change their behaviour accordingly. This is not a difference I have noticed professionally. Many men I meet are very aware and run companies with sustainable missions in the food industry.”

Top positions in the F&B industry remain heavily dominated by men. What advice would you give to women willing to join and change the industry?

“The same advice I would give to a man: find a great mentor who you can learn from, understand how they got where they are and find out what your unique skill set is.”

 

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Izabela Makos

Izabela Makos

Author Bio ▼

Senior Content Executive Food Portfolio (Informa Markets) and Manager of the Linkedin Women in Food Group
August 20, 2019

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