The State of the Kitchen Incubator Industry in the US: An Industry Update 2020

In conjunction with Catharine Street Consulting, The Food Corridor, and Urbane Development, Econsult Solutions is proud to announce the release of its 3rd national survey of the kitchen incubator industry in the US. The state of shared-use food manufacturing activity has grown tremendously and evolved significantly since the first report in 2013, due to a confluence of forces, including:

  1. Stricter food regulations have increased the entry cost for commercial-grade food production, making more desirable the fractional ownership model seen in many other facets of the sharing economy
  2. Kitchen incubators represent the intersection of the growing popularity of a number of contemporary movements, such as entrepreneurship, the local craft economy, and artisanal food production
  3. Food is increasingly seen as an issue through which to pursue wellness, social justice, and equitable economic development

This report is expected to be widely utilized by individual participants and industry advocates, as was the case with the previous two reports in 2013 and 2016, as it uses an extensive survey of practitioners around the country to provide invaluable information on the state of the kitchen incubator industry in the US and its evolution over time on key operational metrics such as square footage, staffing, and equipment/services offered. The 2020 report methodology differs from the 2013 and 2016 reports, as outreach was done extensively to a broad range of shared-use food manufacturing facilities, which some of these facilities may not identify themselves as incubators. This revealed richer perspectives, which helped to inform the latter half of the report. The 2020 report also delves more deeply into industry trends and explores what might be next.  Some key takeaways:

  1. While the industry has come a long way in a short time, it has yet to formalize, and so missing standards and inconsistent practices create a perception of uncertainty, which yields reduced monetary and programming support.
  2. Lack of data, particularly in measuring the extent to which work is advancing economic inclusion, limits the case for funding.
  3. Both facility operators and individual users demand more support resources. Operators seek support with evidence-based entrepreneurial programming and development.  Food entrepreneurs desire distribution/logistics support, access to trained labor, affordable sourcing, and technical assistance around branding/sales.
  4. Lack of access to working capital is a major barrier for both facility operators and member businesses in getting off the ground and in achieving growth aspirations.
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