Why We Care about the Future of Food at Samsung NEXT

Bo Ren
Bo Ren
Oct 14, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo Credit: Wira Nansthasing

Every month at Samsung NEXT NY we choose a theme to focus our events and content programming on. In September, we chose the Future of Food.

We thought this was an appropriate topic because, for several decades New York has been the food capital of the U.S. We are home to David Cheng’s Momofuku, Danny Meyer’s Union Hospitality Group, and countless other great restaurants.

We’ve learned a lot about how to be good investors and stewards to entrepreneurs from Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table, which is not just a memoir but also a business philosophy. I love this line from Meyer’s:

“Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.”

At Samsung NEXT, we believe that we are also in the hospitality industry… because at the end of the day, we want to deliver amazing experiences and winning services to our ecosystem of founders and operators. We derive a lot of inspiration from Danny Meyer’s central philosophy on “enlightened hospitality,” which is how the delivery of a product or service makes the recipient feel. Steve Schlafman from Primary Ventures summarized this concept well in a recent blog post.

“Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been at the foundation of our success. Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel. Service is a monologue — we decide how we want to do things and set our own standards for service. Hospitality, on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response. It takes both great service and great hospitality to rise to the top.”

Mia and I explored the Future of Food Theme last month by visiting NY food tech startups and hosting a What’s NEXT founder dinner with a number of food tech founders.

We learned how hydroponic systems and vertical farming are changing the future of food production and distribution. Imagine having fresh AND local produce year-round!

Well, it’s possible with the hydroponic indoor farming shelves that Farm Shelf is building. They offer year-round produce to many NY restaurants like Mercado Little Spain in Hudson Yards, Red Rooster Harlem, and Tender Greens. We loved eating their Portuguese kale and purple opal basil.

Our New Lab visit to Farm Shelf tasting their delicious Portuguese Kale and Purple Opal Basil

During our What’s NEXT founder dinner, we discussed several themes, including access to food, the “goopification of food,” and decolonizing ethnic cooking.

Our What’s NEXT Founder Dinner

On Access to Food

A child living in a food desert like the Tenderloin in San Francisco does not have access to the same fresh produce as a child in Park Slope who probably lives close to a co-op. As a result, there is still a lot of work to be done on lowering the barriers to proper nutrition.

The “goopification” of food has also made many wellness and nutrition products available only for the uber-rich. Mike Lee from Alpha Food Labs spoke about the need to lower farming costs and encourage biodiversity in crop turnover to increase access to nutritional food for everyone.

Unfortunately, farmers are currently incentivized to grow crops that sell, instead of thinking about the biodiversity of their soil. Often farms become barren due to a lack of crop rotations based on market demands. Therefore, the margins for healthier food are higher due to shipping costs and an oversupply of mono-crops.

Decolonizing Ethnic Cooking

One of our favorite mission statements comes from Kim Pham of Oxtale. Her unofficial, non-investor mission statement is decolonizing ethnic cooking.

For too long, ethnic food has been romanticized to be exotic and “elevated.” Ali Wong’s character in Always Be My Maybe was accused of creating “elevated Asian cuisine” for white clientele.

My earliest memory in middle school was being bullied for eating chive dumplings during lunch hour because the other white classmates had never smelled chives before and called it “stinky.” Kim’s spice starter packs aim to democratize Asian cooking while containing the authenticity of local cuisines combined with the ease of a food kit. I tried her Mapo Tofu spice kit, and it was both delicious and easy to make!

Food is personal, emotional, and cultural. We learned so much from founders and operators at Oxtale, Farmshelf, Alpha Food Labs, Hungry TV, WeWork Food Labs, Misfit Foods, Shookit, Sunwink, and Runuble. Thanks for leaving us with a lot of good food for thought!

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