Portland, Oregon, is the best food city in the United States. I’m not just saying that because I live there — both WalletHub and Jetsetter agree.

Usually when people talk about Portland having great food, they’re referring to our amazing restaurant scene. But local food companies are making their mark as well. Adam Rapoport of Bon Appétit Magazine named Olympia Provisions “Best Charcuterie in America,” and everybody loves Salt & Straw.

These are the kinds of local food and beverage businesses the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network (OEN) sought to boost at their first-ever Angel Food Conference, which took place on June 19.

The big winner: A Cajun Life

The event featured talks by companies at various stages of the startup journey. Three companies competed for a $155,000 investment from the OEN.

The winner was Our Life Foods, LLC, and its brand A Cajun Life. The company was founded by Chris Fontenot, a Louisiana native who moved to Portland to pursue new business for Hershey, where he worked for 9 years in sales. As with many great Portland food stories, A Cajun Life started as a food cart. The portfolio now consists of seasonings, mixes, and boxed meals, and snacks are on the horizon.

A Cajun Life

Concept stage winners: Proud Label and Honey Palette

Six companies at the concept stage pitched for two prize packages that included legal services, leadership coaching, office space, a design consultation, and shelf space at local grocery stores Green Zebra, Market of Choice, and New Seasons. The winners were Proud Label and Honey Palette.

Proud Label

Founded by Laura Taylor, Proud Label makes plant-based dips to help get kids to eat their veggies. The dips are bright and colorful, made from organic ingredients, and provide a nutrient-dense snack.

Proud Label

Honey Palette

Honey Palette is a bakery based on the idea that “everyone deserves dessert,” even people who can’t or don’t choose to eat gluten, grain, sugar, dairy, soy, or nuts.

Honey Palette

Trends to watch

The products at the food fair provide insight into current and emerging trends in the food space. Clean label was a given — even the cheesy puffs could claim clean label status! Here are a few of the up-and-coming trends the products illustrated.

Functional food and beverages

Consumers today want more from their food than for it to just be nutritious and delicious. Roughly two-thirds of consumers want to be proactive about their health, and many are looking to their diets for enhanced benefits.

  • Mindful Proteins makes protein water for hydration and recovery after high intensity muscle workouts, particularly yoga.
  • Goodwolf Feeding Company makes probiotic kefir water that’s a more approachable alternative to kombucha.
  • LivBar makes organic superfood snack bars that are also free from gluten, GMOs, soy, corn, dairy, and nuts. The bars come in a compostable package.

Products for special diets

Honey Palette wasn’t the only company creating products for special diets.

  • Josie’s Best makes mixes for pancakes, waffles, muffins, etc., that are not only gluten-free but top 8 allergy-free as well.
  • Wayfarers & Warriors makes beef pemmican for ketogenic diets.

Hibiscus

Consumers are on the lookout for the next best thing, which has increased interest in foods and flavors from around the world. Hibiscus is listed as an “up and coming” flavor for both hot and cold beverages on Kerry’s 2019 Taste Charts.

  • Le Casserole Gourmet makes HibisBloom, a brewed hibiscus beverage that’s more like a juice than a tea.
  • Mathilde’s Kitchen is another Portland food cart moving into the packaged beverage arena with their hibiscus flower ginger brew.

CBD

Finally, CBD continues to make its way into food and beverage products, even though the regulatory situation is still a muddle.

As the food industry works to innovate to meet consumer demands, companies like these are the ones to watch.