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Betting on a Better Bean

Leigh Hamp talks about how the MPD2 program helped her pivot careers and become a human-centered product creator at Banza, a company bringing more chickpeas to the public's diet.

Eighty percent of the US population doesn't eat enough chickpeas. Leigh Hamp (MPD2 '16) is trying to change that. 

Hamp is senior vice president of product at Banza, a company trying to make the chickpea — a high-protein bean — a more common part of the average diet. Banza sells pasta, pizza, mac and cheese, and rice, all made out of chickpeas. 

Leigh HampBanza pastas offer 50 percent more protein and three times more fiber than average pasta, according to the company website. Banza’s products offer between 25-30 percent fewer net carbohydrates than comparable offerings. 

Hamp oversees the product development process for Banza's full product portfolio, consumer and sensory research, sustainability, and culinary workstreams. Her job is to collaborate with her team to develop new, innovative, and consumer-centric products that equally prioritize taste and nutrition. 

It's a job she wouldn't be doing without Northwestern Engineering's Master of Product Design and Development Management (MPD2) program.  

“MPD2's emphasis on consumer-centric product development drew me to apply to the program,” said Hamp, who was a management consultant at Deloitte when she started looking to further her education. “I have always loved food and the consumer packaged goods industry, and this program presented an avenue to pivot industries and my career.”  

No two days are the same for Hamp in her role with Banza. There are weeks where she's traveling to production facilities and other weeks where she spends much of her days at home on Zoom. Based in Brooklyn, she tries to spend at least two days a week in the company's Manhattan office. 

One of the locations where she learns the most is at Whole Foods, where she routinely is “slinging Banza pizza,” as she said, particularly to customers who usually don't eat chickpeas.  

“If someone doesn't like chickpeas, we encourage them to try our products anyway,” she said. “This is where in-store demos are essential to initiating trials and helping skeptics fall in love with the brand.”   

Hamp is intensely focused on those skeptics. It’s a practice she learned during her time with MPD2. The human-centered design approach so fundamental to the program is central to how she tackles her job.  

Her passion is to talk with chickpea lovers and skeptics alike.  

“I love interacting with our consumers to see how they react to new and existing products,” Hamp said. “Of course, seeing customers delighted by Banza is validating, but the constructive feedback – ‘My kids don't like the taste!’ – motivates me and my team to keep improving.”  

That notion of centering innovation around the consumer was grounded into Hamp in MPD2 and has been key to Banza's growth. She also credited the program with helping expand her understanding of intellectual property and helping her recognize the value of negotiations in big and small decisions alike.   

Because of how valuable her MPD2 degree has been to her career growth, Hamp is a proud advocate of the program for those looking to follow in her footsteps.  

“If you have a passion for creating products, this is the program for you," she said. “The program allowed me to gain a thorough foundation on the fundamentals of design and, over the course of one academic year, prepared me to pivot career paths and industries." 

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