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Cell-Cultured Protein: Regulatory Considerations and Opportunities

Cell-Cultured Protein: Regulatory Considerations and Opportunities

Written By: Eve Pelonis, Natalie Rainer, and Connie Potter; Keller and Heckman, LLP

At the forefront of current food innovation and technology is the “cell-cultured protein” sector (also described as “cultured,” “cell-based,” “cultivated,” “lab-grown,” and “in vitro”). Cell-cultured protein technology essentially entails growing protein cells in a growth medium under controlled conditions. Manufacturers across the globe are rushing to culture proteins that have a taste, texture, and nutrition profile that is indistinguishable from their animal-based counterparts. With products ranging from beef to yellowtail to foie gras to lobster, the cell-cultured protein industry has the potential to revolutionize the food and agriculture industries.

While Singapore has taken an early lead in terms of regulatory approvals by becoming the first nation to approve a cell-based protein, the United States is poised to be a fertile ground for the growth of the cell-cultured protein industry. Below we discuss the future regulation of this industry in the U.S., what information will likely be required to seek regulatory approvals from the relevant regulatory agencies, and issues related to the labeling and marketing of cell-cultured proteins in the U.S.

To set the backdrop for the discussion below, we first discuss the basics of cell-based protein technology: biopsy, cell banking, growth, harvest, and food processing. After collecting a tissue sample from an animal in a biopsy, a laboratory team selects the cells with the most desirable traits and adds them to a cell bank. The selected cells are then multiplied using a bioreactor. The bioreactor uses a growth medium and controlled conditions to create an ideal environment for growing cells, which often grow attached to a scaffold or like structure that helps the cells grow in the proper pattern to create a finished product. Once a sufficient number of cells have accumulated, producers harvest the cells from the growth medium and bioreactor, either detaching the cells from the scaffold structure or removing the cells and scaffold together if the scaffold is edible. The cells are then prepared into a finished food product, often by blending the meat cells with a fat to create, for instance, a ground beef patty or meatball. With this background in mind, we discuss the regulatory framework for evaluating this technology, followed by potential labeling issues, below.

Regulatory Status of Cell-Cultured Protein Products in the United States

As the two agencies that oversee the safety of the U.S. food supply, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) have both asserted regulatory authority over cell-cultured meats. Generally, USDA is responsible for oversight of meat, poultry, processed egg products, and catfish, while FDA oversees virtually all other domestic and imported foods, including all seafood products, sold in the U.S. In 2018, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and FDA hosted the first of several public meetings on cell-culture technology and discussed potential hazards, oversight considerations, and product labeling.

Following additional public comment periods, the agencies issued a formal interagency agreement in March 2019 that set out their respective roles in the oversight of cell-cultured meat products based on their respective strengths and expertise. Per the formal agreement, FDA will oversee the cell culturing process for meat and poultry products until the harvest stage, including cell collection and the development and maintenance of cell banks, and FDA will retain sole jurisdiction over seafood. Facilities will need to comply with FDA food safety requirements, including food facility registration, hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls (HARPC), and current Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). Following harvest of cells from bioreactors, USDA assumes regulatory authority and is responsible for inspection of the meat cells and finished products derived from livestock and poultry under its authority from the Federal Meat Inspection Act and Poultry Products Inspection Act. FDA and USDA have agreed to collaborate to develop a more detailed joint framework on standard operating procedures, product labeling, and other issues. However, aside from FDA’s issuance of a Request for Information regarding the labeling of foods containing cell-cultured seafood products, as of the date of this publication, neither agency has published further details on these initiatives.

Industry is concerned by the lack of additional action on the part of FDA and USDA. In October 2020, the Alliance for Meat, Poultry, and Seafood Innovation joined the North American Meat Institute in urging FSIS to issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to initiate an

information collection process. The agencies have expressed a great deal of interest in collaborating with cell-cultured meat producers, but companies appear to be reluctant to participate, perhaps given the highly-confidential processes and proprietary information at stake.

Visit CLFP.com or cal (916) 640-8150

Where to Go from Here?

Cell-cultured meat products could pose safety concerns unique from those in traditional meat production. In fact, the technology is so new that it remains unclear just how FDA and USDA will approach the specifics of approving cell-cultured foods. The concerns highlighted in an April 2020 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) included the potential use of antibiotics at the cell growth stage and potentially new safety issues unique to this new technology (e.g., residues or constituents not seen in conventional meat or other foods). We expect regulators to evaluate the safety of cell-cultured proteins from all angles: microbial contaminants, cell growth media, scaffolding ingredients, bioreactors, etc. All inputs and impurities of potential concern will be explored.

While industry’s hesitation to be among the first in line to approach regulators is understandable, stakeholders should also recognize that there is an opportunity to be among the first to drive the dialogue, to focus regulators on specific issues, and to be the first entrants into the U.S. market. The more the agencies know about the process, the better they can create a regulatory framework that will most accurately capture the way the industry operates. 

Use of the Term “Meat” and Other Labeling Concerns

Another murky legal and regulatory area facing the cell-cultured protein industry is the marketing of cell-cultured protein products and in particular the naming of such products. Some current contenders for naming cell-cultured products include terms like “clean,” which critics argue reflects a bias for or against other products and affect how they are perceived in the market.

While both USDA and FDA are aware of this labeling question, neither entity has proposed a regulatory solution. Various pieces of legislation have been introduced (but have not passed) in Congress that seek to clarify when a “meat,” “milk” or other traditional term can be used, generally restricting such term to products from traditionally-raised livestock or requiring that non-traditional products use the term “imitation” in their product identity statement. 

Perhaps because of the lack of action by Congress or federal agencies, several states—including Arkansas, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming—have passed laws restricting use of the term “meat” on cell-cultured meat or plant-based meat alternative products. Many of these laws have been challenged in court by companies in the meat-alternative space that argue the laws violate the First Amendment by limiting speech and are not necessary to protect the public from potentially misleading information in addition to being overbroad and impeding competition in the marketplace. Results of the suits have varied, with some successes for the meat alternative industry. For example, while an Arkansas federal district court granted a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of a state law that restricted the use of meat claims on plant-based products in 2019—finding that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on their First Amendment claims, a federal district court in Oklahoma upheld a similar challenge to a state law that required a disclaimer on plant-based foods using a meat term in the product identity statement. 

* * *

Cell-cultured products will be ready to enter the market soon, and USDA and FDA will need to act quickly to create a framework that manufacturers can work with if they want to assert leadership in this space. Even if cell-cultured meat products can overcome regulatory hurdles and enter the market, several recently-published studies show consumers may not yet be willing to embrace cell-cultured meat as an alternative to traditional meat products because of concerns over taste, food safety, and lack of knowledge about the process. Manufacturers will need to focus on consumer outreach and launch education initiatives to garner an understanding of their products to be successful.

(1) Cultured Meat: Shaping the Future of Foods, Keller and Heckman LLP (Feb. 1, 2021), https://www.khlaw.com/insights/cultured-meat-shaping-future-foods. Cell-culturing technology could be an intriguing option for countries like Singapore with limited capabilities for livestock production that seek to produce more food domestically. Other countries have frameworks in place to review cell-cultured products but have not yet approved any. In the European Union, cell-cultured meat products must be assessed as a novel food by the European Food Safety Authority under Regulation (EU) 2015/2283. Australia and New Zealand’s food regulatory agency, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, has a premarket approval system in place that would similarly encompass new cell-cultured products. Cell Based Meat, Food Standards Australia New Zealand https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/generalissues/Pages/Cell-based-meat.aspx (last visited Feb. 14, 2020).

(2) U.S. Gov’t Accountability Off., GAO-20-325, Food Safety: FDA and USDA Could Strengthen Existing Efforts to Prepare for Oversight of Cell-Cultured Meat 9–11 (2020), https://www.gao.gov/assets/710/705768.pdf.

(3) Technology is still improving to create more structured meat products, such as a filet. Aleph Farms, an Israeli start-up, recently announced it had developed a ribeye steak using bioprinting technology. Aleph Farms and The Technion Reveal World’s First Cultivated Ribeye Steak, Cision PR Newswire (Feb. 9, 2021), https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/aleph-farms-and-the-technion-reveal-worlds-first-cultivated-ribeye-steak-301224800.html. 

(4) Recordings of each USDA-FDA Joint Public Meetings are linked at FDA’s Food Made with Cultured Animal Cells page, https://www.fda.gov/food/food-ingredients-packaging/food-made-cultured-animal-cells.

(5) Formal Agreement Between FDA and USDA Regarding Oversight of Human Food Produced Using Animal Cell Technology Derived from Cell Lines of USDA-amenable Species, FDA (March 7, 2019), https://www.fda.gov/food/domestic-interagency-agreements-food/formal-agreement-between-fda-and-usda-regarding-oversight-human-food-produced-using-animal-cell.

(6) See FDA Seeks Input on Labeling of Food Made with Cultured Seafood Cells, FDA (Oct. 6, 2020), https://www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-seeks-input-labeling-food-made-cultured-seafood-cells. The Senate has twice introduced bills aimed at moving the regulatory process forward by formalizing the USDA/FDA formal agreement and prescribing a timeline for the agencies to promulgate regulations. See Food Safety Modernization for Innovative Technologies Act, S. 3053, 116th Cong. (2019), https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/3053 (codifying the division of authority for cell-cultured products between USDA and FDA as set forth in their 2019 formal agreement, providing guidelines for inspection of cell-cultured meat production facilities, and creating labeling guidelines specific to cell-cultured meat products); Cell-Cultured Meat and Poultry Regulation Act of 2019, S. 1056, 116th Cong. (2019), https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/1056 (codifying the USDA/FDA 2019 formal agreement and giving the agencies eighteen months to promulgate regulations regarding inspection frequency of relevant facilities and labeling guidelines).

(7) Meat Institute and AMPS Innovation Send Joint Letter to USDA on Mandatory Labeling for Cell-Based/Cultured Meat & Poultry Products, North American Meat Institute (Oct. 19, 2020), https://www.meatinstitute.org/ht/display/ReleaseDetails/i/180624/pid/287.

(8) U.S. Gov’t Accountability Off., supra note 2, at 8.

(9) See id.

(10) The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association submitted a petition to USDA in February 2018 requesting the agency limit the term “beef” to products from traditionally-harvested livestock, and the petition received over 6000 comments, but USDA has not moved on the issue to date. See Petition for the Imposition of Beef and Meat Labeling Requirements: To Exclude Products Not Derived Directly from Animals Raised and Slaughtered from the Definition of “Beef” and “Meat”, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (Feb. 9, 2018), https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/e4749f95-e79a-4ba5-883b-394c8bdc97a3/18-01-Petition-US-Cattlement-Association020918.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.

(11) See, e.g., Food Safety Modernization for Innovative Technologies Act, supra note 6; Cell-Cultured Meat and Poultry Regulation Act, supra note 6; Real Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully Act of 2019, H.R. 4881, 116th Cong., https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/4881/all-info.

(12) Elaine Watson, ‘Highly disingenuous…’ Plant-based labeling battle heats up as more states challenge use of meat, dairy terms, Food Navigator-USA (Feb. 3, 2021), https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2021/02/03/Highly-disingenuous-Plant-based-labeling-battle-heats-up-as-more-states-challenge-use-of-meat-dairy-terms?utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=03-Feb-2021.

(13) Turtle Island Foods SPC v. Soman, 424 F. Supp. 3d 552, 571 (E.D. Ark. 2019) (finding a state law that prohibits plant-based meat alternative products from using terms such as “burger,” “sausage,” and “roast,” even if the product identity statement contains a disclaimer phrase such as “plant-based” or “veggie”).

(14) Upton’s Naturals Co. v. Stitt, No. CIV-20-938-F, slip op. at (W.D. Ok. Nov. 19, 2020) (finding that a law requiring disclaimer terms on plant-based meat alternatives to be at least as equally prominent in size and color as the product name was not unduly burdensome and justified in preventing consumer confusion).

(15) In study published by the University of Sydney and Curtin University, 72% of the 227 surveyed Australian customers in “Generation Z” (born between 1995 and 2010) reported perceptions of uneasiness and discomfort with cultured meat products, even if they thought the product might be a more sustainable food option than traditionally farmed meat. Diana Bogueva & Dora Marinova, Cultured Meat and Australia’s Generation Z, Frontiers in Nutrition, Sept. 2020, at 6, https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2020.00148. See also Jo Anderson & Chris Bryant, Messages to Overcome Naturalness Concerns in Clean Meat Acceptance: Primary Findings, Faunalytics, July 2018, Clean-Meat-Acceptance-Primary-Findings.pdf (faunalytics.org) (surveying 1,185 American adults in 2018 and finding that while the majority of those surveyed had not heard of a cell-cultured meat product before, 66% of those surveyed would be willing to try it, but using biased terminology such as “clean meat” that would have legal risk if used in the market); Nearly One in Three Consumers Willing to Eat Lab-Grown Meat, According to New Research, Surveygoo (Jan. 2018), https://surveygoo.com/portfolio/cultured-meat-survey/ (surveying 1,000 U.S. and U.K. consumers and finding 29% would be willing to eat a cell-cultured meat product described as “cultured meat”). 4839-4212-9116, v. 4

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How to Work with a Food Scientist

How to Work with a Food Scientist

Written by Brian Chau, Principal Advisor at Chau Time

Hiring a food scientist or food product developer can be a daunting challenge. These are the people who transform your food idea into reality. Read more to better understand: how a food scientist within product development operates; how to use a project proposal as a tool to set expectations for your overall vision; and explore the options on how to best collaborate with a food scientist. 

Understand the Framework:

There are a lot of job titles for food scientists including: food technologist, product developer, food specialist, culinologist, culinary developer, formulator, or R&D scientist/chef. For simplicity, food scientist will imply any titles aforementioned. 

When looking for a food scientist, specify that you are looking for someone who can do product development from concept to commercialization. A food scientist with product development experience has the knowledge to help take your idea, create a prototype, and provide a formula that will be commercially viable. Some specialize in product development and not scale-up; that may be fine depending on your needs, but we will focus on a food scientist who can do both. A good food scientist should also be a good product manager, balancing different parameters that affect development from costs to scalability. Their end goal is to deliver a product formulation that is likely to be reproduced at scale while also being food safe. 

What a food scientist will help you do:

  • Make suggestions regarding how to improve the product and provide critical feedback in a very technical and structured approach
  • Tell you that a request is outside the bounds of regulations, food safety, or even scientific principles
  • Assist in the development process
  • Work with an existing manufacturing line

What a food scientist will NOT help you do:

  • Tell you how to reverse engineer intellectual property that a competitor took years to develop
  • Tell you the best flavor (as that is often very subjective and the food scientist may not fit your target audience)
  • Make the final decisions for you and your brand
  • Engineer new equipment for scaling

The first step in working with a food scientist is to co-create a project proposal to set clear expectations and understand how to go through the product development process.

The Project Proposal; Setting Expectations: 

Any good food scientist should best work within the framework you provide them. You provide the guardrails and expectations for your brand. What guides the conversation is understanding that you provide a range of values or priorities that will allow the food scientist to help you better develop the product or inform you about the issues you are to expect on the feasibility of your request. Here is a list of parameters to discuss:

Commercialization: 

Arguably one of the most crucial parameters, and is what differentiates a food scientist from a chef. How you scale up products through equipment is based on your approach and your strategy. Whether you are going to work out of a commercial kitchen or start with a contract manufacturer, a food scientist can guide you through the process. Commercialization goals should often be the first point of discussion as a food scientist will better understand how to scale the product and provide prototypes that have mimicked the commercial processes.

Product Attributes: 

Let the food scientist understand your branding by describing what kind of certifications you expect to have on your package: organic, non-GMO, Kosher, Halal, keto-friendly, high in fiber, no trans-fat, etc. What kind of ingredients do you accept or do not accept and why do you think it is important to the brand?

Packaging: 

Let the food scientist know what is your serving size, number of servings per package, and what type of package you plan to use. If you do not know these parameters, look at analogs in the market and make your best assumption.

Nutritional: 

Although this parameter overlaps with branding, the nutrition panel requires special attention. Offer a range of values for your macronutrients (ex: 8-10 grams of protein per serving size.) Based on your packaging, you can determine if you want vertical, horizontal, or linear labels. Specific nutrition claims and allergen statements will be duly noted.

Cost: 

Your cost of goods sold is important. You want to allow for a range of values here too; be specific on what you are including in your cost of goods sold by mentioning if you are referring to the case, the individual unit, or by the pallet. Look at whether you are referencing minimum order quantity or tiered pricing.

Sensory: 

Determine how many stock keeping units, what flavors, an ideal texture, and ideal look and/or color.

Shelf Life: 

Your suggestions will be an ideal range. The food scientist can tell you what to realistically expect or at least suggest a better range. Be specific on what you are looking for as there are different types of shelf-life studies between sensory, microbiological, and physical and/or chemical. 

Timeline: 

Depending on the product and what stage your business is in; you can have a quick turnaround time or anywhere between 6 and 9 months. Food scientists understand their own timelines and can either fulfill your request or tell you how reasonable or not the timeline is. 

Food scientists are not magicians. They cannot read your mind nor have a product appear out of nowhere. Product development takes time, iteration, and flexibility in making adjustments. The range of values will allow for flexibility in the development process. You don’t want to make the development so difficult that the process stalls out and your launch plans get impacted. Setting expectations allows for dialogue on what is feasible within a timely and structured manner; set priorities between parameters to make decision making easier.

When developing your project proposal, you want to understand what your needs and wants are in the negotiation table as well as the needs and wants of the prospective food scientist. You want to have an idea of how to best communicate with the food scientist and assess if there is synergy with the food scientist. Some food scientists work on a per project proposal which works out best for their project management. Others work on an hourly basis which can be valuable for quick turnaround times. Some food scientists might be open to the idea of equity and turning into a long-time partner of your organization. At the end of the day, a food scientist is a person with a particular skill set of translating science and technology of food and beverage into a commercially viable, food safe, and delicious product. Each food scientist operates under rigorous training in the sciences, but they also have their own personalities that may or may not work well with your brand. Honestly, the same principle applies to anyone you want to hire. Always be open to exploring all options before making a final decision. 

The process of working with a food scientist takes time. In building out these relationships by setting expectations and building dialogue, the path to developing your product will be less stressful. The project proposal is a tool to lay the foundation of how to work with the prospective food scientist. Remember that food scientists are people too and they cannot read your mind; they don’t understand your vision as much as you do and they have their own personalities. By understanding how they operate, you can better manage how to leverage their expertise to grow your business. You can save time in knowing you have someone who can translate the technical information for you to make a final decision. Most importantly, you managed to de-risk a critical component of your business.

Brian Chau: Food Scientist, Fungal Fanatic, and Food Systems Analyst at Chau Time. Brian is the Principal Advisor at Chau Time, his own consultation firm. He is the Co-founder of MycoKind, a food biotech company. He also sits as an advisor to food tech companies. He is working on his first book, How to Work with a Food Scientist, to help founders understand a food scientist’s capabilities and improve the understanding of how to navigate the technical world of food and beverage consumer packaged goods.

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Industry Update: FDA Announces FSMA Food Traceability Proposed Rule

Written by Jon Kimble, Originally Published in Industry Updates

On September 21, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration announced the release of a draft rule for the food industry, “Requirements for Additional Traceability Records for Certain Foods” (also referred to as the Food Traceability Proposed Rule). This is one of the last remaining elements of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), assigned to the FDA by congressional mandate. This draft rule requires that the FDA implement additional traceability expectations for the food industry based on risk.  This new rule is being billed by the FDA as part of its overall “Blueprint for the New Era of Smarter Food Safety”, which outlines several key elements, including enhanced traceability.

Our overall impression is that our customers, such as yourself, are already largely in compliance with the requirements as they’re currently written, perhaps with just a few minor gaps. The FDA has provided more information about the rule on their website. 

7 Key Takeaways Regarding This Rule:

  1. This is a draft rule. Now is the time to submit any feedback or concerns.
  2. Its scope is limited.  It pertains specifically to those who manufacture, process, pack, or hold specific types of foods on the FDA’s “Food Traceability List” (FTL).
  3. It requires tracking specific activities. The FDA refers to these as “Critical Tracking Events” (CTEs), and they include: growing, receiving, transforming, creating, and shipping.
  4. It requires tracking specific data. The FDA calls these “Key Data Elements” (KDEs), and they must be tracked for each Critical Tracking Event.  They include information such as grower location identifier; lot numbers and other traceability identifiers; business names, numbers, and points of contact; quantities and units of measure; and other key elements.
  5. It requires farms to communicate some basic information to customers. This includes location identifiers for the growing area and each location the product was processed or stored at, including business names and key contacts.
  6. The record format is flexible. Under the rule, the FDA allows either paper or electronic records.  However, it’s worth noting that, especially for finished companies who produce ready-to-eat foods, the FDA has made it clear that there is a preference for electronic records, where necessary to facilitate traceability (see the next requirement).
  7. Records must be readily available. The FDA requires that companies be able to provide a sortable electronic spreadsheet to the FDA containing any affected products, within 24 hours of any FDA request, to assist in the investigation of any outbreak or recall. 

If you’d like a member of our team to help you conduct an assessment of your company’s traceability programs, we’re ready to assist you, virtually or on-site! Reach out to us at foodsafety@safefoodalliance.com.

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Forage Kitchen – Local Food Economy Evolving in a Global Epidemic

Written by Callie Waldman, Forage Kitchen

First Friday at Forage Kitchen in Oakland, Calif., Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. Photo by Alison Yin/Alison Yin Photography

INTRO

Forage Kitchen is a commissary and shared incubator kitchen in the heart of Uptown Oakland. Nestled amongst retail locations and maker warehouses, we exist to support the local food economy by supporting its producers. Our community members find this support through our physical shared kitchen space, business support & promotional help, and through our network of like-minded food business owners. We’re a lot of other things as well. Beyond just our commissary, we’re also a small batch copacking facility as well as an event space for both private bookings and community gatherings.  Attached to our kitchen we have a small cafe that houses rotating up-and-coming restaurants, offering low rent to minimize risk as they transition towards moving into their own permanent space. 

HISTORY

Though we officially opened our doors in 2016, leading up to that moment took years of thoughtful decisions and physical build-out.  In 2012, cousins and co-founders Iso Rabins and Matt Johansen began their journey in building Forage inspired by their own experience as food entrepreneurs. Their driving motivation was to create an experience and a kitchen for others that they wished they’d had themselves while navigating the industry. 

Iso, having worked in shared kitchens for years while hosting his Wild Kitchen underground dinners, had seen all the ways shared spaces fell short, and the destructive impact that had on the community. This experience was motivation enough to want to create something better. Iso’s focus had always been food and food makers; launching Forage Kitchen just felt like the right next step.  

If you ask the cousins, Iso will tell you that getting Matt onboard took some courting.  Matt’s expertise in business management, his previous partnership in opening SF’s still-thriving Hayes Valley Biergarten, and his effortless knack for connecting with just about anyone, balanced Iso’s vision and made him the perfect co-founder.  Iso knew he needed Matt onboard and over a handful of beers and long talks at family reunions, the motivation and the dream was mutual. 

Once established and open, Iso and Matt needed someone to flesh out programming and act as a direct line of support for the growing community, and so they introduced a third partner, Callie Waldman, to run daily operations. Callie also came from extensive food industry experience but also brought with her the relationship building component, having overseen employee engagement and company culture during the early stages of Imperfect Foods. Focused on honesty, communication and trust, this small but mighty trio oversees all aspects of the business.  

STRUCTURE

When operating at full capacity, Forage congruently runs four arms of business: membership, small batch co-packing, events, and a cafe. Each functions as an integral piece of the puzzle, harmoniously interwoven to support our community at a multitude of crossroads.

Membership

Our primary focus and the reason Forage exists, is to support our members. Each of our members own and operate their own small food business and have 24/7 access to our kitchen through reserving tables using our online booking system. Pricing is tiered and ranges from $21-28 per hour depending on frequency. Additionally, we offer an $18 per hour rate between 10pm-6am to accommodate those chefs who prefer off-peak schedules.  Once in the kitchen, members have equal access to our industrial equipment as well as the option to rent storage depending on their needs. Folks are surprised to hear that we typically fluctuate between 40-50 memberships at a time, however the variety of scheduling needs means that we hardly see conflicts in booking or overcrowding. Our members range from pastry chefs to soul food caterers, bagel producers to homemade pickle and boutique sauce companies. A vast majority are women-owned. The kitchen is equipped with a gamut of industrial equipment in order to accommodate many types of businesses. We have grills and deep fryers, 4 convection ovens, a total of 12 burners, a 30qt standup mixer, and an entire rack of smallware equipment available.  

Small Batch Copacking

Through our small batch copacking program, we lay out a pathway for businesses to grow with us. Once companies are a little further along, this program enables food producers to scale even bigger, while we take care of everything operationally from sourcing ingredients to label compliance to packaging.  For small scale food producers, outsourcing production allows for their time and energy to focus on sales and marketing so that they can get one step closer towards their dream of large scale distribution. We’ve worked with a wide variety of clients but our areas of expertise mainly focus on bone broth, cookies, sauces and spice blends.  

Events

One of the joys of running Forage is to foster our growing community. We find significance in this not just among our members, but within the greater community of Oakland. Our central location and spacious outdoor area makes Forage ideal for bringing people together. We’re a short walking distance from bars, cafes, and venues in every direction, and BART is just a 10 minute walk down the street, making us accessible to the rest of the Bay.  Outside of the current covid circumstances, our summer calendar is typically stacked with all kinds of events. We host weddings and rehearsal dinners, holiday parties and cooking classes, birthdays and anniversaries. In the warmer seasons we offer monthly outdoor movie nights and we partner with Sofar Sounds, hosting regular live music nights. Every First Friday of the month, we open our doors once again and participate in the city of Oakland’s monthly First Friday event where our members are encouraged to set up vendor tents and sell their food; an excellent opportunity for their own exposure and testing out the market. 

Cafe

Connected to the kitchen and facing the street, our cafe serves as a rotating space for new restaurants to launch their temporary home and gain traction as they test menu concepts, hire staff, and work out operational kinks before moving into their permanent retail location. Some of these restaurants include:  Smokin Woods BBQ, World Famous Hotboys, and Shawarmaji. Regardless of who’s serving food, patrons can enjoy patio seating and a cold, local beer on tap. 

HOW WE FOSTER INNOVATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Under most circumstances, the production and sales of food in California requires the use of a certified commissary kitchen. At the most basic level, this is what we provide. In addition to that, there’s a lengthy list of permits and licences that producers need to apply for, some which come from the county, others which come from the city or state. There’s a lot of red tape and often, even knowing where to begin with the administrative side of this industry can be daunting enough to cause roadblocks. This is again where we come in. As part of our onboarding service and at no extra charge, we offer additional support with new members by identifying and helping complete all the applications they need. 

Undeniably, our biggest avenue of support exists through our active community. It’s inspiring to see members helping one another as some have been in the industry for decades, while others are stepping foot into a commercial kitchen for their very first time. We’ve seen collaborations emerge, like Gourmet Puff (a Nigerian doughnut company) popping up with Shawarmaji (a Jordanian Shawarma restaurant). Internally, we use slack as a way to make sure all members can easily connect with one another and we have a couple channels specifically intended for companies to post things like kickstarter campaigns, new product launches, or simply to spread the word that they’re hiring. In the last few months we also set up a little shelf in our cafe where patrons can purchase shelf staple items, all made at Forage. We sell products like The Final Sauce, Goldi’s Spice Blends, and Claudine Hot Sauce.  In this sense, we find ways to interweave the various components of Forage such that our members’ businesses are amplified. 

CURRENTLY

Since the pandemic began affecting California in mid March, It’s no secret that small food businesses have suffered. As event cancellations soared and remote work within the bay area tech scene became status quo, most of the catering companies that worked out of Forage suddenly had nothing to cook for.  In an effort to get creative, we worked with members to develop a ghost kitchen model, offering our space as a pickup site for any catering companies willing or able to shift into strictly pickup & delivery. We’ve seen several companies successfully make the switch, however with the exorbitant percentage that corporate delivery platforms take from each ticket item, relying strictly on the apps is hardly feasible. In this vein, we’re huge proponents of encouraging customers to pick up food directly from the restaurant whenever possible.

FUTURE

Though business has been undeniably slow for the first several months, our kitchen remains open, 24/7 as it’s always been. And, as it’s become increasingly clear that we’re in this for the indeterminable long haul, we’re starting to see some shifts. We’ve started hearing from folks who’ve completely changed direction to make ends meet; A previously touring musician who decided to bottle and sell chili oil; A furloughed Pastry Chef who shifted her focus to participate in a national bake sale, benefiting the Black Lives Matter movement. When outdoor dining opened in Oakland, that enabled us to once again capitalize on our outdoor space after months of it laying dormant. We replaced our large picnic tables with wine barrel seating designed to fit 2-4 people instead of 8-10. Our cafe extended its hours, and we folded in a Happy Hour to encourage customers to stay and have a drink rather than just taking their food to go. 

In all honesty it’s hard to say exactly when we’ll be operating at full capacity again, or what that will even look like as it’s a constant moving target. That said, we’re optimistic. We’re seeing the beginnings of private event inquiries for 2021, and we’re also starting to talk about hosting small, distanced gatherings. Additionally, we’re working on launching our own cafe concept in the fall of 2020, focused on maximizing our outdoor space. While uncertainty is always the case, covid has been an abrupt and potent awakening to this truth and so we move forward with flexibility, creativity and patience; committed now more than ever, to offer a space and a community that supports our local food economy.