Food entrepreneurship is a relatively new term in the public mind. Five years ago, no business schools were organizing resources around the food industry. Technology, green energy, and healthcare were the sectors du jour. Now, as Poets and Quants points out, business schools across the country are setting up shop to teach food and tool to service the food startup craze.
Three years ago, this Examiner first addressed Why Food Entrepreneurship Matters. The answer then, and now, is: Because food entrepreneurs create the new food options that the public is increasingly looking for. What guides eaters in identifying and selecting new food options is contrasts in the marketplace – grass-fed beef parked beside corn-fed in the case. To see a distinction leads to questioning it and, in the process, learning about animal agriculture and its impacts on the animal, the planet and us.
Radically increased numbers of contracts in the marketplace are what has moved the food industry to such an extraordinary extent in such a short period of time. It is why Big Food has been feeling a big pinch. The past few years have seen food entrepreneurs broadening mass market options at a dizzying clip, rewiring where food comes from, how it moves, who makes money off it, who can afford it, and how we access it.
Today, we face a new conundrum. So much new money is being injected into food startups of all shapes, sizes and efficacies. Some of these dollars come from venture capital and angel networks migrating over from the tech sector. Others belong to the venture funds launched by Big Food and Ag brands like Coca-Cola, Monsanto, General Mills, and (as of last month) Campbell Soup. Suddenly, contrasts in the marketplace are not so clear.
Last week in the Medford Whole Foods, I saw EPIC parked beside Native American Natural Foods, makers of Tanka. I met two women from Tanka at Bob Burke’s Natural Products Consulting Seminars in downtown Boston in December. Only there did I learn that Native American Natural Foods exists to be an economic engine for Pine Ridge Reservation‘s Oglala Lakota community. In contrast (and likely known only to those who obsessively follow food industry news), in January General Mills acquired EPIC Provisions.
Does this make one good and one bad? That’s a larger conversation, and one that begins with individual perceptions and values. The point here is that finding the contrasts in the marketplace is getting harder as lines around “good” food companies blur. Conscious eaters who want to eat their values now have to dig deeper. Packaging and placement no longer signal enough of the story.