The Sourcing Magician – Employee Spotlight with Brent Pownall  

by Meghan Kahnle

by Meghan Kahnle

Updated Dec 15, 2023

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Grocery shopping for thousands of customers, juggling about ten different spreadsheets, all while keeping eyes on the shipments and what’s coming and going from the kitchen is a casual day for Brent. His ability to find creative solutions to sourcing road blocks, and predict potential problems based on the weather—all while refusing to let the quality of our meals suffer—is like having a magic eight ball that somehow gives you everything you want.  

There is a lot of care and attention to detail that goes into getting the chefs what they need to make magic in the kitchen and Brent is the clever man behind the curtain.  

Meg: How long have you been with MM?    

Brent: I have been with Metabolic Meals about 2 1/2 years now. I started October of 2020. 

M: Nice, and what does your job entail?   

B: Well, I’m not saying I do everything here. But it’s hard, right? There are so many pieces as a sourcing specialist. It’s not just sourcing as you hear it, it’s the entire buying for the facility too. From buying the cutlery for the employee break room all the way up to buying the boxes, liners, obviously the food—everything.  

For example if we have a new item, I’m responsible for finding the best vendor, the best price, working out all the logistics, and then staying on top of the quality. So, my role is really all inclusive. 

M: Okay so run me through the nuance of what that looks like? 

B: Well produce sourcing is a daily thing, because it’s an item that’s technically dead and you’re trying to keep it alive for long enough so we can, you know, perform our magic on it. Looking at what comes in, and checking the quality is a daily event. Green beans are one of the toughest (vegetables). Any time green beans come in, we cook a few pounds up to make sure they’re going to be good and up to our standard the next day. 

It also helps to follow trends in the market, in the news, it’s amazing how much I can find on the news. You hear about big rainstorms in California and think “Ohh, no! Here in two to three weeks we may have a hard time getting broccoli” because if they can’t get in the fields, it may rot or get too much sun if it’s not harvested in time and then the quality and availability can really vary. Other times the produce might be good, but it’s double in price so that’s not beneficial.  

I’m constantly looking at produce reports and trying to stay on top of that quality factor. I’m also looking when I’m at the grocery store to see what quality is right now. For example we took brussels sprouts off the menu a while back because of the quality. The produce report might say it’s good quality and then I’ll see it at the grocery store and it’ll be the size of a baseball. So (as a company) we often have a different standard or definition of good quality.  

Good produce is probably one of the hardest things to source. 

M: Wow that is so many things to keep track of, you’re kind of juggling all of these things that could affect us down the line. Is there anything you do that falls outside of your job description?  

B: Yeah my role has kind of evolved I guess, because I do all the forecasting and planning number wise for the kitchen and back (of house). I run daily reports so I can get ahead of the game on purchasing and kind of see what I need to buy a little more of. It’s a little nerve racking, but it’s mostly fun. I also like to stop off at the store and get snacks for the team and fill the break room.  

M: This sounds like such a natural role for you. What drew you to the company or the position?  

B: So Metabolic Meals is actually my third meal kit/meal delivery company. Back in 2016, I started with a company called Sprig out of California. It was very similar to what we do, but more in real time delivery. They were just ahead of their time and ended up fading away. Shortly after that, I ended up at Sunbasket, which is one of the nation’s largest meal kit delivery companies. I was the Midwest Procurement Manager here in Saint Louis for the entire facility. Then right before COVID, automation was getting better, and they decided to close the facility.  

Next, I was at a local grocery store in their corporate office buying food for about a year when a recruiter called. I wasn’t looking at the time and said no, I’m not really looking, I’m trying to advance here, and the lady goes, “It’s for Metabolic Meals,” I said “well that changes things, I’ll take that interview.”  

M: Haha and here you are! It’s also clearly your expertise. How did you get into sourcing in general? 

B: Right out of college I took an internship for the Gateway Grizzlies which is a Minor League Baseball team here in Saint Louis—and it was to do everything: marketing, concessions on field stuff, ticket sales. After a couple weeks, they’re like, “Oh you’re concessions,” and hired me on full time. That’s where sourcing started. I worked there 14 years and it gave me a lot knowledge. It’s also so much more than just hamburgers and hot dogs and beer.  

I’ve learned a lot over the years. When it comes to sourcing and buying, what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. What worked six years ago may come back into fruition and you do that. You have to be ever changing, you can’t just be stagnant in how you go about your day.  

M: No kidding, I can’t imagine what COVID was like as a sourcing specialist.  

B: Well when I was in grocery right before Metabolic Meals my buying sector was toilet paper and paper towels.  

M: Ha! I bet that was exciting!  

B: Yeah, it was rough. I was regularly at a 20% fill rate and that’s unheard of.  

M: Well you’ve kind of already answered my question… but what are some of the toughest challenges you’ve had at work?   

B: During COVID, transportation was a big thing. I mean there was so much more demand and there’s only a certain amount of trucks. And there’s seasonality, which affects us not only from a growing perspective, but also transportation. For example the Pacific Northwest drivers are busy with Christmas trees at the end of the year so you have to plan for that.  

M: Dang that’s a lot to balance! How about accomplishments? What are some things you’re proud of?  

B: Here at Metabolic, I mean, we get every meal out, every box we can. Some of that, not all of it, is what I do–making sure we have meals, making sure the meals are quality and making quick ingredient substitutes if needed. I normally wait until the kitchen’s done before I leave for the day. If they were able to produce everything, that means pack should be able to do everything, which means boxes should go out. All that makes for a good day.  

M: Having eyes on that process is so crucial! How about any other fun tidbits or stories you’d like to share?  

B: Well working for the Grizzlies in Minor League Baseball, we had to give people a reason to come, because it could get stale after a while. So we went after the food and started “Baseball’s Best.” We had an all Angus beef hot dog with bacon and cheese sauce, local baked bun plus a relish bar. We had deep fried White Castle, we were trying everything.  

Then came the burger with a doughnut bun. I mean we probably tried it 15 different ways—how do we use the doughnut? Do we try it with bacon? Do we try it with cheese? What kind of cheese? It was months and months and we eventually did it! Krispy Kreme even got on board and sponsored it, and the rest was history. We ended up on ESPN a few times, on Man Vs Food and a handful of other shows. They’re not the easiest to make in a fast-paced environment, but we were selling out every weekend.  

M: That’s such a fun accomplishment! You should totally be proud.  

B: You know, I am proud of my food and beverage background and everything. Baseball was fun, I got to meet a lot of cool people and former players. It was a great experience and then I was ready to move on. I almost ended up in NASCAR as the GM of Food and Beverage at Talladega Raceway.  

M: Well that’s next level!   

B: Yeah, I had to turn it down, but it was certainly an honor to have that offer.  

M: And it’s kind of come full circle yes? You’ve got a kiddo in baseball now?  

B: Yes, Tucker, he’s 11 and fully involved in baseball. He has practice 2 nights a week, games every weekend. We’re a baseball family, I mean I worked in it for 14 years. I love it. Even last night I took him to lessons at the Grizzlies’ field and there was a game going on, so I went up and grabbed a pretzel and a beer and just watched for a bit.  

Brent has spent his entire career wearing many hats and innovating his way to success.  From his early days at the baseball stadium to his current role in procurement with Metabolic Meals, we are so happy he shares his talent with us on the daily!

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