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:

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.

 

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: 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

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.

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!

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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