20th Annual Deli Changemakers Award Winner: Mark Engel

Fifth Taste Foods
St. Louis, MO

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your upbringing and how it has shaped you?

My parents were committed to raising me surrounded by amazing life experiences. Of all the jobs they encouraged me to find, the most rewarding ones were in the food business. As a teenager, I was a server at a fried chicken stand at the Flea Market in Englishtown, NJ. As the largest flea market on the East Coast, we regularly fed 1,000 people each weekend. By the time I left for college, I was working on the line and loving the hustle and bustle and adrenaline rush that is the food business. A seed was planted.

Q. What were some of the pivotal moments in your early life that led you to where you are today?

Learning that the population of China was over 1 billion people with a rich history, more than 5,000 years old, inspired me to learn Mandarin while still in college. My goal was to save enough to move to a small village in central Taiwan and continue studying the language and fully immerse myself in this culture. This experience was both profound and life-changing. Thinking I was off on a two-week adventure, I stayed a full three years. In 1989, there were not a lot of white Jewish boys from New Jersey living in Taiwan, let alone in this small village!

This time immersed in a new culture transformed my life.

Q. How has your career evolved over the years?

Armed with a marketing MBA, I followed my love of food to General Mills, where I was trained as a consumer package goods marketer.

During various stages of my career, I created and managed Centers of Innovation for two Fortune 100 companies. For SC Johnson in Shanghai, China, I took my team through more than 100 homes around the country doing ethnographic work to document consumers’ beliefs, behaviors, needs and wants. This research informed a portfolio of new product ideas around pest control for improving the lives of millions of Chinese. Later, I was part of a team that built the Express Scripts Research & New Solutions Lab.

I returned to my love of food, spending the last 10 years in the industry. Five years ago, I took the leap as an entrepreneur and launched Fifth Taste Foods.

Q. What is the best advice you ever received and why?

Human capital is our greatest resource. This has never been clearer than during the pandemic and the Great Resignation. I am grateful to already understand that without human capital, it is impossible to solve the most complicated problems. Only with a powerful team, can you differentiate your work and experience from others. The second characteristic is those who want to collaborate, have empathy and want to learn from others. Finally, finding people who take pride in the work they do will ensure everyone is operating at their highest level.

Q. How do you balance your work and personal life?

Managing my physical and mental health is one of the keys to work-life balance for me. I wake up incredibly early and start my day with exercise.

I have been married to my best friend for the last 32 years and we have raised three children together, all successfully launched and gainfully employed! I practice gratitude for all my good fortune, and try to share this abundance with others.

Q. What deli retail trends have impacted the industry most over the last year?

There are three key trends the deli can leverage to build excitement with novel solutions.

  • Consumers are more interested than ever in culinary adventure.
  • They are looking for great-tasting solutions that are better for you and a healthier alternative to standard deli fare.
  • Convenience is essential.

Q. What book, movie, or event has recently impacted you personally or professionally?

Striking out as an entrepreneur at the dawn of a global pandemic was definitely a new experience. Our chile crisp line, oo’mämē, was headed for retail, just as there was a nationwide shutdown. We pivoted immediately to e-commerce. Having an amazing idea, solution or product as it turns out is an incredibly small part of what it takes to gain traction. The growth I have experienced on this journey over the last five years has made me stronger, more resilient and more determined to find ways to collaborate with others to help transform our food system.

Q. What hobbies do you enjoy outside of work?

I am driven by a need to fulfill my creative side. Both through my curiosity around food and feeding people, and my fascination with macro photography, I find immense joy in discovery and sharing. I love exploring other cultures around the world and bringing new tastes and textures to people I love.


Sign up to get the latest news in retail deli, including prepared foods, foodservice and specialty cheese markets from Deli Business Magazine...

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.