Food+City is an organization which aims to inspire fresh perspectives on food distribution networks, and motivate actions to enhance food system sustainability on local and global scales. Food+City’s first project is the Challenge Prize, an international competition for business startups which encourages innovation in urban food systems. Food Tank had the opportunity to interview Dr. Robyn Metcalfe, the Director of Food+City.
Food Tank (FT): What motivated you to focus on urban food systems and develop Food+City?
Robyn Metcalfe (RM): For the past five years, our work focused on food, cities, and innovation. We found that the existing conversation about the relationship of food to cities left out the middle part, the “to” in farm-to-table—food distribution. I was motivated by the reality that food distribution is one of the greatest roadblocks in feeding cities efficiently and it is also a ripe area for improvement. By identifying the opportunities and threats that exist and then offering solutions, we can have a real impact on feeding more people better food with less waste.
FT: What are the greatest challenges facing urban food systems?
RM: We feel that food distribution is among the most significant challenges. By reimagining how we feed cities, we know that there will be a reduction in food waste and more people will be fed where and when they need food.
FT: How do you increase food system awareness and education?
RM: We invite entrepreneurs around the world to submit their business ideas for our annual Food+City Challenge Prize. We engage with them, learn from them, share resources, and challenge this group to be smarter and, therefore, more successful with their business ideas. We publish an annual print magazine and an online magazine that shares original content from writers around the world who tell stories about how food travels to cities, revealing opportunities for innovation.
FT: How do you see urban food systems evolving over the next five years?
RM: More food will flow to cities in smaller “servings” with smart packaging, personalized to fit individual nutritional needs and at a faster pace.
FT: How can for-profit entrepreneurship and social good be combined most effectively to ensure one does not come at the cost of the other?
RM: We feel that the model of needed tradeoffs is outdated; doing “good” and being profitable are both part of a good business model. Whether you call it “conscious capitalism” or just good business, we assume that profit and social good is the new norm for our economy.
FT: What do you look for in a food startup?
RM: We consider all aspects of the business. Some criteria for evaluation include a company's probability of success, which includes risk management and growth and their competence, or whether the company has the skills and temperaments needed for a startup. We also consider a company's marketing plan, or whether it has knowledge of the competition, customer base, barriers to entry, and a clear idea of the problem to be solved. The financial plan is also essential, so we look at whether the company has a clear business proposition supported by a substantial cost and revenue analysis for at least five years out or whether they have identified funding sources. Other considerations include whether the company has a clear understanding of the relevant supply chain, whether it has knowledge of applicable federal, state, and local regulations such as USDA, FDA, and EPA, and whether the owners can describe the value that the product or service offers the customer and how they differentiate.
FT: What are your goals for Food+City in 2016?
RM: Food+City is expanding our annual Challenge Prize event into a year-round experience that engages companies, entrepreneurs, and students to work together in solving some of the critical issues facing our global food supply chain. You’ll see this manifest through an online networking platform, storytelling on our website, annual print magazine, and both online and offline events. We look forward to leveraging our partnership with Food Tank to help build a better future.