The New Food Tech Gladiators
Food tech refers to the large group of startups and entrepreneurs setting out to disrupt the food industry with new technologies, techniques, business models, and strategies. They range from biotech agriculture firms creating new crops to virtual restaurant operators serving food from “cloud kitchens.”
The market is responding – in a big way – to companies that promise to change the way we grow, prepare, package, and consume our food. Globally, the food technology market grew to over $220 billion in 2019. It is projected to increase in size to over $342 billion by 2027.
Geographically, the United States leads the investment market by deal size and value, with 815 deals in 2020 – more than China, India, and the UK combined. Some speculate that investors are flocking back to American companies as they seek safety from recent, pandemic-fueled market volatility.
Food Tech Sectors
DigitalFoodLab divides food tech into six main sectors:
- 🚜 AgTech: Startups disrupting agriculture. They come up with solutions to improve farming output and quality using drones, sensors and farm management software. AgTech is also about new farm products, next generation farms and urban farming.
- 🧪 Food Science: Startups developing new food products answering the need for more transparency, health and environmental concerns. Products range from market innovations to radical disruptions using revolutionary ingredients.
- 👩🏿🍳 Food Service: Startups reinventing the hospitality industry. They improve the way horeca businesses are managed today. They also create the conditions for the restaurant of the future with robotics and cloud kitchens.
- 📊 Coaching: Startups answering the questions “is my food good for me?” and “what should I eat?”. These services target the final customer and help them to have a better view of his food purchases and intakes to reach his personal goals.
- 🚗 Delivery: Startups answering the delivery challenges in the food industry, with home delivery of groceries, restaurant meals or meals prepared in their kitchens.
- 🛒 Retail: Startups developing solutions for the food retail industry, from the digitalisation of the supply chain to a better in-store shopper experience.
The diversity of these sectors demonstrates how difficult it is to put “food tech” into a single, defined box. The industry seeks nothing less than to revolutionize, from farm to table, the way that human beings interact with animals, crops, and food.
Some of these companies are highly visible, like the Uber Eats driver who brings us our fast food. Others work behind the scenes, like the food scientists creating new, hardier, or more abundant crops that grow in more places around the world.
Interestingly, while it is typical for more VC dollars to go to downstream, close-to-the-consumer firms, last year, upstream companies took the lion’s share of the investment pie, with 52% of investment going to startups in farm tech, biotech, and other businesses further away from the consumer.
Subsector Spotlight: AgTech – Agricultural Drones
AgTech refers to technology companies that are disrupting the agriculture business. From AI-enabled farming assistants to companies using drones to optimize agricultural operations, AgTech promises to permanently change the way that we grow and raise our food.
Several trends are driving the growth of new AgTech companies. First, the staggering environmental cost associated with producing plant and animal foods has been thrown into sharp relief by the increasing prevalence of climate change-induced weather phenomena.
Second, world population growth is shrinking the amount of available land for farming while simultaneously increasing the demand for food. The combination of these two factors will require food producers to increase their efficiency and change the methods they’ve been using since time immemorial.
As a way of addressing both of these concerns, the producers of new unmanned aerial vehicles for agricultural use aim to reduce the use of pesticides and other chemicals while increasing yields through better management of crops.
These new agriculture-specific UAVs are just part of a trend in AgTech known as “precision agriculture.” In precision agriculture, farmers react and respond to inter-field and intra-field variabilities with a variety of new technologies designed to maximize yields and minimize food loss.
A New Industry Up-and-Comer: Guardian Agriculture
Founded in 2017 and headquartered in Malden, Massachusetts, Guardian Agriculture recently secured over $10 million in seed funding from a variety of major investors, including Bayer. The company relies on an innovative service business model, offering farmers effective and sustainable crop protection using their electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) drone technology.
One of the company’s key aims is to reduce the environmental impact of large-scale farming by delivering chemical agents only where and when they are needed. It does this by relying on a combination of data analysis and robotics.
According to a press release from the company dated April 6, 2021, Guardian Agriculture has acquired a backlog of over $20 million in service renovation agreements from farmers across the United States.
The Future of Food Tech
The future of food tech is wide open. Because the industry includes so many different kinds of companies engaged in so many different kinds of disruptive activity, any of today’s small startups could be tomorrow’s next Beyond Meat.
A few trends, though, seem poised to have an outsized impact on the field.
First, the decreasing availability of farmland and land otherwise available for food production seems destined to increase the value of companies that promise to make more efficient use of it.
Second, increasing protein consumption across the developing world and changing tastes and habits in more developed economies seems guaranteed to continue creating openings for companies that seek to change the things we eat – and the ways in which we eat them.
Finally, an enhanced focus on the environmental impacts of our diets is unlikely to disappear in the near future. And as people become ever more focused on how what they eat is changing the environment of the places in which they live, we’re likely to continue seeing growth in companies that help mitigate the impacts of climate change and other environmental effects.
20 Foodtech Companies to Watch
Each sector includes breakout stars doing fascinating things in their markets. Here’s a peek at 20 fast-growing companies looking to do things differently in food tech.
AeroFarms is an urban agricultural company which provides an aeroponic growing system that grows and produces with neither soil or sun, in any location.
Apeel Sciences is fighting the $2.6 trillion-dollar global food waste crisis by utilizing advances in materials science to prevent waste – a sustainable approach to the world’s growing and urgent food demands.
Infarm combines highly efficient vertical farms with IoT technologies and Machine Learning, to offer an alternative food system that is resilient, transparent, and affordable.
NotCo uses artificial intelligence to help develop food products faster, better, and more accurately.
Farmy is an online marketplace for local and organic food, directly from farmers & food makers.
AppHarvest is building some of America’s largest greenhouses, combining conventional agricultural techniques with today’s technology to grow non-GMO, chemical-free produce.
7. Naïo Technologies
Naïo Technologies develops and markets robots for agriculture and viticulture.
8. Food Maven
FoodMaven is an online marketplace and logistics company that uses technology to reinvent the food system, support farmers, and fight food waste.
Agriprotein is an Agri-tech company that specializes in nutrient recycling to create sustainable sources of protein for the mono-gastric animal feed industry.
10. Perfect Day
Perfect Day is a biotechnology company specializing in the food and beverages industry with a main focus on the dairy sector.
FoodLogiQ provides traceability, food safety compliance, and supply chain transparency software solutions.
12. Soft Robotics
Soft Robotics builds automated picking solutions to solve the hardest piece picking problems in industries such as food processing.
TeleSense is an Agtech company providing environmental monitoring and control solutions for the food and grain industry.
14. Mosa Meat
Mosa Meat created the world’s first clean meat hamburger and now plans to bring it to plates everywhere in order to feed our fast-growing population in a sustainable, healthy, and animal-friendly way.
15. Shiok Meats
Shiok Meats is a cellular aquaculture and cell-based meat company, the first of its kind in Singapore and South-East Asia.
Omnivore is a point-of-sale integration API that allows restaurant brands to digitize their guest and operational experience in a meaningful and sustainable way.
Kroger ranks as one of the world’s largest food retailers with innovations in meatless meat to contactless payments to supporting food tech startups.
18. QSR Automations
QSR’s designs restaurant technology solutions to take the dining experience to the next level.
Aerobotics utilizes an AI-based analytics platform that takes in drone-obtained aerial imagery and uses machine learning algorithms to alert farmers to areas where action needs to be taken.
Agrinos helps farmers by providing increased crop yield and productivity, improved crop quality, enhanced efficiency of conventional fertilizer, and a reduced environmental footprint.
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