When Foxtrot Chief Marketing Officer Carla Dunham launched the retailer’s Up & Comers program for emerging brands last year, she did not know what to expect. She shares, “We were astounded by the interest. We had 900 people apply. But we were also shocked that only 10% of the entrants were women.”
According to the National Women’s Business Council, women own over 40% of American businesses. Over the pandemic, women-led businesses have been disproportionately impacted. In a recent report Facebook shared that just 75% of women’s led SMEs were still operational compared to 83% of male-led SMEs. And the World Bank reported that female-led hospitality businesses reported a 68% drop in YoY sales in 2021, with greater financial risk and less cash on hand than male counterparts.
Foxtrot aims to counter these trends. They are teaming up with Cherry Bombe, a media company focused on women in food & beverage, in the second-annual Up & Comers program. This year’s goal is for at least 50% of the applicants to be women-led. And their star-studded panel of judges includes Milk Bar founder and Netflix Bake Squad host Christina Tosi, as well as Tik Tok influencer Alexis Nikole, who boasts over 3 million followers on the platform.
One core challenge for women in food and beverage is securing the necessary funding to grow their business. Under 2% of all venture capital funding went to women in 2021, down from previous years; in 2019 61% of women reported self-funding their businesses.
Kerry Diamond, the founder of Cherry Bombe, confirms this trend. She surveyed the 1500-member Cherry Bombe network and found that, “70% [of Cherry Bombe members] have bootstrapped their own companies. And you know what that means? That means they put it on their credit cards, they broke their 401k, they emptied out their bank accounts; you know, they did the things that you’re not supposed to do.”
The winners of the Up & Comers program will receive a cash prize and exposure to investors. They will also gain distribution in Foxtrot’s retail stores and online shop, marketing support, and business feedback in critical areas like pricing.
Last year’s ‘Hero Winner’ was the Asian-American led food brand Omsom. They are currently carried in all Foxtrot stores. CEO Vanessa Pham will serve on the Up & Comers judging panel this year.
The Up & Comers program is not a charitable effort — it supports Foxtrot’s own business goals. Dunham explains, “We currently have 100 women-owned brands on our shelves and we’re hoping to get to 50% of penetration, that’s really our objective here.” In 2021 there were five Up & Comer winners; over 35 of the brands who applied for the program ended up on shelf.
Diamond sees the program as viable for female-led businesses. She shares, “I think this is great that that Foxtrot is putting out the call for women-led businesses. Foxtrot is really putting their money where their hearts are in terms of helping these brands get to the next level.”
The Up & Comers program is accepting applications until April 4th, 2022.