UT Food Lab Hosts Innovative Food Competition

Rund Khayyat

Presenting ideas ranging from cricket protein granola to edible bags to jam made from discarded fruit, twenty teams from around the nation showcased their food innovations Saturday at the first business start-up competition hosted by the UT Food Lab. 

The competition, hosted in the Norman Hackerman building, encouraged improvement within the global food system by focusing on four categories: inputs and production, processing, packaging and safety, storage and distribution and healthy eating and nutrition, said Robyn Metcalfe, director of the Food Lab.

“We believe the topic of food is a global one,” Metcalfe said. “Even if we work hard to create change within our communities, they are all ultimately intertwined.”

Metcalfe founded the Food Lab in 2012 in the School of Human Ecology. The lab supports innovation and entrepreneurship in food and engages in research on global food systems. A global food system consists of all processes and infrastructures related to feeding a population.

Jack Ceadel, top 10 finalist and co-founder of granola maker Hopper Foods, said the competition is essential because people do not understand how fragile the U.S. food system is.

“We are reliant on huge amounts of food moved across long distances.” Ceadel said. “This is not sustainable. We have got to eat more locally and waste less.”

More than 120 registrants entered the competition. Food entrepreneurs and prominent thinkers in the food industry mentored the twenty finalists for 13 weeks before the showcase.

The top 10 teams, then presented to a panel of judges for the $10,000 grand prize or one of four $5,000 category prizes. The grand prize winner was Ten Acre Organics, a high-tech farm model that could be replicated around the world.

Zoe Wong, a top 20 finalist and co-founder of jam maker Revive Foods, said the mentors made the most significant impact on her experience. 

“As a startup business owner, the best advice they gave me was to always be open to feedback and possibilities,” Wong said. “I already know we are going to stay in touch with them after the competition.”

According to Metcalfe, Austin’s rich food culture and proximity to University resources make it a good location to host the competition.

“What I see here is a community that is very engaged with sharing ideas with one another and very collaborative,” Metcalfe said. “It is small enough to be accessible, willing to take risks and to keep reinventing itself.”