The food and beverage industry was among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of food-service workers were laid off, and countless food-and-beverage-related businesses were forced to close. Those that survived this difficult time had no choice but to adapt to the new demands and needs of their consumers, which had changed drastically amid the global health crisis.
But change is the norm in the food and beverage industry, and as the world has steadily begun to reopen, many of those newly adapted trends and business models have stuck around—and don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Consumers are interested more than ever by what is going into their bodies. A 2020 study shows that 81% of shoppers say that “transparency is important or extremely important to them both online and in store.”
Diners are demanding transparency not only for health reasons, but some are more conscious of how products affect the climate crisis. The retail market for plant-based foods was worth $7 billion in 2020, and plant-based food dollar sales grew 27% over the previous year.
Customers have become hooked on e-commerce and food delivery, and it doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. The global online food delivery services market is expected to reach $192.16 billion in 2025, with a compound annual growth rate of 11%.
In such a diverse industry with so many different service pillars—manufacturing, grocery, distribution, catering, bars and restaurants, and food transportation—there are various opportunities for enterprising small business owners to make a mark.
We talked to three Black trailblazers within the food and beverage space who are building the infrastructures and writing the recipes to change the way that we eat and drink in 2022 and beyond. Read on to learn about their businesses and more about emerging trends and innovations, from ghost kitchens to food tech.
The vision for Journey Foods is as simply stated as it is ambitious: “Our mission is focused on how we can help a few thousand companies fix a few million products to feed a few billion people better,” says founder and CEO Riana Lynn.
An Austin, Texas-based SaaS (software as a service) company that supports product management and intelligence services for food businesses, Journey Foods incorporates human and artificial intelligence to solve inefficiencies and problematic supply chains in food businesses across the globe.
To put it plainly, Journey Foods “finds the data and provides the tools that can help food companies solve complex issues so that they can manufacture better products in way less time,” Lynn says. “We take the best practices of the best supply chain managers and food scientists, and then turn those into machine learning. And then we integrate all this data to accelerate that.”
At a time when global supply chain woes are affecting food and agricultural companies of all types, Lynn’s team of top food and data scientists work with companies of all sizes—and the market for their services is ever-growing. “We work with a lot of Black-woman-owned food startups as well as multi-billion-dollar companies like [consumer packaged goods giant] Unilever. They're all looking to save money and are facing increased competition from companies like Instacart and Amazon,” she explains.
A neo-scientist and serial food tech entrepreneur, Lynn has been innovating in the food and beverage industry for over a decade. Armed with Bachelor of Science degrees in Biology and Black Studies from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she returned to her hometown of Chicago in 2009 to open her first business, a raw foods and juice bar formerly known as Peeled. “It took off real quick. We hit seven figures in revenue in less than a year,” she says.
Lynn credits that speedy success to her background in web development, a skillset she picked up as a side hustle in college. “I didn't take any formal web development or back-end classes, but I would just learn directly from developers I met on Facebook and in AOL chat rooms,” she says. “So I started developing sites for e-commerce and services companies back in the day. I think that helped with [the business].”
Her experience growing the juice bar, which is now a wholesale production company, quickly served as a breeding ground for her next food startups. “I found so many issues with e-commerce, logistics management, and supply chain problems that we had to deal with as we scaled. So I started helping other food and product companies—especially ones owned by Black women and men—scale their businesses,” she explains. This led her to launch Rivive, an e-commerce development platform that helped grow food-based online businesses, in 2013.
Rivive caught the attention of businessman Marcus Lemonis, who hired Lynn to consult on his CNBC show “The Profit.” In 2014, Lynn got her first business exit when Lemonis’s investment firm acquired Rivive. From there, Lynn went on to found another food tech company, FoodTrace, that developed software and mapping applications for better food sourcing management data. In 2017, it was also acquired.
Lynn took a temporary departure from the startup life with stints as a Google Entrepreneur in Residence and a director at Chicago-based investment firm Cleveland Avenue. But her desire to solve some of the biggest problems in the food industry remained, and she returned to entrepreneurship in 2019 when she launched Journey Foods.
Today, Lynn is focused on answering some of the biggest questions facing the industry: "How do we lower the cost of healthy foods? How do we improve the marketing of healthy foods? How do we improve the distribution and accessibility of healthy foods?” she ponders. “I’m focused on ways that we as Black people can show up at the tables that decide how to change those things."
And what words of wisdom does she have for Black entrepreneurs who aim to build solutions for these problems? “Find your lane and stay in it,” she says. “Don't try to mold your business and your branding into someone else's.”
“It's easier than ever to start a business, but it's a different thing to differentiate,” she continues. “We all have different backgrounds and are inspired by different things. That’s what makes us unique. Bring that to your business.”
To stand out in today’s hyper competitive world of wine, it helps to build products for niche markets. Since starting Amour Genève—the world’s first-ever naturally blue wine—Coviello Salinès has been doing just that, and shaking up the wine industry along the way.
Inspired by his late father’s deep connection to the color blue and appreciation for wine and spirits, Salinès dreamed of creating an electric-blue wine. In 2019, blue-pigmented wines were hard to come by. But after working in the petroleum engineering field for a few years, Salinès decided to quit his job and move to Geneva where he could combine his science expertise with his winemaking techniques to create the signature blue wine. He spent roughly two years making the innovative product, which is now on the market.
The South Bronx native took out a business loan and used funds from a group of investor friends who had originally presented the idea to him.
Salinès encountered a lot of naysayers who didn’t understand the concept or why he’d want to pigment wine in the first place, but it has since caught on. Amour Genève satisfies requirements of the FDA, TTB, and European Union, and can be found at local shops around the world and on the company’s direct-to-consumer website.
Salinès recommends that aspiring entrepreneurs who are interested in entering the food and beverage industry, specifically in the wine field, check out The Roots Fund, which is an organization providing resources and financial support through scholarships, wine education, mentorship, and job placement for people of color. Other organizations he recommends include the Hue Society and Cuisine Noir, which both support Black people within the food and wine industries.
“[There are] so many people who are living and breathing this, but it’s less than one percent of us who are actually in the industry doing all the work,” Salinès says.
He also suggests a few books for those who want to get involved in the wine industry, including How to Import Wine, by Deborah M. Gray, Successful Wine Marketing, by Kirby Moulton and James Lapsley, Wine Folly, by Madeline Puckette, and lastly The Wine Bible, by Karen MacNeil—all of which helped him on his entrepreneurial journey.
After living sober for 14 years and working as a substance-abuse counselor for eight years, Chris Marshall decided it was time for him to create a space that would be most beneficial to people who struggled with drinking.
As a licensed counselor, he started recognizing a pattern in the people who came into his office: they were usually professionals who’d gotten in trouble with the law after having a bad breakdown. He came to understand that they needed support that went beyond counseling.
“I realized that these people needed a place to go, and a lot of them struggled to stay sober, not because they had a problem, but because there was nowhere for them to socialize without alcohol being present,” Marshall says. “And so I was like, ‘what can we do about this?’ Because I kept seeing good people [come into my office for help].”
With his clients in mind, Marshall opened Sans Bar in 2017: an alcohol-free bar for the sober curious, sober sometimes, and everyone in between. It started out as a pop-up at different venues throughout Austin, but quickly required a physical space. Sans Bar continues to host pop-up events throughout the country. It’s since become more than a place for specialized mocktails—which utilize distillate products as spirit alternatives—but a space to build community.
In 2021, Marshall also started Sans Bar Academy, a 10-week program designed to help other entrepreneurs start their own alcohol-free business.
“I could’ve made this all about franchising the Sans Bar name, but I really don’t believe in that,” he says. “I believe that this is a new concept; it’s so new, that it’s almost like looking at it as a new species.”
“Diversity is the way to go when you’re making anything new because when you have diverse elements, it’s able to withstand a changing environment,” he adds. “If Sans Bar and Sans Bar alone succeeds, that’s great, but then there’s no other proof that it works anywhere else. I need others to succeed.”
As the technology behind distillates and other mocktail products expands, so will the overall industry. In fact, non-alcoholic wine, beer, and spirits have been among the fastest-growing subcategories for beverages year after year, as health awareness continues to expand among consumers. Much like how the food industry has had to evolve to offer more plant-based alternatives, Marshall says there are several business opportunities for entrepreneurs in the beverage space.
“Everything is trending toward a world in which we have social situations that are safe for everyone,” he says. “Places that are truly inclusive and have a menu for people who want alcohol and people who don’t. My real dream is to have bars where it’s both.”
Marshall also envisions that drinking experiences will continue to expand beyond a physical space with offerings like “Doordash for mocktails” and other e-commerce strategies to get people excited about these products “which are only going to get better.”
The views and opinions expressed in the articles and quotes on this page are those of the speakers or authors.
INSIGHTS & OPPORTUNITIES
Consider these emerging trends, innovations, and business opportunities that will shape the food and beverage industry in 2022.
Primetime for Plant-Based Products
“Black millennials and Gen Zers are looking for more transparency and autonomy in their food. You definitely see a rise in Black vegans and flexitarians,” says Riana Lynn, founder and CEO of Journey Foods.
“If I were launching a new food business today, I would love to start a plant-based food company that serves plant-based goat alternatives,” she continues. “So you could have plant-based versions of goat curry and other traditional African, Caribbean, and Black foods.”
Check out these Black-owned plant-based food companies:
Partake Foods is a Black-owned vegan cookie company that has received investment from celebrities like Jay-Z and Rihanna and can be found nationwide in retailers like Target.
Founded in 2018 by plant-based chef Lynnette Astaire, Superfood School is an online and IRL community that helps people of all diets to get more plants on their plates.
More Alcohol-Free Spaces
Whether it be coffee shops like Portrait Coffee in Atlanta or sober community events like Sans Bar in Austin, Black businesses are rising to meet the demand of the sober curious and people looking for ways to socialize that don’t require alcohol.
Tap in: Founded in 2020 by Khadi Olagoke, Sober Black Girls Club is a non-profit organization and community for Black women seeking support for alcohol use.
Increased Investment in Black Food Businesses
The funding gaps affecting Black entrepreneurs carry into the food and beverage industry. “Just like every industry now, hip-hop and Black people are driving a lot of the culture in the marketing of the products, but they're not owning the products,” says Riana Lynn. “We need to be right there at the beginning, getting equity.”
Fortunately, numerous new organizations have launched over the past several years offering investment and grant funding for Black-owned food and beverage businesses. Here are some of them:
Black Futures in Food & Beverage Fellowship Program (Partake Foods)
Black Restaurant Accelerator Program (PepsiCo and National Urban League)
Food and Beverage Investment Fund (James Beard Foundation)
Growth of Ghost Kitchens
Ghost kitchens (food preparation facilities that service take-out and delivery-only restaurants) and food trucks became popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, and increasingly so for Black food businesses. Startups like the Philly-based Black and Mobile (the first food-delivery service exclusively for Black-owned restaurants) and the Atlanta-based Mouthfeel Market (a virtual food hall and roaming pop-up market) are notable first-movers in this space.
Resource: How to Start a Ghost Kitchen in 13 Steps
Focus on Farm & Food Tech
Journey Foods is not the only food tech company using AI to solve important problems. Another major player is Gro Intelligence, an AgTech company using both human and artificial intelligence to provide actionable insights at the intersection of agriculture and climate change. The company’s Ethiopian-born Founder and CEO Sara Menker is a former Vice President in Morgan Stanley’s Commodities group, serves on a United Nations Advisory Group on Climate Action, and was named a Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum.
Further Reading: Farm Tech Investing Is Growing Faster Than Food Tech