Editor’s note: In anticipation of our upcoming Food Loves Tech event, we’ve launched a regular column to explore new and intriguing trends in the food and tech space. Read more about Food Loves Tech—and get your $35 early bird tickets while they last—here.
Kickstarter—you might have heard of it—is a global community where creative projects come to life through crowdfunding. Based in NYC, we caught up with Terry Hope Romero—outreach lead for food and crafts, author and co-author of a series of bestselling vegan cookbooks—to talk about her passion for food, community crowdsourcing, food trends and tech.
Edible Brooklyn: What were the top food trends on Kickstarter globally and in the US last year?
Terry Hope Romero: Some of the trends that seem to catch the imagination and stomachs of the Kickstarter community included: gluten-free bakeries, biltong (move over jerky!), cricket flour foods and at-home kitchen cricket farms, cookbooks catering to tiny budgets with sophisticated palates, kitchen tools made with integrity (think high quality knives with an everyman price tag), artisan handcrafted vegan cheeses, mushroom cultivation research farms and the ever expanding drinks category: more craft breweries, coffee and distilleries.
EB: How do you expect those trends to evolve this year?
THR: Most of last year’s trends will continue to grow and evolve. In the instance of cricket foods, this may mean increased diversification beyond snack foods. We’re already seeing baking mixes and, in some instances, straight up whole roasted crickets. One of the massive food startup trends that continues to evolve on the site is the subscription box model, becoming more niche (a good thing in my book) and refined, from grass fed beef to nostalgic Jewish comfort foods with flair.
EB: Do you see a convergence around food and tech on Kickstarter? Are there any particular projects or innovations that come to mind that piqued your interest as a consumer and food leader?
THR: Yes, there has been a very strong and vibrant presence on the site for years in regards to food and tech. Recent top projects range from low tech fermentation lids for mason jars from Krautsource and Pickle Pipe to sous vide machines (Nomiku and Anova). As an avid craft coffee drinker and adherent to my Aeropress, I usually keep an eye on the active coffee brewing device community—everything from advanced ways to brew coffee to grinding it fascinates me!
It’s amazing to me how the food and tech startup trend has become interwoven with what we used to call “food business.” I think it’s going to continue to expand.
EB: How would you categorize recent food and tech trends?
THR: There’s definitely a very large audience for food tech in the home. The Grove fused cutting edge science with farming in the home environment. It proved that consumers are hungry for new ways to grow real fresh food at home and bring a little more nature into their daily lives.
EB: Do you expect the recent surge in food and tech startups to continue? What are the risks or advantages for a new business looking to launch onto that scene?
THR: It’s amazing to me how the food and tech startup trend has become interwoven with what we used to call “food business.” I think it’s going to continue to expand. So far I think there’s a healthy potential to cross-pollinate the classic hard-working food entrepreneur mentality with the flexible and highly energetic startup culture. There is a risk that the “quick results” model of startups will clash with the often slow-growing course of food business, but we’ll just have to see how it all unfolds. I’ll go make some popcorn for us to watch how it works out in the end.
EB: You’ve seen a ton of food projects be successful and miss their mark on Kickstarter. What advice would you give to a fledgling business when it comes to testing proof of concept, fundraising, launch and beyond to ensure success?
THR: I have plenty of advice to offer budding businesses, so it’s essential to boil down the basics. The Kickstarter audience is a community of backers that will be with you long after the funding has been put to use: they require your honesty, commitment and transparency. Learning how to communicate with your backers is different from the way you’d seek out more traditional funding.
The biggest don’t is being silent. Your backers are emotionally invested in your project and are in with you for the long-haul.
When it comes to proof of concept, Kickstarter is a fantastic way to test it out. It’s also a business bootcamp; you must learn how to tell your story (written, in images and video) with brevity and clarity, learn basic customer service and wrestle with the brass tacks of shipping and manufacturing. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that while it’s hard work, you and your business will be on an accelerated path after running a project. Oh and the real work begins after your project funds! That’s when you fulfill your promise. Biggest do: don’t be afraid to talk about your setbacks (via Updates in your project) to your backers. The biggest don’t is being silent. Your backers are emotionally invested in your project and are in with you for the long-haul.
EB: Do you see any particular food and tech trends coming out of New York versus other parts of the country?
THR: Both New York and beyond continue to be captivated by ways for cooks to share their cooking (be it virtual or delivered meals) with an engaged audience. One trend I’m keen on and that feels so very New York is the continuing proliferation of rooftop farms in every borough!
EB: Finally, as a committed vegan and author of vegan cuisine cookbooks, how do you feel about the recent surge in New York dining options and broader awareness for veganism?
THR: I’ve been in the food business space for 25 years and writing vegan cookbooks for over 10 of those. It’s clear on both those fronts that plant-based food is going mainstream. The bar is being set ever higher for delicious, creative cuisine accessible not to just vegans but plant-curious omnivores out there too. Then when it comes to Kickstarter, the artisan vegan cheese phenomenon keeps on gaining traction. The same can said for the proliferation of brick and mortar projects helping people to enjoy great vegan handmade food. 2016 is the year for vegan “butchers” and cheese shops.