CHICAGO — Shoppers are increasingly seeking to support minority-led brands amid rising awareness about the scope of systemic racism. The pandemic has disproportionately devastated Black-owned businesses, compounding longstanding challenges for entrepreneurs of color.
Jordan Buckner, a Chicago-based food entrepreneur, launched a pair of initiatives last year to help diverse founders gain visibility and access to important resources.
“As a Black founder, I faced many barriers along my journey and realized that the most successful founders already had connections to key people in the industry — advisers, buyers, investors and co-manufacturers,” Mr. Buckner said. “Many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) and women founders don’t have these same connections, creating a challenging gap to overcome.”
He launched Foodbevy.com, an online platform that connects food and beverage entrepreneurs to industry partners, discounts, education and community. The network currently supports 600 founders with access to a directory of more than 2,500 co-manufacturers, retail buyers, investors and other industry contacts.
“I believe that anybody who has a great product idea and a great story of why they’re running a business should be successful,” Mr. Buckner said. “I thought, ‘What can I do to reduce or eliminate those barriers to success?’”
Foodbevy.com hosts webinars tackling topics ranging from developing a business plan to creating marketing content to navigating legal matters. The website also features a series of startup founder profiles and how-to guides for food entrepreneurs.
Brand founders pay a $360 annual fee for a premium membership, and industry partners pay $500 for a directory listing.
“It’s hard to filter and find people who are actually going to help move your business forward,” Mr. Buckner said. “What I hope to do is curate some of those partners, especially in terms of introductions and helping build relationships.”
Another hurdle many entrepreneurs face is building brand awareness in a competitive marketplace, particularly during the pandemic, when sampling opportunities are suspended. Mr. Buckner introduced Good Food Brands to promote discovery of minority-led food and beverage businesses. Subscription boxes are available for $29.99 per month at goodfoodbrands.org and contain seven or eight products that are “good for your taste buds, good for your health, good for the community,” Mr. Buckner said.
“I’ve been in the industry for five years now, and I see so many companies struggling to get their product into the hands of more people because it’s hard and it’s expensive,” Mr. Buckner said. “And there’s a lot of people who want to find great companies, but they don’t necessarily know where to look.”
In honor of Black History Month, the February box contains products made by Black-owned brands, including Yolélé Fonio Chips, featuring flavors rooted in West African cuisine; Paradise Snax Pax, which pairs gluten-free pretzels with plant-based sweet dips; Golden Made Kafe ground coffee blends inspired by American, French and African cultures; and A Dozen Cousins seasoned heat-and-eat beans. Each shipment contains a booklet sharing the stories of the founders, plus discount codes for future orders of the products.
Upcoming boxes will highlight women-owned, Asian-owned and Latinx-owned businesses.
“The February box is all Black-owned brands, but really my goal is to bring awareness to all BIPOC and women founders who are typically underrepresented and undercapitalized in this industry,” Mr. Buckner said.
Five years ago, Mr. Buckner founded TeaSquares, a brand of energy bars infused with organic tea, ashwagandha root and coconut oil. His company employs young adults from underserved communities in the Chicago area.
“I was able to build networks and connections, but I saw other founders around me as well who were not able to and ran into constant problems along the way,” he recalled.
Since the onset of the pandemic, sales have slowed for the business, which primarily supplied product to corporate kitchens prior to widespread office closings. As a result, Mr. Buckner said he has more time to develop and grow Foodbevy and Good Food Brands.
“One thing I hope continues is that people want to support BIPOC- and women-owned companies, but that one day hopefully in the near future we won’t have to highlight the race or gender of the founder just because the diversity will be built into the industry already, and we can just see and talk about the great products that exist because everyone has an equal opportunity,” Mr. Buckner said.