C84 | The next big investment opportunity. Food is the new internet
Mila Valcárcel, managing director of Eatable Adventures
Nº 236 – ABRIL 2021
Just like the internet at the end of the 20th century, the agri-food value chain is today the sector with the greatest investment opportunities. Not surprisingly, the sector received more than 26 trillion dollars globally in 2020, mainly through agile and disruptive start-ups. These investments and covid-19 are the two elements that are accelerating the transformation.
of the food system. Sustainability, health concerns, and a greater consumer search for convenience, transparency and efficiency are the three macro-trends that are coming on strong.
14.5 trillion, the agri-food value chain represents the next big investment opportunity, similar to the internet at the end of the 20th century. And, just as the transformation of almost every economic sector that the internet has brought us in the last 20 years, we can already see a major metamorphosis of the food sector.
At Eatable Adventures we are observing this revolution from a privileged position. The global perspective provided by working with more than 20 food corporations in 3 different continents, the analysis of more than 1,400 innovative start-up projects from all over the world in 2020 alone that bring high technology along the entire value chain and the relationship with more than 300 institutions, innovation hubs and specialised investors in 30 different countries is truly revealing of what this future will be like.
Investment and covid-19, accelerating transformation
The food system, like most sectors, has been impacted by covid-19, accelerating its technological transformation and completely rethinking the growth strategies of the different actors in the value chain. Technology has proven to be the main way to solve the challenges presented by the food system and this can be corroborated by analysing the investment in Foodtech start-ups in the last year.
According to Agfunder (1), total global investment in this field in 2020 was 26.1 billion dollars, reaching a maturity that shows that this sector is no longer a niche, but the present and future of our food. Start-ups are playing a leading role in this revolution by offering disruptive, agile and efficient solutions at a time of maximum uncertainty for humanity.
By 2020, investment in European foodtech start-ups applying technologies along the agri-food value chain has reached €2.7 billion (2), where Spain is represented by a major unicorn in the delivery sector: Glovo.
As the agri-food sector is one of the main drivers of our economy, it is clear that Spain has all the potential to become a FoodTech Nation capable of attracting talent and investment, competing with other innovation hubs such as Singapore or Israel.
In Spain alone, according to our report "The State of Foodtech in Spain", more than 400 start-ups are active in innovation applied to the agri-food value chain, a figure comparable to countries such as France, slightly higher than the United Kingdom and less than half of the 900 start-ups in Israel (3).
It is almost impossible to predict what the food system will look like in 20 years' time, but we are beginning to glimpse the major macro-trends that are driving this change and will have a profound impact on how we will eat in the coming years. They are sustainability, health concerns, and transparency and convenience.
1. Sustainability as a driver of disruption
The application of innovative technologies in the agri-food sector can boost six of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the United Nations aims to achieve by 2030. Specifically, the SDGs are considered: end poverty, zero hunger, health and well-being, climate action, underwater life and life of terrestrial ecosystems.
The impact of the most disruptive technologies in the agri-food sector represents a fundamental lever in climate action and poverty eradication strategies, moving from a centralised to a decentralised production model.
For the first time, in 2020, investment in upstream technologies exceeded investment in downstream technologies, driven primarily by investments in solutions to increase the efficiency of agriculture and livestock farming and in innovative foods.
We are going through a stage of transformation of primary production into a secondary sector industry thanks to technologies such as vertical farming and precision farming and those that develop the protein alternative such as cell culture, fermentation and plant based.
- For example, the Spanish start-up H2hydroponics develops hydroponic growing solutions that guarantee volume and cost of production through a novel technology that merges traditional NFT and DWC hydroponic growing systems, allowing the design of an efficient and controlled greenhouse system capable of producing 30% faster anywhere in the world, even in extreme climates such as Dubai or Greenland.
In this vein, investment in alternative protein has been particularly encouraged by both the increased concern for sustainability and the aura of health that accompanies such products. It has led to a total global investment in alternative protein of $3.1 trillion in total by 2020, according to The Good Food Institute (4).
In this field we find very different technologies, including fermentation, cell culture, or the application of technologies such as artificial intelligence or 3D printing using plant ingredients to improve the alternatives currently available. All of this is aimed at achieving several objectives: eliminating animals from the equation to produce protein at a global level, shortening supply chains and boosting food security.
- Founded in 2019, the start-up TurtleTree Labsbased in Singapore, is the first company to produce cell-based milk. This biotech start-up is pioneering the innovation of producing breast milk for all humans, recreating its composition, functionality and taste.
- Based in Buenos Aires and starting operations in Europe, Innomy opens a third avenue to the production of protein alternatives. Its focus is on the development of meat and fish analogues using mycelium, which gives the food produced unique taste and textural qualities, minimal environmental impact and the functional properties of mushrooms. Within this mission, waste management is also of great importance. Some start-ups are already providing solutions for waste management, from ingredient utilisation to food use prediction in restaurants.
- MOA Foodtech combines biotechnology and artificial intelligence to create ingredients with high functional and nutritional value from waste and by-products of the food industry. This Spanish start-up is working to develop disruptive scientific-technological solutions to help society eat healthily while reducing environmental impact.
- Winnow advocates that what can be measured, can be managed. With its technology, it reduces 40-70% of food waste in 6-12 months, resulting in a cost reduction of 2%-8% in foodservice.
2. Health concerns
Among innovative foods, there is great interest in developments that offer health benefits including mental and digestive health functionalities.
The concept of 'food as medicine' was already gaining traction before the pandemic, but this product category has seen tremendous growth in recent months. In this area, personalisation plays a key role, with products being tailored to the nutritional needs and tastes of individual consumers. This is being made possible mainly thanks to the application of machine learning technology that allows for faster developments, adapting to needs and without sacrificing taste.
- Nuritas is one of the leading start-ups working to revolutionise the design of healthy products. It combines artificial intelligence and peptidomics to discover bioactive peptides with extraordinary health effects. This Irish start-up already has €30 million of investment with the aim of revolutionising food with the application of biotechnology.
- Journey Foods greatly streamlines food development through the application of technology. Its software contains an extensive, standardised database to extract data from millions of ingredients and nutrients for its algorithms to methodically analyse and research optimised formulations based on sustainable supply chains, personalised nutrition and other key aspects. Its use enables FMCG companies to significantly accelerate the launch of new, healthier products.
- Cocuusa Spanish start-up specialising in developing industrial solutions for the production of plant-based food analogues, has developed a 3D printing platform for food analogues with personalised purees for the geriatric population and those with swallowing problems, allowing them to enjoy classic recipes again, with the same appearance and taste as the real thing, but enriched and with the right texture for their needs.
New business models. Technology applied to food is not only generating new ingredients, products or channels.
3. The channel revolution: convenience, transparency and efficiency have never been more important.
On the other hand, channels are of particular importance. Channels have been totally transformed and in some cases these changes will not be reversible. Covid-19 has accelerated the massive adoption of marketplaces and the need to develop more efficient and disruptive distribution models. According to "The State of European Food Tech 2021" report by Dealroom and Five Seasons Ventures, in Europe, direct-to-consumer food retail solutions were the most favoured by the covid-19 situation, generating a total value of €84 billion by 2020 (5).
If, until now, foodservice delivery was the star category, the new 'e-grocery' models are being the big bet for investors, also achieving massive consumer adoption.
This direct reach to the consumer has also boosted the need to know the origin of the food we consume. Food traceability is perceived by consumers as a guarantee of maximum transparency of companies and, in particular, of the emerging marketplaces.
- Cortilia is the largest fresh food marketplace in Italy. Its differentiation is based on fresh, locally sourced products, whose freshness and provenance it communicates prominently. In addition to fresh produce, it also offers pantry products from local producers. In the period 2019-2020 it increased its sales by 175%, which led to a big boost from investors, recently closing a €34M round.
In addition to marketplaces actively working on proving the origin of their products, there are start-ups dedicated to specifically tracing the origin of food to the final consumer and offering industry greater control over risks that may affect the food supply chain.
- Connecting Food is a solution to provide traceability in the food chain. It allows companies to digitally trace and audit all food products in real time throughout the entire supply chain.
In foodservice, the arrival of covid-19 has favoured the implementation of technologies that contribute to increasing efficiency, safety and transparency, by automating processes such as payments, the production of dishes or the distribution of dishes from their own channels. Robotics, artificial intelligence and sensor technology are added to the previous technologies that we could find in restaurants.
- Propposwhich recently closed a round of close to one million euros, is working on food recognition using deep learning algorithms and computer vision. Thanks to this technology, it offers high added value solutions, such as self check-out, focused on improving productivity in catering and food retail.
- We Tech Food has developed a new catering operating model called KAAS (kitchen as a service). Through the implementation of its robotic technology and management software, it makes it possible to practically eliminate the human component (and error and waste) in kitchens.
The Darwinian challenge: adapting to survive
The big challenge for established food companies is to adapt in time. To do so, it is very important to be aware of how technology is affecting the entire value chain in consolidated industries, how investment is supporting the most disruptive solutions that completely change the rules of the game and, of course, to approach consumers in a new way that allows them to get to know them better and personalise the offer.
Technology applied to food is not only generating new ingredients, products or channels, it is generating new business models that can put any link in the agri-food value chain in trouble if we are not able to anticipate and/or cooperate with them.
Today's most disruptive and transformative solutions for the food system come from start-ups, just as happened with the birth of the internet. While in other sectors technology disruption has already occurred, such as finance, pharmaceuticals or tourism... we need to generate a new vision of innovation in the Spanish food industry and establish models of collaboration with the most disruptive agents, which are scattered all over the planet.
From Eatable Adventures We are aware of the great challenge of these new collaboration models and have specialised in accompanying industries, start-ups, governments and investors on the road to building the food companies of the future.
Food and science concept. Dietitian. Nutrition.
1. Agfunder Agrifoodtech Report. (2021) Agfunder: https://agfunder.com/research/ 2021-AgFunder-agrifoodtech-investmentreport/
2. Sifted ”In data: Europe’s foodtech ecosystem in 2020” https://sifted.eu/articles/european-foodtech-2020-data/
3. “El estado del Foodtech en España 2020”. (2020) Eatable Adventures: https://www.eatableadventures.com/informe/
4. “Trends in alt protein”. (2021) The Good Food Institute: https://gfi.org/blog/2020- state-of-the-industry-highlights
5. “The State of European Food Tech 2021”. (2021) Five Seasons Ventures & Dealroom: https://foodtech.vc/the-state-of-europeanfood-tech-2021.pdf