As the food and beverage sector becomes increasingly competitive and hard to break into, “kitchen incubators” have been devised to support and foster culinary and food development businesses.
Business incubators typically provide the support and tools that new entities need, in return for some form of compensation i.e. rent or equity. The differentiating feature of these culinary incubators is that they have replaced office space with kitchens. The concept has grown in popularity and scale in recent years with key components including kitchen space, knowledge sharing and investment and start-up capital. They support a range of activities from product development to catering requirements.
Union Kitchen began life as a cookie bakery providing baked goods for its café downtown. They soon saw the opportunity to share their kitchen, distribution channels and supply network, with others. They set up as an incubator, accommodating and supporting other businesses, in exchange for 10% equity.
In Brixton and Vauxhall, Mission Kitchen, which opens later this year and next, will operate more like a culinary WeWork. They will offer membership options that provide differing benefits from full access to their on-site professional kitchens to access to specialist equipment and training events. Similar rent-based vendors include Hatchery in Chicago or BLVD market in California.
Kerb, the London food market, has seen the benefits of launching effective street market stalls, which often paves the way for a full-service bricks and mortar establishment. They have launched "the Inkerbator", which provides mentorship, resources and trading opportunities to budding street food vendors.
Similarly, Pop Brixton (seen above), operates more as a food hall but works in partnership with Lambeth Council to support local businesses. Members get access to the space for below market value rates, and in turn must provide one hour of weekly mentorship. Many go on to make the jump into running their own establishments with notable alumni including critically acclaimed Kricket.
Away from restaurants and dining, Chobani, the American yoghurt producer, recently launched two incubator programmes, the Chobani incubator programme and the Food Tech residency. The former focussed primarily on helping scale food and beverage brands, having already developed a portfolio of 36 different brands since its inception in late 2016. The latter places its attention on food and agriculture technology seeking technological solutions for supply chain challenges.
All of these schemes operate in different ways but aim to use expert knowledge and provide resources to create successful businesses. Incubators are clearly facilitating innovation and development across the F&B spectrum, from food technology to new pop-up development, all aiming to find the next big thing. Whilst many of the incubators we have seen focus on the development of food and drink brands, we anticipate future growth in schemes targeting the restaurant industry. This will drive creativity and differentiated business models and we expect to see new experiential ways of dining taking shape and the growth of food halls changing the landscape.