Over the past two years, three alumni partnered to create Taste Supply, a startup tech company providing an online marketplace platform for small-to-medium-sized food makers. The VMI alumni network—through the likes of a cold call, a food truck, and a rat send-off—united George Inge ’91, Guy Conte ’75, and Whitney Matthews ’07 in their respective fields of expertise behind Inge’s long-held idea for the business.
Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, Taste Supply is an e-commerce platform, like Etsy, where small-scale food makers can sell their products nationwide. The term for these products is specialty foods, which are foods and beverages that are not mass produced and are rarely found in grocery stores. “Let’s say, for example, you love hot sauces, and you’re searching for specialty-made hot sauce; you can go to our site and select from hot sauces made by businesses in Maine versus Georgia versus Kansas versus Washington state,” Matthews explained.
In a market monopolized by behemoth food companies, Taste Supply aims to give small businesses a chance to compete and make their products accessible to consumers. “We’re doing this because we’re fighting big food,” said Inge. “We’re pro small- and medium-sized businesses. If America loses all these food makers because they can’t compete online and they can’t compete in the grocery store, then the only product choices buyers are going to have are Oreo or Chips Ahoy, Coke or Pepsi.”
Inge’s idea for the company originated in the 1990s while working for a financial company in New York City. A friend invited Inge to attend a specialty food show, and, struck by the array of businesses and products, he developed the concept for a website where these specialized goods would made available to a large consumer base. The idea remained with Inge throughout his career until, finally, the shift toward online food purchases during the COVID-19 pandemic realized the perfect opportunity to bring Taste Supply to fruition. “Last year, specialty foods did $194 billion dollars in sales in America. This is a very large market, and there is no online marketplace for these independent food makers,” said Inge. Two years ago, decades after his initial idea, it was the right timing in the industry to build Taste Supply.
“I always say, never doubt the power of the VMI networks just because you don’t find something immediately; it is there, and it is strong.”Whitney Matthews ’07
Along the way, Inge connected with Conte and Matthews. Inge’s business partnership with Conte began with Inge cold calling Conte after learning he helped a cookie brand, Tate’s Bake Shop, move from a small company to being sold for $500 million to a major food company. Conte was immediately excited about Taste Supply and came onboard as an advisor. “Guy Conte is a rock star in the specialty food industry, so having him as an advisor was huge,” said Inge. Years before, Inge and Matthews, a classically trained chef who studied at The Culinary Institute of America, met when she catered a rat send-off from her food truck business. Around the time Matthews’ food truck business was halted by the pandemic, Inge called her because Taste Supply had entered the stage of connecting with food makers and needed someone with industry experience, connections, and technical knowledge, and Matthews was the perfect fit.
For Matthews, her work with Taste Supply speaks to the strength of the VMI alumni network when it could reach her in an industry as niche as hers. Even though she chose VMI, in part, because of its network, Matthews thought her career choice to be a chef precluded her from leveraging the VMI network. “I never really thought that the VMI network would reach me because of the career I chose,” said Matthews. “But I always kind of know [the network] was there. Then, the pandemic hit and, all of a sudden, the VMI network is reaching out to me saying, ‘No, actually, there is an opportunity for you in this world that you already live in.’”
Now, as a part of Taste Supply, Matthews says, “I always say, never doubt the power of the VMI networks just because you don’t find something immediately; it is there, and it is strong.”
Over the last two years, Inge, Conte, and Matthews have built up their business, and now, with the platform developed, Taste Supply is in the full launch phase as they raise money, onboard food makers, and move their company into the greater food market’s purview. To learn more about Taste Supply, visit their website.
Mattie Montgomery Assistant Editor
The assistant editor assists the editor-in-chief in various tasks relating to the production of quarterly and monthly publications, as well as prepares written materials for publication. The assistant editor serves as liaison between class agents and chapter presidents and the Agencies’ publications, as well as provides backup photography for events.