AP NEWS

New help for food startups

November 19, 2018

Local food and beverage startups have landed their products on shelves and tables throughout southwestern Connecticut. A new program aims to further increase that market share.

The Business Council of Fairfield County has launched the Food’NBev Connect accelerator program to provide advice and mentorship to packaged-goods companies whose sector has bucked the overall decline of manufacturing in recent years in the area. The 10 companies picked so far for the initiative are enthusiastic about the new venture, which they say would provide them the tools to grow into lasting businesses.

“It’s gotten to the point where there should be something larger that is funneling resources toward us,” said Will D’Agostino, founder of Stamford-based snack-bar maker Nutshell. “It will definitely be helpful to get information quickly.”

Business Council officials said they are bullish about the participating companies because they see increasing demand for healthy products made with simpler recipes and natural ingredients. The CTNext and Innovate Stamford business development groups are also supporting the venture.

“We feel we can help bring people together, so these young companies can accelerate their businesses,” said Gary Breitbart, Food’NBev’s managing director. “There’s a community here, and we’re trying to give it some visibility.”

The firms participating in Food’NBev have generally operated for a few years, with distribution in area stores and online.

“This program seemed to be in touch with the innovations in food these days; that’s the main reason why I linked up with these guys,” said Maurice Jenkins, founder of Stratford-based Mugger’s Marrow, which makes grilling sauces. “My hope is to build lines of distribution and increase awareness among the larger retailers in the area and come up with better marketing techniques.”

For businesses such as Bethel-based Noteworthy Chocolates, the program provides a launching pad for entering new markets.

“We wanted to connect more with southern Fairfield County,” said Jennifer Sauvageau, who founded and runs Noteworthy with her husband, Michael Sauvageau.

Food’NBev is not investing in the companies, but it is providing advice on identifying and securing capital.

“I think this group is going to be largely involved in navigating people through funding,” said D’Agostino, who is doing a friends-and-family funding round for Nutshell. “Even if you’re all tight-knit friends, it’s still a tough conversation when you’re talking about how much money you have in the business.”

Other firms like Mugger’s Marrow are also entirely self-funded.

“I know the product is solid. and that’s what gave me the confidence to think about going all in, out of pocket, without any sort of outside funding,” Jenkins said.

Food’NBev is supported by an Executive Advisory Panel of food and beverage executives.

Committee members include Tim Brown, who was previously president of Chobani and CEO of Stamford-based Nestlé Waters North America; Ashok Vasudevan, founder of Stamford-based Preferred Brands International, maker of the Tasty Bite brand; Janet Steinmeyer, former CEO of Centerplate, a Stamford food-services company; and David Cingari, CEO of Stamford-based David’s Soundview Catering.

In addition to the 10 companies already selected, the program is accepting applications from other Connecticut-based companies.

“I believe the food and beverage accelerator model will play a crucial socioeconomic role in the region and beyond,” Vasudevan said in a statement. “The unstoppable mega-trend of rising health care costs, combined with an increased consumer belief in functional and holistic foods, will be major tailwinds for food entrepreneurs dedicated to consumer wellness.”

For more information about Food’NBev Connect, contact The Business Council of Fairfield County at 203-359-3220 or info@businessfairfield.com.

pschott@scni.com; 203-964-2236; Twitter: @paulschott

AP RADIO
Update hourly