Investing in Our Future

Sustaining the Sustainable Food Initiative

Gift from food-industry veteran aims to tackle global challenge

Sustaining the Sustainable Food Initiative

Though the world produces more than enough food to feed everyone, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that some 815 million people—10.7 percent of the global population—went hungry in 2016. One in three people suffered from malnutrition.

And the world needs to produce at least 50 percent more food to feed the extra two billion people projected to inhabit Earth in 2050.

Enter the Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI) at the Berkeley Haas Center for Responsible Business (CRB). The SFI is the hub for sustainable food entrepreneurship, innovation, and responsible leadership at Haas and engages cross-campus with the Berkeley Food Institute.

Recently, the SFI received a boost from Jonathan Sebastiani, BCEMBA 11, a wine-industry veteran who reinvented himself at Haas with high-end jerky—a staple that athletic Sebastiani relied on for his training diet and felt was unfairly dismissed as "gas station food."

The world needs to produce at least 50 percent more food to feed the extra two billion people projected to inhabit Earth in 2050.

His gourmet jerky concept, refined and polished in what Sebastiani describes as the "supportive, collaborative, and safe" Haas environment, eventually became Krave Jerky, which he sold to the Hershey Company in 2015 for a reported $240 million.

"There was a moment in my life that Haas played a big role, and I'm forever indebted," says Sebastiani. His appreciation of and commitment to Haas manifested in a gift to the SFI that will enable the center to expand its programs.

Through classes like Edible Education, the Food@Haas Speaker Series, development of case studies on food sustainability, and career connections with food companies, the SFI educates the next generation of business leaders tackling the global food challenge. Sebastiani's bequest is split into two parts: the Jonathan Sebastiani Food Venture Fund supporting entrepreneurial students who are launching food-related businesses and the Berkeley Haas Sustainable Food Initiative Fund, a discretionary fund for management and operation of the SFI.

For Sebastiani, currently head of Sonoma Brands, a consumer products incubator and venture fund that innovates and invests in category-disrupting brands, the decision to invest in the SFI was an obvious one. "Ten percent of our GDP is food, and the industry employs hundreds of millions of people," he says. "I'm in the trenches of corporate America, at the table with CEOs of big food companies. They're all wrestling with the sustainability question."

CRB Executive Director Robert Strand says, "Sustainability means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We have grand ambitions, and Sebastiani's gift further enables us to expand on what we're doing already, like doubling down on the Edible Education course and democratizing access."

For his part, Sebastiani is looking forward to contributing hands-on expertise. "All of the lessons and tools I learned at Berkeley I use in my work at Sonoma Brands," he says. "I'm honored to have been asked to be part of this initiative." —Nancy Davis Kho

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