Molly Sanford, anthropology alumni

Molly Sanford, anthropology alumni

Molly Sanford, anthropology alumni


Molly Sanford was a business anthropology student who concentrated on food and culture. She did her final master thesis research with Flashfood which is a company based in Toronto. Flashfood has developed a phone application that partners with grocery stores in various regions of Canada.

Flashfood partners with grocery stores to reallocate their grocery items that are nearing their expiration date or bulk items that cannot be sold. One of the grocery store employees updates the app daily with food items at reduced costs. Customers who have the app can look at the app on the map to see the various grocery locations, choose the grocery store, and see which items are at that location. They then pick them up from the app and pay for them on the app. The customers must pick up the grocery items from the Flashfood allocated area at the customer service part of the store before 24 hours. Molly used an anthropological lens to look at the user experience of the consumer with the app. She created an email that Flashfood sent to their customer’s and they forwarded those who were interested back to Molly.

The participants received a $10 credit on the app for participating in a 60-90-minute remote interview. Specifically, she sought to identify the moral motivations and behaviors that lead people to utilize a service that reduces food waste. She found that most consumers wanted to save money first and foremost. Similarly, she discovered consumers, despite having a discretionary income, liked saving money specifically on food because it doesn’t carry as much social weight since it has a short shelf life. Molly explains, "Food has a very transient value because you purchase it and then eat it within a very short period, so it doesn't carry the long-term value such as purchasing a house or car." She found that the participants who had more discretionary money, pointed out they did not need to use an app that saved money, but they did like the aspect of saving money. The reason for this was because the food did not hold the same type of value as other social symbols. Lastly, she discovered that the consumer learned food saving practices either through their family or certain life circumstances.

Recently, Molly started a position as a research analyst with Escalent, a market research firm based in Livonia, Michigan where she works on the Automotive and Mobility team specifically around car fleets. The company just finished up a quantitative research survey based on electric vehicles and COVID-19. For this survey, the team created a 20-minute questionnaire that was completed by commercial fleet managers, and the main focus of the survey was electrification in the commercial/fleet landscape. They asked questions that helped the company better understand their future decisions and gaps in knowledge within the future of electrification.

Specifically, around electrification infrastructure, brand loyalty, missing information that would help inform electrification decisions, changes in business practices due to electrification, etc. The COVID-19 questions were asked on the same survey, composed of about five questions total. They wanted to better understand how COVID-19 was affecting fleet companies specifically delaying purchasing and how they operated daily. Molly explains, "For instance, some fleet companies were having to change their business model or business practices to keep moving people and products." Currently, Molly is taking over an ongoing research project with Carfax. She is mostly doing quantitative research, but her qualitative research has helped her ask better research questions.

Her advice for anthropology students includes, “I recommend cold calling or emailing any organization or company that you have similar interests to do research. The Flashfood opportunity allowed me to understand the organizational side of research and to advocate for myself as a professional.”