by Tanya Henry
Chocolate cardamom cookies made with cricket flour. Moringa-based energy bars, and a device that helps farmers know exactly how much water to use on their crops. These were just a few of the cutting-edge products that were looking for funding at SF New Tech’s FoodBytes! Summit that took place on February 25 at the Bluxome Street Winery in San Francisco. “It used to be big food that was innovating, but that has flipped—it’s new, nimble, small companies that are at the forefront of emerging markets,” explained Nick Fereday, executive director and senior analyst at Rabobank International (a sponsor of the event), who oversees food and consumer trends out of the bank’s New York office.
The mastermind behind this matchmaking fest between tech, venture capital and cottage industries is Myles Weissleder, founder of SF New Tech, who assures attendees that they will “see live demonstrations from rising stars who are innovating and disrupting in the food industry.” And we did. One of those disruptors is Bitty Foods, which has partnered with chef/restaurateur Tyler Florence to produce a line of cookies and treats prepared with cricket flour.
Bitty Foods Founder Megan Miller said she had originally named her company Chirp, but found that the moniker made it hard for consumers to get beyond the visual of, well, eating insects. But here’s the thing—not only did the orange ginger cookie samples taste good, but the flour yields 28g of protein per cup. And here is its biggest selling point—it takes about a gallon of water to raise one pound of crickets, compared to 2,000 gallons of water for a pound of beef. Now that sounds like a sustainable product to me. Learn more at www.bittyfoods.com.
In all, 12 companies had 10 minutes each to present their products and indicate how much money they were hoping to raise. Along with “real” investors, attendees were invited to download the conference app and were given a virtual $5 million dollars to invest in their favorite choices. The company that accrued the most dollar votes received a People’s Choice Award that included a trip to New York City and a case of wine. Shawn Patrick, founder and CEO of Patrick’s Fine Sodas, received the coveted award for his Santa Fe, New Mexico-based company that makes probiotic sodas featuring Willy Wonka-like labels and peppy flavors.
Not only was it encouraging to see the tech and finance sectors paying real attention to these little food startups (some who have barely moved their operations out of their home kitchens and garages), but the level of social-mindedness these young entrepreneurs displayed was downright heartening. It wasn’t lost on this group that not only should a product taste good (and it does have to taste good), but it needs to be something that makes sense globally in a world of increasingly diminishing resources. I’m hoping the investors who attended FoodBytes were as encouraged as I was by the impressive lineup of forward-thinking producers and will be inspired to put their money where their mouths are! For more information, visit www.foodbytessummit.com.
STUB TO GRUB Here is another good idea with an important mission: The SF-Marin Food Bank has partnered with BART to make good on all of those partially used BART tickets that have remaining value on them. The Tiny Tickets Program will collect these leftover tickets and turn them into donations that can help provide food for communities in need. Drop off your tickets or mail them to the SF-Marin Food Bank (Attn: Tiny Tickets Program), and help feed your neighbors with the leftover change on those BART stubs. For more information, visit www.sfmfoodbank.org.
TASTE OF MARIN Eat and drink for a good cause! The biggest fundraiser for Fair Housing of Marin takes place on Thursday, March 12 at 6pm at the Marin Art & Garden Center in Ross. A diverse sampling of select Marin restaurants, live music, dancing and a raffle will all be on the menu. Tickets are $120 per person. For more information, visit www.fairhousingmarin.com.
Share your hunger pains with Tanya at [email protected].