Seasoned Specialty Food Market helps people break into the food industry

The journey of breaking into the food industry is akin to navigating a labyrinth, where having a great product is just the beginning. For aspiring culinary entrepreneurs, the challenges can be daunting. However, in the heart of St. Paul’s Grand Avenue, a quaint blue house harbors a beacon of hope for Minnesotans with culinary dreams – the Seasoned Specialty Food Market.

Nurturing Talent and Diversity in the Minnesota Food Industry

Inside this unassuming establishment, the shelves are adorned with a diverse array of products meticulously crafted by local small-batch food producers. Each item tells a story of passion, dedication, and the pursuit of culinary excellence. Many of these producers owe their journey’s start to Seasoned, making it not just a market but a nurturing ground for budding culinary talents.

Kayla Yang-Best, the founder of Seasoned Specialty Food Market, embarked on this journey in 2019 with a vision to address a stark imbalance in the food industry – the lack of diversity and inclusion. In an industry predominantly homogeneous, breaking into store shelves can be a daunting challenge, especially for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds.

“It’s really hard to get onto store shelves. It’s even harder if you’re a person of color because you don’t necessarily have the interactions or the relationships to just call up and say, ‘Hey, would you try my food? Can I get on your shelves?'” explains Kayla.

Recognizing this disparity, Kayla founded the non-profit Seasoned with a mission to advance equity and inclusion in the local food supply chain. Seasoned is not just a marketplace; it’s a comprehensive support system for culinary entrepreneurs. It provides invaluable assistance in various forms, making it an invaluable resource for local food producers.

One of the critical components of Seasoned’s support system is the Market Entry Fund. This fund serves as a financial lifeline for emerging food entrepreneurs. It operates a micro-grants program that annually distributes ten grants, each amounting to $5,000. These grants provide crucial financial backing to food producers looking to kickstart their culinary ventures.

However, Seasoned doesn’t stop at financial aid. They understand that a successful food business requires more than just funding. Entrepreneurs need guidance, mentorship, and access to the right resources. Therefore, Seasoned partners with grantees to help them find the right technical and business solutions needed to initiate and later scale their ventures.

But perhaps one of the most vital forms of support Seasoned offers is emotional and communal. Entrepreneurship can be an isolating journey, especially for those from minority backgrounds. Seasoned, however, is a community that fosters relationships, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging.

For Junita Flowers, the CEO of Juanita’s Jar, Seasoned became not only a marketplace for her products but also a lifeline. As a black woman navigating the challenges of building a food business, she faced isolation and obstacles that Seasoned helped her overcome.

There’s even more isolation as being a black woman building a food business,” Junita shared. Becoming a grantee of the Market Entry Fund and being part of Seasoned’s network provided her with a lifeline to build relationships, resilience, and business longevity.

Seasoned goes above and beyond to support its entrepreneurs. The market follows a model where producers receive 100% of what the consumer pays for their products. This not only sustains the producers but also creates a positive feedback loop within the community, fostering mutual growth and success.

Last year, the Market Entry Fund proudly supported 13 grantees. Their products are now prominently featured at Seasoned Specialty Food Market, a testament to the effectiveness of Seasoned’s mission in nurturing culinary talent and promoting diversity in the Minnesota food industry.

As the culinary dreams of local food producers come to life on the shelves of Seasoned, the market stands as a symbol of empowerment, equity, and inclusivity. It’s a reminder that with the right support, even the most daunting labyrinth of the food industry can be navigated, and dreams can be transformed into delicious reality. Seasoned Specialty Food Market is not just a place to buy food; it’s a place where dreams take their first flavorful steps towards success.

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