How Organizations Are Fostering Food Entrepreneurs

Startup brands spotlighted for innovation, taste
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
CTNext winners
The CTNext Entrepreneur Innovation Awards recently honored start-up food brands from Connecticut.

Recognizing that the formula for success includes support and opportunity, some organizations have recently banded together to help food entrepreneurs increase their visibility to food retailers and other purveyors.

Startup food businesses in Connecticut, for example, were bolstered through the recent CTNext Entrepreneur Innovation Awards. Held in mid-November at Yale University and presented by CTNext, an organization that leverages public and private investments to advise and connect innovators, and supported by CT Food Launchpad, which helps emerging wholesale-ready food brands in that state, the awards honored emerging food brands that distinguished themselves following product sampling and a pitch contest.

[Read more: "Retail Buyers Seek Supplier Diversity, Wellness & Innovation for Store Shelves"]

Those brands will receive funds that can be used for equipment, marketing and other areas important to the growth of their businesses. The $10,000 first-place winner was Oh Shito!, a condiment made with scotch bonnet peppers, garlic, ginger and a mix of spices and meat flavors. Taking second place with an $8,000 prize was Breakfast Belle, which produces authentic Southern-style food products like Bamma Fish Fry cornmeal breading and Breakfast Belle hot sauce. Bare Life won a $5,000 third-place award for its allergen-friendly coconut hot cocoa.

“CTNext’s main objective with this event was to help elevate our local food brands beyond their current constraints – whether that be regional, financial, or professional roadblocks. Our team pushed to provide a platform that showcased product excellence, forged authentic connections with industry influencers, and generated a deeper sense of interconnectedness with our greater community,” said Onyeka Obiocha, executive director of CTNext. “It is only by doing this that we create the relationships and advocacy that push these brands to their next level of success.”

Food entrepreneurship is also being fostered by a major CPG during the holidays and the gift-giving season. Through its Brewing the American Dream philanthropic program, Boston-based Samuel Adams just introduced a “Baking the American Dreams” kit. The cookie recipe kit, which comes with a unique Sam Adams pint glass cookie cutter, supports small business with the inclusion of dry ingredients from Hot Bread Kitchen of New York, N.Y., and  a seasonal spice blend from Colonel De of Cincinnati, Ohio.

The kit is available for $50 on the Brewing the American Dream Marketplace, a site for bespoke culinary goods that connects consumers across the country with local businesses.  Proceeds will support the participating small businesses.

“Jim Koch founded Brewing the American Dream on the belief that great beer can do good. We are so thrilled to work with two beloved small business partners from within our network to spread joy this holiday season, from our family to yours,” explained Jennifer Glanville, director of partnerships and brewer at Samuel Adams.  

Food entrepreneurs involved in the project expressed gratitude for the opportunity. “Brewing the American Dream has been a longstanding food entrepreneurship program partner and supported us in our growth as we create more Breadwinners in NYC. We’re excited to come full circle with this offering and what better way to do that than with a cookie kit to share the warmth this season,” said Leslie Abbey, CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen.

Added Ashley Stewart, owner of Colonel De: “The team at Brewing the American Dream has always supported our belief that every good recipe begins with the perfect spice blend.”

Mondelēz International, Inc. is another CPG that is helping propel food entrepreneurs to the next level. Earlier this year, the company’s SnackFutures innovation and snack venture hub shared the winners of the CoLab program for 2022; the start-up engagement program was launched to provide emerging brand with resources and information needed for the early stages of growth. Entries for CoLab 2023 are open through the month of December.

Retailers also continue to identify and elevate food entrepreneurs.  In late October, Michigan-based Meijer put out a call for products from Midwest chefs and culinary artisans to be included in its Frederik's by Meijer line of premium and innovative food.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds