Fine food industry “perfectly placed” to boost diversity

05 May 2021, 12:53 PM
  • Independent food retailers have a role to play in championing diversity and inclusion in the sector
Fine food industry “perfectly placed” to boost diversity

Britain’s food and drink industry is made up of 7,400 businesses, yet just three Black-owned brands currently make mainstream products available in multiple major retailers in the UK, according to an analysis by a new non-profit, ADD Psalt.

These statistics show the scale of the food industry’s diversity issue – something which newly emerging groups are aiming to tackle through targeted support and resources. By helping start-up food and drink brands whose founders come from under-represented groups, they are looking to build a more inclusive industry.

The fine food sector also has a role to play in boosting inclusion and diversity, and experts say it is well positioned to do so.

Putting diversity at the centre of food and drink

Entering the food and drink industry with a new product is difficult for anyone, and Lucy Smith, co-founder alongside Sam Akinluyi of ADD Psalt, says a combination of factors are driving a lack of diversity: “The journey from start-up to scale is one that very few have managed. The journey can be lonely, turbulent, unpredictable and expensive. Not everyone has the resources, safety-net, support or even the ‘luck’ to succeed,” Lucy says.

For many, she says, even taking the first step can be too difficult. “It can cost in excess of £30,000 just to get to the point of a prototype product from a manufacturer. You then need expertise, experience and knowledge to bring a product to market. It can also be about your network and contact list,” Lucy adds. ADD Psalt is tackling this problem by offering £46,000 worth of support to develop innovation within the food and drink industry, and by its third year, the group aims to have helped grow the number of Black-owned brands in national distribution tenfold.

Mallika Basu, SIZL Spices co-founder and food industry consultant on diversity, inclusion and culture, agrees that the need for investment and funding is often a barrier to entry in the fine food sector. “Then there is a lack of role models to inspire and encourage new entrants,” she adds. Indeed, Mollie Obileye, co-founder of Jitterbug apple cider vinegar drinks, recently told Speciality Food that feeling cut off from mentors was her “biggest challenge” when starting up her business.

Yet even after a product is created there are hurdles to jump, Mallika continues. “Where the products exist, it often requires a style of pitching, selling and level of confidence that doesn’t come naturally to a wide cross section of people.”

A catalyst for change

After following his passion for food by launching Caribbean cuisine brand Juici Jerk, Troy Johnson decided to start up a new project last year. “The Black British Foodies Fund was started due to the Black Lives Matter events of 2020,” Troy tells Speciality Food. Despite already being aware of the many disparities and social injustices, including his own personal experiences, Troy says, “The killing of Goerge Floyd shocked the world, and I believe every movement needs a catalyst moment. That was it.”

He continues, “I wanted to help but at times really felt helpless. I decided to have a word with my brother and we formed the Black British Foodies Fund.” After setting up a GoFundMe page, and realising there was a lot more work to be done, the brothers decided to relaunch the BBFF in September with two charity partners.

“We will be helping our community directly with various programmes to help facilitate growth of individuals that need/want to grow their food ideas into sustainable businesses. We have had a big redirection to focus now on the grassroots stage so we can work our way up as we gain more knowledge, links and experience, as this is also a new process for us,” Troy explains.

Eventually, the goal is to turn the BBFF into a registered charity with programmes running throughout the whole year focusing on small businesses. “There have been some really positive developments to support the growth and development of Black-owned food businesses over the last 12 months, but I really want to see the pledges and promises put into action now we are beginning to see society get back to some sort of normality,” Troy adds.

With the help of the likes of ADD Psalt and the Black British Foodies Fund, Mallika believes that the fine food market is ripe for a revamp with more diverse offerings.

“I think the fine food industry is perfectly placed to be more open to diversity with its discerning customers who are open to new taste and flavours,” Mallika says. “Change starts with awareness, and these conversations are taking place, but a joined up effort with time and money invested to identify and support more diverse entrepreneurs who show promise would be the way to go.”

As more mentoring and support programmes gain traction, fine food retailers are likely to see a new raft of products created by under-represented groups hitting the market, which they can then bolster by stocking and championing. As Mallika said, customers of fine food retailers are open to experiencing new tastes and flavours. According to Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, the founder of The Black Farmer, there are a vast variety of “largely untapped stories, flavours and ingredients from Black culture”. By fostering support for these brands at the start-up stage, the fine food ecosystem can help to encourage a more inclusive future for the food and drink sector.

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