The Big Thing for Entrepreneurs: Food

Making Apricot jam in a kitchen
Making Apricot jam in a kitchen

Food entrepreneurs are disrupting the industry with startup businesses that vary in flavor and appeal. From cakes, cookies and tea to fresh meals ready to be cooked and delivered to your doorstep, to food trucks and restaurants and anything in between, food entrepreneurship is here to stay. 

This comes as no surprise to Chuck Sacco, assistant dean at Drexel University’s Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship and director of the Baiada Institute of Entrepreneurship, who has been seeing this trend take off with student startups as well.

Food entrepreneurship is popular, according to Sacco, because it addresses concerns related to sustainability, food service and delivery, food waste and new food technologies. To top that everyone loves to eat as an experience.

Many startup businesses are driven by the awareness to be healthier, according to Sacco. It’s like that old saying—often attributed to Hippocrates— goes “treat your food as medicine so that medicine doesn’t become your food.”  This is the goal for many businesses focused on alternative food products that are economically sustainable and environmentally friendly. Impossible Foods is a perfect example of this type of business, according to Sacco. The company offers a plant-based substitute for meat products and has partnered with Burger King on the Impossible Whopper.

Evan Ehlers with boxes of food that can be shared
Evan Ehlers launched Sharing Excess to distribute excess food to people in need.

At Drexel, recent graduates Sheetal Bahirat and Zuri Masud have launched Hidden Gems Beverage Company, a venture offering beverages made from upcycled ingredients to reutilize produce and reduce food waste. The startup’s first beverage is Avoh! made from avocado seeds. The patented process extracts the nutrients from the seeds of avocadoes and makes them compostable. Bahirat  and Masud are working with Drexel’s Food Lab in the Department of Food and Hospitality Management of the College of Nursing and Health Professions to bring the product to fruition. Evan Ehlers, a recent Drexel graduate, is tackling food waste with a different approach. He launched the non-profit Sharing Excess while at Drexel to distribute excess food from Philadelphia establishments to people in need.

Finding funds for food startup business is also becoming easier due to a number of resources available, according to Sacco. Organizations like We Work Food Labs aim to build a community of entrepreneurs, industry experts and investors to “fix food now and into the future.” Many companies like P&G are setting up accelerators and corporate venture capital funds to identify and invest in promising food startups.

With the increased interest in food startups, food trucks are often the best way to launch a new product and build a following, Sacco said. Since 2007, traditional restaurants have seen a 2 percent growth, whereas food trucks have experienced a 7.3 percent growth annually, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Food Truck Nation report. With this in mind even restaurants are introducing food trucks to help introduce consumers to their menu offerings, according to Sacco.

Sacco predicts food entrepreneurship is here for the long-term. “Current methods for producing food aren’t sustainable,” he said. “New technologies that are economically sustainable and avoid adversely impacting the planet are needed.”

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