It hasn’t been easy for Black female entrepreneurs in the food industry. “I am Black. I am female. I am trying to break into the food space,” says Maya Madsen, founder of Maya’s Cookies, a gourmet vegan cookie company based in San Diego, California. “You don't see someone that looks like me. You see Mrs. Fields.” Being a Black woman, I have to be excellent to be average. There's no room for error,” she said.
Despite facing serious challenges when it comes to leadership opportunities and funding, these four Black women below—including Maya—are leading a new chapter in the plant-based food Industry. And with an increased interest in vegan and plant-based diets in the last decade, it's beyond ripe for innovation.
Maya Madsen: Maya's Cookies
Madsen, who counts Black female entrepreneurs like restaurateur Pinky Cole and Serena Williams as inspiration, underlines that as a Black woman “I have to be excellent to be average. There's no room for error.”
Madsen did not go to college, and she created a food brand partially because she experienced food insecurity as a child—the Sacramento native described taking packets of jelly from restaurants to eat on saltines. She developed a passion for plant-based foods during her 15 year long career as a personal trainer, creating a plant-based chocolate chip cookie recipe when she couldn’t find similar products on her local supermarket shelves. By 2015, Madsen had gone professional, establishing one of few Black-owned and plant-based cookie brands.
Samantha Edwards: New Breed Meats
Samantha Edwards was also inspired to start a business due to her upbringing. “There was heavy Caribbean influence in the inner cities of Brooklyn,” says the native New Yorker. “I saw a lack of education [regarding] a healthier lifestyle.” Co-founded by Samantha Edwards and Rochelle Mekowulu in 2018, New Breed Meats offers plant-based products, including spicy sausage, savory burgers, and ground meat. In 2022, Edwards pitched the brand to Black entrepreneurs on Bet on Black, a Shark Tank-like series on REVOLT TV, emerging with $220,000 and the motivation to continue to support healthy eating that’s accessible to everyone.
Being familiar with ingredients is very important, especially for those struggling with chronic health problems. Many African-American women suffer from serious health problems including diabetes and high blood pressure. In the United States, 4 out of 5 Black women are obese. Black female business owners aren’t just making tasty products—they are encouraging more Black women and people to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Sandi Enriquez: Mother Earth Vinegar
Sandi Enriquez says that running alongside Olympic athletes at California State University, Northridge instilled her with the skills and focus necessary to run a business. Having established three national organic vinegar brands in her career—including Bragg and Fleishmann’s—Enriquez is now the president of Mother Earth Vinegar. The Southern California-based company’s products include: organic apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, white vinegar, and Keurig-compatible superfood tea pods. Like Madsen, Enriquez says she hasn’t seen many women of color in the food industry. “When I started, most women were administrative assistants, payroll clerks, and receivable clerks,” she says. “There weren't any women [in leadership roles]. And there weren't any women of color,” said Enriquez.
Tabita Carr: Good Girl Chocolate
Good Girl Chocolate founder Dr. Tabatha Carr has also faced obstacles as a Black female entrepreneur.
“Being Black and female, it is very difficult to get venture capital funding,” she says. “I had an 800 credit score and was still turned down. One bank told me I needed a guarantor. I brought them a guarantor who’s a millionaire with a perfect score. They turned that down.” Even though it’s been a challenge to get financial support, Good Girl Chocolate won a pitch competition with Whole Foods Market and Dr. Carr’s chocolates hit 20 Whole Foods locations across the Southwest this month.
Carr’s experience with funding shouldn’t come as a surprise. Black-owned businesses disproportionately struggled to survive during the pandemic; further only 2.6% of venture capital funding was given to Black and Latinx-owned businesses in 2020, according to a report from Crunchbase. Black female business owners described the pressure to prove themselves to men in the food industry. Others recounted having male colleagues present their ideas as their own. The challenges continue to be substantial.
Despite the odds, Black female entrepreneurs are shaking things up in the plant-based space. Next time you head to your local grocery store, make sure to ask about Black female-owned brands. Mother Earth Vinegar, Maya’s Cookies, Good Girl Chocolate, and New Breed Meats aren’t the only Black female-owned and plant-based brands. Check out Me and The Bees, Choose Life Foods, Rooted Delights, and more. Try to support Black-owned businesses every month of the year—not just during Black History Month. “We need Black folks in the food industry,” says Carr. “It’s very important that you have more Black people in the natural food industry providing better options for our people.”