Focus and Food: NOSH Live Summer 2017

Hungry entrepreneurs, investors, retailers and thought leaders were served a hearty helping of industry insights during NOSH Live Summer 2017.

The event, at the Metropolitan West in New York City on June 12, was packed with information and social opportunity. Presentations ranged from the keys to growing brands and relationships to the steps for rapid growth and the best branding for good-for-you products. Networking breaks buzzed with actionable advice, stories from market leaders and conversations with industry trailblazers — and that was all before lunch.

The morning kicked off with a presentation on the importance of focus by James Richardson, senior vice president of knowledge and innovation at the Hartman Group.

“In photography, composition is your foundation,” Richardson told the audience, as he showed them a work he had taken himself. “In food, product is your foundation. If you do not obsess about your product you’ll have no mental attention to manage the hundreds of other variables needed to win in the competitive marketplace.”

Focus proved to be a trend throughout the day. Jason Cohen, CEO and founder of Halen Brands, encouraged attendees to concentrate on building meaningful relationships outside of direct sales. Banza’s Brian Rudolph talked about how the chickpea pasta company balances its mission, while still focusing on consumer feedback and “[meeting] them where they are,” he said. “People don’t want to hear our mission, but it’s what we care about.” Award-winning food author Michael Ruhlman talked about why he shifted his focus from agriculture and food policy to grocery in his book, “Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America.”

Presentations continued throughout the day on topics ranging from what’s trending in Whole Foods Market to scaling and selling your business. During his presentation “Breaking the Established Partnership Paradigm,” Jeremy Isenberg, President of Chex Finer Foods, urged viewers about the importance of collaboration and shared passion between distributors and brands.

“We tend to get behind things we believe in too so if you know who you are and what you want to grow up to be, it’s easier for us to get behind it too,” he said.

Maura Mottolese, CEO of Tate’s Bake Shop, looked at the industry through a more data-driven lens with the idea of scaling and growth during her presentation “Baking Resources in the Cookie Avalanche.”

The day ended with finance and fun, as Bill Shen, director of Encore Consumer Capital and Larry Kahn, partner and managing director of Beechwood Capital, and conversations around the core of any successful business. They were followed by a talk with Presence Marketing’s Bill Weiland, who joined the show with thoughts on selling in the natural channel and ideas about the future direction of the food business.

While collaboration and the idea of different sectors working together to grow the industry were praises sung, the day wasn’t without some friendly competition.

Bronx Hot Sauce touted more than its impressive heat scale when the New York-based, mission-driven hot sauce brand won the second annual Project NOSH Pitch Slam, sponsored by ADM. Bronx Hot Sauce Vice President Daniel Fitzgerald competed against representatives from four other emerging brands: Cali’flour Foods, Zesty Z, Bearded Brothers and Partake Foods.

Each brand was given four minutes to convince a panel of four industry vet judges– Mark Rainey, Vice President Global Food Marketing at ADM, Jason Cohen, Founder and Co-CEO of Halen Brands, Deb Hannah, Director of Retail Branded Partnerships at Starbucks and Tom Spier, founder and Managing Partner of Boulder Food Group — that their product was the future of natural food.

The judges praised the brand for its taste and flavor, as well as for its locality and mission. The company purchases the peppers at high prices to provide better wages for the gardeners growing them. Last year, more than 30 Bronx community gardens grew 1,500 pounds of serrano peppers that ended up in bottled hot sauce distributed across the Tri-State Area, according to the company.

“Getting to this level is an incredible thing,” Fitzgerald told NOSH. “It represents the aspirations of so many community partners that we have. Just to come to a pitch fest like this, it really feels like the next level.”