VANCOUVER, BC / ACCESSWIRE / September 28, 2020 / "Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it" is the infamous advice once shared by Julia Child, the celebrated chef and global inspiration who's recognized both for her exquisite culinary capabilities, as well as her determination in pursuing her passion despite the gender barricades that attempted to prevent her. Sonia Couto is a modern-day inspiration exemplifying the benefits that can arise when, as advised by Julia Child, remaining tremendously interested in one's passion.
Sonia Couto, MenuSano Founder and CEO
The Story of MenuSano & Sonia Couto
The Portuguese born Toronto based tech-sensation and CEO is an inspirational powerhouse, using her professional accomplishments to motivate fellow females in embarking upon the career of their dreams, even if those careers fall in male-dominated industries. Having spent over two decades working as a visionary and strategic leader and 13 years working in the tech industry, 6 of which shared a focus with food tech, Sonia is no stranger to the underrepresentation of females in the tech scene, especially females in leadership positions. Her understanding of this underrepresentation never encouraged Sonia to play victim to it, but rather inspired her to conquer through tackling each day with the perseverance and passion required in making her the powerhouse she has become.
Today, Sonia is a founder and the CEO of MenuSano, a nutrition analysis and recipe costing software that allows foodservice, restaurants, schools, and hospitals the ability to create recipes and generate compliant nutrition labels, promoting health through consciousness. The development of MenuSano derived from Konverge Digital Solutions, a software development company that Sonia runs as the Managing Director (did I mention she's a powerhouse?). MenuSano combines Sonia's two passions into one project, that being health coupled with technology, to provide accessible nutritional information that allows consumers to make conscious choices when dining out.
MenuSano's Nutrition Label
The conception of the idea for MenuSano dates back to 2009 at a late-night dinner Sonia had with a few of her colleagues at the Konverge Digital office. Sonia recalled that "the topic of health came up, we had a new dad who worried about what his kids were eating, and a few people on different diets for health reasons. We wondered why, when you purchase boxed food you get nutrition labels, but not when you purchase restaurant food." This conversation spurred Sonia and her dinner companions to reflect on how they, as a technology company, could provide change to what they deemed to be a flawed industry.
Unlike most ideas that are commonly laid to rest in the idea-phase, MenuSano had the support of Konverge to help launch it into production, and within no time Sonia and her team successfully "Developed MenuSano as a tool to encourage restaurants to provide their clients informative information about their food so that, in turn, they can make healthier decisions and live healthier lives."
Their operation began with a pilot project involving Toronto and Ottawa public health called The Diners Savvy Program. Sonia explained that the program "...allowed the MenuSano system to be tested by many different users such as dietitians, nutritionists, chefs, and many more." The program proved MenuSano to be beneficial for public health and resulted in Ontario putting in place legislation requiring restaurants with 20+ locations to provide calorie information on their menus. MenuSano provided the software to help support these restaurants through this transition.
Despite my deep love for Julia Child as an exquisite chef and crusader in the pursuit of passion projects, I must admit that her "If you're afraid of butter, use cream" mentality is one that does damage to my efforts of healthy eating. It is also a mentality commonly adopted by many dining establishments, rendering an attempt at making a healthy menu choice often futile. As a society, I think it's safe to say that we eat out with an ignorance-is-bliss mindset, crediting the flavor of our dishes to the chef's skills, and not to generous amounts of butter used in preparing the said dish.
Seeing the value of consciousness that MenuSano provides diners, I was excited to get the opportunity to explore Sonia's mind and learn about what inspired her to launch such a remarkable venture, what it's like being a successful female in the tech industry, and where she envisions MenuSano going in the coming years:
With MenuSano being the collaborative product of a group of health-conscious individuals looking to make the dining-out experience more transparent, what were your personal motivators behind the project?
"As a breast cancer survivor I know the importance of wanting some control over my health and body. I believe that you are what you eat, however, I'm also a busy professional who doesn't always have time to cook so eating out is something I must do. Having the information at the point of sale allows me to review and question what I'm going to order and allows me to consider whether it is a good option for me and my health. I believe in the product because I believe this type of tool should be available to encourage food service to contribute to world health. Using our experience in technology we were able to develop a product that is easy to use and inexpensive which encourages more users."
Since MenuSano entered the market in 2010, what changes have you seen within the industry as a result?
"A few countries have started creating legislation to mandate this information to be public in places like restaurants. However, since going to market I have noticed that the majority of our clients actually don't have to comply but choose to provide the information to their guests as a courtesy and the opportunity to serve a healthy conscious client.
"People are more health-conscious today than ever before, and as a society we see more people exercising and being aware of their diet as they try to live healthier lives. With food and what we put in our bodies being a major factor in our health, we need to learn a little more about the one thing we all need to do: ‘EAT'. Tools like MenuSano contribute to educating the public regarding food composition."
Looking at the expansive growth MenuSano has undergone in recent years, what are you most proud of?
"Running MenuSano from the ground up and turning it into the global company it is today with customers all over the world is definitely a big accomplishment. I remember the days when we had no clients and sometimes questioned whether it would ever take off but perseverance and hard work paid off. I still get excited every time I see a new client sign up to use the product."
What is one of your proudest accomplishments while working with MenuSano?
"One of my proudest moments was when I decided to completely redevelop MenuSano using our client feedback to improve and make the system easier to use. During that time, we had clients in Canada and the US, but the results of that decision allowed us to pivot the product and we started getting clients all over the world. I remember when we got our first client in Dubai, that was a very proud moment for me and the team."
I recently saw two shocking statistics that showed women account for 14% of software engineers and 25% of computer-scientists. Though I knew that females were underrepresented in the industry, I wasn't aware by how much. As a leader in food tech, you are an inspiration to many, but as a female leader, you are an inspiration to women. How does that make you feel?
"As a female in a male-dominated industry, I'm proud that I was trusted to run and operate a software development firm in a leadership position. My personal belief is that every day I learn something new, I don't know everything so when opportunities arise I try to learn. I'm also consistently learning from my mistakes, and training my team to think the same way.
"Having people look up to me as a leader in food tech is an honor. Food is actually a very complex thing to understand, there are a lot of variables and components. Technology can certainly help make things easier and that's what I love about this space.
"Women looking up to me in the tech space is amazing. I'm so busy working and trying to accomplish goals that I sometimes forget what I have been able to accomplish in this space. I've had a few high school girls reach out to me on LinkedIn to ask me advice on what they can do early in their career to be able to accomplish some of the things I have. That's when I realized I can contribute to others' success and advise them based on my own journey and experience."
What is your favorite part of working in the food tech industry, and how has this transpired into your work with MenuSano?
"Since I love technology, my favorite part of the industry is proving that we can take a very traditional method and improve it using technology. For example, we often hear from food start-up that if our system didn't exist, they wouldn't be able to get their products ready for distribution. Most of these food startups have limited budgets and sending food to a lab is not feasible for them, using MenuSano allows them to get their nutrition analysis done in minutes and have labels ready to print for their products."
The pandemic has greatly altered society's dining habits, from seeing a decline in the business dinner to a rise in take-out and home delivery options. How has MenuSano pivoted to embrace the change brought on by the pandemic?
"I thought since restaurants are struggling to stay in business, costs are something they really need to monitor. So we developed a ‘Recipe Costing' feature in MenuSano and released the feature during the pandemic to help our clients. When using MenuSano, you create recipes based on ingredients and quantities, the end result is a nutrition label but now you can also get a total cost of making that specific recipe to help with markups and food waste."
What's next for MenuSano?
"I always have something up my sleeves with MenuSano. Currently, we are in the process of bringing in additional government data from other countries like Europe so that we can continue growing the data and offering our clients ingredient options like no other tool. We will also be improving the recipe cost feature and including features to help with food waste."
And what about you? What are your personal next steps as an entrepreneur and leader?
"I want to get more involved in our healthcare & education system to try and drive the need for food and nutrition education. I think children should be taught about nutrition in schools. I love that chefs create delicious and very appealing dishes but I think nutrition should be part of that creation. For example; a dish may look sexy and delicious, however, if it is filled with sugar, sodium, or carbohydrates it is not healthy and may cause harm to the individual consuming it.
"I recently became an ambassador for a Not-For-Profit organization called After Breast Cancer. As a recent breast cancer survivor, I wanted to give back to the community and I love that this organization provides women going through surgeries free bras and prosthetics which can be very expensive and a lot of women cannot afford it. From personal experience, having a prosthetic helps you feel like a woman again. The breast reconstruction process is long and painful.
"Going forward, I want to continue learning and helping other women navigate through a male-dominated industry like tech and continue to drive change that will help reduce disease globally."
Any advice to struggling restaurants and food related businesses during these constantly changing times?
"My advice to struggling food-related businesses would be to be creative and find ways to pivot. One thing I talk about a lot is how we have regular restaurants and then we have health focused restaurants. I think regular restaurants can create a brand new client base if they change their menu to offer some healthy choices. And when I say that I don't mean a salad option, I mean delicious healthy options, where there is an opportunity to grow an entirely new revenue opportunity.
"Embrace technology, it is there to help you."
Any advice to females in the food & tech industry?
"One thing I did early on that helped me get to where I am today was that I worked in every role - the only thing I can't do is code. Now in a leadership position, not only do I know every role but I can help my team solve challenges, create improvements, and help them when they are stuck. The result is people trust my judgment and decisions.
"This really helped me step into a leadership role and then eventually run the company and build exciting products like MenuSano.
"If you want to be a boss someday, have a boss mentality, surround yourself with women who embody what you want to be."
If someone wants to get in touch with you or get involved with MenuSano, what's the best way?
Anyone can reach out to me directly:
SOURCE: Mindful Media PR