These Female Execs are Driving Serious Innovation in Specialty Food

This year's Summer Fancy Food Show was jam-packed with must-have specialty products and groundbreaking innovators reimagining the future of food. Foodable welcomed more than 15 innovators to the SFA Live Stage where we dissected some of the industries greatest issues and opportunities. Three innovators stood out from the pack, making major moves in their sectors. These are the Power Women of Specialty Food. Click through the full interviews in the "Featured" gallery below!

Carmel Hagen, Supernatural Foods

Carmel Hagen is innovating in a space that hasn’t really changed much in 50 or so years. Decorative foods like icings and sprinkles are often seen as superfluous, and as such, not much has been done it the space to make them better. But Hagen and Supernatural are working within the niche market to create lines of decorative foods that are free of artificial colors and preservatives.

Consumers have really heralded the movement towards cleaner foods and ingredients over the years. The original demand was directed at supermarkets as consumers looked to better stock their kitchens, but as dining out occasions grow they are demanding better from their restaurants and even their luxurious desserts.

Now, it’s not that changes in this space haven’t been previously attempted. They have. But the decorative space is so heavily reliant on chemicals and artificial ingredients to ensure top performance that many who have tried to improve decorative ingredients have nearly given up. As Hagen explains, it’s difficult to find certain colors in nature and keep them performing under difficult conditions.

“You’re not just talking about making something red. You’re talking about finding that color in nature, figuring out how it works in heat, with light, in a pH stable or not at all kind of way and then really putting that through the paces.”

Hagen wasn’t always in food. She’s spent the last decade of her career in technology before moving over into her passion. That experience seriously shines in her new venture influencing a heavy focus on R&D. It took Supernatural, a company dedicated to putting natural colors and decorative ingredients through the ringer, to create truly high-quality items.

Hagen and her team got started in sprinkles and food colors and now they’re starting to get into piping gels and heat-resistant, plant-based food colors. Foodable is excited to see where this company goes next. 

Elly Truesdell, Canopy Foods

Canopy Foods is a food production studio that functions as both a manufacturer and also as brand support, assisting with things like distribution and fulfillment. 

Cheif Strategy Officer Elly Truesdell has a ton of experience growing food in the incubator space. She sits on the Board of Canopy Foods, acts as a mentor to FOOD-X and Chobani Food Incubator and acts as an advisor to Agbotic, automated Organic soil greenhouses.

In her interview, we dive into Agbotic and its role as an alternative to vertical farming. While aquaponics and vertical farming have been hailed for their efficiency, Truesdell points out her affinity for soil grown foods due to nutrient density and a return to traditional farming.

In dissecting the many projects she works on, Truesdell focuses on her dedication to enhancing the products she works with, rather than simply churning them out at a high speed.

“There was that moment of a lot of tech inserting itself into food and I think after a few years of that people have started to realize that you don’t want to put the tech in food, you want to put tech in all the sort of areas around it, the infrastructure, the support system, but specialty food should be maintained as it is.”

Food is now receiving an influx of capital, especially from venture capitalists and big names in food like Tyson. This is giving a number of smaller businesses the ability to reach their lofty goals and change the face of food.

Joanne Lacina, Sun Grove Foods and OliveOilLovers.com

Joanne Lacina is what you would call a sommelier of olive oil. The Vice President of Sun Grove Foods, Lacina is responsible for importing and packaging specialty olive oils from around the world so that restaurants and chefs can get their hands on the best oils from around the globe.

At this year's Summer Fancy Food Show, Lacina was a contestant in the Front Burner Competition where she pitched her newest offering, olive oil pearls, to a panel of experts.

Aside from its pleasing visual, the pearls provide a culinary experience like no other. Olive oil pearls give chefs a new texture to work with and consumers a new experience with a long-loved product.

In addition to sharing the new pearl product with our team, Lacina dives into the expansive world of olive oil, discussing the many varietals from the many regions in which olives are grown.

“What you look for when you’re tasting an olive oil is a harmony in the bitterness, pungency, and fruitiness of the oil. Does it just feel harmonious on the palate,” Lacina explains.

Chefs often look for 2 types of olive oils in their concepts: one for cooking and liberal use, and another for finishing, dipping, and drizzling. And while chefs are, of course, looking to lower their food costs, Lacina points out that there are many top quality oils that won’t break your budget.

Lacina just launched a new wholesale, e-commerce platform to better service chefs and restaurants across the country. OliveOilLovers.com allows users across the country to browse and learn about hundreds of different olive oils and purchase them directly. Distribution of specialty olive oils has been a pain point for chefs because large-scale distributors wont source a product that only one chef will purchase. Now chefs can get top-quality specialty oils, upping their value.