2018 - The most successful year to date for New England food startups!

Entrepreneurs in the greater Boston area are accomplishing incredible things, like mapping the global food supply chain, landing major funding for robot restaurants in partnership with culinary celebrities, leading positive food system change through new food recovery initiatives, creating novel biofilms, and a whole host of others are inspiring massive food industry evolution. Branchfood isn’t the only one to notice either! This past year, we launched Branch Venture Group - a network of angel investors seeking to fund food startups and made four investments to date! Branch Venture Group’s portfolio currently includes Open City, Willie’s Superbrew, Waku, and Ocean Approved.

We thrilled with the achievements in our community, and while we anticipate an even more impactful 2019, we wanted to highlight some of our events from the past year and reflect on the successes of the local food community.

Throughout the year, Branchfood hosted a panel series on the Future Of Food that dove into various aspects of the food system including: food allergies, agriculture, nutrition, food products, food retail, and brewing. On January 24th of 2019 we will continue this series with the Future of Cannabis.

In May, Branchfood teamed up with the Boston Globe and Hill Holiday to host Food Edge, a two-day summit in May that explored the future of food and guided brands that wanted to be leaders in the industries of the future on finding their innovative edge. Food Edge is a first-of-its-kind summit that brings together the food industry’s largest brands, alongside dynamic startups and disruptive leaders, to help you find your brand’s edge. It was a packed two days of inspiring speakers, innovation workshops, and fireside chats, that explored the trends, strategies, and capabilities of what could become a brand’s edge in the marketplace.

Food Edge Summit May 2018

Food Edge Summit May 2018

In June Branchfood hosted a discussion on angel investment for high-growth food startups. Attendees heard from investors on what financing food is all about what they look for in investments. They also shared the terminology used by angel investors and venture capitalists, reviewed the process for raising funding including timeline expectations, and answered general questions about the fundraising process.

Angel Investment Panel

Angel Investment Panel

December Community Table

December Community Table

On the first Thursday of every month Branchfood held Community Table. - a free event where everyone in the community is welcome to come and share ideas, network, and engage in conversation. We are looking forward to many more Tables to come, and our first one of 2019 will be on Thursday, January 3rd.

In December, we hosted the Branchfood Annual Holiday Bash at Clover Food Lab in the Financial District. It was a wonderful evening celebration sponsored by our partners Wolf & Company and Brex, including delicious food from Clover, drinks from Nightshift, and samples from the hottest food startups around! It was the perfect way to end the year and celebrate everything that the Boston food scene accomplished in 2018.

We are very excited to continue developing resources and supporting the community of startups and innovators in the coming year and cannot wait to see what 2019 has in store for Boston food industry. Happy New Year!

Planting the Seeds of Growth - How Bohana is Bringing One of India’s Favorite Snacks to the U.S.

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Our 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.

Wrapping up our series is Nadine Habayeb, cofounder and CEO of Bohana, a snack food brand selling popped water lily seeds. Join us as we hear from Nadine how she and her cofounder, Priyal Bhartiya, built their own global supply chain, why brands have to reflect consumers’ lifestyles, and the harrowing story of how they made it to Expo West this year.

This is part 5 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), Part 3 (Shameless Pets), and Part 4 (Kinsho).

Tell us a bit about Bohana.

We’re a brand of popped water lily seeds. It’s a snack that has been eaten in India for centuries. My cofounder Priyal Bhartiya introduced me to it - it was something she was familiar with because she grew up in India. It’s so delicious, we knew had to launch it in the U.S.

Lily seeds have a deep spiritual roots in India through Ayurveda, the mother science that yoga comes from. There’s a connection between mind and body. Yoga focuses on the body, and so do the foods we eat.

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

There was no “Aha!” moment. One day I was snacking at Priyal’s house, which is where I tried the seeds for the first time.

I was doing an MBA at Babson College, and we were just talking about how the snack would be great in the U.S. I based my projects in school around the idea to answer the question, “Would people buy this?” For 4-5 months I was working on what would eventually become Bohana, which we called PipPop at the time. Early on, we had a lot of validation through our communities; various members of the Branchfood community helped us do taste tests, questionnaires, etc.

When I graduated, we had enough validation to invest in this idea and make it our full-time jobs. We spent a lot of time testing and decided to do it.

You don’t wake up and start a business, you have to consider what it’s going to do to your life. We invested everything we had into this. We were both working for six years before I went back to school and we started Bohana. You have to take the time to assess the situation before you make the jump.

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

As many Branchfood members can tell you, they were trying the samples I made in my apartment for about a year. It was a lot of testing - making it and seeing what recipes and seasoning people like, and then finally getting to an MVP.

There was the option to make it ourselves and start organically through farmers’ markets and communities. Another option would have been a community kitchen with some support, but still putting you on a course for more organic growth. We chose to spend more time in development and produce a supermarket-grade manufactured product from the start. We wanted to build the foundation of something that could go into a supermarket.

We had a lot of advisors and other entrepreneurs helping us. We identified a final recipe and found a facility that could work with the seed. Building the supply chain took a long time, but it was essential. We cut out the middle men - we source directly from our farmers in India. Priyal is from India and she was able to make the connections in the agriculture industry there.

India’s agriculture industry is still fairly disorganized. There’s no guarantee of fair trade, consistent quality, etc. We had some nightmare situations where we had product shipped that was not good quality. We needed to control every touchpoint, so we built our own supply chain and set up quality control processes in India before anything gets to the U.S. Stateside, we have another quality control system. There’s a lot of work that goes into it.

We had to also find a copacker. Priyal handles the back-end supply chain, and I take over once the seed gets here, managing our packaging and sales/distribution. It was hard - no one I talked to had ever worked with water lily seeds and they were not enthusiastic about working with first-time entrepreneurs to do test runs. I called about 150 copackers around the U.S, and eventually we found someone here in Boston who could help us find a copacker. We did some R&D and finally went into production in March 2018.

It took about a year and a few months to go from concept to final product. Along the way, we built our supply chain, branding, quality control - everything we needed to have a market-ready product. We’re signing on with distributors and we should be rolling out into retail this summer. We’re moving! But it’s still the beginning and there’s a lot to learn.

What food brands have been most influential to you?

The number one brand we look up to and use as a benchmark is Hippeas. It’s a young brand that figured out its perfect target market and made a snack for just them. The entire brand is phenomenal, everything from the visuals to the copy is perfect for the modern “hippies” of the millennial generation. We love that they did so well targeting that community.

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What makes your brand unique and different from your competitors?

There’s nothing proprietary about popping a seed and seasoning it. The differentiator is in your brand - it’s all about what you share beyond the product. One thing we’ve built is “free-spirit” snacking, which ties back to Ayurveda, which is growing in popularity in the U.S. Listen to your body, feed your soul. There’s so many trendy diets and fads - we say don’t listen to those. Find out what works for your body and your mind and that will lead to health. Where Bohana comes in is that we have gluten-free, low-fat, corn-free, etc. Whatever you choose, or whatever you need, Bohana fits into that. Don’t just do what you’re told, find out what works for you.

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

Giving out samples is the most effective, but microinfluencer outreach has helped a lot. You could pay a lot of money to big-name influencers to reach their audience, but in many cases, they might just have a lot of followers with minimal engagement.

We connect with microinfluencers who have about 5-10k followers and have found that they are really trying to build their communities and content. If we have aligned values, we find that we have a much more fruitful relationship than we do with the big influencers you just pay a lot of money for and it’s an obvious paid engagement. We want to engage with people we can grow with. We hope as we grow, there are influencers in the holistic wellness/vegan space we can give a chance to grow too.

What success story are you most proud of?

We were trying to get to Expo West, which is big natural food exhibition. It’s actually the biggest in the world, and most would consider it the Olympics of food shows. We used to walk around those shows to learn how companies introduce products to a new market. We wanted to present Bohana at Expo West.

Before the show, we had major delays in production. We had to cut it extremely close to the show, to the point where we had our first production run scheduled the day before the event started. A massive storm hit the Northeast at the end of March, and one storm hit New Jersey, where we were manufacturing. Our flight to the show got canceled.

If we missed the flights, we would miss the show. We found the last flight out of NYC, and literally packed our suitcases at our copacker’s facility and caught the last flight just hours after the packer finished the initial run. When we reached Expo West, our product was 12 hours old and people got to try Bohana for the first time.

It was just a total team effort and everyone pushed so hard for us. The packaging company and the individual line workers worked through the whole night before so we could leave that morning. It was just having good people there - they didn’t have to do all that for us, especially during a storm.

What strategies are you using to educate your customers and the market on a snack food that is mostly unfamiliar to people in the U.S.?

We’ve learned that people have moments of clarity when they actually try the product. It tastes good, so all the scariness goes away when people try it. It’s a popped seed puff that is very similar to popcorn.

We’re trying to also launch with familiar flavors - Himalayan Pink Salt, “Soulful Spice,” which is a spice mix we made that’s close to a sriracha/BBQ, and Wild White Cheddar, which is the crowd favorite. If we’re introducing a seed no one has heard of, we need these familiar flavors.

Then, it’s just handing out samples and taking every chance to help people try it. That means table events, events with Branchfood, and other food community events between NYC and Boston for us to attend. We hand out gifts at tradeshows. We’re also working with Snack Nation, an office snack delivery box service, to put 9,000 bags of Bohana into snack boxes going to offices around the country. Those aren’t retail - it’s all marketing activation.

This seed is growing in popularity around the world. There’s over 100 brands of it in India alone. In the U.K. and Middle East, there are lots brands selling these seeds. Now, in just the few months since we launched, there’s about five to six companies selling them in the U.S. A lot of brands are coming in hot, but that’s good because it means the category is growing and we can grow together. It also lights a fire under us because we know we have competitors.

We believe we have the highest quality water lily seeds. We know that most competitors are creating the final product in India and shipping it here. It’s great that it’s growing, but if there’s low quality standards in the category, it could turn consumers off. We want people to try our product first so they know that there’s high quality and good options here.

Bohana seems to be positioned as part of a whole lifestyle. Do you think it’s essential for emerging and existing food brands to not only have a great product but also be embedded in the consumers’ wider lifestyle?

I don’t think there’s any other option. I don’t think a brand can exist as just a product. It needs to reflect a conscious choice and be a part of someone’s lifestyle. One thing that’s important to us is family. It’s not just about making food for college kids or yoga practitioners, but creating something a mom can feed her kids. We know millennial parents would love to share it with their toddlers.

One book I highly recommend to learn about creating a specialty food brand is Sell Your Specialty Food by Stephen Hall.


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:

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:

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

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

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

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

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

What is Veggie Table Foods?

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

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

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

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

We’ve been going full speed since last May.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What food brands have been most influential to you?

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

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

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

What makes your brand unique and different from your competitors?

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

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

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

What success story are you most proud of?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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