In nature, the more species there are in a system, the more diverse and strong that system becomes. The system evolves with diversity, as preferred gene variants improve species and the system as a whole. Conversely, problems happen when the system becomes too concentrated and a monoculture forms. The system becomes one-dimensional and is susceptible to disease and other threats.
The value of diversity is certainly true in nature, but is equally important in industries like food. Problems arise when the number of people creating products is concentrated to a few players. A monoculture of ideas develops and the system starts to optimize for mass appeal, efficiency, and large scale instead of flavor, sustainability, and nutrition. The need to innovate lags, because there are simply not as many competitors.
Enabling Diverse Ideas
This dynamic has been shifting for the past decade though, as legions of new, small food brands are coming up for their share of the market. They represent a closer picture of what the modern consumer wants: delicious, healthier, and better for the planet food. The good food movement is growing strong today, but the force required to break into orbit is still so great relative to other industries like tech, media, etc.
The knowledge on how to start and run a food company is still locked up in relatively inaccessible places, namely the limited few who have done it before. There simply isn’t enough open information out there on getting a food company started—co-manufacturing, food formulation, marketing, sales—as there are in other more information fluid industries.
Today, if I have an idea for a mobile app, I’m a few weekends away from Googling my way through the code and deploying something in the App / Play store. It may not win any awards, but at least I’m able to express my ideas to the public. The system gets another new idea and the market has more to choose from in the collective evolution of the industry.
Lowering the Barriers for Food Innovators
How might we open source the knowledge required to bring a good food idea to reality? What knowledge would we include in the repository? How might it embolden potential food entrepreneurs to take those first steps toward food entrepreneurship? How might open sourcing this information bring more ideas to the system and make it more resilient and strong?
From my point of view, here are some of the resources I think would be valuable to have all in one, user friendly resource. These are some of the more arduous, yet important, tasks food entrepreneurs must undertake, and don't have much accessible, open sources of guidance:
- Legal Document Generator: customizable agreements ranging from copacker agreements, non-disclosure agreements, etc.
- Recipe Ratios: production ready recipes templates for common foods. Gives the core of the formula with guidance on how to
- Ingredient Cost Database: updated representation of market prices for food inputs and ingredients.
- Design Ready Package Templates: blank InDesign / Illustrator templates for all stock package shapes, ready for designers to drop in art
- Sales Model: customizable model for forecasting sales, accounting for trade spend, testing distribution and velocity assumptions, etc.
- Velocity Benchmarks: database of velocity assumptions for a multitude of product categories
- P&L Model: designed for food products
- Vendor Directory: easy to use, user rated, up to date, directory of the vendors that food products companies use most.
UPDATE: We’ve had a lot of interest for something like this so we’re starting to compile resources and will start building the knowledgebase at innovatefood.org. Send us an email if you’d like to contribute or request specific resources.
If we can create a dynamic like this in food, ensuring that an even more diverse set of ideas can reach the market, I think we’ll find more gems and more companies helping to create a food future that’s better for people, planet, and profit.