When I was in London after SKS Europe a few weeks ago I got to take a sneak peek inside CrowdFooding’s new food innovation hub. Housed in trendy coworking space HuckleTree West in White City, the hub is meant to be an incubator for food tech and food CPG startups. It officially launched on June 28th, the same day it rebranded as Forward Fooding.
Essentially, Forward Fooding will act as a middle man between (relatively) new CPG companies and large corporations. “We want to be a bridge for smaller companies to sell to large food manufacturers,” explained Alessio D’Antino, co-founder and managing director of Forward Fooding.
So if Nestlé approaches Forward Fooding to find a new snack producer making use of trendy ingredients, Forward Fooding would put together a pitch series with relevant CPG companies in their innovation hub. If Nestlé selects any of the companies to work with, either through investment or acquisition, then Forward Fooding will charge the corporations what D’Antino calls a “success fee.” They don’t take any equity in the incubator companies.
D’Antino expects the hub startup members to consist of 80 percent CPG companies and 20 percent tech-related companies. Forward Fooding has received around 60 applications so far and will select 4-5 businesses to join the hub by September, rounding it out to 10-12 by the end of the year.
Companies that make the cut will get a reduced rate for membership to the Huckletree West space (and access to its amenities), attend events and bootcamps taught by Forward Fooding staff and its food partners, and get a foot in the door to pitch to large food companies.
D’Antino was clear that they are only looking for food startups with the capacity for high-volume production, preferably ones with a brand and marketing strategy already in place. “We want someone who already established, who just needs a way to connect to large corporates,” specified D’Antino. Their target CPG startup is one with some name recognition that’s looking to shift from B2C to B2B. As an example, he named chickpea-snack company Hippeas and gourmet popcorn producer Proper Corn.
On the corporate side, his “ideal partner” would be “a large, family-owned corporation that’s entrepreneur-led.” D’Antino listed companies Barilla, Nestlé, and Mondelez as potential partners that have expressed interest in their hub; Forward Fooding also recently put together a pitch evening at Google featuring emerging food CPG companies.
They also want to make technology integration a key aspect of their incubator. In addition to Tech Bootcamps focused on digital marketing and upping online sales, D’Antino also named improved ecommerce websites, referral programs, digital marketing, and even VR integration as potential tech aspects. (Yes, the coworking space has a specialized VR studio.)
Some corporations, such as General Mills or Kraft, are trying to find innovative food startups on their own through accelerator programs. However, creating accelerator programs requires a lot of work: there’s R&D investment, startup handholding, and the risk that, at the end of the day, companies’ products just won’t be a good fit.
Forward Fooding hopes to provide the same level of discovery for big corporate players — without the work. “It’s a win-win,” said D’Antino. “This model takes some risk out of big companies’ investments, and helps startups get into bigger distribution channels.” He predicts that the incubation hub will act as a compliment to those big CPG accelerator programs.
Founded in 2014, Forward Fooding has 5 full-time employees and has a satellite office in San Francisco. They have plans to expand into Spain and other European countries, hoping to take advantage of its myriad of tech-enabled CPG startups.