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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Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #6: Joyce Lee of Nibble

Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #6: Joyce Lee of Nibble

Snacking is trending. Everywhere you look, people are forgoing the “three square meals” regimen to incorporate more snacks and light meals into their day. But finding the coolest and newest products in the snacking world isn’t easy. Grocery shelves are overflowing with options, and it’s hard to know what to choose, especially, as Joyce Lee would argue, from a taste standpoint. Lee,

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Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #5: Julia Paino of Swoffle

Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #5: Julia Paino of Swoffle

What pairs well with coffee? Julia Paino, the founder of Swoffle, would tell you it’s the stroopwafel. A stroopwafel, for those who may not be familiar with traditional Dutch snacks, is a cookie made up of two ultra-thin "waffles" sandwiched around a layer of oozy caramel. The cookie softens when placed over (or dunked into) a warm beverage. Julia, who launched Swoffle

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Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #4: Danilo Leao of BovControl

Know Your Food Entrepreneurs #4: Danilo Leao of BovControl

BovControl, the fast-growing mobile livestock analytics platform, was founded in 2013. But, as co-founder Danilo Leao informed me, its roots go way back. When Danilo was a child on his father’s farm in Brazil, he was already experimenting with the way that data could be used to affect livestock productivity. At 12, he had taken on the duties of “tracking and tracing animals, understanding their activity, and understanding nature.”

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Announcing: Local Food Demos at Branchfood!

Announcing: Local Food Demos at Branchfood!

What’s better than free food? Free food that helps promote a message of buying local! Read on to find out how you can enjoy some delicious snacks and beverages from your favorite local brands -- as well as some that may be new to you.

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6 Need-To-Know Social Media Tactics for Food Startups

6 Need-To-Know Social Media Tactics for Food Startups

Across all cultures, food carries a significant social element. It’s meant to be seen, shared, and discussed. This makes food startups and social media a particularly strong pairing, as all of the major social networks lend themselves to doing those very things...

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Upcoming Food & Food Tech Summits & Events!

Upcoming Food & Food Tech Summits & Events!

Building innovative solutions to food system challenges requires diligent networking and a constant exchange of ideas, and a good summit does both. So, we here at Branchfood have done a bit of the heavy lifting for you and compiled this list of upcoming summits and other events -- all the way up until June!

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The Future of Restaurants

The Future of Restaurants

The restaurant industry has been adapting to new technology at a rapid pace -- but we hardly notice, and that’s a good thing. New technology is a risky proposition. Sudden shifts can alienate consumers who are not interested in adapting to new ways of doing things. Over time, however, we’ve seen restaurants adapt to technologies that now seem commonplace -- online ordering, crowdsourced reviews, tablet-based POS systems (ToastSquare), and so on.

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