Austin's own foodie-preneurs: Changing the way we get, eat and think about food
In 2010, Americans spent $1.24 trillion dollars on food. Behind only housing and transportation, food eats up the third largest portion of American household budgets.
With a trillion dollar market and increasing concerns about food, health and the environment, and a movement towards local in the U.S, it should come as no surprise that a handful of entrepreneurs are pursuing opportunities to innovate in the food sector. Their companies aim to not only change the way we get and eat our food, but how we think about it.
Here are four start-up companies re-fashioning the food scene in Austin, and possibly the state.
Elizabeth Winslow, co-founder of Farmhouse Delivery, the only all-local food delivery service in Austin, is no stranger to the food industry. The former Beaumont resident previously started and sold a prepared foods delivery business called Dishalicious.
“The part of the job I loved most was connecting people with local food,” Winslow says of her former company.
When Winslow met Stephanie Scherzer, her future business partner who has a small farm in East Austin and sold her produce primarily to restaurants, the two found a common goal. Farmhouse Delivery was born with the intention of getting people back in their kitchens, cooking for themselves with delicious Austin produce, local meats, dairy and pantry products.
Since its launch in 2009, Farmhouse Delivery has steadily grown.
“We are touched and heartened by how much people are willing to make huge changes in their lives,” Winslow says.
Inspiring a community to change—planning ahead, cooking from scratch, taking the time to know where food comes from—is Farmhouse Delivery’s most difficult, yet rewarding task.
“We’re not just selling food, but connections as well,” Winslow says.
Seeking counsel on how to grow sustainably and smartly from a tiny to a medium-size company, Farmhouse Delivery is a member of UT's Texas Venture Labs program this semester. TVL is an interdisciplinary program run through the university that pairs participating local start-ups with graduate students to help the company advance their business goals. The TVL team is helping Farmhouse Delivery account for, and anticipate, all aspects of expected growth and the effect it would have on their farmers, customers and their ability to maintain a close relationship with both.
Tara Miko, a fashion industry veteran, doesn’t look like a person who would be selling hemp seed. But she does.
The recent Austin transplant (by way of Los Angeles) started Happy Hemp in March 2010. Drawn to Austin's sense of community and small-town feel, Miko moved the company to Austin only a few months ago in what she describes as a “passion move.” In its new home, Happy Hemp has grown ten-fold.
Miko discovered hemp seed, the seed of the hemp plant, on her journey to solve some personal health problems. When she began including the hemp seed—a raw source of concentrated protein, Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids and packed with minerals and vitamins—in her diet, she started feeling better. But she found it didn’t always taste very good, the flavor lacked consistency and the packaging was geared toward the true granola type, which Miko is not. She decided to give hemp seed a much-needed facelift.
Miko, who sells Happy Hemp products at the Austin Farmers' Market (downtown on Saturdays and at The Triangle on Wednesdays), at People Rx Pharmacies and through her website, enjoys the challenge of educating consumers on the benefits and background of hemp seed.
“It’s almost like introducing this brand new food no one knows about,” she says.
Each week at the farmers' markets, Miko gives out a new recipe and she also posts daily hemp seed recipes to her blog.
“I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a doctor, I’m just trying to figure it out like everyone else,” Miko is quick to point out.
She recommends incorporating hemp into an existing lifestyle. For instance, a sprinkling of hemp seed adds some nuttiness to a scoop of ice cream, a bowl of cereal or even pancakes. (Or try the tasty Janis Joplin, a veggie burger made with hemp seed at Hopdoddy.)
To Miko, hemp seed is a “gateway” health food. She hopes that consumers will be inspired to make other healthy decisions once they have tried and fallen in love with hemp seed.
Mason Arnold has been an entrepreneur most of his 33 years. In high school he had a candy empire, and he's now on his second company, Greenling, and he has plans to expand to Dallas and Houston in 2012.
He owns an engineering degree from UT, and never in a million years did Arnold think he would be a food entrepreneur.
Arnold’s passion for the environment and concerns about water, energy and the food system led him to start the organic grocery delivery service in Austin six years ago.
“If we can fix the food system, so many other things will take care of themselves, like healthcare,” Arnold says.
Arnold adapted a food-delivery model he had originally seen on the West Coast by focusing on local foods in his organic food inventory. He says it took some time to figure out how to get fresh food to the customer's door fast, "Matching supply and demand is quite difficult," he explained. But he took the time to educate not only consumers, but himself and his staff on managing Greenling’s many moving parts, which include food storage, e-commerce and delivery and distribution.
Greenling also offers what foodies want, explains Arnold, "[Our] business model is reliant on community, events and recipes which absolutely showcase our commitment to ‘local.'"
Arnold’s goal for Greenling is mainstream. Driven by his belief that the business model he has built with Greenling has the viability to benefit communities everywhere, he plans to eventually go national.
The Austin-based and first “package-free and zero-waste” waste grocery in the country, In.gredients, hasn’t even opened, yet it’s already been featured by local media outlets like the Texas Tribune and the Austin American Statesman and national magazines like Rolling Stone and Forbes.
This neighborhood micro-grocer will adhere to the “shop the perimeter” philosophy, offering produce, meats and dairy—the basics needed to cook a meal. You won’t find the packaged and processed foods commonly placed in the middle section of a large grocery store.
In.gredients will be as package-free as possible—customers can bring their own containers to take food home or use those provided by the store.
Lane assures us that everything is ready to go for the opening, but a few final details need to fall into place. In the meantime, he and his team have been using the location of the future grocery (2610 Manor Road) for events.