Life Lessons with Yves Rey

Departments - Life Lessons

The independent senior advisor to industry-leading companies talks global harmonization, discovering the world through food and more.

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October 12, 2021

When Yves Rey used to travel for work, one of the first things he did after landing was strap on running shoes and hit the pavement for a couple hours.

Part of that was because he loves running and moving (marathons first, now triathlons), but another part of the reason was because he wanted to learn about his surroundings.

That explorer mindset also instilled a passion for food when he was younger.

“I was able to travel everywhere,” said Rey, who grew up in Switzerland. “If you want to understand people in a country, the best way is to look at what they eat.”

That mindset carried him into a career in the food industry with companies such as Heineken, McCain Foods Limited and Danone. It also shepherded him to 128 countries during his career.

“I am a citizen of the world,” he said.

Seeing the world that way and visiting (and in many cases living in) countries such as China, Indonesia, the United States, Vietnam, Iran and more, gave him a greater understanding of how important globalization is for the food industry, including harmonizing food safety standards and regulations.

Rey, who currently advises a number of companies and universities on food safety and global harmonization, shares his life lessons on food safety, why thinking globally is important and more.

For so many people, food is not only putting calories into your body for an active life. Food is tradition. Food is socialization. Food is emotional stability.

So, when you work in the food industry, you know it is much more than calories. It’s not a job. It’s a mission.

I like it a lot because you’re mixing rationality and irrationality. For the consumer, sometimes their reactions are not rational. They are guided by their emotions.

I discover the world through food. It’s the best way to understand the diversity of the world.

Diversity is a strength. We must take that into consideration.

Food is something that you can make in the kitchen. But food security is really important, and to have that, you need the industrialization of food. You must do it on a large scale. For that, science and technology are important.

If you want to have political stability, the first thing that you should do is give people enough safe food.

Harmonization of food regulation can help stabilize the price, ensure food security and make the world a better place.

I am not a dreamer. For business reasons, we should do it. Harmonization of food regulation is good for U.S. companies [because they need to import and export].

When you live in a big country like the U.S., you can live without taking other countries into consideration. But the smaller the country, the bigger it is in the world [as far as needs].

Every company has a different strategy. A different mindset. So you should adapt your mindset in order to ensure that you are able to deliver.

For a company like Cadbury Schweppes, the most important thing was the bottom line. For Coca-Cola, it’s not the bottom line, it’s the top line. They are a commercial and marketing company. They want to get a large distribution, then money will follow.

At Danone, thinking outside the box was a way to get permission. It’s like a big startup.

For big companies, innovation is becoming more difficult to develop because they don’t want to take risks.

Luckily, there are startups. And they can take the risk. And the big companies are there, like a cat looking at a mouse, and as soon as the startup is profitable, they bite it.

Safe food is the base of the pyramid. On top of that, you should deliver product conformity. On top of that you have product superiority. You cannot get superiority if you don’t deliver consistent quality and do it safely.