Food is a category in constant flux, driven both by constant product innovation and consumer and category trends - and never more than in 2015.
This year alone we've seen Jamie Oliver’s public campaign against sugar and a widespread understanding of it’s devastating effects on health, an emergence of companies using tech to give us greater access to what we want to eat (such as Deliveroo and Seamless), and a raft of game-hanging newcomers like Hampton Creek and Bitty who've broken through by challenging our idea of what we can eat.
For our first Challenger Project Live event we invited the founders of five thought-leading emerging Challengers; start-ups, social enterprises and brands, to share their insights into what they are challenging about the world of food and drink, and how.
Naomi Twigden & Anna Pinder. (Photograph: NW)
Our first speakers on the night were Naomi Twigden & Anna Pinder, two chefs who teamed up to launch Lunch BXD in 2014. The idea to create and deliver, freshly-made, sustainable food to desks and offices across London.
They talked through how they’ve turned a passion they already had into a successful growing business, how they’ve championed feedback from some high profile customers such as Spotify, Vogue and Unilever to grow their own profile, and how, if you want an affordable industrial kitchen in central London, you have to build it yourself.
Melanie Goldsmith. (Photograph: NW)
Smith & Sinclair
Smith & Sinclair founders, Melanie and Emile, have always been dedicated to creating something that will shock and awe. Whilst running a series of dating nights, focused on the concept of ‘adult play’, they created a luxe sweet with an unusually high alcohol content to get people talking, and their 'cocktail pastilles' became a runaway success.
Having created the first real (patented) innovation in the alcohol category in years, Smith & Sinclair quickly changed their focus from hosting events to building a whole new category.
Melanie shared their entertaining entrepreneurial journey so far, including what happens when demand vastly outweighs production capability (you get on the phone to some local synagogues), the power of partnerships, and their future plans for a crowd sourced experiential central London bar.
Keiran Whitaker. (Photograph: NW)
Entocycle want to create the most efficient and sustainable system to feed the world. It was a pretty bold opening statement from Keiran Whitaker, the founder and co-owner of the clean-tech company.
Thankfully Keiran's idea lives up to the billing. By essentially harnessing nature's natural cycles to convert waste matter into protein-rich insects, acres of scarce agricultural land currently used to grow soya could be saved. Keiran talked through his journey from breeding insects in his (horrified but supportive) parent's conservatory in London to moving to Brazil to produce them on a near-industrial scale.
Today he's in talks with a number of global organisations to help scale the operation and further challenge the existing models of animal feed production.
Cemal Ezel (Photograph: NW)
Old Spike Roastery
Homelessness is a growing problem in London, soaring by a reported 79% since 2010. Wouldn't it be great if businesses and brands could help play a role in alleviating the situation? Next up was Cemal Ezel, founder of Old Spike Roastery, a social enterprise on a mission to do just that by providing training, jobs and housing for those in need.
Old Spike provide barista training and part-time employment in their coffee shop in Peckham for people living on the streets whilst also ensuring they provide the best quality coffee possible to the customer. 'People often think that because we're a social enterprise, that somehow means the coffee won't be as good' said Cemal. 'It's a frustrating misconception that we have to try and change'.
Old Spike use only the highest quality specialty beans and have had staff trained by expert and experienced baristas on their ‘Torberg’ roaster. Launching in January 2015, Old Spike have big ambitions for the future, with plans underway to open a second roastery in the capital, they are also rolling out a new coffee subscription service for individuals and companies, and from October a new partnership with 'The Big Issue' will see Old Spike coffee carts operating in across London, providing great coffee and further opportunities for those in need.
Jack Clarke, SoleShare. (Photograph: NW)
Our final speaker of the night was marine conservationist turned fishmonger Jack Clarke, co-founder of community fishery and London's first fish-box scheme, SoleShare.
A hugely inspiring example of a Missionary challenger, SoleShare apply the now familiar veg-box subscription model to connect responsible independent fisherman with the growing market of Londoners prepared to pay a premium for sustainable ethical produce.
The way we catch, process and buy fish is unfair and unsustainable, but by incentivizing good fishing methods with a fair price for the day's catch, championing unusual but underfished varieties, and educating customers on how to prepare and cook them, Soleshare are offering an compelling alternative.
4 things we learnt
Make your ambition big and bold
No matter at what stage you are at in your journey a bold ambition will help you keep focussed, and make decision-making easier. Entocycle want to feed the world, Old Spike Roastery provide jobs and homes for the homeless (and provide the best coffee around).
Good intentions are not enough
Customers are not willing to accept a tradeoff anymore, ethical can no longer equal average. If you're a Challenger, and particularly if you're a social enterprise, your product needs to be not just comparable, but better than your competitors to stand a chance.
Mix together ideas that haven't been mixed before
Whether it's combining the ideas of adult-play with confectionary to create Smith & Sinclair or the combination of a a fishmongers and the subscription business model as with SoleShare, new business ideas that get our attention are often the result of mixing existing ideas together.
The needlefish has illuminous green bones
But don't let that put you off. It's one of the most flavoursome fish around.
With thanks to
Thanks to our drinks suppliers Anspach & Hobday and Half Cock Gin, to everyone who came and to all our speakers. Challenger Project Live will return in November 2015, make sure you're on our mailing list to get your ticket before everyone else.
Editor of The Challenger Project, marketing at eatbigfish. Champion of the underdog. West Ham fan. All adds up really.