The food sustainability movement is arguably the most exciting trend in the world today. It’s addressing many of the world’s most pressing problems, such as climate change, chronic disease, water scarcity, and antibiotic resistance. Without it, we are much more likely to destroy the possibility of human life on this planet.
Fortunately, droves of entrepreneurs are diving into the food world to tackle these problems head on. They’re also creating incredible business’ in the process. Not surprisingly, women are leading the charge to save mother earth before it’s too late. Here’s a list of some of the most impressive female leaders in the sustainable food space.
Gigi Lee Chang – Food Future Co Accelerator
Inspired by her son to found Plum Organics 12 years ago, her mission was to create a brand that reflected the values and lifestyle of contemporary parents today. While subsequently running the national non-profit Healthy Child Healthy World, Gigi learned a lot about our food system and the impact it is having on our children. Known as Generation Rx, this generation of children is the first estimated to have a shorter lifespan that previous generations. Realizing that in order to truly heal ourselves and our planet, Gigi and her team work across the food ecosystem since consumer products (no matter how well sourced they might be) just isn’t enough.
The vision for FoodFutureCo is the central idea that if we fix food, we can fix almost all other major challenges our society is facing as they are intrinsically connected to food and agriculture. Her hope is that by working with 10-12 companies a year, over a 10-year horizon, they will have a portfolio of 100+ companies to help build a movement and inspire others to do the same.
As Managing Director of FoodFutureCo, the primary focus is to be a thought partner to their cohort companies, helping them to process key questions that will help them to scale their business. Throughout the program, they bring together thought leaders, mentors, and advisors drawn from a range of sectors – consumer products, agriculture, culinary, and sustainability amongst others. Thankfully, Gigi’s leading a charge that will help to fundamentally improve our food system and the health of our future generations.
Mary Kay James – Tyson New Ventures
Mary Kay James has been tapped to lead the $150 million venture fund launched by Tyson Foods in 2016. She laughed when she received the job offer from Tyson, because she’d already heard about the position from multiple friends who thought she’d be perfect for the role. The stars had aligned, and Mary Kay jumped at the opportunity.
She plans to invest in companies developing breakthrough technologies, business models and products to sustainably feed a population set to eclipse nine billion people by mid-century. James and her team will seek startups that focus on the areas of alternative proteins, elimination of food waste and leveraging innovative trends in technology. The first investment involves Tyson Foods’ previously-announced five percent ownership stake in plant-based protein producer Beyond Meat.
Mary was the recent recipient of Global Corporate Venturing’s Rising Stars award in recognition of being one of the ‘top 100’ in her field. TNV will serve as a ‘strategic incubator’ in addition to providing capital. Driven by a passion for personalized nutrition and doing something that can make a difference in the world, this new role gives her a chance to do exactly that.
Miyoko Schinner – Miyoko’s Kitchen
Miyoko Schinner’s goal is to change attitudes on plant-based food by providing creative, artisanal recipes that are animal- free. In her books, DVDs, blog, videos, and classes, Schinner shares her love of cooking natural food for both health and flavor. She goes by the mantra that good food is simply good food, and if it’s plant-based, it’s even better. Miyoko recently closed an investment round of $6 million to expand capacity for pumping out more of her game-changing cheeses. She’s also building an internal research & development team to improve pricing and the overall nutritional profile of their products.
Schinner expects to hit $10 million in sales this year, and aims to do ten times that in five years. The company, which started out producing 800 rounds of cheese per week, now makes up to 100,000 per month. In addition to specialty stores, you can find Miyoko’s Kitchen products in large-scale grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, where you can find her Cultured VeganButter.
August Vega – Malk
Like many clean food stories, Malk sprung out of a passion for clean eating – specifically when it came to dairy products. As a child, CEO and Founder August Vega was diagnosed with a dairy allergy. As a mother, she discovered that her son had the same allergy. A quest to find alternative milk products turned up only faux lactate that was chock full of food additives and synthetic vitamins. Thus, Malk was born out of the passion for feeding her son (and others with dairy allergies) a healthy and wholesome alternative. Amazingly, Malk is free from soy, dairy, GMO’s, gluten, and carrageenan. Malk is a nut-based, creamy milk alternative that uses only five organic ingredients that are sourced with the consumer’s nutrition and the environment in mind.
August leveraged her background in business development and clean-tech to get Malk off the ground. Malk won the prestigious BevNet best new beverage award and best non-carbonated beverage award (2015). Not surprisingly, revenues have grown 5x in the past year. Malk is now in Kroger, Ralphs, and in select regions at Whole Foods Market.
Madeline Haydon: Nutpods
Nutpods was born when Founder Madeline Haydon became restless with waiting for someone to develop a healthy, wholesome, and tasty dairy-free creamer. She was fed up with traditional dairy-free creamers that replaced dairy with harmful substances like carrageenan, titanium dioxide, triglycerides, and hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated oils, so she took matters into her own hands. Launched with a successful Kickstarter campaign in late 2013, Madeline perfected the commercial recipe and then brought the product to market in Seattle-area retailers and on Amazon.com in mid-2015. Nutpods was awarded “Editor’s Pick” at the Natural Products Expo in 2015. One of the really interesting things about Nutpods is their success in eCommerce. After 18 months on Amazon, Nutpods has the #30 highest selling SKU in all of ‘grocery’ (including Coke, Pepsi, etc.) in addition to having the best selling coffee creamer SKU.
Madeline is planning on raising additional capital in 2018. Recently, she was featured in Amazon for her commitment to hiring moms that are returning to the workforce after taking some time off to raise their families. Nutpods can be found in Whole Foods, Mothers Markets, and several hundred other retailers.
‘Investing in Nutpods was a no-brainer. Not only is it a fantastic product that fills a white space in the booming non-dairy sector, but also the founder, Madeline Haydon, is a talented businesswoman in whom we have every confidence. A quick perusal of their more than 2,000 positive Amazon reviews makes it clear that Madeline struck the right chord with the rich, unsweetened dairy-free creamer.’ – Liz Dee, Co-Owner of Smarties Candy Company and CEO of Baleine & Bjorn Capital
Dominique Barnes and Michelle Wolf: New Wave Foods
With Co-founder/CEO Dominique Barnes’ background in marine biodiversity and Co-founder/CTO Michelle Wolf’s education in materials science and engineering, the two partnered up to develop nutrient-rich alternatives to seafood. Their goal is to provide healthy seafood and conserve the planet’s rapidly depleting oceans. For context, more than eighty-five percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits and are in need of strict management plans to restore them. (World Wildlife Fund)
Michelle’s primary motivation for pursuing this career path was to tackle the slave-labor that’s so prevalent in the $10 billion dollar shrimp industry. New Wave’s algae-based products are made without antibiotics and they have zero cholesterol or allergens. It’s worth mentioning that Google was one of their first clients. They’ve begun manufacturing their shrimp this month and plan to roll out fish sticks, salmon, and tuna before the end of the decade. You can expect to see their products in your local grocery stores this year.
Alexis Fox & Micah Risk: Lighter, Inc.
Lighter is a powerful platform that helps the world eat better. They show people what food to buy based on the recommendations of leading healthcare providers and other food experts, enabling doctors to prescribe food as medicine. Lighter has built a world in which a mom can go to her doctor, find out that she is at risk for heart disease, but instead of being sent to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, she can go home and receive a bag of heart-healthy groceries, delivered right to her door.
To make this magic happen, they have an integration with Instacart which delivers groceries in 22 metropolitan areas. They also have an exciting integration with Rouxbe Cooking School, the world’s leading online cooking school, to help members learn how to cook. Recently, they launched a partnership with CHIP (Complete Health Improvement Program) from the Lifestyle Medicine Institute. CHIP helps employees and patients all over the globe through their affordable, lifestyle enrichment program. The goal is to lower blood cholesterol, hypertension, and blood sugar levels and reduce excess weight.
Alexis Fox, the CEO (Chief Empowerment Officer) at Lighter, has dedicated her life to fixing our broken food system and has worked in the movement as an attorney, political leader, and entrepreneur. Micah Risk is Director of Nutrition at Lighter. Before co-founding Lighter, Micah studied Food Policy & Applied Nutrition at Tufts University and worked in research at the World Health Organization. As an ultra-marathon runner, Micah has been featured twice in Runner’s World and has been advocating for healthy and sustainable food systems for nearly two decades.