Bad Girl, Good Business

Out of the Kitchen and Into the Bank: The Women of the Food Industry

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It all started with Mildred Pierce…

I love that 1945 film. It’s about a woman who needs to make money and turns her ability to bake pies into a major chain restaurant business. (Her daughter is an evil spoiled brat, but let’s focus on the entrepreneurial part of the story for the purposes of this post.)

This year at the Fancy Food Show we paid special attention to the great women who have mastered the recipe for financial success and are cooking-up the next big brands. (I first wrote about the trend for the Huffington Post in 2013 and this year I was delighted to see how many women are now learning from others in the industry and seeking the business skills, mentorship, and funding they need to grow really big businesses. Many of the companies we spoke to are already well past the million dollar mark, which only about 2% of women business owners ever achieve.)

One of my favorite stories of a woman foodypreneur who rose from near-disaster to riches ($100 million), while still making a great product and being a nice person, is that of Kathleen King and Tate’s Bake Shop. She even had to give up her name along the way, but her recipes live on.

Running into women I met at prior years’ shows and watching their progression from the “cheap seats” (the new product areas) to the big booths on the main floor is always encouraging. Retaining one’s humility, humor,  and willingness to interact with booth visitors always adds an extra dash of class to a brand. Why would I want to buy food from a mean girl?

Here is just a taste of our 2016 faves. (Keep in mind that the show is HUGE and we weren’t able to visit every booth this year. If you happen to be reading this and have a product you’d like me to share, please get in touch!)

  1. The co-founder of Pipsnacks has been swimming with the sharks — as in Barbara Corcoran of Shark Tank. In fact, Corcoran has publicly called the brand her favorite investment. Not only are the products and packaging great, but Jennifer Martin is sweet, fun, down-to-earth, and humble.
  2. When you sow the right seeds, they can blossom into big business. Kathie Pelliccio of SuperSeedz says that changing-up her packaging was the key to new growth. (She has a terrific website too.)
  3. Viki Sater is a cereal entrepreneur. Founder of Viki’s Granola, she was inspired by her daughter (who was helping out in the booth) to start her business.
  4. Speaking of family affairs, “Uncle Andy” of Uncle Andy’s Jerky asked his mom to work with him at the show. Although the business isn’t technically owned by a woman, sometimes the rapidly-expanding jerky world needs some maternal nurturing. A timeless meat-based snack is the good old pig in a blanket, and the Brooklyn Piggies women are still going strong in taking their product to market.
  5. These women are definitely not nuts, although they are taking full advantage of a booming category. We always stop by to see Bobby Sue’s Nuts. The founder grew her business into a national brand since it launched in 2008, and the company just announced that their products are now available in Yankee Stadium. Lisa Stanford and Joy Thompkins are taking peanut butter to a whole new level with their Bnutty flavors and, like Bobby Sue, have added a pinch of philanthropy to their brand’s mission.
  6. What’s peanut butter without jelly? Although we missed Josephine’s Feast at the show, I caught up with her at the East Hampton Farmer’s Market (speaking of “keeping it real”). In addition to preserves, she manufacturers seasonings. (Product line expansion is key to scaling a food business.)  Jammit Jam adds a “splash of libation” to their fruit spreads.
  7. As for spirits, one of the most innovative products we saw was True Cocktails. They are low calorie, taste great, and come with their own little cocktail shaker. By women, for women. Cheers!  Tea for two — or two million? The ladies’ tea will get a little rowdier now that  Owl’s Brew is expanding their line of tea-based mixers, and is even launching a tea-based beer.
  8. And because everything in the summer is better with beer, Kate Quartaro has adapted her great grandfather’s recipe to lager-laced Worcestershire Sauce, keeping the Pabst family name at picnic tables everywhere.
  9. If you get your bliss from fruit rather than booze and chips, you’ll love Fruit Bliss, founded by Susan Leone of Brooklyn.
  10. But not all chips are bad for you. Consider Jica Chips. Somewhere between an apple and a potato, jicama is a well-kept secret. But it may be inching up on kale as the trendy veggie and super food of 2016. (Speaking of super foods, watch this space for our next (and final) post about the show — healthy trends.)

The food business is big business. And having the right skills, manufacturing plan, and distribution connections can make all the difference in the recipe for success.  Edie Feinstein of the Brooklyn Foodworks is helping the next generation of food-related entrepreneurs — women and men — get the training, funding, community, connections, and commercial kitchen services they need to take their businesses to the next level.

What’s most striking about the above “Top 10” list is the diversity of women-owned food businesses and the number of them that have already scaled their businesses and taken them national.

Mildred would be proud!




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