Meet 50 Latinas Who Are Innovating To Sustainably, And Deliciously, Feed The World

Food & Drink

The Latino population is the fastest growing in the United States, representing 51% of population growth according to the 2020 census. Latinos are the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the country. Their buying power is growing 70% faster than non-Latinos, at just over $1.9TN in 2021. If U.S. based Latinos represented a country, they would have the 7th largest GDP in the world. 

Of this group, Latina founders are often overlooked, receiving 0.04% of venture funding while comprising 9% of the U.S. population. The statistics are so familiar by now that they are easy to glaze over, but this gap is critical to address if we are to realize the range of innovations required for our changing world. Diverse perspectives breed strong businesses and better returns, a topic that is well documented by Harvard, McKinsey, and Kauffman

 According to Kayla Castañeda, the founder of the beverage company Agua Bonita, “Being a Latina-led business means having both the privilege and responsibility of letting our culture guide the way we conduct business — from our sourcing practices, to our product, to our partners. Our life experiences are represented by our business.”  

 Here is a roundup of 50 Latina-founded companies that are innovating to sustainably — and deliciously — feed the world. From using microalgae to create clean protein, to developing snacks made from the resistant nopal cactus and upcycled fruits, they lead companies in CPG, agriculture, supply chain, technology, and food media.

1. Agua Bonita (Kayla Castañeda and Erin PonTell, California) upcycles fruit like watermelon, pineapple, and cucumber that would have gone to waste and transforms it into agua fresca, a traditionally consumed, zero-added sugar drink. Currently 1/3 of all food produced in the US is wasted, and agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. 

2. Abuelas Kitchen (Silvia Salas-Sanchez, California) produces cooking videos with her 86 year old abuela. The duo has 235,000 followers on YouTube, recipes range from classic Mexican dish frijoles charros to arroz con leche and chilaquiles. 

3. Alquimia Tequila (Eliana Murillo, California) is a 100% USDA-certified organic tequila. The agave is grown on land that has been in the family for generations; the founder’s great-grandfather told them, ““Take care of the earth, and she will take care of you.”

4. Agtools (Marta Montoya, California) is a supply chain software company that aggregates data for over 500 specialty crops; their algorithm provides predictive analytics for farmers and buyers to manage forecasting and purchasing. Customers receive a daily commodity report to manage their business.

5. Alicia Kennedy (Alicia Kennedy, Puerto Rico) is a food writer and activist. Her popular newsletter, From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy, explores themes of social and environmental justice in food. She shares hard-to-perfect vegan baking recipes, and interviews thought leaders in a weekly podcast.

6. Aldaz Tequila (Jen Aczualdez, Mexico) is a line of 100% organic-certified tequila that focuses on minimal environmental impact; agave production can impact sensitive bat ecosystems.

7. Automated Water Machines (Manuela Zoninsein, Illinois) is developing a waste-free technology targeted at the $12.5 billion American water bottle market. Customers use a glass water bottle, refilling and returning it at a network of fill-stations.

8. Bandida (Megan Meza, New York) offers a line of cold-brew horchata coffee drinks with no refined sugar or dairy. The mission is to us, “coffee breaks to break the glass ceiling”; The founder focuses on enabling women at every level of her business, from the coffee in her recipe to the team that makes her products.

9. BLVD MRKT (Evelyn Santos, California) is an artisan food hall that was built as part of a revitalization effort in downtown Montebello, California by fostering community engagement and igniting economic activity through artisan food, art, culture, and entrepreneurship.

10. Bodega Makeover (Evelyn Brito, Massachusetts) is a film-series spearheaded by film-maker Evelyn Brito to shine a light on the importance of bodegas for bringing fresh, healthy food to communities in and around the Boston area.

11. BOxES (Natalia Machin, Uruguay) develops IoT-enabled dispensers, combining physical & digital technology to vend items like yerba mate and women’s feminine products. The goal is to “democratize space-efficient, convenient, affordable & sustainable retail.” They are a part of this year’s Techstars Farm to Fork accelerator.

12. Brazi Bites (Junea Rocha, Oregon) founder Junea Rocha took her family recipe – pão de quiejo, a gluten-free, cheese bread, and grew into commercial success after an appearance on Shark Tank. Revenues topped $30MN before a majority stake was sold to private equity in 2018.

13. Brightseed (Sofia Elizondo, California) is a biosciences company utilizing artificial intelligence to understand the connections between bioactives and human health. The company recently partnered with leading food company Danone to explore phytonutrients and enhance it’s dairy-free portfolio.

14. Catracha Coffee (Mayra Orellana-Powell, Honduras) brings all-women produced coffee from rural Honduras to the United States. The company pays farmers up to 2x the fair-trade farmgate price, according to its website. Catracha is the colloquial word for woman in the founders’ hometown of Santa Elena, Honduras.

15. Cocina 54 ( Cecilia Panichelli, Texas) are gluten-free frozen Argentinian-style empanadas made with antibiotic-free meats. The products are sold nationwide at Target.

16. CocoAndré Chocolatier (Andrea and Cindy Pedraza, Texas) is a family-owned specialty chocolate shop whose mission is “Changing the narrative by reconnecting to our ancestral roots in cacao to empower others. We believe chocolate is a unifier, and creating an inclusive safe space for the BIPOC community to come together is what drives us and reaffirms our purpose in this world.” Mother and daughter team Cindy and Andrea started the shop in 2009.

17. Colada Shop (Daniella Senior, Washington DC) brings together ‘coladas and conversation.’ Senior started the restaurants and cafes to bring flavors from her native Dominican Republic to Washington, DC; Colada Shop now has four locations.

18. Compound Foods (Maricel Saenz, California) aims to recreate coffee without the bean. Originally from Costa Rica, Saenz saw how climate change was impacting coffee farmers; she combines science, fermentation, and synthetic biology to recreate coffee without coffee beans.

19. Cru Chocolate (Karla McNeil, California) founder has a masters of science in sustainability management. As a 4th generation Honduran coffee and sugarcane farmer, she combines her academic training and her heritage to produce award winning chocolate sourced from Central America. 

20. Dathic (Laura Rocha, New York) is a data platform to help CPG brands reach Hispanic communities. The company works with leading food and beauty companies to do so with nuance, honoring the multitudes within the Hispanic community. 

21. Doña Vega (Sonya Vega Auvray, New York) was launched after founder Auvray took a trip to Oaxaca to explore her Mexican heritage. She works with a 5th generation mezcalera and uses a unique blend of agave and herbs in her recipe.

22. Ecoflora Cares (Dr. Sandra Zapata, Colombia) has developed a natural blue colorant. Hailing from the Choco region of Colombia, founder Sandra Zapata is on a mission to develop colorants for food and cosmetics that are also in harmony with nature.

23.  Elavi (Michelle Razavi, California) makes ‘performance nutrition’ snacks, and was founded by two fitness instructors. With ingredients like goji berries and collagen, customers share “wow – much better than an RX Bar.”

24. Everdura (Liz Nunez, Maryland) delivers fresh groceries to your door, with a focus on Latin American food and flavors. The company currently operates in and around Baltimore.

25.  Foodology (Daniela Izquierdo, Colombia) is one of the first Latin America-based businesses to create and operate digital restaurant brands that are solely designed for delivery. The company was founded by Daniela Izquierdo, a Harvard Business School and McKinsey alumni.

26. Fresh Bellies (Saskia Sorrosa, New York) was started to address a pain-point that many new parents face – how to feed kids a fast, healthy meal. The company produces healthy toddler snacks with names like Broc-n-Roll and Turn-up the Beet, and they were featured on Season 10 of Shark Tank.

27. Goldbelly (Vanessa Torrivilla Ariel, New York) is an online platform to discover, buy and sell the best handmade food from the top food makers and artisans in the country. Meal Kits by celebrity chefs such as José Andres are available on the website, as well.

28. Grocery Run Club (Lucía Angel, Illinois) was founded during the pandemic to ensure that communities in Chicago who were facing increased food security due to the pandemic could access a healthy meal.  The volunteer network is run by Lucía and her  partner Jorge Saldarriaga, and was featured in Teach Me Something by Christina Tosi of Milk Bar.

29.  I Am Grounded (Vanessa Murillo, Australia) upcycles the coffee cherry – the pulpy fruit that surrounds the coffee bean – and turns them into nutritious snack bars.

30. Inaru Cacao (Janett and Erika Liriano, the Dominican Republic) developed a vertically-integrated cocoa supply chain – a rarity in the usually fragmented industry – with the goal of bringing prosperity to the Dominican countryside. In an interview with The Helm, Janett shared, “All of this “short term mentalism”—these quarterly-driven business decisions—is killing businesses and communities and ultimately, killing the product from the land that you would like to sell from in the short term.”

31. Josefa (Sofia Hernandez, California) taps into a 90 year old family recipe to bring goat’s milk cajeta – a sweet, spreadable caramel — to U.S. consumers. A former merchandiser for H&M, founder Sofia Hernandez’s family has been making this recipe since 1927. Hernandez shares, “Every time I visited Mexico I would bring jars of Mexican dulce de leche, home with me because I couldn’t find something similar to the cajeta my family crafted in Mexico. I founded Josefa as a celebration of my family’s heritage, an expression of Mexico’s sweet flavors, and a chance to create togetherness through food.”

32. microTerra (Marissa Cuevas Flores, Mexico) is led by MIT innovator Marissa Cuevas Flores; she has developed a process to create a protein rich powder using lemna (duckweed), which is a plant that cleans water systems as it grows. An Echoing Green Fellow and National Geographic explorer, she is one to watch.

33. Mr. Veggy (Mariana Falcão, Brazil) was founded 13 years ago in Sao Paolo, Brazil with a mission to reduce meat consumption in the country. The company offers a full line of hamburgers, sausages, and Brazilian classics like Coxinha, made with jack fruit instead of the traditional chicken.

34. Nemi Holisticks (Regina Trujillo, Illinois) was founded by a human rights lawyer who was looking for healthy, crunchy snacks with the flavors of her native Mexico. When she couldn’t find them, she turned to the nopal cactus. Trujillo developed a line of nutritionally-dense snacks flavored with functional ingredients like chia and turmeric. She says, “The lack of representation I felt when going into the “ethnic” aisle at the grocery store after moving from Mexico City to Chicago was my greatest motivation. Being a Latina-led business is an opportunity to change the perception of how Latinxs contribute to the marketplace, innovate and elevate our cultura. I get a chance to show up authentically, challenge false presumptions around Latinxs and hopefully pave the way for other Latinxs to start a business.”

35. Novah Natural (Lisiane Oliveira, Brazil) is a line of plant-based cheeses that are made with cashews, a nut that is grown widely in Brazil. Vegetarianism is growing in this heavily meat-based Brazilian food culture.

36. N.Ovo (Amanda Pinto, Brazil) means ‘não ouvo’ in Portuguese, or no egg. This leading food tech business has created a plant-based egg substitute that is available in the Brazilian market.

37. Pinole Project (Maya Jacquez, New York) is a nutrient-dense oatmeal with pinole as the star ingredient. Pinole is a corn that is consumed by the Tarahumara people of Northern Mexico. The company honors the founder’s grandparents as they bring this nutrient-dense, organic corn from Oaxaca, Mexico to a U.S. audience in new formats.

38. PolyNatural (Agustina Gabbio, Chile) makes the Shel-life coating which extends the shelf life of produce, reducing waste and increasing the bottom line of farmers and retailers. While many coatings are petroleum-based, Shel-life is plant-based.

39.  PRoduce (Crystal Díaz, Puerto Rico) is an online marketplace for locally produced goods in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Food security on the island is and 85% of all produce is imported; Produce aims to bolster local businesses and increase food sovereignty on the island.  

40. Progeny Coffee (Maria Palacio, California) is a women-owned coffee company; the CEO is a 5th generation coffee farmer from Colombia. The company imports micro-lot, direct from farm coffees and the individual farmers identity is maintained on each bag. Palacio shares, “Being a Latina-led business is such an honor to me, because it means that I get to share not only who we are as Latinas, but also show the community what Latinas are capable of achieving.  In doing so, I’m able to fulfill one of my personal missions – to uplift a community of coffee farmers back home in Colombia who have all too often been forgotten by the broken coffee supply chain.  It’s my hope that Progeny, along with other Latina led businesses, will continue to help pave the way for more Latinas to also rise.”

41. Salsology (Lori Sandoval, California) makes simmer sauces that celebrate Mexico’s rich regional cuisines and uses diverse ingredients, including many varieties of chiles (Mexico boasts over 60 varieties), tamarind, and even mezcal. Her mission is to address the ‘misrepresentation and misinterpretation’ of Mexico’s culture and cuisine.

42. Saucy Lips (Natalia Dalton Salazar, Florida) is on a mission to make it easy to cook clean, flavorful dishes at home with a line of ready to eat simmer sauces, marinades, and dressings. Flavors are rooted in family heritage, influenced by the Yucatan, Mexico.

43. Siete Foods (Veronica Garza, Texas) was founded by the seven family members of the Garza family. The grain-free foods boast a distinctly Mexican-American flavor profile and vibe, and the company celebrates a plethora of nutrient-dense ingredients in their tortillas (cassava, chia, and almond are a few). Products can be found nation-wide from Whole Foods to Costco.

44. Skinny Souping (Allison Velazquez, Illinois) is a line of healthy, portable, drinkable soups designed by nutritionist Allison Velazquez. She started the company to ‘bring soup back to its roots,’ inspired by her grandmother’s recipes and cooking.

45. Snaxshots (Andrea Hernandez, Honduras) is a not-to-be-missed weekly newsletter of quippy food trends. Recent newsletters cover a range of topics, from “Curation-as-a-Service” to the “Caffeine Renaissance.” Hernandez is truly prophetic; give it a spin.

46. Sweet Logic (Allison Escovedo Owen, Colorado) is a line of keto-friendly baking mixes with 12g of protein per serving. Both founders struggled with diet-related health challenges, inspiring them to launch the business.

47. Tasty Smart (Jonelie M. Velez-Roman and Ailed González Quintana, Puerto Rico) makes gluten-free snack foods based on regional flavors. Quintana has a degree in microbiology and environmental health, and originally worked at the Puerto Rico Department of Health; she and Velez-Roman (who was previously at Anheuser-Busch and Coca Cola) met in high school, and became business partners after seeing the opportunity in their community.

48. Todo Verde (Jocelyn Ramirez, California) is a Mexican-American catering business led by chef / food activist Jocelyn Ramirez. She recently published the book La Vida Verde: Plant-Based Mexican Cooking with Authentic Flavor and launched a line of spices making it easy to cook Mexican classics like carnitas and al pastor at home.

49. Unite Foods (Clara Lahlouh Paye, California) makes wholesome, gluten-free bars with global flavors like churro and Mexican hot chocolate. Inspired by the founders love of travel, Paye made a quick COVID pivot and built a direct-to-consumer presence and ecommerce focus.  

50. Yola Mezcal (Yola Jimenez, California and Mexico) boasts the spirit of Jimenez’ grandfather, who originally started the exploration into the mezcal-producing state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Mezcal has outwardly been a male-dominated business, but Jimenez is laser focused on women’s inclusion on the supply chain. She shared, “Mezcal has traditionally been a family production. And there is a hidden labor in the mezcal supply chain, which are the women who play an important role in its production, and always have.”

In summary, next time a claim is made that the ‘pipeline’ is to blame for the low numbers of women receiving investment in the food space, remember to share this list.

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