On March 22, just after dinner time, Boston residents gathered at the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) to discuss the future of food. Hosted by Branchfood, an organization that seeks to promote food entrepreneurship and the development of sustainable food systems, the lecture was the second of a four-part series titled “The Future of Food Products.”
Panelists included Adam Melonas, Risa Sherman, and Marty Kolewe, each leading innovators in the food industry. Melonas is the founder and CEO of Chew, a food innovation lab designed to push boundaries and rethink the rules in order to create nutritious, delicious food. He also founded Nursery, a site where food and beverage ideas can be realized.
Sherman works as the director of philanthropy and social impact at The Boston Beer Company. She helped create the award-winning program Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream in 2007, which connects entrepreneurs with the resources needed to grow and strengthen small businesses.
Kolewe serves as the director of R&D for Incredible Foods, a company that creates new foods inspired by nature. Their most recent product can be found in Boston College dining halls. The PerfectlyFree fruit bites are frozen treats that are totally plant-based and dairy-free.
The lecture was held at CIC’s location on Milk Street in Boston. About two years ago, CIC and Branchfood partnered to open the space, after recognizing the lack of a hub in Boston for people in the food industry to connect.
“I felt like, well, if I can’t find them then maybe I can create an opportunity for them to come to me,” said Lauren Abda, Branchfood’s founder and CEO. CIC provides conference rooms, printing, wifi, mailing, and other resources for Branchfood, whose food investors, food writers, food photographers, and others work to create a more sustainable food system.
The location also services classes, office hours, and workshops to help attendees run their businesses. Branchfood started on Meetup.com, by posting events for innovators in the food business to share ideas, and events are still very much a part of Branchfood’s identity today.
“Fast forward to today, events are still really core to what we do, inspired by all the innovation that’s happening in the greater New England ecosystem related to food and using the events as an opportunity to highlight the work of these great food entrepreneurs,” Abda said.
For each of these four events—Future of Agriculture, Future of Food Products, Future of Nutrition, and Future of Grocery—presenters’ work is linked to the topic. Conversation included advice on the importance of seizing the moment, consumer rate of change, the problem of packaging, and incorporating giving back into the company.
“If you can find a trend at the right time and position yourself on that wave, you’ll be successful,” Melonas said.
With the era of online information comes its instantaneous transmission, in social media and news alike.
“The rate of change of consumers has never been so fast. There will be a story drop in some of the newspapers around the country and around the world, and all of a sudden nobody’s eating whatever it might be anymore,” Melonas said.
Less wasteful packaging methods, such as biodegradable cellulose instead of petroleum, provides hope for confronting climate change. But the widespread consumer is a hard thing to sway, making many of these initiatives challenging to successfully implement.
“I always think back to when Sun Chips released biodegradable bags, but it was really loud. It’s one of those things where people say they care, but if it’s gonna make your snacking all the more obvious to everyone else then maybe not,” said Janelle Nanos, a business reporter at The Boston Globe who served as the moderator for the event.
All three panelists agreed on the importance of authenticity in a charitable mission and its relevant framework within the company’s story as a whole.
“It needs to make sense for the brand, make sense for the product, and actually deliver a social value,” Sherman said.
Featured Image Courtesy of Cambridge Innovation Center