‘Unlocking the potential of the Black-owned economy’: New accelerator launched to boost diversity in food and drink

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

ADD Psalt is offering support to Black-owned businesses to help 'bridge ethnic and socio-economic gaps' amongst founder-led brands. GettyImages/Rawpixel
ADD Psalt is offering support to Black-owned businesses to help 'bridge ethnic and socio-economic gaps' amongst founder-led brands. GettyImages/Rawpixel

Related tags Entrepreneurship start-up accelerator diversity inclusion

A new not-for-profit accelerator supported by retail majors Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Ocado has launched in the UK. Titled ‘ADD Psalt’, the programme aims to bring more diversity to the food and drink sector.

ADD Psalt wants to build a more inclusive food and beverage industry by helping Black entrepreneurs develop, scale, and commercialise food and drink brands for mainstream retail.

Backed by retail heavyweights Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Ocado, the accelerator will offer £46,000-worth of support to Black-owned businesses, and ultimately, help ‘bridge ethnic and socio-economic gaps’ amongst founder-led brands.

FMCG market not diverse enough

The Black Lives Matter movement, amongst others, has helped build awareness around diversity and inclusion.

In the food and beverage sector, there is still much work to be done. Last year in the US, for example, just 1% of venture capital went to Black led or founded companies.

And according to a 2019 report on diversity in food and grocery in the UK, nearly half of businesses have no BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) representation at the Direct Reports level. Just 83% of companies were found to have no BAME representation on their Executive Committees.

The MBS Group, IDG, and PwC, who conducted the report, stressed that many companies do not capture the relevant data to understand the ethnic makeup of their workforce, adding that companies that do not collect the data may well be at a ‘more advanced stage’ on diversity and inclusion (D&I).

However, it was evident that for most companies “ethnic diversity is a much less well-developed area of their D&I approach, especially compared to gender”.

Concerning Black-owned businesses, just 2% of the total 7,400 food and drink companies across Britain fall into this category.

‘We want to reduce as many barriers as possible’

Why are Black-owned brands – which ADD Psalt founder Sam Akinluyi defines as any brand owned by someone of Black African or Black Caribbean descent – ‘particularly’ underrepresented in food and drink?

“It’s very difficult to diagnose,” ​Akinluyi told FoodNavigator. “As it is, it’s hard for anyone to enter the industry with a new product. The journey from start-up to scale is one that very few have managed.

“The journey can be lonely, turbulent, unpredictable and expensive. Not everyone has the resources, safety-net, support, or ‘luck’ to succeed.”

What ADD Psalt’s founder has consistently observed is that ‘the first step can sometimes be a step too far’. “It can cost £30,000 just to get to the point of a prototype product from a manufacturer,” ​he explained. “You then need expertise, experience and knowledge to bring it to market, plus a pretty solid network and contact list.”

Akinluyi continued: “In order to reduce the underrepresentation that we all know is there, we want to reduce as many barriers as possible for Black-owned brands. However, the product has always got to be great and we must never compromise on that.”

How does the accelerator programme work?

ADD Psalt is reaching out to talent through various means, including specialist social media groups, for example Food Hub and Black Owned Economy, the founder explained. The accelerator has also been promoted by start-up community Young Foodies.

After an initial screening process, ADD Psalt will select three eligible brands to go through the accelerator in any one round.

The 18-week programme is set out in three stages. For starters, entrepreneurs will concentrate on their brand and concept. The second stage is focused on product development and F&B supply chains, before the ‘execute’ stage, whereby businesses learn to pitch their product to investors and retail.

In the first year of the programme, ADD Psalt aims to increase current market share in major national distribution three-fold. By the third year, it aims to boost current figures tenfold.

ADD Psalt will also use the platform to showcase other Black-owned brands and their respective founder stories, it noted. “Building on this, similar efforts will then be rolled out to wider minority groups over time.”

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, and Ocado are amongst the members of ADD Psalt’s Advisory Board, which Akinluyi said was ‘incredibly humbling’. “They have come onboard to offer world-class expertise, giving participating start-ups the highest possible chance of success.”

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