Making Mealtime More Mindful - How Kinsho is Getting People to Slow Down and Pay Attention to Food

Our new blog series, “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle,” is all about founders at rising startups in the Branchfood community who are launching the next wave of exciting food brands.

We spoke to five incredible founders about product development, branding and marketing, and the success stories they’ve experienced so far.

Part 4 features Heather Sears, founder of Kinsho (formerly Kensho Kitchen), a retailer of kitchen products based on the idea of mindful eating and food choices. In this interview, you’ll learn Heather’s approach to starting her own online retailer, how her mission drives her decision-making, and why she’s changing the name of her company.

This is part 4 of the “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle” series. Don’t forget to check out Part 1 (Veggie Table Foods), Part 2 (i-Bars Club), and Part 3 (Shameless Pets). Check back in two weeks for part 5!

Tell us a bit about Kinsho.

I started Kensho Kitchen a few years ago because I love cooking and food, and I saw an opportunity to bring fun products to market. I learned to sell on Amazon and work with factories to start a private label based on inspiration I gleaned while eating and cooking.

I’m about to relaunch and scale as Kinsho. I’m taking everything I learned from Kensho Kitchen and being more intentional with the brand, messaging, and content.

Kensho is a Japanese word that refers to the initial moment of enlightenment. Before full enlightenment, you only have glimpses of it. One day, I was using a mandolin slicer and it calmed me down and connected me with my food. If we slow down, pay attention to our senses and environment, we can make better health and food decisions. I try to help people apply the idea of kensho to food. It’s about tools, not specific foods.

When did you know you had something you could build a business around, as opposed to just an interesting idea?

The way I chose the products was by doing a lot of research on Amazon - it’s the number one search engine for products. My launch would be on Amazon. I did data mining to understand the products’ sales in the categories I was in.

I was a bit different - I don’t have new patents for mandolin slicers or anything. I know design can make a difference, so it was a matter of asking what are people already looking for and how I can provide better design. All of this would be done with the message of kensho: Slow down, pay attention, be mindful of your food decisions.

What are some concrete steps you took to go from idea to product, to something that can scale?

I did data mining and looked at the monthly sales for specific product categories, how many reviews there are, how easily I could get sales, etc. Once I did this analysis and chose the products, I researched factories that make these products. I talked with them about design, cost structure, etc. From there, I negotiated prices.

After that, it was a matter of developing the brand and launching/testing products on Amazon to get feedback.

Can you share your process for gathering feedback and turning it into actionable steps for your own product development?

You have to ask the right questions. With Amazon, you can read reviews and learn, even from the negative ones. I also do purposeful outreach through surveys and customer research. Once you have that information, you have to see what you can change, what you should change, and what can’t change, and then getting back to the factory to see how your desired changes will affect your costs

For example, we had a mandolin slicer and the reason we put a rubber handle on it based on what people wanted because it made it more comfortable to use. Other people wanted waterproof lunch containers - I have developed a leak proof bento box that I plan to launch based off what people want.

What food brands have been most influential to you?

There are two that I often think of:

  1. Oui Yogurt. It’s French yogurt sold in little glass pots by Yoplait. It’s more mindful and European-styled. They tap into the beauty of the product’s colors through reusable glass containers. It’s a great flavor - not too sweet or tangy. The whole brand is about being in the moment and savoring the yogurt.

  2. Nestle. I know they’re huge and sometimes have negative publicity, but they were founded on the mission to save a dying child. They have a culture of mindful eating - their entire factory for chocolate is all about mindful eating. They are constantly innovating and evolving with the times. I also love how they’re are very strategic with M&A, which helps small brands go global.

Can you share the most impactful strategies you’ve used so far to market your business?

Digital marketing, particularly Facebook and SEM ads, have been huge drivers of sales for me. Optimizing my Amazon profile has also been very important. By optimizing my digital presence,  I’ve been picked up by other online retailers like Sears and other kitchen product sites.

What success story are you most proud of?

I had a very large business order of one of my bento products - a retirement home in Hawaii ordered 200 of them for its residents. They really focus on healthy eating there, and I love that they chose my products to have a fun healthy meal.

Can you share your reasoning behind changing the name of your company from Kensho Kitchen to Kinsho? What prompted that?

I wrote a book that came out in November - Mind to Mouth: A Busy Chick's Guide to Mindful Mealtime Moments - that won three book awards. It’s about being mindful in all things food - shopping, cooking, eating. I’m continuing with that sort of content with the launch of Kinsho - evolving the kitchen products and including mindfulness microlearning pieces with each product. I’ll have digital stickers and Facebook chat bots. Purposeful design linked with mindful eating content - no one is doing that.

The company is bigger so I wanted a one-word brand. It’s combining kitchen and kensho to get kinsho, which is unique and practical. It’s also more likely to get the trademark. Now I’m redoing the look and feel to go along with that.

Your relaunch will include “mindfulness microlearning content.” Can you tell us what that will look like?

It will be insights about how our minds impact our meals. It’s all based on my book and the research I did to write it. It will be on the packaging of the products, so it’s smaller, bite-sized content. I will also have content delivered to fans by Facebook message.

People say food prepared with love tastes better. There’s science behind that - we read the intention of the people who cook for us. One thing we want to do is to show people how to apply that when they cook for others. It’s a combination of mindfulness and science behind the impact.

My book was the inflection point for me. I did a ton of research about how we make food decisions and how we experience food. Digital media impacts 70% of our food decisions subconsciously. Learning how to be mindful of our food takes back some control, lets us make better decisions, eat healthier, and shop according to our values. My mission is to help people have more enlightened eating by helping them understand what they’re eating. It’s about helping people connect with food and themselves.

How important is it for food companies in particular to have a mission? Is it essential?

I think today it is very important. People have a lot of passion for food. Having a mission helps you clarify things when you have decisions to make about which way to go. There are so many tradeoffs and decisions to make when you run a business, and having a clear mission helps make decisions with clarity. That touches everything from product design and to marketing that gives customers transparency about why you’re selling these products. A mission helps you be authentic.


This interview was conducted and written by Ideometry, an all-in-one growth marketing agency helping everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies engineer brilliant integrated campaigns, find their ideal audience, fuel their pipeline, and drive real success.

In the middle of a campaign and need some support? Want to build something awesome from scratch? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at ideometry.com or at hello@ideometry.com

Read the rest of our “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle” series:

Guilt-Free Pet Snacks - How Shameless Pets is Upcycling Food Waste into Tasty Treats for Dogs

Our new blog series, “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle,” is all about founders at rising startups in the Branchfood community who are launching the next wave of exciting food brands.

We spoke to five incredible founders about product development, branding and marketing, and the success stories they’ve experienced so far.

Part 3 of the series features Alex Waite, cofounder of Shameless Pets, a pet food company making delicious dog treats using upcycled ingredients. Learn how Alex and her team are combating food waste by finding a productive use for unwanted ingredients, how she’s building a brand pet parents can trust, and why entering a space dominated by big corporations can be a great idea.   

This is part 3 of the “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle” series. Don’t forget to check out Part 1 (Veggie Table Foods) and Part 2 (i-Bars Club). Check back in two weeks for part 4!
 

Tell us a bit about Shameless Pets.

We make all-natural dog treats that are made from upcycled ingredients. We do this to help battle our food waste problems in the supply chain while providing delicious and nutritious treats to dogs.

When did you know you had something you could build a business around, as opposed to just an interesting idea?

My background is product development and I’ve always aspired to have my own brand in some regard that was mission-driven. At some point my team and I were considering food waste as a challenge that a CPG company could have an impact on.

We thought we would go into the dog food realm. We talked to people in the industry to see if this concept was worth pursuing and we learned that our pets could be a key way to solve food waste and create a great product at the same time.

What are some concrete steps you took to go from idea to product, to something that can scale?

We started with one flavor and found an ingredient we could build around, which was lobster. The seafood industry throws away a lot of lobster mince - bits of lobster that has been picked out of the shell outside of the tail. There are some suppliers already taking that mince and selling it to manufacturers for other products. So we asked, “How do we build a product around lobster?”

As the product developer, I had to figure out how we could incorporate a functional benefit for pets and make it something they like. We made a lobster and kelp combo that helps dogs keep their coats healthy.

We’re creating flavors around suppliers who were already doing something awesome in the upcycling world. We’re collaborating with them and growing together. People ask us if our upcycling strategy makes us too reliant on ingredients, but when you think about how much food is wasted before it even gets to market, it’s clear there will always be a way to work with suppliers and farmers to upcycle that waste.

Sometimes, the reason something gets thrown away is as simple the product not looking pretty enough for the shelf. It’s perfectly good, but because it doesn’t look perfect, consumers don’t want it. There’s a growing awareness of this, and several other amazing companies are working with these previously unwanted products. Brands are specifically working with growers and processors to create new added-value products from ingredients that would have been wasted otherwise.

Pet food makes sense here. Dogs love food - they don’t care if the pumpkin or lobster is ugly.

Can you share your process for gathering feedback and turning it into actionable steps for your own product development?

We have created our first five SKUs - pumpkin, blueberry, lobster, apple, and egg. Creating food for dogs is not quite the same as developing food for humans. I develop recipes in my own kitchen, and have my dog try the treats. When I go walk my dog, I ask other pet parents if I can share the treats to see if their dogs like them.

I use all natural ingredients, and there’s no fillers. We also use catchy names to drum up interest - Lobster Rollover, Pumpkin Par-tay - stuff that catches people’s interest. We talk to retailers, and they literally want to smell the food. There’s an idea that if it smells potent, the dogs will like it. Texture is key for dogs - most of biscuits on the market are crunchy, and now we’re moving toward soft-baked treats. It seems like that’s what pet owners like because it’s easier to portion control. Plus, the dogs love the softer texture.

We’re always maintaining conversations with dog owners and retailers - everything we learn will go into our future re-formulations. We’ve never been too far off - the flavor combos make sense and they’re based around what dogs already like for the most part.

All of our products have a functional benefit in terms of health because retailers are telling us that this is what people want. They’re treats, so they’re not intended to be a full source of daily nutrition, but it’s definitely an added benefit. For example, pumpkin helps digestion, and our lobster formula benefits joint health. People love their pets as if they were their kids, so this is important.

What food brands have been most influential to you?

As a team, my co founders and I look at companies like Misfit Juicery and Regrained - they’re doing great things with upcycling and tackling the problem of food waste. They’re very upfront with it. They are making food for humans, but they’re paving the way for what we do as well.

What makes your brand unique and different from your competitors?

We don’t really compare ourselves to other pet food companies. We see ourselves in the community of companies fighting food waste. We like to say that we’re green, but we’re not going to be in-your-face about it. We care about what we’re doing and we’re dedicated sourcing responsibility and being sustainable with our packaging, but we’re doing it in a way that’s not going to alienate people who might not be super into the sustainability movement. We’re just very approachable for all consumers.

Can you share the most impactful strategies you’ve used so far to market your business?

As a food product developer, I knew we would need to connect with sales and marketing side of things. I come from science, so starting out, I needed someone with the connections in sales and marketing. My team fills in those gaps.

Being a part of Branchfood has been hugely helpful for me and my company. Just the conversations and connections I’ve made there have influenced our business. For example, Ahmad Zamelli of Evergreens is working on aeroponics, and I’ve been talking to him about making a powder out of his roots as a potential nutrient-dense product. At one of the events - FoodEdge - we met a connection at H-E-B and now they’re launching a test run of our products in 60 stores.

The wider strategy is just filling the gaps in your team and putting yourself out there.

What success story are you most proud of?

It’s not a single story: how Shameless Pets came about was a series of fortunate events, which makes me feel like I’m on the right path. We’ve had challenges, but the series of events of finding the perfect team, finding great manufacturers - all of the makes me feel like we’re on to something big. H-E-B taking on a small startup has definitely been a big success, and we’re seeing where that can go.

Most pet food brands are owned by just a few massive corporations. What advice do you have to CPG startup founders entering these kinds of verticals?

I think that means there’s huge opportunity. I think society is hungry for smaller brands that are making a real difference. The perception of large brands is that they’re not always totally transparent. If you want to enter a space, I’d say just go for it and work hard to change people’s perceptions.

Even at Branchfood, we’re the only dog treat company. We’re the only ones doing this in our space. Leverage your community and just go for it. What’s cool for us is that in the pet food world, innovation is further behind than it is in CPG for human food. Big players are taking notice too - just look at General Mills’ recent acquisition of Blue Buffalo.

Given all of the recalls and even federal investigations into the quality of pet food, what do you think is the best way to build trust with pet owners, who are likely pretty skeptical of packaged pet foods?

I think asking questions is important for pet owners, and they should be doing that. For us, we’re doing everything we can do be transparent about our ingredients and being upfront about that we don’t put artificial ingredients in our products. We feel strongly that you should treat your pet food like you would your own food.

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How did you make the connection between pet food and human food waste?

It was the challenge of it. It’s not really food waste - it’s nutrient-dense, usable food that gets tossed because of perceptions. My dog would eat anything. I wouldn’t feed her scraps on the ground, but she would definitely eat them if I did.

My dog is pretty shameless in what she eats. Dogs don’t care if food is ugly. That’s where the name Shameless Pets came from - pets are shameless about food. They really teach us how to be better consumers.


This interview was conducted and written by Ideometry, an all-in-one growth marketing agency helping everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies engineer brilliant integrated campaigns, find their ideal audience, fuel their pipeline, and drive real success.

In the middle of a campaign and need some support? Want to build something awesome from scratch? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at ideometry.com or at hello@ideometry.com

Read the rest of our “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle” series:

 

 

 

Strength from Diversity - How i-Bars Club is Creating Innovative Protein Bars With International Ingredients

Our new blog series, “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle,” is all about founders at rising startups in the Branchfood community who are launching the next wave of exciting food brands.

We spoke to five incredible founders about product development, branding and marketing, and the success stories they’ve experienced so far.

In part 2, we spoke to Moemen Abbas, CEO and founder of i-Bars Club, whose mission is to create internationally themed, healthy protein bars. Read on to learn how i-Bars Club tests new ideas, how an incredible team is driving his innovative products, and the secret ingredient in his soon to be released Tokyo-themed bar.

This is part 2 of our “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle” series. Don’t forget to check out Part 1 (Veggie Table Foods). Check back in two weeks for part 3!

Tell us a bit about i-Bars Club.

We make premium vegan protein bars with an international theme. We’re introducing new flavors from different cities and each of our bars is named after a city where the key ingredient is from.

There are a lot of meal-replacement, protein, and health bars on the market today - what do you feel is i-Bars’ biggest differentiator?

We try to introduce new flavors you can’t get anywhere else. Most brands of bars have the same flavors - chocolate chip, peanut butter, and so on. Some bars have just a few benefits, and we want our bars to have them all - gluten-free, high-protein, GMO-free, etc. Very few bars hit on all of those. Even worse is that some “protein bars” have less than 15g of protein. That’s not a protein bar for someone who’s working out a lot.

We consider ourselves very innovative, with new products always coming in the pipeline, and we want to introduce a lot of different international flavors. We’re also in a niche market where we’re targeting affluent consumers. These are people who want high quality ingredients from all over the world. For example, our next bar is “Tokyo.” For that, we’re importing matcha directly from Japan to use in our bars. That’s expensive, so we’re targeting affluent consumers. No one else is doing that.

I’ve hired a chef, food scientist, and nutritionist, and I’m a pharmacist by training. This combination is very strong for creating scientifically healthy bars that taste good.

When did you know you had something you could build a business around, as opposed to just an interesting idea?

I studied in international schools for years, and I had this idea to do something that was both healthy and reflected my international background. So I worked with health consultants and they suggested protein bars that sourced ingredients from different countries. It’s taken a lot of time get to a point where we can start production, but so far people love the bars and we’re able to bring super foods from all over the world.

What are some concrete steps you took to go from idea to product, to something that can scale?

I’m bootstrapping and focusing on finding the right team who can work with a startup. It’s tough to build a good team with minimal resources. Building a memorable brand is also challenging.

It was also very difficult to get my visa as an immigrant. It took 7-8 months just to get my visa. I had to overcome a lot of hurdles.

Can you share your process for gathering feedback and turning it into actionable steps for your own product development?

We worked with focus groups we put together through our network - friends, people at the gym, etc. Targeted focus groups are important. Our products are international and everyone has different taste buds. We test with American-only groups and international groups and ask them about our bars as well as our competitors.

We also just go out on the streets and to cafes and hand out samples. We ask just people to try it and get feedback.

For just our first bar, we ran over 25 trials to make sure we had it right.

What food brands have been most influential to you?

Every company has a model - I really like RXBAR. When they changed the design, their sales increased a lot and was noticed more by customers. That showed me how important packaging is for CPG sales.

Labeling all of the ingredients right on the front of the package was a smart move - being transparent is the most important thing in our space. For me, a protein bar must have premium superfoods and quality ingredients. I wish every protein bar told you everything inside it.

Being available everywhere is important as well - Quest Bars has done a great job of getting distributed almost anywhere you can think of.

What success story are you most proud of?

I would say, I invested a lot in real estate in Egypt - I had a lot of experience and I was very lucky when I bought my real estate because I could sell it high. I invested when everyone was selling, and when the market boomed, I made a lot of profits. I’m also very proud of my Master’s in marketing, which has given me a lot of connections worldwide. My network has helped me a lot and I’m proud of it.

How does your global background influence your products and branding?

I traveled all over the world for my education, and I worked in Egypt, Dubai, Singapore, the U.S., and some others. Every time I met people in different parts of the world, I saw that everyone had different habits and cultures. More specifically, I learned that everyone looked at food differently. I was never passionate about health before, but now I am and I’m combining it with my love of travel and sharing it. You can see all of my passions in iBars.


This interview was conducted and written by Ideometry, an all-in-one growth marketing agency helping everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies engineer brilliant integrated campaigns, find their ideal audience, fuel their pipeline, and drive real success.

In the middle of a campaign and need some support? Want to build something awesome from scratch? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at ideometry.com or at hello@ideometry.com

Read the rest of our “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle” series:

Familiar Foods Made Healthy - How Veggie Table Foods is Building a Brand Around Healthy Takes on Classic Foods

Our new blog series, “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle,” is all about founders at rising startups in the Branchfood community who are launching the next wave of exciting food brands.

We spoke to five incredible founders about product development, branding and marketing, and the success stories they’ve experienced so far.

We’re kicking things off with Dale Roseman, CEO and founder of Veggie Table Foods, a maker of healthy twists on familiar foods. In this interview, Dale discussed how she developed her initial concept for her company, what makes her brand unique, and how building a great team became the foundation for her success.

This is part 1 of the Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle. Check back in two weeks for part 2!

What is Veggie Table Foods?

Veggie Table Foods is a manufacturer of all-natural, veggie-based, gluten-free, keto-friendly pizza crusts and rolls that are frozen and ready to serve. Right now, we’re focused on serving restaurants, institutional food service, and meal kits.

When did you know you had something you could build a business around, as opposed to just an interesting idea?

I invented the concept in March 2017. I was making these cauliflower pizza crusts and everyone I knew was asking me to make some for them. I was tired of making so many of the crusts because they’re pretty time consuming. I wanted to buy them, but I couldn’t find anything that was exactly like what I was making.

I had never pitched a product before, but I took my samples to a food pitch at EforAll, and got amazing feedback. I actually won the pitch competition and had so many people asking me about the product. That’s when I started asking, “what can I do with this?”

We’ve been going full speed since last May.

What are some concrete steps you took to go from idea to product, to something that can scale?

My first step was hiring an advisor that understood food and startups. I was lucky to find a single person who fit that bill the very night I pitched. She’s been instrumental in everything we’ve done. She’s by my side, making sure I’m not wasting time on things that don’t help the business. I also went to the WIN Lab at Babson College - they were my second big source of support.

From there, I hired industry and food experts that were in my space. Hiring the right people helped shape the business from the start.

Essentially, I hired good people, then decided on the strategy. I’ve been in the retail space for a long time, but I needed a team with experience with the food industry - negotiating, cost control, etc.

We originally wanted to go into retail, but all of my advisors suggested against it because of how difficult it is to succeed in such a crowded space. They wanted us to prove the concept in food service before we went into retail.

Can you share your process for gathering feedback and turning it into actionable steps for your own product development?

The product came together fairly quickly, but we’ve had to change our items a bit. We started with cauliflower pizza crust, which everyone knows of. We had other items like cauliflower rolls where people didn’t quite understand what it was.

We did as many trade shows as possible where we could meet people who were putting food on restaurant menus, distributors, etc. and ask them for direct feedback about the taste, the size, the texture, and every other criteria that needs to be met for a successful product. Then we found a space - casual dining - and we kept testing to see if that space was right for us.

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What food brands have been most influential to you?

There’s so many emerging brands that are amazing. They start small and explode from there. Biena Snacks is one of my favorite stories. My competitors are also who I think of as a starting point for what I do.

Bohana [Editor’s Note: Bohana’s story will be featured in part 5 of this series] is also incredible. They took something that didn’t exist in the U.S. market and made it understandable. If you like popcorn or potato chips, you’ll like it.

We’re all providing a healthy twist on our customers’ favorite food. Can we make a healthy version of what people already love? That’s what we’re trying to do.

What makes your brand unique and different from your competitors?

My two biggest competitors use the word “cauliflower” in their names. They’ve essentially pigeonholed themselves as a cauliflower brand. Veggie Table Foods can include cauliflower, but we can also do other veggie-based products without confusing our customers. We want to be the standard for all veggie-based products that can be baked into a healthy treat, all while adhering to being certified gluten-free company with the best ingredients.

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Can you share the most impactful strategies you’ve used so far to grow your business?

I’m very old school, I build through relationships - knocking on doors and finding partners who trust our products and me. From manufacturing and distributing to finding investors, I’ve made contacts who want to help. It’s all about forging a real relationship with the best partners you can.

What success story are you most proud of?

I’m most proud that I just went out of my comfort zone. I’ve gone to events beyond my company’s size because I knew I could meet the best people for my business. I’m stepping out and seeing where I want to be next year, and I’m showcasing my company and products as if we’re there already.

You had no startup experience when you started. What advice would you give to someone who has an idea but no startup experience to help them get over the initial barriers of starting a business?

Do as much research as possible. Be focused. Before I met anyone who helped with Veggie Table Foods, I actually bought books off Amazon about starting specialty food business, how to start a food business while you’re working, how to work with manufacturers. I’d say to read a lot.

You may not think you know someone who can help, but if you ask around to anyone you can think of, someone will know someone who can help. You’ll find that the more people you talk to, you’ll learn a lot and understand things. Always look to meet people who can help in some way, even if it’s just for advice.

Find an accelerator program. There’s so many that are as short as 4 weeks and some that go up to a year long. Find one and get in. It’s strategic and targeted and you’ll learn everything you need to know. There are mentors who will help you for free. If you do nothing else I’ve said, do this.

Your product essentially didn’t exist before. Can you share some insight into your process of selecting a manufacturer to create a new product and working with them to get the recipe just right?

It’s very difficult. I hired a consultant who could find a manufacturer who could make what I was doing at home. We found a boutique manufacturer that was focused on food startups where we could take our product to the first thousand batches. It’s expensive and it’s exhausting to get to big production runs without sacrificing quality. We spoke to 85 manufacturers and about 83 said no outright.

It was about finding a manufacturer who can grow and scale with me. I had to find someone who would take a chance on something they don’t understand at first.

I’d say don’t pick the big huge guys when you’re starting out - they cost too much. Find an equal in size who can work with you while you’re working out the kinks.

You’ve been a health and wellness coach for a long time. Do you see an additional side to Veggie Table Foods that combines your content from coaching with the products?

Yes. This started with me making the cauliflower crust for the women I was coaching. When I found the perfect recipe, my clients were asking me to make it for them because it’s hard and they didn’t want to do it themselves. I started making a bunch and freezing them.

That started a small blog series that included the recipes. I walked away from that for now, but people really want to know how the food fits into their health/wellness plan. I think people want more than the product, we want to show them how we fit into the big picture of their health and wellness journey through our content.


This interview was conducted and written by Ideometry, an all-in-one growth marketing agency helping everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies engineer brilliant integrated campaigns, find their ideal audience, fuel their pipeline, and drive real success.

In the middle of a campaign and need some support? Want to build something awesome from scratch? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at ideometry.com or at hello@ideometry.com

Read the rest of our “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle” series:

 

 

Introducing Our New Blog Series: ‘Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle’

There’s no one recipe for success in the food industry. The space is crowded and many verticals are dominated by massive corporations. How can a startup food brand succeed?

This is the question we put to five startup founders at Branchfood, our community that promotes food entrepreneurship and innovation. Over the next five weeks, we’ll be publishing interviews with a few of the most exciting and promising food brand founders in our community to understand how they’re building standout brands and developing their products.

Though each of these founders’ journeys is far from over, they’ve learned a lot that other founders can and should apply to their own businesses.

Featured in this series are:

Join us every other week for the next 10 weeks as we release new interviews from our ‘Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle’ series.

This series features interviews conducted by Ideometry an all-in-one growth marketing agency helping everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies engineer brilliant integrated campaigns, find their ideal audience, fuel their pipeline, and drive real success.

In the middle of a campaign and need some support? Want to build something awesome from scratch? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at ideometry.com or at hello@ideometry.com.

 

Food Takes the Stage at Mass Challenge 2018

Food at MassChallenge 2018.png

This is an exciting time of year as the MassChallenge Boston cohort was announced on May 23rd. 1,600 applicants from countries across the world competed and 128 startups have succeeded as finalists. Another exciting note about this cohort is that more than half (51%) of these startups include at least one female founder.

Startups in the food & beverage and social impact sectors are given the opportunity to participate in the Mass Challenge program’s first-ever industry tracks, offering specialized support and resources along with access to Boston’s impact ecosystem based on increasing demand in these areas.

Here is a list of the various food companies that have made it as finalists at MassChallenge Boston 2018. Enjoy!

  • Akua

    • Creates food in the right way - healthy and delicious with a positive impact on the planet

  • Eleis Farm

    • Cultivates, processes, and exports palm oil for the African diaspora and farmer, while simultaneously empowering women and promoting socio-economic development

  • IQ Bar

    • Democratizes brain food by creating grain-free, non-GMO energy bars that are packed with healthy fats and fortifying compounds

  • Kestrel Agritech

    • Reducing crop loss through automated pest detection & control using real-time thermal surveillance from unmanned drones

  • MAKOMAS, LLC.

    • Excites palates with hibiscus, baobab and ginger, all authentic, delicious, nutrient-rich beverages

  • Natured

    • Brings groceries from local food makers to your doorstep, making the farmer's market experience convenient and affordable

  • OURgrain

    • Creates sustainable consumables that have a significant impact on food waste while delivering quality and healthfulness

  • Rootastes (Branchfood Community Member)

    • Creates experiential lunch programs as a perk for the staffs of fast-growing and culture-centric companies

  • WarmUp LLC

    • An all-natural, gluten-free, and high-protein coffee containing 15 grams of protein per serving that can be served hot or iced

  • Food For All

    • Dine for as little as $3 and save the planet – app connecting users to surplus food from restaurants at a deep discount one hour before they close

  • Labby

    • An IoT analyzer that uses AI and spectroscopy for food, beverage & agro testing

  • Black Girls Nutrition

    • Geo-social network culturally customized for black women & daughters battling obesity

  • Coletteys Cookies

    • Born with down syndrome, Collette could not find a paying job – so she opened her own homemade cookie company and is employing people with disabilities  

  • MEANS Database

    • Fights food waste and hunger throughout the US by connecting retailers and restaurants with unsold food to nearby hunger nonprofits

 

To get more information about these startups or see the rest of the finalists, head to MassChallenge.

 

 

5 Disruptive Takeaways from Food Edge 2018

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Here at Branchfood, we like to say, “Innovation will fix the food system.” Another way to put this is, “Disruption will innovate the food system.” Last week, innovation and disruption were on full display at the first-ever Food Edge Summit, a two-day “meeting of the food minds” in Boston’s Seaport District that brought together the entrepreneurs, scientists, thought leaders, and chefs who envision a food system that is safer, tastier, simpler, and better for all.

If you were among the hundreds who packed into the more than 20 talks and panels at Food Edge, you left with a notebook full of inspiration and tips -- and hopefully a stack of business cards -- to give new energy for your entrepreneurial food journey. If you couldn’t join us, we took the liberty of condensing roughly 16 hours of content and networking into five key takeaways. This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but our hope is that it provides the spark a food disruptor needs -- and, hopefully, entices you to join us at Food Edge 2019!

Food disruption starts with people.
In the very first session at Food Edge, Jamie Scheu and Ben Little from presenting sponsor Hill Holliday shared from their well of experience in food marketing and design thinking. “Start with people,” Ben told us, “then come up with ideas and develop prototypes. Think from the lens of human moments.” The best products -- the ones that simplify a common action in the kitchen or put a healthy meal on the tables of busy families -- began with customer insights rather than assumptions on the part of the entrepreneur. Remember: start with humans!

Everyone is talking about food innovation -- even (maybe especially) big retailers.
You might think larger, legacy retailers like supermarket chains are disinterested in innovating. After all, the general layout and product selection at most large chains has remained unchanged for decades, even as the number of shoppers holds steady and ticks upward. But Craig Boyan and Scott Mitchell of Texas supermarket giant H-E-B told us otherwise. “Why do retailers care about innovating?” Boyan asked. “We can only beat Walmart and Amazon by innovating.” H-E-B is doing this in its stores by selecting better ingredients, making organics affordable for all, offering products you can’t get anywhere else, and ultimately capture the lucrative Texas market. In doing so, H-E-B partners with smaller brands to help them grow, manage their commoditization cycle, and push them to continually innovate. Remember: don’t shrug off supermarkets in your push to evolve the system!

It’s never too late to become an entrepreneur!
Keynote speaker Heather Mills opened Day 2 by telling about her own journey from a career in international modeling through a near-death experience to running one of the world’s oldest and largest vegan foods brands, VBites. In her touching and at times funny talk, Heather made an impassioned case for the role of plant-based eating in our food future (“instead of vegan hippie, it should be vegan hip”) and pulled back the curtain on some of VBites’ strategies and principles as she prepares to expand to the United States in the next few years. Remember: maybe your best idea or most successful business is ahead of you!

Everything we do is a work in progress.
Perhaps nowhere is this sentiment put into more meaningful action than at Boston’s Chew Labs, which is bringing a culinary and scientific lens to some of the most promising food products being developed today. Chef Adam Melonas, who previously co-founded UNREAL candy, shared his belief that food innovation is as much about process as it is products. At the same time, says Melonas, “comfort is the enemy of innovation” -- meaning we should always be striving to make our product or service even better. Remember: don’t get comfortable!

Personalized nutrition is the next big thing in food...but it’s still a diet.
The emerging frontier in food and nutrition, experts tell us, is personalized nutrition: products that often tap into our unique DNA and family histories to tell us what we should or shouldn’t eat. But these products, at their core, are still just diets, according to Thomas Hayes, research associate with Lux Research. Hayes said that to keep a personalized nutrition product from going the way of defunct fad diets like Nutrisystem, Atkins, and SlimFast, it must traffic in credible science; have value alignment with the consumer around health/wellness, convenience, price, experience, taste, and safety; and provide constant guidance to the consumer as he or she uses the product. The personalized nutrition industry offers many business opportunities, but only if the product or service ticks these three blocks. Remember: the trash heap of history is filled with fad diets -- don’t become one of them!

This is, of course, an incomplete list, but please do share your big takeaways in the comments below or in our social media feeds. If you made it to Food Edge, we hope it was a fruitful and inspiring time -- no matter how you’re working to influence our industry. And if you weren’t there, will you consider joining us next year?

Until then, never stop innovating. It’s the only thing that will fix our food system.

The State of Food Innovation: Food Retail in Boston

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In the old days – meaning 20 years ago – Boston eaters had but a few options for filling their pantries and refrigerators. Some could find the ingredients they needed at a farmer’s market or a co-op, but most likely, we were visiting the local supermarket, with its lines, its crowds, and its fluorescent lighting. For many locals, it was Stop & Shop, which began in Somerville in 1914 as the family-owned Economy Grocery Store before adding dozens of stores throughout New England over the coming decades.

Food retail was an industry dominated by hulking, set-in-their ways supermarkets that had a captive audience for years but were begging for disruption. The Internet would not disappoint.

Home Delivery

Believe it or not, home grocery delivery can be traced back to before the dawn of the Internet. Grocery delivery pioneer Peapod was founded in 1989 as a smart shopping solution for busy families, but it came of age during the dot-com boom — with Boston was an early and profitable launching pad for the service. Then, the dot-com bubble burst, and with it nearly all of the handful of food delivery services. For the better part of a decade, folks went back to the old way of food shopping.

The mobile revolution has inspired a newer crop of companies offering the delivery of food to our front porches. The backdrop against which all grocery delivery solutions will be measured was set last summer when ecommerce giant Amazon acquired traditional organic grocer Whole Foods. The union is expected to bring, at some point, a push by Amazon into the food retail space that could upend the industry. In the meantime, Instacart, though headquartered elsewhere, continues to make inroads with local supermarket chains with its fleet of personal shoppers and checkout-to-porch grocery delivery service.

Several locally owned companies are making their presence known as well. The local veteran in this space, Boston Organics has been providing organic food deliver to homes and offices for more than a decade. Just Add Cooking, which launched out of Dorchester’s Commonwealth Kitchen, has emerged as a local leader in the meal kit delivery space, sourcing its ingredients regionally and partnering with local celebrities and chefs on recipes. Al-FreshCo provides locally sourced vegan meal kits to Boston households, most of the deliveries being made on bicycle.

 Curated and Artisanal

Compared to older shoppers who are more brand-loyal when food shopping, Millennials tend to seek a wider field of smaller brands when picking out what to cook and eat. While many Millennials will still purchase products from larger companies, these days, they are especially drawn to foods with particular stories, ingredients, and other specifics that let them “shop their values.” Food companies are obviously capitalizing on this, but so are curators of these specialty brands.

  Nibble Snack Shop’s Joyce Lee (a Branchfood community member) searches high and low for the perfect mix of snacks from up-and-coming companies for her Cambridge tasting room and occasional pop-ups around the city. Think of Nibble as both brand ambassador and retailer, and Lee has found a niche selling to munchy office-dwellers in Cambridge and Downtown Boston.

Food curators need not be brick and mortar businesses, however. Boston-based Small Batch Daily uses its popular Instagram account to sell one new artisan product per day with enticing photography fitting of the social media site. How does it work? Users follow the SBD account, sign up online, and type “sold” in the comments under products they want to try.

Consulting and Support Services

Several local companies have made it their mission to help food retailers sell more of their products, more efficiently. The Cambridge-based ThirdChannel platform utilizes retail execution to help retailers manage their merchandise and integrate digital platforms into the brick-and-mortar environment. Another technology, Survey.com – headquartered in Boston – harnesses the power of a digital app and fleet of merchandising experts to assist retailers to conduct retail audits, manage merchandising, and conduct mobile market research among consumers. Boston-based Revenue Architects does exactly what its name suggests: convenes experts in marketing, sales, and public relations to assist businesses build models for revenue growth. Finally, Repsly, headquartered in Boston’s financial district, is a mobile app used by field teams to manage sales, track inventory and prices, and collect and organize data to grow brands – including many in the food and beverage space.

 Farm-to-Consumer

We’d be remiss if we didn’t include in our discussion of food retail direct sales by farmers to consumers. More than 167,000 farms now market and sell the food they produce directly to consumers, resulting in $8.7 billion in sales in 2015, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. New England’s farmers, ranchers, and producers do so in a number of ways, including through roadside farm stands, farmer’s markets, and Web-based marketplaces trading in local food.  

The Boston Public Market, an indoor, year-round food hall and marketplace that opened to much fanfare in 2015, features a few dozen regional producers selling diverse products like beer, ice cream, meat, produce, and chocolate. The centrally located BPM has become a centerpiece of the city, attracting both tourists and locals to a space that showcases the region’s rich culinary bounty.

Supermarkets

And finally, supermarkets. Despite all the flux in food retail, that legacy model isn’t dead. Far from it. In some cases, these legacy institutions are, in fact, adapting to changing times. Examples include Albertson’s purchase of New York-based meal kit delivery service Plated, or supermarkets’ expansion to ecommerce.

Technology company MyWebGrocer – whose web marketing division is located within Branchfood coworking community – provides the support and digital platform for traditional supermarkets to enter the e-commerce space.

Cambridge startup Takeoff is working to disrupt the legacy supermarket model. The eGrocery platform has partnered with Austrian robotics firm Knapp to make grocery fulfillment centers more lean and convenient, allowing consumers to quickly pick up food they’ve ordered online or via mobile apps – virtually sans human interaction.

But it could be that the future of large-scale food retail looks like fewer – but more customer-centric – supermarkets. Taking a page out of the Whole Foods Market playbook (whose North Atlantic regional offices are located in Marlborough), local chain Roche Brothers lays out its new stores with comfort and aesthetics in mind and now offers a number of regional foods. Supermarkets are getting leaner and more nimble as well. Stop & Shop, owned by Dutch food conglomerate Ahold Delhaize, has launched Bfresh, a handful of smaller-format food outlets geared toward a younger, more urban demographic in Greater Boston. Despite consolidating two of its Bfresh stores and announcing a rebranding effort, it’s clear Stop & Shop and its grocery counterparts recognize that change is in the food retail air.

With so many Millennial shoppers and their smart phones out there dictating the food retail trends, one thing’s for certain: we won’t be buying our food the way we’ve always done it.

The State of Food Innovation: Life Sciences in Boston

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One cannot discuss food innovation without discussing food science. Scientific inquiry and innovation undergirds nearly every facet of food, from how and what we grow to the nutritional balance of foods we consume, and to the environmental sustainability of what we eat.

Food science is couched within the life sciences: branches of science involving the study of living organisms like microorganisms, plants, animals, and humans. Boston has long been an outpost of discovery in the life sciences, buoyed by the hundreds of top-tier colleges and universities in the region. Many of the prescription drugs bringing healing and comfort to millions of Americans had their start here, and local companies that make them – like Novartis, Biogen, and Genzyme – are making billions in revenues as a result.

But besides Big Pharma, Boston is rapidly – and, perhaps, quietly – becoming a hub for food science innovation. This includes the development of new biotechnology solutions for farmers, cutting-edge nutritional research, gene and DNA research, and several investors funding this work.

Agriculture Biotechnology

As the world population balloons and extreme climate events become more frequent, farmers around the globe seek solutions to better safeguard their crops and increase community food security. The bioengineering of seeds and plants to resist insects and weeds, delay spoilage, or increase fruit size has been occurring for decades – and, some argue, centuries. One of the most exciting frontiers in this space is CRISPR – a fairly new technology that could transform the food we eat by allowing scientists to edit out undesirable traits in the foods we eat, like bruising or early spoilage. (of local note, MIT-based researcher Feng Zheng harnessed this technology for use in mammals)

The genetic modification of the foods we grow and eat has its skeptics, for sure, including those who argue that GM foods are unsafe to eat, harmful to the environment, or result in corporate consolidation in the food system. These critiques must be weighed and addressed. But even as the important conversation around food bioethics continues, we need to grapple with a few facts about biotechnology:

·      Our earliest ancestors were “engineering” crops and animals to increase the yield and quality of their food;

·      70 percent of processed foods today contain some form of genetically modified organisms; and

·      The more we study genetically engineered foods, the more scientists deem them as safe for human consumption. Tim Griffin, associate professor and director of the Agriculture, Food, and Environment program at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition, recently was among a group of scientists who spent two years studying 900 publications on genetically engineered foods for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. This committee determined that genetically engineered foods pose no health risk to humans who consume them.

In labs throughout Greater Boston, scientists are developing solutions to increase the safety, abundance, and shelf life of the foods we produce and consume. Of particular note is Indigo, a Charlestown-based life sciences company treating agricultural seeds with combinations of naturally occurring fungi and bacteria commonly found in plants. Farmers growing crops on more than a half million acres across the country say these treated seeds are more tolerant of extreme weather like draught, and investors have responded in kind. In 2017, Indigo’s valuation grew to $1.4 billion, making it one of the largest ag-tech startups ever.

If Indigo is fortifying seeds, Cambridge Crops is fortifying mature fruits and vegetables. The Cambridge company, in partnership with MIT and Tufts, created a natural and edible biopolymer coating that, when applied to perishable food, postpones decay by reducing contact with gases and water vapor. Rabobank and MIT announced last year that the startup was among three recipients of the 2017 Food and Agribusiness Innovation Prize for startups, for which the award was more than $50,000.

Ginkgo Bioworks, headquartered in Boston’s Seaport District, which uses yeasts to develop new flavors and fragrances, announced late last year its partnership with biotech giant Bayer on a startup that could replace synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. Some crops, like beans and peanuts, are hosts for microbes that allow the plants to naturally fertilize themselves. Ginkgo and Bayer are bringing these microbes to crops that don’t naturally feature them – like corn, wheat, and rice, which account for more than half of all synthetic fertilizer use – resulting in even more crops that can fertilize themselves.

The local advances in food biotechnology even pertain to fish. Lowell-based KnipBio is actively developing a suite of powerful bioengineering tools to rapidly advance specific desirable traits that make an ideal single cell protein in fish diets, the idea being that we can lessen the environmental strain on wild fisheries.

Nutrition Science & Testing

Americans care a great deal – and increasingly so – about the nutritional value of the foods and drinks we put into our bodies. Buoyed by the health food boom, companies are taking notice, of course, offering products higher in the kinds of good ingredients consumers seek and lower in the ones we want to avoid. But so are scholars and scientists.

Frank Hu, professor of epidemiology and nutrition and chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has studied the potential benefits of precision nutrition and, specifically, the use of gene sequencing to create a nutritional roadmap for individuals. For instance, using genetic data, personalized diets could be developed for individuals suffering from Type 1 diabetes, who are obese or overweight, and even those who wonder whether they might benefit from regular coffee consumption. (as an aside, the personalized nutrition space has become so promising, food giant Campbell’s has even gotten into the fray, spinning off the startup Habit)

Speaking of investments by big food companies, Nestlé Health Science made a $42.5 million equity investment in Boston-based startup Pronutria, which was initially formed within VentureLabs, the incubator of Flagship Ventures. Pronutria combines a Systems Biology understanding of the human metabolism, with its own library of the food proteome.

Could a computer chip simulate human organs, allowing scientists to test not-yet-developed drugs and foods more safely and conclusively? That’s the central idea behind Emulate Bio’s “Health Emulation System,” which it says opens a “high-fidelity window into the inner workings of the human body.” Early last year, Emulate’s “Organ on a Chip” was tapped to partner short-term with the Food and Drug Administration to see if the technology can stand up to what’s required to evaluate new products.

Consultants & Investors

Life sciences companies working on food and nutrition have plenty of local partners in the funding and consulting world. Consulting firm Lux Research, headquartered in Boston, helps developers and emerging companies understand just what consumers are seeking in terms of wellness and nutrition and keep them abreast of the next big technology and trend coming down the pike.

Local venture capital firm Anterra Capital focuses heavily on food biotechnology, investing in chemical companies enko chem and agrimetis, as well as CRISPR-Cas9 genome engineering firm Caribou Biosciences, plant breeding software LemnaTec, and protein preservation technology bluwrap. And Flagship Venturing, out of Cambridge, is a main investor in Indigo, helping the biotech startup raise $203 million in Series D funding in late 2017. Boston-based DSM Venturing – an arm of the $12 billion science-based company – has focused its portfolio of investments on startups in solar and personal nutrition.

The Future of Food Life Sciences

So much of the innovation happening in food and agriculture has a foundation in laboratories, and as long as Greater Boston remains home to the world’s top scientists discovering new frontiers in top laboratories, the Boston metropolitan area will continue to make an outsized influence on the space.

The State of Food Innovation: Food Waste and Recovery in Boston

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Maybe mom was right: we should be finishing more of our plates.

The statistics on how much food Americans waste are staggering:

  • Collectively, we waste around 40 percent of our food supply;

  • On average, every American wastes 400 pounds of food per year;

  • The cost of this wasted food is $218 billion, or 1.3 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.

Food waste is obviously an equity issue. Feeding the world gets more difficult each year, as the population explodes (expected to top 9 billion by 2050) and the extreme weather associated with climate change threaten crop yields in developing countries year over year. Even as we write this, Yemen is on the verge of famine, with 3.2 million children and adults at imminent risk of starving.

But as we can see from the data above, food waste is an economic issue as well. Wasting less of the food produced in the United States would allow more of it to benefit needy families – reducing the financial strains on our social safety net. And from the standpoint of corporate efficiency, millions of American restaurants and food retailers essentially take a sledge hammer to their bottom lines allowing more than 25 tons of food to end up in the landfill each year – costing them $57 billion annually – according to the 2016 ReFed report on food waste.

It appears this issue has finally caught the attention of lawmakers, business leaders, and investors. In fact, food waste reduction is one of the most promising areas for innovation and investment, with ReFed estimating that reducing food waste by 20 percent over the next decade will require an $18 billion investment from the public, private, and non-profit sectors. On the government end, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has emerged as a leader in curbing food waste, enacting in 2014 a law requiring Bay State businesses and institutions that discard more than a ton of organic matter per week to recycle, compost, or reuse it instead of sending it to a landfill.

Innovative Nonprofits Lead the Way

As has been the case with many other social problems, nonprofit organizations have pioneered innovative solutions to rescue food that would otherwise be headed to landfills. Founded in 2010, Lovin’ Spoonfuls has rescued more than 7.5 million pounds of excess fresh food from grocery stores, farmer’s markets, restaurants, and wholesalers, delivering it to social service agencies and meal programs that serve those in need. Boston Area Gleaners operates under a similar model, harvesting surplus farm crops and donating them to food pantries and meal programs. Cambridge-based Food for Free is something of a hybrid of the first two, serving Boston’s Pine Street Inn with fresh food grown on their farm in Lincoln, while also picking up discarded food and delivering it to communities throughout Eastern Massachusetts. Community Servings utilizes rescued ingredients – much of it donated by farms or other producers – in many of the chef-made meals it prepares for its chronically and critically ill clients.

Finally, a nonprofit grocery store that sells only surplus foods, produce gleaned from local farms, and packaged foods that are near or at their sell-by date. Founded by former Trader Joe’s President-turned-food rescue afficionado Doug Rauch, The Daily Table has thrived at its Washington Street location in Dorchester since 2015, and a second location is currently under construction in Roxbury – set to open sometime in 2018.

Purpose and Profits

These nonprofits play a critical role in both reducing waste and alleviating food insecurity, but a growing number of local entrepreneurs have discovered that having a social purpose doesn’t have to mean not making a profit. With ReFed’s estimates that an $18 billion investment will be necessary to curb food waste over the next decade, private investment is not only needed – it’s a smart business decision.

“In many ways, food waste is an emerging industry, just like recycling was in the 1980s, or renewable energy in the early 2000s,” says Chris Cochran, executive director of ReFed.

Several area startups have worked into their business models solutions for curbing food waste that are great for the planet, great for hungry families, and great for their investors. With a $2.5 million investment led in part by the Fink Family Foundation, Spoiler Alert is expanding its enterprise software that lets restaurants, farms, and manufacturers set up secondary markets for food that would normally be thrown away. It recently partnered up with distributor Sysco, which rakes in $50 billion annually, to begin diverting excess food, for sale or donation, from the dumpster to anti-hunger nonprofits and community groups.

For restaurants and households who’ve found composting to be difficult in the past, Boston-based Bootstrap Compost lessens that burden. Restaurants or households simply fill up one of Bootstrap’s five-gallon buckets with food scraps and leave it outside for one of the business’s drivers to pick up. Bootstrap processes the scraps and, in return, returns fresh composted soil to the customer.

Getting its start in 2008, Waltham-based Harvest was one of the earliest businesses turning discarded organic materials into soils, fertilizers, and clean energy. The anaerobic digester Harvest developed is being utilized by municipalities and large corporations around the world, like the City of Vancouver and Disney World, earning it a spot on the Global CleanTech 100 list. Globally, the anaerobic digestion market, which is at the forefront of smarter large-scale organic waste management, saw around $6.25 million in expenditures and investment in 2016.

Kickstarter-funded Food for All designed a mobile app that allows consumers to purchase, at deep discounts, unsold restaurant meals at the end of the day – with a few touches of their smart phones.

Lazy Bear Tea, founded in Cambridge, has developed its product around a commonly discarded biproduct of the coffee bean. Its bottled iced teas are all made from the cascara, the fruit of the coffee cherry, which typically contributes to 2.5tons/acre of waste every year and 75 percent of the water pollution associated with coffee production.

Funding the Zero-waste Vision

Fortunately, mission-driven founders are not out on their own in this brave new world of food waste reduction. Plenty of investors – several of which call Greater Boston home –  view food rescue and green waste management as wise sectors in which to put their money.

Cambridge-based Fresh Source Capital has made rebuilding local food and agriculture systems the cornerstone of its investments – including food waste reduction. It has pumped funding into Cambridge-born Spoiler Alert, as well as California-based Imperfect Produce – a home and office delivery service that specializes in “ugly” fruits and vegetables that are typically discarded on farms.

Anterra Capital, based in Boston and Amsterdam, invested in Food Freshness Technology, which developed It’s Fresh!: a filter for produce packaging that extends the life of fruits and vegetables and reduces waste throughout the supply chain.

If MissionPoint Partners (which has an office in Boston) has its way, expect the number of investors entering the food waste reduction sector to increase dramatically in the coming years. In 2015, MissionPoint supported the launch of the nonprofit ReFed campaign with a goal of educating investors on the issue of food waste and galvanizing $300 million in annual philanthropic giving and impact investment for food waste reduction. More than 30 businesses, foundations, and government leaders came up with 27 cost-effective, scalable solutions to reduce food waste by 20 percent in the next 10 years.

A Waste-Free Future

Curbing food waste is a “triple-bottom-line investment” – benefitting people, healing the planet, and driving economic growth and profits – says Emily Broad Leib, assistant clinical professor at Harvard Law School and founder of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. Over the last several years, Broad Leib has emerged as a thought leader in strategies for reducing food waste, working with governments and institutions to enact waste reduction policies.

A promising frontier in this movement – one that is largely being led by Broad Lieb and the clinic she directs – is that of reforming date labels on packaged foods. The federal government currently provides no standards regulating such labels, which Broad Leib says rarely refer to a product’s freshness or quality and lead retailers and consumers to discard perfectly edible food. The FLPC has run a campaign to bring awareness to the date labeling issue, and in February 2017, the two main food industry trade groups – Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association – announced a voluntary initiative to standardize date labels on consumer-facing packaged foods by the Summer of 2018.

Clearly, the Bay State is fertile soil for public, private, and nonprofit efforts to reduce food waste – which should make all of our mothers very happy.

The State of Food Innovation: Agriculture & Farming in Boston

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The State of Food Innovation: Agriculture & Farming in Boston

With every food revolution, expect to see a farm revolution. The reason for this is simple: as consumers demand more from their food – locally sourced, fresher, fewer chemicals, and the like – food innovators are working to shorten the distance between field and fork. Consequently, growers are changing their practices to accommodate this new, more transparent reality.

Here in Boston, “know your farmer” is a common refrain in food and agriculture circles, and the relative geographic closeness between rural farms and population centers has for years made this quite possible. Urban and ex-urban consumers in Massachusetts mingle with producers year-round at summer and winter farmer’s markets – which have increased three-fold in number since 2004. Here in Boston, the number of markets has increased from around 10 just over a decade ago to almost 30 today, and our year-round Boston Public Market brings consumers Massachusetts-grown produce, meats, dairy, beer, and spirits.

It Takes a Region
We’ve made the case in this series that Boston is becoming a national center for food innovation, with numerous food and farm-related consumer packaged goods, technologies, and other products coming to market in the last decade. A significant reason for this is the agricultural bounty available in New England. From Maine blueberries and lobsters to Massachusetts cod and apples to Vermont dairy and produce, food companies headquartered near Boston can utilize regional ingredients while leveraging the close geographical proximity to make coveted claims like “locally sourced.” In fact, efforts are underway across the region to both protect existing farmland, create new growing opportunities, and dramatically increase the amount of food produced – and consumed – here. Food Solutions New England has put forth its New England Food Vision, a bold plan to build capacity across the region for regional farmers and fishers to catch or produce half of the food New England residents consume by 2060. A vision like this requires innovation not only at the retail and production levels – including the willingness to grow food literally anywhere – but radical changes in distribution infrastructure as well.

Greenhouse Farms
The Northeast traditionally has not been able to support large-scale farms, partly because we have less available acreage than the Midwest and West and partly because of our cooler climate. Fresh Box Farms, in Millis, Mass., is working to change that perception, though its brand of industrial farming bears little resemblance to the iconic images of row crops in America’s Bread Basket. Fresh Box is an indoor hydroponic farm, which means plant roots sit directly in water and receive light artificially – thus using 99 percent less water than field farming. Farming indoors allows Fresh Box to grow its pesticide-free greens year-round, without fear of inclement weather or pests. And growing closer to population centers like Boston allows Fresh Box to deliver its greens to retail stores within 24 hours of harvest – sometimes the same day.

Fresh Box isn’t stopping in Millis. Company heads have their sights set on opening 25 new farms across the U.S., each of which could produce up to three tons of produce daily. Indoor farming operations like Fresh Box, New Jersey-based Bowery, and San Francisco-based Plenty have seen an influx of investor cash and are projected to grow to a $42 billion industry in the next 10 years. In fact, in a decade, up to half the leafy greens Americans consume will have been grown in greenhouses like the Fresh Box’s Millis warehouse.

Urban Farms
To feed the increasing and increasingly urban population in and around Boston, it won’t be enough to simply import food from elsewhere.

Farming itself can be a profitable venture, and Boston’s Urban Farming Institute is training up the next generation of “green-collar workers” seeking to make money in food. The UFI works across the Commonwealth to identify and restore land that could become a farm, training residents to become successful small-plot urban farmers, consulting with cities on policy changes to accommodate urban agriculture.

City Growers has been transforming Boston’s empty lots into farms, farms into food, and food into cash. Founded in 2009 by Glynn Lloyd, who co-founded City Fresh Foods in 1994, the nonprofit City Growers sells its Boston-grown produce to restaurants like Bella Luna, Tremont 647, and Henrietta’s Table.

Similarly, The Food Project is a nonprofit connecting urban youth with local food production on farms in Boston and outside the city. Several Food Project alums have taken the lessons learned during their summers growing food in the city to commercial farms elsewhere or into their work starting food businesses.

These traditional urban farms are breathing new life into working-class neighborhoods and restoring sometimes toxic and blighted city lands. But given the rate at which Boston developers are building on available land, the future of urban agriculture probably involves growing food in the unlikeliest places – from rooftops to greenhouses to shipping containers.

Rooftop Farms
Certified B-Corp Green City Growers has built quite a successful business assisting companies and building owners in turning empty rooftops and terraces into prime growing space. Often working with Somerville-based Recover Green Roofs on installation, Green City Growers has designed rooftop farms and gardens for businesses, colleges, and restaurants across Greater Boston, resulting in more than 175,000 pounds of organic produce. This includes the 5,000-square-foot Fenway Farms, an organic, rooftop growing space along the third-baseline at the iconic ballpark, where veggies like kale and peppers are grown and served in concession stands and restaurants around the park. Green City Growers also installed and maintains the 17,000-square-foot farm on the roof of Whole Foods Market in Lynnfield – the grocery chain’s only such farm.

High atop the roof of the Boston Design Center, the 55,000-square-foot Higher Ground Farm is one of the city’s largest rooftop growing operations. From the Design Center, workers take fresh herbs, flowers, and produce to restaurants and markets around the city – by bike. Higher Ground also manages a rooftop farm at Boston Medical Center, which claims the distinction of having the most plantable rooftop space in the city.

An Explosion of Ag-tech
Urban farms in Boston – whether on a rooftop or in an empty lot – are still largely bound by three seasons of difficult and cold growing weather. To address this conundrum, Boston-based Freight Farms invented its Leafy Green Machine – a 40-foot stainless steel shipping container stacked floor to ceiling with hydroponic vertical growing towers and LED lighting. Freight Farms markets its flagship product as able to produce leafy greens and herbs at a commercial scale. But does it work?

To answer that question, one need only look a few miles away from Freight Farms’ headquarters. In an empty parking lot in East Boston, Shawn and Connie Cooney of Corner Stalk Farm tend to four shipping containers full of hydroponic lettuce, swiss chard, kale, basil, arugula, mint, and mustard greens. The Cooneys, who are both in their 60s, harvest between 4,000 and 6,000 plants a week – roughly 80 times the amount they’d harvest on a conventional farm – while using less than 10 gallons of water per container. Corner Stalk Farm moved into a space at Boston Public Market in 2015, and in a CNN Money story that year, Shawn Cooney reported grossing more than $15,000 a month from Corner Stalk Farm.

Freight Farms is emblematic of a larger trend in which Boston has become a leader: the introduction of new technologies that are harnessing the region’s collective brain power to disrupt traditional agriculture. Consider CiBO, a Cambridge company, which launched with $30 million in funding with its analytics software for farmers growing staple crops like corn and soy. SproutsIO created a micro-garden that lets city-dwellers grow food indoors year-round. Other technologies developed here assist in food processing, track harvests and estimate crop yields, and improve the water efficiency of cotton plants.

A Hub of Food & Farm Investment
Where there is a multitude of technologies disrupting agriculture, you’ll also find a multitude of investors seeking to fund them. That’s certainly true in Greater Boston, where we’ve seen exponential growth in funding for ag-related businesses by local firms. Launched this year by Branchfood founder Lauren Abda and esteemed Boston venture capitalist Marcia Hooper, Branch Venture Group is an angel network for investment in early-stage food products, food tech, and ag-tech startups in the Boston area. The group was formed after its founders noticed a gap in early-stage funding for small food businesses, the number of which is ever increasing in Greater Boston.

Branch joins a community of investors that are fueling Boston’s food and farm future. Hancock Agricultural Investments manages $2.9 billion in agricultural farmland assets for its institutional investors. Startups like Incredible Foods and Inari Agriculture have seen big investments from Cambridge-based venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering, which also helped Charlestown biotech company Indigo raise an incredible $156 million in 2016. And local venture firm Fresh Source Capital invest heavily in companies that are rebuilding sustainable agriculture systems, including food rescue technology Spoiler Alert, indoor farming software platform Agrilyst, and meal delivery service Just Add Cooking. And the list goes on.

The Future
One imagines an agricultural future in which food companies and entrepreneurs continue to draw on the rich bounty of New England’s farms, orchards, and fisheries – as well as its rich financial resources. One also sees the addition of more clean, green indoor hydroponic grow facilities capable of producing fresh food year-round – both large-scale greenhouses in the Boston suburbs and smaller facilities in the urban core. Also expect to see food being grown in smaller, more unusual places within the city as commercial landlords incorporate farms and gardens into office space, real estate developers entice tenants and residents with both indoor and outdoor gardens, and cities continue combating the effects of climate change with green roofs and walls. Greater Boston will continue to harness its intellectual assets to create products and technologies that will transform the way we farm and eat in a rapidly changing world, many times buoyed financially by local investors.

This future, which many thought of as “space-age” just a few years ago, is quickly becoming our reality – a reality that is benefitting visionary entrepreneurs, farmworkers, and eaters in a rapidly urbanizing world.

 

Mapping the Future of Food, Cooking and the Kitchen at the Smart Kitchen Summit

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The Smart Kitchen Summit is the first and only event dedicated to mapping the future of food, cooking, and the kitchen. Branchfood is thrilled to be a marketing partner of the conference since its inception and we'll have someone there at the event! If you would like to connect with us, DM us on Twitter!

The Summit was founded in 2015 when smart home and IoT veteran analyst Michael Wolf noticed a trend forming in the smart home space – the emergence of kitchen technology or, the smart kitchen. He realized that this unique relationship between the food we consume and create and the technology that is revolutionizing that experience was beginning to grow at an increasingly fast pace. Mike saw an opportunity to create a forum for conversation around this burgeoning trend that would bring leading voices across the various niches in smart kitchen together to share ideas and information.

Now in its third year, Smart Kitchen Summit is the premier convening of leaders from technology, food, appliances, commerce and retail, and delivery and features discussions, panels, fireside chats and workshops on how connectivity, artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning, virtual reality, design innovation and the on-demand economy will transform the consumer experience with food.

In addition to conversations and presentations, the Smart Kitchen Summit features opportunities for companies to expand their presence in the industry. The Startup Showcase, a competition that seeks out the most interesting and disruptive startups in food and kitchen tech, is a place for emerging leaders to demo and pitch their ideas to an audience packed with key decision makers and thought leaders.

The Smart Kitchen Summit is more than just an event. With the success of the Summit came a joint venture – The Spoon, a media B2B site dedicated to covering the future of food, cooking and the kitchen through regular industry news, contributed pieces, and more.

Interested in joining the conversation? Join us October 10-11, 2017 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA for two packed days of networking, product demonstrations, and programming. Use code BRANCHFOOD for 25% off the price of any ticket type. www.smartkitchensummit.com

New Look, Same Great Taste: Evolving Branchfood

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If you’re a member of the Branchfood coworking space, you may have noticed a few changes to our layout. There’s more to come! We’ve evolved into the largest community of food innovators in New England and realized a strong desire among our members to create, connect, and network with others in the industry. Partnered with the Perkins + Will architecture and design firm, we set out to create visual elements reflecting the spirited intention of Branchfood as a network and community for people launching and growing transformative food businesses.

Over the next month, we will be transitioning to our new image through design components in our workspace and online. These transformations will better reflect our role as an intersectional community of technology and product, and will better communicate the resources we provide, such as networking events, panels, workshops, mentorships, and coworking space. Branchfood is a place where startups, developed companies, and freelancers alike connect to re-shape the food industry as we know it. Our new imagery will express this wealth of information exchange and promote, above all, the community. We look forward to implementing our new look, and celebrating once everything is complete!

If you’re not yet a Branchfood member but would like to become more involved in our growing network, we now offer Community Membership, perfect for the person or company who needs access to coworking space or any of the other resources we offer on a weekly, rather than daily basis. We look forward to continuing our efforts in support of community development and a better food system with all of you!

The State of Food Innovation: Restaurants in Boston

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From humble beginnings, Boston’s restaurant scene is fast developing a national reputation. Celebrities like Julia Child and Ming Tsai have added star power to the city for decades, and local favorites such as Mike’s Pastry and Legal Sea Food attract tourists by the droves. Now, the next generation of restaurant innovators is changing the face of Boston dining through technology like never before. As Sam Hiersteiner writes, “economic growth, a rising crop of young talent, burgeoning ethnic communities, and culinary innovation from the likes of MIT and Harvard are all contributing factors working in [Boston’s] favor.” Providing restaurateurs with a supportive environment to bolster business development, this primordial soup continues to nurture new ventures in a virtuous cycle of innovation that benefits newcomers and veterans alike. In an industry where the average profit margin is 3.7%, Boston innovators lay the groundwork for a whole new restaurant experience.

RESOURCES

Most entrepreneurs seek outside help as they translate ideas to concrete business and profit. One resource in Boston is the Epicenter Community’s Restaurant Discovery Pipeline, which secured 76 liquor licenses costing up to $450,000 in an effort to make restaurant ownership more accessible for urban entrepreneurs. Dorchester-based Snapchef, the largest culinary training and staffing company in New England, connects culinary experts with major employers. Restaurateurs can even turn to RealFood Consulting, a firm that specializes in the food industry. Under president Ed Doyle, RealFood advises on business model, design, and operations, among other aspects of ownership.

EDUCATION

Boston’s famous universities are a launchpad for aspiring restaurateurs. BU’s School of Hospitality Administration immerses students in the working world, providing a background in the industry before they even graduate, and the Distinguished Lecture Series, along with similar university-run programs, brings in hospitality experts and innovators to push and inspire students. The organization Future Chefs helps urban high school students transition to careers in the culinary world, and in Brookline, the Restaurant Entrepreneurship Institute develops practical, creative thought through industry training.

Le Cordon Bleu, Director of People at Dig Inn

TECHNOLOGY

A large number of restaurant tech startups call Boston home. Toast, a point of sale and management system, serves F&B establishments nationwide. The Reserve app helps users discover and book restaurants, and Allset goes one further, making it possible to actually order online. These companies have used Boston as a launchpad and are now available in major cities across the country. Lunchsmarter is a subscription-based order ahead platform for corporate employees that offers a daily curated meal selection, and the staffing service Jobletics embraces the high turnover rate of the food industry -- users can hire foodservice professionals as little as three hours before shifts start, or find employers through the portal. ezCater, the only nationwide corporate catering marketplace, was founded in Boston ten years ago, and Fooda, another catering service, connects with companies and F&B establishments to host pop-up restaurants and employer-paid lunches. One of their partners is Rootastes, a seasonal Thai caterer that implements an online ordering system. Alchemista offers corporate snack room stock and meal programs, and hot on the heels of the Boston food truck initiative, Food Truck Stars helps hungry users locate trucks in their area. Whether front or back of house, food service innovators are using technology to reinvent the future of dining.

GROWTH

Investing in new restaurants is notoriously risky, but Boston is home to organizations that specialize in the industry. The Restaurant Investment Group vets prospective candidates, who meet with consultants while retaining ownership and creative control. Bessemer Venture Partners invested in Blue Apron in 2013, and led a $30 million financing round for POS system Toast, later contributing to an additional $101 million round in 2017.

On the designing side, retail development and urban planning firm Graffito SP has placed many F&B establishments in greater Boston, working extensively in the Kendall neighborhood of Cambridge. Cafco, a contracting company that specializes in the hospitality industry, helped acclaimed establishments such as the Row 34 and the Kirkland Tap and Trotter create on-brand interiors, while the design firm studioTYAK takes advantage of the individual history and context of spaces to embrace the personality of establishments such as the Sinclair.

ESTABLISHMENTS

Successful Boston restaurants, fueled by the entrepreneurial spirit of the city, expand and give back to the F&B community in a virtuous cycle. After growing up in Southie as Whitey Bulger's neighbor, famous chef Barbara Lynch now has several acclaimed restaurants and established the Barbara Lynch Foundation to improve nutritional and culinary education in Boston. In 2012, the Barbara Lynch Gruppo partnered with MIT-born food tech company SproutsIO, which produces soil-free, smartphone-operated gardening systems.

Similar restaurant innovation can be found everywhere in Boston. Henry Patterson, founder of Bel Canto and mentor to some of the city’s most successful restaurateurs, pioneered “open-book” management, a system which incorporates staff into bookkeeping and has been adopted by several establishments in the Boston area. The simple switch has increased profits, notoriously thin in the restaurant industry, and rewarded low paid staff with bonuses. The ArtScience Culture Lab and Cafe combines food and chemistry, featuring experiments like “Le Whaf,” which turns liquids into vapors you “drink” from a straw. Clover FoodLab, a fast casual place which sources from local farms, treats each dish as an experiment, even well loved classics. Their most famous, the chickpea fritter sandwich, has gone through over sixty iterations. CEO and founder Ayr Muir says, “[the] menu is in constant development. We make mistakes all the time. We work hard to make sure those mistakes are cheap, and that we learn from them.” That approach is paying off -- in under a decade, Clover has transitioned from one food truck on the MIT campus to thirteen brick-and-mortar locations in Greater Boston.

Drawn to the emerging culinary force in the North, New York establishments such as Sweetgreen, Dig Inn, and the Halal Guys expanded to Boston before any other city. Mary Dumont, a Food and Wine “Best New Chef,” says, “New York chefs are trying to open new restaurants here now instead of the other way around.” With so much energy surrounding the F&B industry, Boston is quickly becoming the next big city for restaurateurs to conquer, and square one for countless exciting new ventures.

At Branchfood we aim to raise awareness about Boston as a leading food community. This blog post is the second in a series on innovation in Boston’s food and beverage industry. Written by Chloe Barran.

The State of Food Innovation: Consumer Packaged Goods in Boston

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Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) manufacturing is a leading global industry. Over the past ten years, food manufacturers have transformed business practices in response to changing consumer preferences. Campbell Soup, one of the largest CPG companies in the world, saw a decrease in profits of almost 20% in the last fiscal year, and is one of many Big Food companies that are experiencing the shift: since 2009, the top twenty-five food and beverage names in the United States lost the equivalent of $18B in market share to startups and small businesses. The entrepreneurs behind these smaller companies create products that reflect changing public values and build trust between company and consumer. Greater Boston has been an unsuspecting leader in CPG since the dawn of the NECCO wafer and cites companies like Schrafft's, Stacy's Pita Chips, and The Boston Beer Company as more recent success stories. Beyond brand, Boston is a place where innovative food product companies continue to launch and grow. 

RESOURCES

The visionary ethos of Boston perfectly complements its historic roots. Kendall Square in Cambridge has been called the most innovative square mile on the planet, and much of Boston’s creative energy goes toward product development for CPG companies. With an experimental kitchen in Fenway, Chew Labs works with food companies both high and low profile to create tastier, more cost-effective CPGs. CEO Adam Melonas explains, “Everyone here has an equal seat at the table. It’s interesting to see the food scientists start to lean on the chefs to direct and guide the taste. And the chefs start to lean on the food scientists to help guide the conversation on stability, technique, and what’s possible, and where we go next.” The unique combination of food and technology found in Boston means the city incorporates both old-world tradition and new culinary innovation into its rapidly developing food scene.

A profusion of commercial kitchens makes Greater Boston an ideal city for startup CPG companies looking to scale manufacturing out of home kitchens. CommonWealth Kitchen, with locations in Somerville and Medford, is one example of these shared community spaces, offering business assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs and strengthening the regional food economy. Smaller kitchens, such as Caroline Huffstetler’s Local Fare and Food Revolution, are able to provide allergen-free workspaces. Foundation Kitchen and Stock Pot Malden offer even more variety to the mix. Many CPG startups, whether they need storage, guidance, or workspace, use these commercial kitchens as a steppingstone as they build their brand and their consumer base.

EDUCATION

One of Greater Boston’s most notable characteristics is its abundance of colleges and universities. Out of these institutions have grown community resources such as the Harvard University i-lab, where Harvard affiliates can participate in a twelve-week program that provides workshops and mentoring sessions about entrepreneurship. The founders of Six Foods, producer of one of the country’s first-ever cricket-based snack, started at the i-lab when they were undergrads before making a national debut. The startup BevSpot is another Boston education success story: founded by students from the Harvard Business School and MIT, the online tool helps bar and restaurant managers track inventory and spending.

Annual events, such as Harvard's public lecture series on the science of cooking, further contribute to the conversation surrounding innovation and food. MIT's Sustainability Summit explores green technology, and the Harvard Food Better initiative hosts conferences which focus on the empowerment of food service employees. Harvard also hosts the Global Food+ Conference, which features top Boston area scholars in a wide variety of disciplines to highlight research findings related to food and its impact on society and the environment.

At Tufts, the School of Nutrition Science and Policy combines the efforts of nutritionists, economists, policy makers, physicians, and many other experts toward the goal of improving nutritional health everywhere. With its Food Sol Program, Babson College focuses similar efforts on a different socio-economic sector through the Cultivate Small Business initiative, in collaboration with the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) and CommonWealth Kitchen. Through Cultivate Small Business, entrepreneurs from low-income backgrounds receive mentoring sessions, the chance to network, and small capital grants.

FUNDS

Local funds including Beechwood Capital, Centerman Capital, and Sherbrooke Capital, to name a few, are providing capital for entrepreneurs to get their businesses off the ground and disrupt the food and beverage industry. The past five years have seen an increase in funds that invest exclusively in this industry, paving the way for transformative businesses, such as Boston-based Yasso and Spindrift, to realize their full potential. Financing reaches beyond local companies, too -- Fidelity and Bessemer Venture Partners invested in New York meal kit service company Blue Apron when it was in its early stages. Fresh Source Capital, which targets high-tech companies dedicated to sustainable regional economies, counts Just Add Cooking among its investments.

PLAYERS

Broadly considered the birthplace of the American Revolution, Boston offers CPG companies a legacy brand recognition unachievable anywhere else in the country. The craft brewery Samuel Adams exemplifies this position: founder and sixth generation brewer Jim Koch debuted his beer on Patriots’ Day in 1985, depicting the founding father mid-cheers in a pose now iconic across the nation.

Beyond history, Boston’s reputation as an durable, revolutionary city is conducive to establishing legacy brands, and consumers respond with enthusiasm to enduring names -- the “What the Fluff” festival, held annually in Somerville, celebrates Marshmallow Fluff as a historic, even traditional food staple in New England, the nation, and abroad. Further to the west, Big Y Supermarkets have been one of the most recognizable grocery establishments in New England since 1936. Stacy’s Pita Chips got its start in Boston, and Quincy-born Dunkin Donuts (“Dunkin’,” “Dunks”) is another iconic brand, its comforting pink and orange logo glow never far from sight.

THE FUTURE

Boston is a city of Millennials, with the highest concentration of 20- to 34-year olds of any populous American city. Values of that generation have already permeated the CPG industry. Sustainability, nutrition, and transparency in sourcing ingredients are three major movements that will continue to affect consumer preferences. Digital spending will also continue to increase, foreshadowed by the recent acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon, the online retail giant reportedly soon to sign a lease for a space in Seaport.

Investment in small businesses from big names in food ensures a virtuous cycle of innovation in the industry. In this spirit The Boston Beer Company, partnered with small business lender ACCION, provides financial advice and other business coaching to entrepreneurs through their Brewing the American Dream program. As digital spending continues to rise, a high number of niche markets will emerge, fueled by startups. Innovation in the CPG industry and support for small businesses are instrumental in Boston’s role as a national player.

At Branchfood we aim to raise awareness about Boston as a leading food community. This blog post is the first in a series on innovation in Boston’s food and beverage industry. Written by Chloe Barran.

Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #6: Mint Pattanan + Naphat Chaiparinya from Rootastes

What do you do on your lunch break, besides eat? Socialize with colleagues, make a pharmacy run, eat chicken salad at your desk between emails? According to a study done by the hiring company OfficeTeam, Americans are increasingly falling into the latter category, with 29% saying they work through their breaks. New food startup Rootastes is hoping to bring a greater sense of community to the workplace through the oft-neglected lunch hour.

“Even for one hour, we try,” says co-founder Naphat Chaiparinya. She sighs, visibly frustrated. “You’re supposed to have a good time with your good lunch.”

This mission is heavily influenced by the founders’ Thai origins. Co-founder Mint Pattanan Ketthin chimes in, “we like going out together, in a big group. We enjoy eating out. In Thai culture, getting together makes good relations between employees.” With this philosophy, Rootastes targets corporate employers who want to create a sense of community in the workplace.

Another substantial part of the Rootastes mission is addressing the abstraction of mealtime food that’s intensified in the past decades. Both Chaiparinya and Pattanan have experience working in the corporate world, and talk passionately about bridging the gap between workers and the farmers that produce their food. Reflecting on her time WWOOFing on an organic farm in Japan, Chaiparinya says, “Why is life so complicated? You want money to buy food, but you can grow the food yourself! Whatever you want to eat, you just have to wait for it.” It’s this farm-to-table mentality that inspire the founders to maximize partnerships with local farms and curate a seasonal menu in order to accommodate fluctuating supply.

For similarly minded restauranteurs and caterers who don’t know how to start finding suppliers, Rootastes offers a surprisingly simple path: Chaiparinya and Pattanan went to major distributors Baldor Food’s and Russo’s to taste produce from various local farms, then visited the farms which seemed most promising. “It’s good to learn how they make their product,” says Pattanan. “I work in marketing, but the most important thing is that I work in corporate social responsibility. Besides making good food for people, we want to help local farms as well.”

This initiative to find local ingredients demonstrates the applied passion with which Rootastes’ founders conduct their business. Halfway through our interview, Chaiparinya says with a laugh, “you don’t need to ask us questions -- we really want to talk about this!” The two of them had been up since six in the morning to work on an event, but become instantly re-animated when asked about the new corporate lifestyle they hope to encourage. Pattanan’s attraction to the startup industry lies in this problem-solving mentality: “We find the problem, and the company’s product and service are the solution. I want to create something that benefits the community.”

As for building the Rootastes team, Pattanan explains it happened organically: she and Chaiparinya were friends from before, and their executive chef, Wachira Sittikong, was a friend of a friend. Coming from a long line of family-owned leading Thai restaurants in Boston and Massachusetts, Sittikong studied business and worked in the financial district before attending Le Cordon Bleu.

Instrumental in the creation of new dishes, Chef Sittikong helped design the Rootastes menu. Clients choose packages that consist of a carbohydrate base, like white rice or specialty grain, vegetables such as umami medley mushroom or sesame spinach, a protein, perhaps baked spinach or grilled shrimp, and lastly a sauce, be it ginger teriyaki or garlic basil aioli. The menu is extensive, and packages vary in number of servings and scope of choice. Since the spotlight is on the ingredients themselves, the actual cooking process is simple: a bit of seasoning, with house-made herb oil. And it seems to work -- Pattanan recalls one happy employee who told her it was the best lunch he’d had in two years.

I work in marketing, but the most important thing is that I work in corporate social responsibility. Besides making good food for people, we want to help local farms as well.

When it comes to scaling the business, Chaiparinya and Pattanan take a measured approach. In business for just two months, they are entirely self-funded and use a commercial kitchen to prepare food. “We just want to make this happen first,” says Chaiparinya. “We proved to ourselves already that we can make it, but we have to prove that to other people. We got a good answer from our customers, so for me it’s a good start. But for the next step, of course funding is the most important. We know that right now.” Pattanan agrees: “The most important thing is the food. We want to make sure we have a very good product before we jump into technology.”

At the moment, Rootastes clients can order through a chat bot on the company Facebook page, as well as the company’s website. But Pattanan envisions, in the near future, incorporating slack, the inter-company messaging system. “People already know our product, they know our food,” she explains. “When we bring in technology so we can reach new markets, new customers.” Chaiparinya says that most of Rootastes’ clients are companies that employ Boston’s extensive millennial population, a demographic that’s both open to trying new things and interested in sustainable sourcing and transparency in where their food comes from.

Rootastes is just one company in a community of startups that take advantage of Branchfood’s numerous resources. Pattanan and Chaiparinya have met with Branchfood mentors several times to discuss business development, and appreciate the sense of like-minded community they share with other entrepreneurs they’ve met through the organization. “The Boston community is very supportive for entrepreneurs,” says Pattanan. Chaiparinya adds, “It’s been over our expectations. We’re looking forward to using more facilities here -- we should, but we’re so busy!”

You can read more about Rootastes here. If you’re interested in joining the Branchfood community, you can read more about membership options here. Interview conducted by Chloe Barran.

[Event] GAI AgTech Week hits Boston in June, bringing ag technology investment opportunities

We are excited to be a Media Partner for Global AgInvesting’s 3rd Annual AgTech Week in Boston! The event will be held at the Marriott Long Wharf from June 26-28. There will be 19 panels and presentations including “Accelerating the Speed of AgTech Innovation,” “Funding AgTech – Lessons Learned from Investor Veterans,” and “Examining a Global Opportunity – Delivering AgTech to Emerging Markets.” The Branchfood community will receive a 15% discount off tickets by using the code “ATW17-Branchfood”.

GAI’s decision to move AgTech Week from San Francisco to Boston reflects the rise of food and agriculture development in our city. For the fourth consecutive year Massachusetts ranked #1 in innovation according to the Massachusetts Innovation Economy Annual Index. Oset Babur of The Guardian recently wrote, “Boston’s strong entrepreneurial spirit, combined with progressive legislation like the passing of Article 89, has also turned Boston into one of the nation’s hubs for urban agriculture.”

Branchfood will be present at the event, and looks forward to learning about the future of agtech investment. Stay tuned, as we will be sharing information about up-and-coming agtech companies on social media. If you will be attending AgTech Week this year, reach out on social media so that we can connect!

Announcing Branchfood Community Membership

In our endless quest to provide the best resources and community connections for New England based food entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups, and established businesses, we're thrilled to share our latest offering, Branchfood Community Membership! 

Do you want to connect with the community of food creators, entrepreneurs, activists, investors, freelancers, mentors, techies, and more? Though our community members share the common interest of transforming our food system through innovation and the establishment of new businesses, their backgrounds and companies are very diverse. All are welcome and we foresee great connections and businesses to come. 

Community Membership is designed to provide greater access to the Branchfood network, workspace, events, classes, and educational resources. This offering is ideal for the person or company who needs access to our shared-space but not on a daily basis. We tailor classes/workshops, member events, and affiliate discounts specifically to our community’s wishes.

Description of Benefits:

  • A network of food-related entrepreneurs, mentors, advisors and startups to further business goals

  • Access to co-working space where you can host meetings and events, from casual conversations to formal meetings on Thursday afternoons from 2PM -7PM

  • Amenities (drinks, snacks, wifi)

  • Discounted access to Branchfood events

  • Member only events

  • Promotion of your business on Branchfood social media and weekly newsletter

Community Membership is a paid-for monthly subscription offering for $30 per person per month. Apply below and we'll be in touch with more information!

Boston's Newest Restaurant Website: The Food Lens

Boston's Newest Restaurant Website: The Food Lens

If you’re a Boston local, or planning a visit to the city, you know that you have no shortage of options when it comes to dining out. But paring down an extensive list of hotspots can be overwhelming, and there aren’t many resources available to find out where to go directly from the mouth of a local. A new website aims to solve this dilemma. If you know the vibe you’re after, or the cuisine, or the neighborhood, or even just the price point, The Food Lens offers to solve your dining dilemma with a few clicks.  

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Announcing: Innovation and the Future of Food Allergies

Announcing: Innovation and the Future of Food Allergies

Every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room– that is more than 200,000 emergency department visits per year. The number of people who have a food allergy is growing, but there is no clear answer as to why. As millions of Americans are diagnosed with food allergies, there is an increasing concern that research has not been keeping up.

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