Chris Cornyn Faculty Spotlight: After founding (and selling) his own marketing agency, Chris Cornyn went on to lead multiple innovative food companies. As a professor in CIA’s master’s in Food Business program, he helps students understand what it takes to get food products off the ground.

Mastering Sales and Marketing with Chris Cornyn

Chris Cornyn has been a part of the Culinary Institute of America’s prestigious master’s in Food Business program from its very inception. Working with a dynamic group of food industry professionals, he helped conceptualize the program’s curriculum, its academic goals, and the broader journey its students would take over the course of their studies. “I was just enchanted by the idea that there was an actual business school for food,” he reflected. “There are plenty of business schools, but nothing for food.”

It was Cornyn’s passion for entrepreneurs that drew him to the program, as well as his passion for people dedicated to changing the food ecosystem. Having spent years in and around startups—and running a few himself—he wanted to help give other entrepreneurs the skills they need to make an impact. “Most people come into the program and they have a vision of what they want to change, or what they want to do differently in the food world,” he said. “I’ve spent my whole career with startups in the food system that have done just that, so it seemed like a perfect match for me.”

Giving Life to Food Products

Cornyn’s first foray into the world of food was as an ad writer, working on campaigns for brands like Yoplait, Klondike, and Betty Crocker. Eventually he decided to create his own marketing agency focused on the food and beverage space: DINE, the Food and Drink Agency. “I worked with entrepreneurs—two people in a garage who wanted to start a chutney business—all the way up to big multinationals, launching new products and new brands,” he recalled. “It was amazing work.”

His work caught the eye of Mattson, the biggest independent food innovation firm in the U.S. He sold DINE to Mattson, where he proceeded to build a team of expert food and beverage innovators dedicated to marketing old products anew and inventing new products entirely. “We created a whole process for companies to come to us to launch new products, give old products new life, change the way that products were manufactured, or add health benefits to them,” he explained.

Along the way, he “took a quick detour” to serve as a judge on Lifetime’s Supermarket Superstar, lending his expertise to budding food entrepreneurs, before deciding he wanted to get back to the startup life. After stints as chief innovation officer at Revolution Foods and SpoonfulONE, he currently serves as chief business officer at Nalu Bio, which creates safe, sustainable, and science-driven cannabinoid products.

“The Food Business is Brutal and Hard”

Cornyn’s course, Sales, Marketing, and Distribution, is designed to give master’s in Food Business students a theoretical and practical foundation in (you guessed it) the sales, marketing, and distribution of food products. In short, he hopes to offer a sense of how complex this business really is. “When I take people through the financials of launching a product, it opens their eyes to the fact that it isn’t so simple,” he said. “And that there’s somebody putting their hand in your pocket every step of the journey.”

But it’s not just about giving students a taste of the challenges they’ll experience as food industry professionals: it’s about giving them the tools and grit to overcome those challenges. “I want them to walk away from the class having the confidence that they can actually do this,” Cornyn said. “The food business is brutal and hard, and you’re going to have road bumps along the way. Realize that you may not feel like you know what you need to know to get to market, but you’ll get there, and it’s going to be serendipitous. It’s going to be taking two steps back, three steps forward.”

One of CIA’s most important goals is to expose students to industry veterans who’ve seen it all, and Cornyn’s course is no exception. “What makes the program unique is that you’re going to have contact with people who have done it, they’ve been there, they’ve failed and they’ve succeeded,” he said. “I bring in 15 entrepreneurs that have launched restaurants, products, services. They talk about the ups and the downs and how they actually made it. Some have brutally failed and then resurrected, and have become magnificently successful.”

A Unique Community

Asked what advice he’d offer prospective master’s in Food Business students, Cornyn stressed CIA’s vast professional community, which offers an unparalleled level of mentorship, support, and industry connections. “It’s really the community that you build, both with your professors and your co-students—your colleagues—that make this probably more unique than any other program that you could join,” he said. “I continue to talk to the students that I’ve had over the last couple years of teaching this class. When I see an article or something good, I reach out to them.”

Looking out at the food business itself, Cornyn said he’s excited to see a historically atomized industry join forces to transform itself. “Whether you’re a big multinational food company or a startup, everybody is talking about the same things—and that hasn’t always been true,” he concluded. “We’re talking about sustainability, we’re talking about nutrition, we’re talking about the things that are going to transform the food system, so we don’t destroy the planet feeding the 10 billion people that we need to actually feed.”

“It’s probably the first time in history where every stratosphere of the food industry is aiming to solve the same problems.”

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