Investing in the Future of Food: Kroger & Village Capital offer $2.5m & training for upcycling solutions

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Investing in the Future of Food, Kroger, Village Capital, Upcycling, Food waste, hunger

As part of a “moonshot” to end hunger and eliminate food waste, The Kroger Co.’s Zero Hunger Zero Waste Foundation and seed stage funder Village Capital are offering $2.5 million in collective grants and development programming to 10 innovative startups “elevating food to its highest use and disrupting the linear supply chain.”

Through April 1, entrepreneurs with solutions for preventing food waste by sourcing surplus food or byproducts and manufacturing them into new consumer-facing products can apply​for $100,000 each in upfront seed grant funding and a spot in a virtual workshop run by Village Capital focused on investment readiness, technical skill development and networking.

Each cohort member that reaches milestones set with the Foundation and Village Capital could receive an additional $100,000 grant, and two participants selected by their peers at the end of the program could receive an additional $250,000 in funding.

As explained in this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Investing in the Future of Food​, the open call for the second cohort of The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger Zero Waste Foundation’s Innovation Fund​ not only offers individual participants a hand-up, but an opportunity to work through them to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive food ecosystem that is also environmentally sustainable.

“Our plan was really to address this fundamental absurdity in our food system that 35% of the food produced in the US is thrown away, yet today over 50 million Americans struggle with hunger every day, including an estimated 17 million children,”​ Sunny Reelhorn Parr, executive director of The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger Zero Waste Foundation, tells FoodNavigator-USA. “That’s a total of $408b worth of food, which represents roughly 2% of the US GDP, with a greenhouse gas footprint equivalent to 4% of total US.”

Addressing this problem will take more than charitable giving, Parr said, noting it will take public-private partnerships, government involvement, investment experts, academic leaders and policy to make lasting changes.

Which is why, Parr said, “we are excited, truly, to partner with Village Capital,”​ which is one of the largest supporters of impact-driven, seed stage startups.

With a strong track record of supporting more than 1,100 entrepreneurs in 28 different countries since 2009 through its accelerator program, workshops and forums, Village Capital will help the winner of The Kroger Co. foundation’s second Innovation Fund cohort prepare for investments, scaling and making a successful impact with virtual trainings, mentorship and guidance.

“What we’re interested in most is systems level change and making impact investments more inclusive and empowering founders to have more access to venture capital dollars,”​ explained Kelly Bryan, manager of sustainability practice for Village Capital. 

“My North star, as I always say, is focusing on the health and resilience of communities. So keeping people, and the end beneficiary, but then also the health and resilience of our planet and what kind of initiatives can I spend my time and energy on and partners that feel the same way,”​ Bryan said. “And of course the Kroger Zero Hunger, Zero Waste Foundation is exactly that. We have a lot of overlap there as far as focusing first and foremost on communities, and we also having a deep interest in improving our planet as it exists.”

On that note, the Innovation Fund will look for participants from across sectors – not just CPGs – with solutions that can impact players across the value chain, from the farm to the manufacturer to the distribution center all the way to the community.

The program is particularly interested in upcycled products and solutions, which Bryan said have the largest potential for impact when it comes waste diversion and water savings. Novel foods from byproducts also can sustainably reduce food insecurity and nutritional deficits, she added.

With the door thrown open to such a broad pool of applicants, the Foundation and Village Capital focus not just on the solution, but on the team behind it, including their lived experiences and ability to bring diverse perspectives to the cohort as a whole.

Bryan explains that with the help of 27 expert advisors, the fund will consider who makes up each applicant team, what is their lived experience, why they care about the problem they’re solving, and if they have what they need to execute their vision.

The fund also will consider applicants diversity – trying to bring a wide range of voices to the cohort – and the diversity of their larger networks, including suppliers and partners, she added.

Entrepreneurs interested in learning more and applying before the April 1 deadline can do so at https://thekrogercozerohungerzerowastefoundation.com/innovation_fund.html​. Winners will be announced in time for the virtual investment readiness program May 17 through 21 followed by monthly milestone planning and support sessions June through November.

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