You’ve probably heard of beef jerky. But have you ever tried eggplant jerky?
Attendees of Foodworks’ Real Food Innovation Challenge had a chance to sample that snack, as well as a host of food and drink products made by resident Foodworks companies. Seven of those companies’ founders pitched their products on Tuesday afternoon for the chance at a $10,000 prize sponsored by the Campbell Soup Company.
The presenting founders were evaluated by a panel of five judges. Three of the judges represented Campbell’s: Bethmara Kessler, the senior VP of integrated global services; Mike Paul, the VP of innovation; and Carlos Abrams-Rivera, the president of Pepperidge Farm, one of Campbell’s brands. They were joined by Susan Westmoreland, the food director of Good Housekeeping, and Maxine Builder, an associate editor at Extra Crispy.
In the end, they chose Agathe Assouline-Lichten, the cofounder and CEO of Red Velvet NYC, as the winner. Red Velvet NYC makes kits for novice bakers who, in Assouline-Lichten’s words, “want to create a Pinterest-perfect dessert.” The kits are akin to what you’d get through a subscription service like Blue Apron or Plated, but they also include supplies such as piping bags and parchment paper. The nearly-all-encompassing kits and Assouline-Lichten’s polished pitch greatly appealed to the judges.
“We thought you were perfection in a box,” Kessler said as she presented the grand prize.
The judges also chose two runners-up, who each received $5,000. Jamie Melzer, the founder of Watermelon Road, and Jordyn Gatti, the founder and CEO of Better Almond Butter. Melzer’s company makes fruit and vegetable jerky in flavors such as pineapple mojito and smoky balsamic eggplant. The snacks are designed to appeal to people with dietary restrictions. To make his almond butter, Gatti takes unpasteurized Marcona almonds, sourced from Spain, and sprouts them in Foodworks’ facility before processing them. The result, according to him, is a product that’s more healthful and easier for the body to digest.
Pitch events have been an ongoing feature of Foodworks’ programming. By partnering with other food companies, managing director Edie Feinstein told Technical.ly, the fast-expanding incubator can readily offer its members access to industry veterans’ expertise — not to mention some handy monetary resources. Last fall, for instance, Foodworks held a pitch contest in conjunction with Victoria Fine Foods, a pasta-sauce manufacturer based in Brooklyn.
Yet Campbell’s partnership with Foodworks extends beyond yesterday’s event. Executives from the food company, based in Camden, New Jersey, have mentored the incubators’ members for the past year on aspects ranging from product formulation to marketing strategy, Bill Curtis, Campbell’s director of strategy, told Technical.ly. The two organizations, he said, share an interest in issues related to food quality, such as ethical agricultural practices. The mentoring partnership has benefitted Campbell’s as well, Curtis added, as they’ve been able to learn from industry newcomers that are unencumbered by legacy practices.
“They’re way ahead of the curve,” he said.