Food for thought

Kim Behzadi with food books on her head.

Kimberly Behzadi, MBA ’16, reads an exorbitant number of books about food.

Not cookbooks, she’s quick to emphasize, but food books—nonfiction about culinary trends, history and environmental issues, memoirs by chefs and other foodies, and even titles that explore a single ingredient.

“Food is a connector,” Behzadi explains. “It connects me to my family and to my dad’s heritage as an Iranian immigrant, and hearing someone else’s story about a dish or an ingredient makes me feel much more connected to the world outside of the bubble I live in.”

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Behzadi joined Wells Enterprises as senior associate brand manager for Halo Top ice cream. While working remotely, she and her husband bought a house and moved back to Buffalo to be close to her father, who was battling pancreatic cancer.

Amid this change and uncertainty, Behzadi took solace in ‘BookTube’—a corner of YouTube for book lovers—and launched her channel, Bookmarks and Breadsticks, to talk about her latest reads. Putting her UB MBA to use, she also saw a gap in the booming market for subscription boxes and decided to create her own: Read It and Eat™. Sent quarterly to customers, each box includes a food book, treats and other goodies from small businesses, and a $5 donation to a nonprofit that fights hunger.

“Hunger has always been a global issue, but it was exacerbated by the pandemic, and I wanted to find ways to help,” Behzadi says. “There’s nothing like delivering 400 canned goods to a food pantry or pulling up to a peanut butter drive and dropping off 50 jars of peanut butter. After only being in business for a year, I’m proud my customers and I have done some good.”

In many ways, Behzadi’s dual roles as brand marketer and small-business owner combine all the skills she gained in the UB School of Management and in her first few post-MBA positions.

“One foundational element of the UB MBA that I carry with me today is the LeaderCORE™ program,” she says. “I’ve always been a collaborative, creative person, but LeaderCORE gave me the toolkit to articulate those skills and the self-awareness to talk about areas I needed to improve upon.”

After graduating in 2016, Behzadi joined Elmhurst Milked, a plant-based beverage brand, as social media manager and was quickly promoted to marketing director. From there, she was named senior associate brand manager for Planters and was part of the teams that launched its new Pop and Pour product line and killed off Mr. Peanut in a Super Bowl commercial.

While Elmhurst Milked had a startup mentality, Planters was then part of Kraft Heinz Co., the third largest food and beverage company in North America. Today, Behzadi’s role at Halo Top combines the best of both worlds, allowing her to contribute to marketing campaigns and innovative products within a corporate environment.

“My favorite part is taking ideas from concepts on paper to products on the shelf,” she says. “In a single week, I might give multiple leadership presentations about our product pipeline and then go oversee a social media shoot, all completely virtually.”

Meanwhile, for Bookmarks and Breadsticks, Behzadi is crowdfunding to take her business to the next level—tapping into skills she developed as a School of Management student on her class gift committee. In addition, she’s part of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership’s inaugural Emerging Entrepreneurs Accelerator program, which helps her connect with other small-business owners.

“If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that life is too short,” Behzadi says. “For current UB students, this is the time to put your best foot forward and go after whatever you’re passionate in. I mean, I love food writing—who would have thought I’d be able to turn that into a business?”

Written by Matthew Biddle