Manufacturing as a Mission

July 22, 2021
A Black entrepreneur tells why not using contract manufacturing is a matter of principle.
Sometimes, when you interview someone, they say something that you can’t fully use in the article you’re writing because of space limitations, but it still needs to be heard.

That’s what happened when I spoke with GW Chew, aka Chef Chew, the creator of Something Better Foods. It’s a line of plant-based analogue meats that include fried chicken, shredded steak (perfect for Philly cheesesteaks), meatballs and more.

The interview with Chew will be part of our September cover feature on food industry entrepreneurs. Chew has a personal connection to his business even more intense than that of most entrepreneurs. He became a vegan after watching the devastating toll that meat consumption took on the local community, including his father, who died at 62 from what Chew says were diet-related causes.

His sense of mission carried over when it came time to scale up to industrial capacity the recipes he had developed while owning several vegan restaurants.

I’ve interviewed my share of entrepreneurs in my career, and virtually every one of them used contract manufacturing to start; many of them still use it. Chew, despite having no practical experience with industrial food production, was determined to run his factory himself. I’ll let him tell why:

“You don’t have many minority, especially Black-owned, manufacturing companies. That became very important. We recognized that we were actually a beacon of hope, meaning that, if you go into a grocery store today, you’ll find – I don’t know the exact percentage, but it’s less than couple of percent [made by Black-owned firms]. Most of the products on the shelf are made by people who do not look like me.

“It became very vital that we learned how to manufacture, because we recognized that it might take longer, the commercialization process might be a little slower, but if we learned how to manufacture, that would become a welcome knowledge that we can pass on to our community, and create jobs for our community....There will be an automatic, built-in trust when they see people who look like them making a product that is healthy and that they will want to try.”

The food industry could use more GW Chews. It could use even more people, of whatever race or background, who understand that diversity is not some abstract principle; it’s an objectively valuable goal that consumers will respond to. The industry needs to create opportunities for minorities, and not just settle for allowing extraordinary individuals like GW Chew to create opportunities for themselves.

About the Author

Pan Demetrakakes | Senior Editor

Pan has written about the food and beverage industry for more than 25 years. His areas of coverage have included formulations, processing, packaging, marketing and retailing. Pan worked for Food Processing Magazine for six years in the 1990s, where he was operations editor (his current role), touring dozens of food plants of every description. He has also worked for Packaging and Food & Beverage Packaging magazines, the latter as chief editor, during which he won three ASBPE awards. He is a graduate of Stanford University with a BA in communications.

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