Small business owners across the country have felt the double whammy of inflation and slow hiring as a possible recession looms on the horizon. But how do these concerns play out for non-traditional businesses in broader sectors of the economy?
Take Matriark Foods, for example. It’s a social impact company that works towards the sustainability of the food system through a process called upcycling. Her unique business has helped shield her from the harsh sting of inflation, but she is certainly not immune to its effects, the company boss said.
Marketplace’s Sabri Ben-Achour spoke with Anna Hammond, Founder and CEO of Matriark Foods, about her business and how it’s navigating this economic turbulence. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Sabri Ben Achour: You are therefore in the food upcycling sector. What is food upcycling?
Anna Hammond: So upcycling really allows all foods to reach their highest value, which feeds people. And recyclers take food that would otherwise have been wasted and turn it into products. And that goes from what we do, which is recycling surplus and leftover vegetables, to recycling waste grain from making beer.
Ben Achour: Where do we get leftover food from, whether vegetables or grains from beer making?
Hammond: Yeah, so the recycled food supply chain is really interesting. I like to say we’re not doing something new, we’re doing something that people have been doing for thousands of years, which is to use whatever has grown and not throw it away. But over the past 80 years, our agricultural and food production system has created enormous amounts of inefficiencies from their efficiencies. So we, Matriark Foods, work with large fresh produce facilities, where carrots, onions, celery and cut fruit are made for every grocery store nationwide. And if you imagine a bunch of celery, and you think of celery sticks you buy at a grocery store, imagine all the celery that’s not there with those celery sticks. And we work with these fresh-cut facilities to capture those leftovers and actually turn them into the food they are instead of putting them in landfill.
Ben Achour: And some of your food products that you make this way are carbon neutral or climate friendly. How is food climate-friendly?
Hammond: Thus, all recycled food is climate friendly. And we work with the Upcycled Food Association to certify that the foods that we use, the ingredients, some of the ingredients that we use, would otherwise have been wasted. But we have also worked with Planet Forward to certify our products as carbon neutral. And that means we’ve done a full life-cycle analysis of every ingredient we use, from packaging, to vegetable, to spice, to how far it’s traveled to each facility to be produced. And when we come to the final number with Planet Forward, then they have a carbon number that’s attached to the food that we make, and we buy offsets with a third party that grows forests, and then we’re certified carbon neutral.
Ben Achour: How did you come to this idea ?
Hammond: [Laughs] You mean Matriark’s idea?
Ben Achour: Yeah, like recycling or recycling food?
Hammond: Well, I have to say that I grew up in a family where we didn’t mess things up. My mother’s family were political refugees and they arrived in this country with very little means. So the mentality of not wasting was very present in my youth. But before starting this business, I set up a healthy eating program for young people and families living in public housing in New York. And part of that job was brokering relationships with farmers in the Hudson Valley to get their surplus vegetables to these community centers, where kids were learning to cook but had very little access to really good, healthy ingredients.
And there was just a huge amount of food wasted on farms as farmers needed extra income. And then all those people suffering from food-related diseases, wanting to feed their families better, but not having access to it. And in a way, the huge amount of waste and the huge amount of need was really the inspiration to launch Matriark. And really finding ways to use all the vegetables and all the vegetables that are grown, that use all the natural resources – you know, water, labor, land – to make, and that doesn’t makes no sense to throw them out. So that was really the inspiration for the company, it was to create better access to healthy food for everyone and divert waste from landfills.
Ben Achour: You started this business during the pandemic. I mean, running a business is hard, especially at the start of the pandemic, let alone starting one. How did you do that?
Hammond: Well, it was a very interesting experience. But, you know, they say adversity creates all kinds of opportunities. And that was definitely our mentality throughout. We actually launched the company a year before COVID hit, built the product, developed the idea. And then we had our first order the first week of March 2020 for an entire palette of our product. And next week, food service shutdowns around the world. So we’ve been working, I mean, we’ve been doing all kinds of things during the pandemic to keep the business going, to get things done.
We worked with a large foodservice provider in New York that had also had to pivot, and they were making boxes of food for frontline workers, and we asked if we could create a small carton of our broth concentrate from vegetables for these food boxes. So we did. We had a grant from ReFED to make a healthy stew with half a million pounds of vegetables that were recorded for canceled contracts. And we did it in conjunction with Northern New Jersey’s largest food bank, Table to Table. But I have to say it really reinforced that we were actually doing what we had planned to do even more intensely during COVID, which was to provide food to people in need and to use our resources to their best advantage. .
Ben Achour: Polls show that the #1 problem or concern for small businesses is inflation right now. How did it go for you? Did you have to raise the prices? Or is your supply chain unique in that it is not exposed to it?
Hammond: I don’t think there is an inflation-proof supply chain, unfortunately. But I think the nature of our supply chain certainly means that some of our ingredients are less than they would be if we were using first or not leftovers. But I also think that the increased awareness of food waste as a negative environmental impact, in addition to the increased awareness of world hunger, really brought more attention to what we were already doing. And so I would say for us, there’s been an increase in our business activity because of COVID. There’s no one you meet who doesn’t know what food waste is, who doesn’t understand that hunger is a problem, and who doesn’t want to do something positive for the environment.
Ben Achour: Yeah, I mean, it’s work related. Finding workers has also been a challenge for many companies, simply because they need workers, they need help, but at the same time they don’t know where the market is going. And at the same time, it’s hard to find people. And you? Did you have trouble finding people?
Hammond: We had no trouble finding people. I mean, I think what we’re doing is of great interest, not only to young people entering the labor market, but to people who have been in the labor market for a long time and want to do something that has a sense of urgency to it, as our environment certainly does. I think in an interesting way for us, the labor issues faced by our customers have created an opportunity for dialogue with them about the types of products we can manufacture that can help solve some of their issues. labor. So for example in catering the scratch kitchen is great if you have manpower and you have time, but if you have a shortage of manpower you really need to have easier and faster things to do. So we did product development around additional products that can help solve labor issues.
Ben Achour: What’s next for you in terms of growth, especially at a time when people are worried about recession?
Hammond: During a recession, people pay more attention to what they eat and how they spend their money. And so when you have a company that creates products that make work easier and are also good for the environment, which is on everyone’s mind, it kind of focuses on doing less to waste. Sometimes a recession can be good for – a tightening of the belt is not always a bad thing. And I don’t say that without respect for the difficulty it creates in people’s lives, but it does make people think a lot more carefully about their use of resources. And when it comes to environment and food, that’s a good thing.
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