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"We can be as diverse as we want, but if we're not creating spaces, then there is no access."

Founder of Foodpreneur Lab, Janice Bartley aims to break down barriers for Black food entrepreneurs and ditch the "international food" aisles in grocery stores.

On starting Foodpreneur Lab

"I was constantly having conversations with future and current food entrepreneurs who were struggling to find sources, whether it was for procurement, food packaging, labelling, whatever. They were struggling to find expertise, the money to make the product, the spaces to produce the product. And they were struggling to understand the dynamics of distribution and supply chain. They're also trying to manage all this while running a business. It's hard. So, from my past experience being in the industry and working in the incubator accelerator setting, and being an entrepreneur myself, I took that frustration and created Foodpreneur Lab in the hopes of bringing that experience to underserved communities. Specifically, for now, it's working with Black food entrepreneurs [including Nettie's Nah Joke Hot Peppersauce and Yawdi's line of marinades]."

On the lack of access

"As a woman of colour, through my lens, we have work to do. Access for me is a primary issue. We can be as diverse as we want, we can be as inclusive as we want, but if we're not creating spaces, then there is no access. And that is just the hard truth. Access is the ability to not only acquire the tools, but also use the tools the industry says they have as support. For us, the problem is, it's not trickling down into our communities. So clearly, there is a problem. Because if you are telling me there are supports, and I am A) not aware of them, and B) I don't know where to turn to get that information, then somewhere in that filtering process, there is a blockage; it just stops. We need to fix that."

On “international foods”

"What we've seen now is a shift from the stale idea of international foods being down one aisle in a grocery store. I understand historically that is where it was placed, yes, but today nobody wants to be relegated to an aisle. They want to be able to compete fairly. If I'm going to make a pasta that's gluten free, I want it to be in the pasta aisle, whether it's made from Nigerian grain or whatever grain we're going to use —it's not going to matter because what it is, is an alternative. It's not a different [product]. That is what we're seeing more of and that is what we're asking."

On how everyone can support Black food entrepreneurs

"If you're not seeing representation, start to ask retailers if there's an intention to carry an expansion of cultural products. They're coming to market ... but because of the barriers that exist, you're seeing them on a smaller scale. So, tap into your Business Improvement Areas that support small businesses, your local coffee shops, your local diners, your local grocery stores, because they tend to carry the smaller lines that we refer to as niche or craft products. That's where the support is. This is why the push to support local can't just be about [changing the] big box retail stores."

On what consumers should know

"I want them to know there are so many amazing food products coming to market. I want them to know how community markets play an integral role in introducing innovative ideas and products. I want them to know that food entrepreneurs really take into account consumers' needs, whether it's health, product education or because they want them to have an experience from another country. I also want them to know this sector has some amazing talent behind the scenes that supports an abundance of food entrepreneurs. This, for me, is an acknowledgement and a thank you to the food consultants, the food experts, the food scientists — the unsung heroes in the food industry."

foodpreneurlab.com

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