From the racist imagery on packaging to the lack of diversity among executives, the CPG space has long faced criticism for equity issues by insiders and consumers. But as protests against systemic racism have spread across the country for the last few months, some companies are pledging to make more tangible change.
Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s and Cream of Wheat are confronting their product origins as they pivot to new branding, and companies like PepsiCo are committing to have more Black Americans join their ranks. As promises and statements are made, Black company founders spoke to Food Dive about the hope they have that this could lead to long-term change and why that is not only the right thing to do, but the lucrative move.
Having a homogeneous C-suite can lead to a lack of diversity of thought and missed opportunities, which can impact the potential for sales. A report from McKinsey looked at companies in the top quarter for racial and ethnic diversity and found they were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. When analyzing top businesses in terms of gender diversity, the percentage was 15%. Only three food companies, Kellogg, Hershey and McCormick, made the Top 50 Companies for Diversity list from DiversityInc. this year.
In this series, Food Dive features three growing startups who built businesses in the white space of the food industry. All expressed bittersweet feelings about seeing a boost in sales as more buy from Black-owned businesses amid the protests.
They say the question now remains whether these Big Food giants will act on this moment and change the way the top of their companies look — and in turn think — and not just use them as monolithic experts for their communities.
"When they diversify the talent pool, it's more profitable for them," Iya Foods CEO Toyin Kolawole told Food Dive. "They innovate better. They innovate faster because, think about it, when you're introducing a product into America, and you put it on an aisle in Walmart, the people who are going to be shopping in Walmart are going to be very diverse. You're going to have White people shopping, you're going to have Black people shopping, you're going to have people of Hispanic heritage shopping, because America is a melting pot. So, if you were going to be serving a diverse consumer base, why would your talent not be diverse?"
Here are the stories and voices behind three Black-owned food companies who found a gap in the industry where the CPG giants weren’t looking and are finding success.