Although COVID-19 has affected every industry, food and agriculture have been hit disproportionately hard. Prior to the pandemic, more than 50% of food was consumed outside the home. Then, suddenly, everything changed, forcing food and ag enterprises of all types to pivot their business models and find creative ways to weather the disruption.
Some businesses haven’t made it. Others, buoyed by the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) or other assistance, have barely eked by. Others yet have experienced a pandemic sales boom and will emerge from this crisis stronger than before.
Well, what happens now? The pandemic isn’t quite over, and its fallout—broken supply chains, worker shortages, ingredient scarcity, inflation—will plague the food industry for some time. However, many aspects of daily life have regained some “normalcy.” And as many food and ag entrepreneurs are discovering, their pandemic pivots may in fact be their new normal (or close to it). So, what will it take to keep these enterprises funded and flourishing well beyond the COVID-19 era?
In the latest Edible-Alpha® podcast, FFI founder Tera Johnson lays out the biggest financing gaps and opportunities today. But first, she reminds us that money always follows a business model, meaning you can’t know what type of financing you need until you’ve hammered out your business model. This point is critical. Because if a business model pivots, as so many have during the pandemic, the type of capital needed now could be different than the type needed two years ago.
For most food brands, however, the predominant need remains the same: working capital, which, ironically, can be the toughest to get. Tera says that prior to the pandemic, it had become easy for brands to get onto retail shelves, but difficult to move off them. Therefore, brands needed to raise money for promotions but were struggling to do so without giving away equity.
COVID-19 has only exacerbated the issue. In response to consumers favoring familiar brands and stockpiling staples, as well as distribution bottlenecks hindering product availability, retailers shrunk their selections and eliminated entire departments, leaving many small brands in the lurch. Of course, plenty of brands have survived, even thrived, by ramping up direct-to-consumer e-commerce. But to remain successful going forward, especially as the retail landscape keeps evolving, brands still need working capital. One option is to secure a guaranteed loan, such as a Small Business Administration 7(a), which can be used for short- and long-term working capital.
For many farms, on the other hand, their capital requirements have changed. Because they’ve pivoted to direct-to-consumer or retail sales, they now require the same kind of capital as brands do—although working capital can be even tougher for farms to get. Ag lenders typically don’t work with SBA or understand farms’ brand-building needs. Plus, with agriculture struggling across the board, lenders have tightened their pocketbooks.
However, unlike food brands, farms have access to USDA value-added producer grants (VAPG). This program has evolved and is intended to be used for packaging, labeling, promotions and other needs that can’t be backed by collateral.
As for food hubs, public markets and other food system–related operations, Tera says more financing opportunities are arising. Many municipalities, counties and states now understand that a vibrant local food ecosystem can be a vital economic development engine, so there are more public grants, tax incentives and loan programs available. Philanthropic foundations are also increasingly interested in supporting local food endeavors for their economic, environmental and social impacts.
Need help determining which type of financing your business needs? Want to learn how to raise that money? Get this guidance and more from our Raising Equity Immersion Training coming up next week!
The latest Edible-Alpha® podcast turns the tables, with interim FFI director Sarah Larson interviewing FFI founder Tera Johnson, who is moving on to lead Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT. Learn how Tera got FFI off the ground, developed a solid business model, grew the organization’s impact and cultivated an expert team to continue FFI’s invaluable work. Also hear her take on current financing gaps and opportunities for food and farm businesses, and learn about her next endeavor.
And now, our roundup of the best food and beverage finance news, events and resources from around the web…
Business Model Insights
- Engaging NGOs as a strategic business partner (Natural Products Insider)
While NGO partners can aid food companies’ cause-marketing campaigns or simply receive their philanthropic donations, partnering with NGOs on a deeper level can help brands achieve their long-term sustainability or purpose-driven business goals.
- Fight climate change, food waste with data-driven solutions (New Hope Network)
- 3 ways discipline can increase long-term success (New Hope Network)
- ESG is under attack, and that’s a good thing (GreenBiz)
The sustainable investing space has faced scrutiny recently, with regulators, media and NGOs calling many corporate claims and investment funds exaggerated or even fraudulent. But ESG professionals welcome such critiques, believing they could ultimately help ESG evolve and carry greater impact.
- Acumen’s new ag fund ushers commercial capital to farmers’ fight against climate change (AgFunder News)
- Females at the Forefront of Farmland Investment: Meet the Women Taking the Reins at Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT (Raising Regenerative News)
- Plant-based food brands need to prioritize emotion over function (Fast Company)
Plant-based foods have already won over people who aren’t eating meat for ideological reasons. To expand its consumer base, it needs to try something else.
- Food and beverage companies have room to grow on diversity goals, study finds (Food Dive)
- Promotions slowly return, but many retailers, brands fail to connect efficiently with consumers (FoodNavigator-USA)
- Shoppers are redefining what wellness means to them (Supermarket News)
Consumers are doubling down on their commitment to health and wellness with functional ingredients, performance nutrition products and low- or no-alcohol beverages
- Animal welfare, organic claims are increasing in the meat, dairy cases – bringing higher sales (FoodNavigator-USA)
- Fresh vs. frozen: The future of fresh in a changing competitive landscape (Deloitte Insights)
Farming and AgTech
- A recipe for fighting climate change and feeding the world (The Washington Post)
Scientists hope a new kind of perennial grain, Kernza, offers a taste of what environmentally friendly farming could look like.
- USDA Rolling Out New Insurance Policies for Small Farmers (Modern Farmer)
- Organic Certification Costs: Small Investment for Greater Profit (Rodale Institute Blog)
- After ‘Shark Tank’ Rebuff, Healthy Chocolate Milk Startup Slate Closes $5 Million Seed Round (Forbes)
With 300% sales growth from 2020 to 2021, Slate has proven that the Sharks’ tepid feedback in 2019 didn’t stop consumers from trying—and loving—its lactose-free, ultra-filtered milk product.
- Ardent Mills to buy gluten-free Firebird Artisan Mills (Food Dive)
- HumanCo Raises $35 Million In Star-Studded Round, Acquires Vermont Baker Against The Grain (Forbes)
- National Organic Standards Board Fall Meeting: 10/13–10/21
- Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo: 10/16–10/19
- Edible-Alpha® Immersion Training: Raising Equity: 10/18–10/22
- FFI Webinar: Enhancing Farm Revenue with Conservation Practices and Ecosystem Services: 10/26
- American Food Manufacturing Summit: 11/16–11/18
- SupplySide West/Food ingredients North America: 10/25–10/28 in Las Vegas, NV
- Soil Health Academy: Transitional Regenerative Dairying: 10/26–10/28 in Loganton, PA
- IBIEducate 2021: 10/26–10/28 in Kansas City, MO
- PMA Fresh Summit: 10/28–10/30 in New Orleans, LA
- MOSES New Farmer U: 10/29–10/30 in Willow River, MN
- Process Expo: 11/2–11/5 in Chicago, IL
- Digital Food & Beverage: 11/10–11/12 in Austin, TX
- Sustainable Agriculture Conference: 11/13–11/15 in Durham, NC
- PLMA Private Label Trade Show: 11/14–11/16 in Chicago, IL
- Nutrition Capital Network Fall Investor Meeting: 11/16–11/17 in San Francisco, CA (virtual hybrid event)
- Food as Medicine Summit: Bay Area: 11/17–11/18 in San Mateo, CA
- Iowa Organic Conference: 11/28–11/29 in Iowa City, IA
- NOSH Live Winter: 11/30–12/1 in Santa Monica, CA
- Midwest Food Products Association 2021 Annual Convention & Processing Crops Conference: 11/30–12/2 in Wisconsin Dells, WI
- Organic & Non-GMO Forum: 12/1–12/2 in Minneapolis, MN
- Organic Grower Summit: 12/1–12/2 in Monterey, CA
- BevNET Live Winter 2021: 12/6–12/7 in Santa Monica, CA
- CSS & Seed Expo: 12/6–12/9 in Chicago, IL
- Intertribal Agriculture Council Annual Conference: 12/7–12/9 in Las Vegas, NV