Supporting innovation in food manufacturing

By Ellie Woollven

- Last updated on GMT

Tastemakers: ‘Food manufacturers can be reluctant to take on smaller start-ups. We would appeal to them to be open-minded.’
Tastemakers: ‘Food manufacturers can be reluctant to take on smaller start-ups. We would appeal to them to be open-minded.’
The founders of London-based Tastemakers focus on innovation support in the start-up scene and are finding themselves inundated with requests.

Take two ladies called Lucy, blend in a huge dollop of expertise in food innovation, scatter in some truffle hunting experience in Piedmont... and voilà, Tastemakers is born.

Of course, the creation of the London-based food innovation firm, launched in 2016, wasn’t quite as quick or simple as that. Founders Lucy Ede (pictured right) and Lucy Thomas have a long track record in food innovation, originally meeting when working for Innocent Drinks more than 15 years ago.

“We were part of the innovation team responsible for driving new products within a fast-growing entrepreneurial environment,”​ says Ede. “It was lots of fun and very demanding.”

After leaving Innocent, both Lucys set up separately as freelancers and soon realised there was huge demand for innovation support in the start-up scene. But it was only at the end of 2015 on that truffle-hunting holiday that they decided to join forces “and we’ve never looked back”.

Indeed, since then, the duo have worked for a broad sweep of companies ranging from Soho House to Deliciously Ella and many stages in between.

Broad sweep of companies

“To say it is a great feeling when you see a product you have developed hit the shelves is an understatement,”​ says Ede. “We often pop into the likes of Whole Foods Market and Planet Organic for ingredients, inspiration and competitor samples. Many of our clients launch into these retailers first ... and we are often seen taking ‘shelfies’ and straightening up products on the shelves.”

“We find projects particularly rewarding when the concept, brand, packaging and execution all come together in a unique and innovative way,”​ adds Thomas.

“Examples include the Deliciously Ella energy balls, Indie Bay Snacks and Plenish nut m*lks – these guys are all super-bright, extremely passionate about what they do and great fun to work with.”

The Lucys acknowledge that, in the current environment, a lot of their work is influenced by the health agenda – “from launching the first superfood smoothies with ingredients like acai​ [with Innocent Drinks], which were revolutionary back in the day”.

“Things have really moved on since then and we find ourselves experts in developing products for entrepreneurs who are passionate about making wellness options convenient  and widely available,” ​says Ede. One of their latest projects is with ex-England rugby star Jonny Wilkinson (see box below).

‘A culture of confusion’

However, she says that while consumers are beginning to understand “the ultimate power of foods as a tool to optimise their performance” ​and are seeking “advice from nutritionists, internet research, influencers and the like”, ​there is “a culture of confusion that stems from conflicting regulatory advice, alongside scepticism around wellness trends that lack statistically proven evidence”.

That said, consumers are the “ultimate judge of new products and are excited to support food start-ups, not just for the branding but for the quality of the food and the excitement of innovation”,​ say the Lucys, and this is playing out in the retail environment.

“Retailers such as Sainsbury’s and Waitrose are getting on board and are becoming much more open to listing new brands,”​ says Thomas.

However, they point to a disconnect at the manufacturing end for start-ups. “Food manufacturers are often hard to discover and then can be reluctant to take on smaller start-ups, so it is a very challenging time, especially when free-from and live foods bring operational challenges,”​ says Thomas.

“The manufacturing base currently doesn’t meet the need for the UK start-up scene; we would appeal to manufacturers to be open-minded and consider that some of these new ventures could be the next Innocent Drinks!”

Inspirations and trends

So what of the trends and ingredients that are inspiring the pair? “We are loving the level of creativity in plant-based food that is filtering down from the likes of Matthew Kenney’s Plantlab academy in Los Angeles and on to our retailers’ shelves,”​ says Ede.

“In the US, we saw the new generation of meat alternatives, such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Silicon Valley aims to disrupt America’s meat, egg and dairy industries and we expect to see more of this in the US, which will in turn inspire UK entrepreneurs.

“The most relevant places for food trends are Melbourne (especially for brunch/coffee culture), Tokyo (so much more than sushi), Los Angeles (plant-based food), Boulder (natural food start-ups) and, of course, London – the epicentre for the world’s best restaurants, chefs, food stores and start-ups.”

Other major trends noted by the pair include: changes in shopping habits, “with the likes of Deliveroo, Detox Kitchen and Hello Fresh changing our lives”;​ Instagrammable food with bold colours influencing innovation, from rainbow lattes to black/purple foods, like the Soft Swerve NYC Ube Purple Yam Ice Cream and the black chocolate cone (bit.ly/2L6yLk3); nut butters “tick all the boxes (low sugar, high protein) and are inspiring some cool new foods, like the Pop Chip nutter puffs”; “next-generation sriracha, for example Ssäm sauce – spicy is hot, hot, hot right now​”; and “sustainable food, especially with regards to plastic and ocean health”.

With all this in mind, the Lucys are excited about the future of their business. “Tastemakers has great potential,” ​says Thomas. “We are inundated with requests from large blue-chip corporates to celebrities, established entrepreneurs and eager graduates. At the moment, we are focused on selecting the most exciting projects, that have great people on the team.

“On a near daily basis we are asked if we plan to launch our own range or expand the team. We’ve learned to never say never, but for now, it’s the two Lucys doing what they know and love best.”

New take on tea

Recent Tastemakers clients include ex-England rugby football star Jonny Wilkinson, who approached the duo with a plan to develop a new product beneficial to body and mind.

The result, launched last month, is No.1 Kombucha, a range of fermented tea drinks that are “naturally effervescent and contain real fruit”.

“It was a challenging brief as fermented tea drinks are truly alive,”​ admit the Lucys. “The manufacturing process involves long fermentations that need careful monitoring and adjustments.

“It involved us finding a brewing facility that had the right capabilities and scale-up potential. Working with them on our kitchen concepts to achieve a shelf-stable range has been inspiring.”

No.1 Kombucha, in three flavours – Ginger & Turmeric, Passionfruit, Goji & Raspberry, and Pomegranate & Hibiscus – is sold in 275ml bottles. These launched into Sainsbury’s stores nationally in May. retailing at £1.95.

Related topics: NPD

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