Innovation is baked into the mindset of San Francisco Bay Area food companies. Home to innumerable tech companies, Northern California is recognized for its fresh, dare we say countercultural spirit, pushing past conventional norms to explore the new. With a long history in agriculture, the Bay Area – especially Sonoma and Napa counties — are the beating heart of innovation in food. Northern California is the home of the farm-to-table movement (thanks, Alice Waters) and hosts numerous food companies who are leading the charge for clean labels.
Narrowing down the view to Sonoma County, it’s easy to see why so many established and burgeoning food brands thrive here. The quality of life is terrific but the agricultural base, history of food production and commitment to organics offer food businesses access to the people, tools and services they need to succeed.
Food Companies in Northern California
“All communities lie on an axis between cost of doing business and quality of life,” Kellison says. “Sonoma County is a point on the axis that works for us. We are in the wellness business; It makes sense to be in a place where wellness is important, and our employees can live a high quality life.”
CEO Scott Seymour and Chief Make It Happen Officer Dustin Bakker of Inked Organics were looking for bread makers, millers, and other resources to support their burgeoning, clean label bread company.
“We are trying to take what you buy on the shelf and make it as close to fresh bread as possible,” said Seymour, who knew that good bread could not be rushed. He talked to a cousin who told him to look up Keith and Nicky Giusto, fourth generation millers and third generation bakers with a stellar reputation and the know-how to do what Inked Organics needed to grow. Their business was in Sonoma County, too, in Petaluma. It’s a hub for bakers and other businesses such as Amy’s Kitchen, craft bakers Della Fattoria, and numerous others (read more about Sonoma County’s innovative businesses here).
So, What’s a Clean Label?
“Clean label” is a marketing term used to describe natural and organic food products. It is often used to illustrate a product’s simple ingredient list or its minimal processing. Heritage and artisan products that want to convey the idea that their product is familiar and does not contain GMOs, artificial sweeteners, or other unrecognizable ingredients may call their product “clean label.”
Transparency in the supply chain — knowing the farms and suppliers that grow and transport the food you eat — are benefits above and beyond a product’s recognizable ingredient list. Food companies in Northern California, driven by the farm-to-table ethos, do not aspire to clean label, they are clean label. It goes hand in hand with the region’s commitment to organics. It isn’t so much an innovation as a way of life.
Culinary innovation goes beyond clean label companies in Northern California. Innovation across the food spectrum is the norm. South San Francisco’s Thrive Culinary Algae Oil is making salad oil from seaweed. Cheese and butter made from plants is at the heart of Miyoko’s in Sonoma. The company that built the plant-based Impossible Burger calls the Silicon Valley home. And the city of Sonoma has its very own culinary incubator, Sonoma Brands.
Clean Labels Honor Sonoma County Food Traditions
Named for CEO and Founder Jon Sebastiani’s hometown, Sonoma Brands was launched to develop new packaged food brands. A lover of innovation and category disruption (his KRAVE Jerky reinvigorated the moribund category), Sebastiani is off to a roaring start, creating an entirely new food category with the gourmet, snackable marshmallow company, Smashmallow.
Züpa Noma, a line of chilled soups with flavors like organic beet and orange basil, honor the culinary traditions of Sonoma County. “Smaller, more innovative brands are going to drive the change in what and how we eat,” said Sebastiani. Either way, it is all snackable and, dare we say, Krave-worthy.
These are just a few of the food companies in Northern California that call Sonoma County home. Maybe it’s the mineral-rich soil and abundant sunshine that attracts farmers and food artisans to this part of the world. No matter what brought them here, culinary innovators find what they need to flourish in Sonoma’s mix of agricultural and packaged food businesses. With trailblazers like these on board, Sonoma’s future as a hub of clean label culinary innovation is assured.