Minnesota's Finest: FUNacho's Brian Biehn brings creativity to concessions
Brian Biehn, executive VP at FUNacho, has been instrumental in many facets of cinema foodservice since his start at ConAgra Brands selling Vogel Popcorn and managing the introduction of Orville Redenbacher as its premium brand as far back as 1994. He has a long history in sales and has become one of the industry’s leaders in innovative products such as PretzelHaus Bakery shelf-stable pretzels and Shake’Ems popcorn flavorings. He is an entrepreneur at heart, constantly searching for a better way to serve the theatre concessionaire.
Biehn’s service to the industry is not only on the manufacturing side, but also as a 20-year member of the NAC board of directors, where he served as regional VP for the North Central Zone and most recently chaired the education committee. He is extremely proud of his Irish heritage and proudly shows off his faux Irish accent whenever possible.
Brian Biehn was born in New Prague, Minnesota, where he was raised in the same home for 15 years. His dad was a solid mentor who taught discipline, hard work and responsibility as core values. It shows in his appreciation of family values and tradition in his contributions to colleagues and friends. Brian was a star athlete in high school, where he excelled in multiple sports including football as the wide receiver of choice. He went on to play for the University of St. Thomas and received All-American honors. He enjoyed catching passes from his good friend Dan Gray. who soon became a mentor in the business arena. Brian graduated with a B.A. degree in 1986.
Brian began his career after college with General Foods as a sales representative. After six years, he was invited to join the team at ConAgra under the direction of Roger Moery, “Other than my father,” he says, “he was instrumental in my development as a businessman rather than a sales representative. He constantly challenged me to be a better person.” It was not long after that he proved his capabilities by growing his division by 35%. He credits his success to the ability to create and foster relationships with trust and integrity for all his clients—characteristics both his dad and Roger Moery instilled in him.
Brian decided to join the FUNacho team along with his good friend Mike Grause in October 2004. Together they have consistently grown their portion of the nacho cheese segment through modest and humble efforts to support multiple channels. “My decision to join the FUNacho team was based on the entrepreneurial approach and progressive attitude in this segment. Mike approached me about becoming his business partner and I could not pass up an opportunity to team with such a pioneering self-made gentleman.”
By definition, Biehn considers himself a developer. Among the latest trends he sees are flavor variations on all food types. Since he implemented the invention of Shake’Ems, a popcorn seasoning, he believes new concepts in packaging, product applications and zest are the creative aspects that bring rewards. “I believe that growth comes with flavor extensions. There are limited new products, but by creating new flavors such as Butterfinger grinds as a popcorn topping, it will accentuate the actual popcorn sold in theatres.”
He also believes that packaging can be an advantage in value-added propositions, such as the PretzelHaus Pretzels. “The fact that pretzels can be individually portioned, shelf-stable and reduce the waste, it becomes the way of the future,” Biehn declares. “Also by offering a pretzel box, it extends the presentation to a higher grade of quality for the end user.”
Asked for his perspective on healthier alternatives, he responds, “There is no question that the consumers continue to shift to healthier foods. However, in theatres it is a slow shift, as the movie experience continues to be an incredible form of escapism, and people really want to enjoy the experience—which includes their taste buds.”
With Brian’s commitment to service, it is no wonder he has served his peers as a board member of NAC for so many years. “I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate at NAC in my first year in the business,” he notes. He believes his willingness to serve NAC springs from the relationships the Association encourages. “The awesome individuals that make up the Association, the wonderful friends I have made and the highly beneficial education NAC provides become the backbone of the Association.”
Those who know Brian Biehn will tell you his life is committed to his family. His pride in his Irish heritage has instilled that discipline, and it is no surprise that his favorite movie is It’s a Wonderful Life, a film that displays family values as its core theme. Brian is also a patriot (not a New England Patriot). He’s proud of this country and the fact his oldest daughter Alex serves as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard and his oldest son Jake is attending the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. His favorite book, Flags of Our Fathers, exemplifies his devotion to America.
When at the movies, his favorite movie treat is not one, but two soft pretzels with nacho cheese. (Wonder where that started?) You can tell he is a moderate, as his favorite movie actor is Jimmy Stewart. Given the chance, he would escape to Ireland for a round of golf, a few ales and visits to the countryside, but he would have to give up time cheering for the Twins, Vikings and his favorite college team, the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Brian and his wife Anna have four children, Alex, Jake, Bree and Michael. And yes, he still lives in Lakeville, Minnesota.