Executive Perspective

Turning Waste Into Food: A Conversation with Matriark Foods Founder Anna Hammond

Matriark Foods founder Anna Hammond shares insights into the upcycled supply chain and how her company turns what was previously wasted into nutritious food.
Neha Ghai
May 31, 2023

Anna Hammond

Founder and CEO

Matriark Foods repurposes imperfect byproducts and salvages food produce from farmers converting them into saleable shelf edibles, helping to mitigate climate change and improve consumer dietary wellness. 

Shoppers increasingly prioritize health and sustainable diets, and the upcycled food market is projected to grow by a compounded annual rate of 6.2% from 2022 to 2031. The industry utilizes modern technology to transform surplus, byproducts and wasted food ingredients into safe and nutritious food products. By repurposing these ingredients, the upcycled food industry meets the growing consumer demand for climate-conscious products. Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, this industry has not only survived but flourished as consumers seek ethical and socially impactful products that prioritize sustainability and eco-friendliness.

In this exclusive interview, Grocery Doppio and Anna Hammond discuss Matriark Foods and its vision, supply chain sourcing, food sustainability, and overall impact on the grocery industry.

Grocery Doppio: Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to start the company. 

Hammond: After working for many years in the nonprofit sector, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a group of farmers in upstate New York who had excess produce going to waste and needed additional income. At the same time, I was running a healthy eating program for youth and families in public housing in New York City, where there was a high demand for nutritious food. Experiencing and witnessing this, I sensed a tremendous opportunity to create a business that could divert waste from landfills, generate additional revenue for farmers, and provide healthy products for those who needed them most. This perspective allowed me to approach the challenge with fresh eyes and an open mind. And so, I launched Matriark, driven by a passion for sustainability and a commitment to creating positive change.

Grocery Doppio: Matriark Foods is an exciting name. How did you come up with it. 

Hammond: I'm a matriarch; I have three sons and four grandchildren. Undertaking the process while naming my company, my children suggested it should include some version of "mother." My two grandmothers were an influential inspiration to me, one of whom grew up on an Iowa farm and the other who came to the United States as a political refugee. They were strong people with a strong sense of family and a belief in not wasting anything. If they were alive, they would be shocked to discover a need for a business in food upcycling. Matriarchs have historically done well for their families and communities, and when women are presented with an opportunity to build businesses, it tends to lift the community. I wanted to honor all of these things, and the name "Matriark" seemed obvious. The twist at the end with the 'ark' refers to Noah's Ark and the idea of people coming together during an environmental crisis. Although I'm not religious, I find biblical stories great parables.

Grocery Doppio: Tell us a bit about the upcycling supply chain dynamics. Where do you source upcycled food?

Hammond: Matriark has developed a new supply chain that adheres to USDA and FDA food safety and compliance requirements to ensure the safety of the food. Due to inefficiencies in food systems, the process has been laborious. Matriark collaborates with various suppliers, including large food manufacturing vegetable facilities, aggregators of produce, and small- to mid-scale farmers to collect off-spec produce and remnants. Our team works closely with suppliers to reclassify and re-systematize food to transform them into shelf-stable products. We have developed sourcing and moving systems for this food.

Grocery Doppio: What is the company's marketing strategy, and how do you plan to expand your customer base?

Hammond: Matriark initially focused on food service, where more than half of the meals in the U.S. are consumed, including hospitals, businesses, schools, and other institutions. As a value-driven company, we aim to make the most significant impact in the shortest possible time. We sold our first product in pallets in March 2020, but the pandemic caused the food service industry to shut down. However, Matriark adapted and formed partnerships to distribute cartons of our vegetable concentrate that were distributed to frontline workers. Matriark was also invited to join the Kroger Zero Waste Zero Hunger program and won the peer-selected prize. Encouraged by colleagues, we entered the retail market, despite concerns about high costs and slow customer acquisition. The company developed three retail products, launched at Expo East in September 2022, and Whole Foods picked up the products within the first hour. They were established in one store in January and are now available in more than 50 stores in the northeast and are getting picked up by independent grocers. The company has received media coverage from multiple outlets and plans to expand its retail offerings while growing its food service operations. Matriark's focus on promoting climate-friendly food has been well-received by consumers and contributed to our success.

Grocery Doppio: In your opinion, what are the emerging trends for upcycled foods in the grocery industry?

Hammond: Grocers are eagerly anticipating the rise of climate-friendly food products, named as one of the top 10 trends for 2022-2023 by Whole Foods and Forbes. Consumers and investors are driving the demand for sustainability, and companies like Matriark, which offers upcycled grocery items, are generating a lot of buzz in the industry. Gen Z, Millennials, and Baby Boomer consumers are becoming more aware of the impact of their choices on the environment and are increasingly seeking sustainable options. These products are snacks and everyday cooking items that can make a big difference in mitigating climate change. By promoting sustainability, businesses can also create opportunities for farmers, reduce waste in landfills, and benefit in many ways. Matriark is a certified women-owned company, adding another significant layer to its mission. 

Grocery Doppio: How can Matriark convince a section of traditional users to adopt upcycled food, given the perception of safety risks?

Hammond: There is a common misconception that upcycled food poses a safety risk; however, that is not true. Any individual or company producing food for public consumption in the United States must comply with the USDA and FDA's rigorous safety standards. The paperwork and regulations involved in this process are extensive and leave no room for safety concerns. The practice of salvaging food remnants to be sustainable is eons old; however, aided with modern technology, it has become more efficient. More than a safety risk, it's a perception risk; incorporating upcycled certified and carbon-neutral products into your everyday cooking can positively impact the environment. By making a conscious effort to support sustainable practices, we can all play a role in making the world a better place.

Grocery Doppio: According to recent Grocery Doppio research, online grocery platforms report that profitability is their number one problem; how can your company help increase digital profitability?

Hammond: Upcycled food is priced similarly to any other food product. While the inputs may be cheaper due to the use of upcycled materials, the narrow margins in the food industry make it difficult to pass on these savings to consumers. However, there are ways to reduce costs and promote sustainability in the distribution process. One promising solution is to transition to renewable energy in the distribution process. 

For example, using electric trucks instead of traditional vehicles can significantly reduce transportation costs. More distributors using renewable energy sources can also lead to lower costs and a reduced environmental impact. If more distributors adopt renewable energy sources, the overall distribution cost will decrease, benefiting producers and consumers. It is essential to recognize that the environmental impact of transportation and delivery is significant.

Grocery Doppio: What were some challenges you faced launching the company? How did you overcome them?

Hammond: The challenges faced by any startup include raising funds to get started and bringing products to market. It takes a lot of determination and grit to build a successful company. Initially, the biggest challenge for upcycling was defining what it meant. However, the creation of the Upcycled Food Association and the certification process have helped to establish it as a recognized concept. Matriark was one of the founding members of the Upcycled Food Association. Additionally, since we were launched in the pandemic, sudden disruption of the food industry, delays and deliveries, and unexpected issues have made for challenges that we have overcome.

 Grocery Doppio: Who are some of your key clients? Can you share any success stories?

Hammond: One big success for our company is the incredible story of our launch with Whole Foods. It's a fast-paced, immediate, and exciting story for everyone involved. Being taken up by one of the premier grocers in the nation, who also shares our values, has been incredibly validating. Our partnership has been exceptional. Also, people should understand that gaining traction with major food service providers is a huge deal. These gigantic companies move very slowly, and innovation can often take years. We've identified some incredible champions who are also impatient with the need to change, and thus we've gained traction with early adopters. This is encouraging, both from an impact perspective and a business perspective. As more people become conscious of making climate-friendly choices, we can collaborate to develop improved food systems benefitting the ecosystem, particularly farmers who deserve fair compensation and support for sustainable agriculture, not only within our own country but globally.

Grocery Doppio: What is your company's competitive advantage? What makes it stand out from others?

Hammond: Matriark is a growing brand that represents change and authenticity. Already, people have heard of us, associate Matriark with sound food systems, and a 21st-century brand that is honest and does what it says it's going to do. This much public traction at such an early stage from a perception, perspective is tough to compete with. Another competitive advantage is that we prioritize building genuine relationships and trust with our manufacturers. Our unique supply chain and valued partnerships set us apart, as we're dedicated to creating positive change and uplifting society. We aim to drive momentum around climate-friendly products and encourage everyone to join us in this mission. 

Grocery Doppio: How would you define the problem of sustainability vs. profitability, especially in the context of inflation and rising prices?

Hammond: Marrying sustainability and food production is a crucial matter of survival. With inflation driving food prices, companies in the upcycled space must collaborate with large manufacturers to scale production. They are effectively reducing the costs of goods sold (COGS), ultimately leading to more affordable food prices. Distribution is another crucial factor to consider, as it adds up to 25% of the cost of food. A critical necessity often overlooked is the distribution system; transportation is vital for food systems. It is essential to consider how we move food and the energy used. By increasing sustainable transport, we can benefit the environment and reduce costs.

Grocery Doppio: What does the future hold for the company?

Hammond: Matriark is building a 21st-century brand that everyone can trust. We are developing new products by building our supply chain for potential opportunities. We have some exciting plans in the pipeline for the upcoming year, including launching with Vizient, the largest provider of hospital food in the U.S. We have a new partnership with Guckenheimer launching soon as well. And we're always working with the Upcycled Food Association to further the call to action for consumers to buy more upcycled food and influence grocers to have climate-friendly aisles. We're working to urge everyone to take action and ask grocery store managers to make it easier to find climate-friendly products in stores.

Grocery Doppio: How will the grocery upcycling industry evolve in 5-10 years? How does Matriark Foods' vision fit into this?

Hammond: Presently, more than 250 companies are participating in the upcycled certification process, augmenting the growing needs of the industry in a new category to meet the consumer demand for climate-friendly food. When the organization started a few years ago, there were only eight of us. Being certified allows for transparency and authenticity in the process. The market has grown over 1000% since the association's founding, and the largest grocery stores in the United States have named it a top 10 trend. 

In terms of engagement, it's a partnership between the companies creating the new category and the grocery stores that can guide their customers into purchasing more climate-friendly food. There's an alignment because grocery stores must also start paying attention to their Scope 3 Emissions and answering the consumer demand to get more climate-friendly products on their shelves. 

Grocery Doppio: How do you measure your company's success and impact on food waste? Are there any specific metrics you follow?

Hammond: At Matriark, our products are certified upcycled, which means that at least 10% of the ingredients in each product are certified upcycled. In addition, we conduct a complete lifecycle analysis of our products with Planet FWD and pay carbon credits.

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