New Hope Network’s Esca Bona conference in Austin, Texas brought together entrepreneurs, technologists, and visionary business leaders from across the country to discuss our food system and explore solutions for shaping the future. Two days of inspiring talks and workshops with fellow changemakers and innovative thought leaders energized Esca Bona participants to be the change they want to see in the food system.
What made the Esca Bona conference unique was a focus on people over products, fostering genuine connections among participants through roundtable discussions, a volunteer service opportunity, and focus groups where participants collaborated to solve real problems faced by emerging brands. As a result, I met the people behind the brands and was inspired by their dedication to creating positive change through great products. Highlighted here are five of the mission-based brands and founders that exemplify the spirit of Esca Bona (Latin for good food) who are driving change with innovative products.
Good Food for Good
Richa Gupta of Good Food for Good was inspired by TOMS’ One for One model to improve the lives of others in a direct and relatable way, and so she endeavored to build a business with a similar structure. Good Food for Good’s Buy One, Feed One mission has provided over 80,000 meals to children in need and aims to make a difference in the lives of 1 million people by 2020. For each unit sold, the Certified B Corporation donates a meal to feed someone in need.
Richa found it challenging to create healthy, good food for her family with her busy schedule, so she created a line of ketchups, cooking sauces, barbeque sauces, and teas that didn’t compromise taste for healthy ingredients. Her date-sweetened ketchup has only 1 g of sugar per tablespoon, compared to 4 g in leading brands. She chose to sweeten the product with dates as they are a whole, minimally processed fruit that is also a healthy source of fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
Following the birth of her son, Brynn Foster saw a need to create allergy-friendly teething biscuits that weren’t overly sweet and lacking in fiber like the products she found available on the market. Her solution came in the form of homemade powder from Hawaiian taro root, and the ingredient also stirred a connection to her own childhood and taro prepared by her grandmother.
Brynn’s connection to Hawaiian culture would become the driving force behind her brand. Voyaging Foods’ baking mixes, bars, and cookies are all centered on Hawaiian-grown heritage canoe plants, such as kalo (taro), ‘uala (sweet potato), and ‘ulu (breadfruit). An advocate for local foods, Brynn sources Hawaiian taro in order to help grow the market for and production of these heritage foods in Hawaii, with a specific goal of doubling the amount land dedicated to growing canoe plants in the state.
Ari Sherman and Jourdan Samel of Evo Hemp are on a dual mission to make hemp products more accessible and affordable to everyone and to revitalize our agricultural economy by bringing high-paying jobs to poor rural communities. Their mission brought them to the Pine Ridge Reservation, which they point out as the poorest place in the United States. There they’ve teamed up with Alex White Plume of the Lakota tribe to cultivate high-quality hemp products and bring the hope of economic prosperity to the Native American peoples in that area.
Evo Hemp has focused on simplifying the supply chain to create premium hemp products at a fraction of the cost, and they put their money where their mission is with a 100%-money-back guarantee. Packed with 12 g of protein from hemp and cashew butter and other plant-based sources, the brand’s Mocha Chip bar is delicious, satisfying, and sweet with only 4 g of sugar.
Monica Martinez’s company Don Bugito, the Prehispanic Snackeria, brings edible insects into the spotlight with planet-friendly protein snacks. Don Bugito’s mission is to feature and share food native to the American content through education and innovative insect products. Their products are inspired by pre-Columbian cuisine and feature insects in their recognizable form along with other traditional ingredients, reviving Mexican ancestral foods. While 80% of the world’s population eats insects, American consumers are less familiar with insects as food, so she focuses on education and conducts workshops on the health benefits and sustainability merits that insects bring.
Don Bugito’s Chile Lime Crickets with Pumpkin Seeds feature toasted whole crickets with just three other ingredients as seasoning. The crickets used to produce this crunchy, satisfying, and sugar-free snack are raised on a non-GMO and organic diet, and the brand also offers other species such as mealworms and superworms in other flavors of sweet and savory snacks, cookies, flours, and traditional sal du gusano (flavored worm salt).
Black Travel Box
Orion Brown, the founder of Black Travel Box, created a hair- and body-care brand with products specifically formulated for women of color and sized for travel. During a trip to Japan, Orion didn’t plan correctly for the weather, and the humidity level ruined her hair for the rest of the trip. She couldn’t find products for her hair type on vacation, and she later realized that too many of her travel photos were taken without her in them due to recurring bad-hair days. To solve this problem, Orion created a line of travel-sized hair- and body-care products, giving women of color a convenient way to look and feel their best on the go.
Black Travel Box uses a combination of natural ingredients and safe synthetics to create high quality products in pocket-friendly, TSA-approved sizes that are also spill-resistant and perfect to take on planes or throw in a gym bag. The brand’s Hair Balm contains nutrient-rich shea butter, mango-seed butter, and natural oils that penetrate the hair to strengthen and protect it.