“So … tell me your story!” That’s the first thing I say to the random young foodie entrepreneurial types that email and ask if I can help them because they have developed a recipe and are wondering if they need one of those “food science people” to help them manufacture it. As a consultant living in the Bay Area, I get a lot of these calls, and while most of them are dead ends in terms of consulting work, I am finding myself addicted to the “meet, greet and hear the whole farm-to-table” story! And oh the stories I have heard… I wish I could share all the details, but I signed a bunch of NDAs and I don’t want to get sued! So any resemblance to any person or food product living or dead is purely coincidental!
And so I find myself meeting these people at a local Starbucks and over tall skinny vanilla lattes where we discuss the evils of the processed food industry and all those nasty preservatives like “guar gum” and “lactic acid” and of course how bad gluten, carbohydrates, sugar and protein are, and how their product, which has none of those things, is the very basis for what our entire diet should consist of. These people usually come from non-food backgrounds like finance or IT or engineering and realize that food is way more interesting, or they are in between jobs and trying to create the next best food product. I could be skewed by the high number of crunchy foodies in the Bay Area, but it seems to me that creating one’s own food product is hot right now and everyone wants to get in on the fun. And fun it is, until reality kicks in and these basement developers are faced with real life issues like “shelf stability” and “rancidity” and (*GASP*) “bacteria that grows in products and makes it spoil.” All of a sudden, certain preservatives become acceptable, and not all ingredients used by the big bad industry are so bad after all! I love watching this evolution as these young socially responsible companies take their dream from a pipe to reality and how their priorities and perceived values change along the way.
So while I can’t share my clients stories, I can share the stories that I heard at The Natural Products Expo in Baltimore this year—especially the stories on the 4th floor area where all companies that are less than a year old get to set up shop and show their goods. For example, Kur Organic Superfoods that were “driven by flavor and guided by science.” They were a bit hit in Denmark, and the Kur team has finally brought their raw and organic dried fruit and nuts to the U.S. Another one of my favorites is Mama Jess organic pasta sauces. I loved that Jessica Grelle, a real food scientist who had worked in the industry for 10 years, developed this product line by bringing together her passion for nutrition, healthy organic food, and her knowledge of food, science and the workings of the food industry. Jessica knew from the get go what needed to be done, and while I am sure she had her own set of challenges, ingredient sourcing and nutritional evaluation were probably second nature. I met Shari, the owner of Two Moms in the Raw who found that eating raw foods helped her deal with her multiple sclerosis naturally. I was surprised to see sorghum popcorn, which looks like mini popcorn, but according to “the story,” sorghum farming requires 50% less agricultural water consumption than corn. I also saw a variety of African exports like pepper soup spice, ugu (pumpkin) leaf and ogbono (mango seed). I guess since we have already done Asian, Mediterranean, European and Moroccan, we now have to start exploring the culinary delights of Nigeria! Here are a few websites to get you started on your African epicurean safari: VOC Royal Resources and Frijay Consulting. The Natural Products Expo also had several food-in-body products like goat milk soap, mushroom moisturizer and anti-aging argan oil from Morocco, which can be both applied and consumed to maintain younger skin!
In conclusion, startup food companies are fun, everyone wants to get involved, most people don’t know what they are doing and will learn the hard way about regulations, co-packers and the overall confusing navigation of the food industry. Most food scientists, however, have been working for large companies for years and have received training from those that had the money to develop and manufacture products the right way—the first time. I recommend you stop letting someone else make money from your talent and expertise. Go to your basement and develop your own line of products (that don’t compete with your company’s products…).Good luck and I look forward to hearing your story!