Pitching the future of food

Naturally Boulder’s Pitch Slam highlights the brightest ideas in natural foods and more


Three minutes. That’s all a select group of entrepreneurs have to pitch their natural food and other products in Naturally Boulder’s Pitch Slam on Thursday, Oct. 29. Next, a panel of judges will ask questions for three minutes, then it’s on to the next pitch. 

Out of the 10 finalists, a first-, second- and third-place winner will split a prize package worth more than $90,000 that includes everything their young brands/companies will need to become the next Justin’s Nut Butter or Bhakti Chai.

It’s like Shark Tank, except focused on natural foods and other natural products, and, as Naturally Boulder Executive Director Arron Mansika points out, it’s been around way longer. Naturally Boulder, a nonprofit that supports local entrepreneurs building natural products brands, ran its first pitch slam in 2005.

“Sixteen years ago we had to explain to people what a pitch slam was,” Mansika says.

Of course, people are familiar with the concept now. For Naturally Boulder’s event, pitchers must have been in business for a year, have generated revenue and have a presence in Colorado. From many applicants, the 10 best are chosen for the final slam. 

This year, though, the slam has gone virtual due to the pandemic. Mansika says even though “we’re going to miss the hugs and the high fives and the hand shakes,” the spirit of the event — enthusiastic local collaboration around natural products — won’t be lost.

“One of the things that has been driving the growth since 2005 is really the spirit of innovation,” Mansika says. “The spirit of collective effort. There are so many supportive people in Boulder, so when a brand has a great experience, well, you know who’s celebrating? The graphic designers… the accountant who set up the books… the lawyers. It’s very much a team effort.”

The event this year also includes an Innovation Showcase, where companies large and small, from Colorado and beyond, display some “meaningful innovation” they’ve created in the last 12 months. Guests of the virtual showcase can engage these vendors on-screen, often with an immediate, live conversations over video.

A lot of good, innovative ideas and products have been displayed over the years at Naturally Boulder’s Pitch Slam, Mansika says, and this year, attendees will be exposed to unique products like a plastic wrap alternative, CBD ice cream, coffee with mushrooms and much more.  

Mansika says natural product brands pivoted during the pandemic — for some, even, a switch to focusing on direct-to-consumer sales has helped accelerate their growth. Meanwhile, some companies with products that rely on educating the consumer (via taste tests, in-store samples, etc.) have had to take a step back, or at least take a “pause,” Mansika says.

The future for these businesses — and so many others — may be murky as we pull out of the pandemic, but on Oct. 29-30, we can at least get a glimpse of where the natural foods industry is headed. Sign up at pitchslam2020.naturallyboulder.org/register. Innovation showcase kicks off at 1 p.m. on Oct. 29., with the Pitch Slam from 4-6 p.m. A full day of virtual meeting opportunities with Innovation Showcase purveyors runs on Friday, Oct. 30.