6 promising companies that you will hear more about
Arina Petrova, Hi-tech+
The market for food tech startups has already reached $220 billion and continues to grow — with more and more investments being attracted by young companies at the junction of food and engineering technologies, as well as synthetic biology. They reinvent all the processes of creating a product — from cultivating ingredients to extending the shelf life. The result is meat—free cutlets, mushroom bacon, long-lasting fruits and basil grown by robots.
Foodtech: a contradiction in terms
Although the food technology market is formally estimated at $220 billion, it is still quite difficult to accurately measure it, since the term has many interpretations. It means both food industry technologies, agrotech developments, and numerous services, for example, payment platforms for restaurants or delivery services like Glovo and GoJek, as well as robotic systems, including barista robots and waiter robots.
Forward Fooding experts, who annually compile a list of 500 promising food technology companies, identify at least 8 market sectors. Among them are both food delivery services and startups in the field of synthetic biology, for example, Ginkgo Bioworks, as well as cloud platforms for restaurants and vertical farms.
In our selection, we will focus on six of the most interesting projects that change our approach to food consumption: reinventing familiar ingredients, making them more environmentally friendly or useful; reducing logistics chains and reducing waste, as well as offering alternative sources of proteins and fats. Another selection principle is the availability of scalable technologies that can be easily transferred from the laboratory to the production workshop. For this reason, we did not include in the selection projects that are engaged in the cultivation of meat in vitro — while it is too time-consuming and expensive process, which will not soon be used en masse.
Approximately 40-50% of the harvest of all fruits, vegetables and root crops is sent to landfill every year, and the richer the country, the more waste it produces. The solution to the problem was presented by the startup Apeel, which creates a protective coating that prolongs the shelf life of products. The composition is obtained from lipids and glycerolipids, which, by the way, are contained in seeds, peel and pulp of vegetables and fruits. The coating retains moisture inside, but at the same time passes oxygen — if you sprinkle the solution on an apple or avocado, its shelf life will increase approximately twice.
According to Apeel, since 2019, the startup has extended the shelf life of 42 million fruits in large retail chains. As a result, the number of spoiled avocados alone decreased by 50%. The company cannot be called a "dark horse" of the market, although it is not often spoken about in the context of food technology. Investors are well acquainted with Apeel — in August, the startup raised $ 250 million in the next round of financing, and the company's valuation rose to $ 2 billion. The project is interesting because it solves several problems at the same time: it reduces the amount of waste, and with it water consumption, helps to combat overproduction, and most importantly, prolongs the shelf life of vegetables and fruits, making them more affordable.
Mushroom mycelium can rightly be called the material of the future — on its basis, engineers create substitutes for foam, leather, fabric, glue, packaging materials, and more recently, bacon. Atlast was one of the first to bring vegetable pork from mushroom mycelium to the market, and not in the form of cutlets or minced meat, but in the form of whole pieces of bacon.
The startup belongs to Ecovative, which also uses mushrooms, but to produce industrial materials. Atlast also specializes in the production of vegan food products — and also on an industrial scale. The team is already building the largest mycelium farm in the USA — thin branched filaments that perform the function of the vegetative body of the fungus. The "roots" easily change shape — thanks to this, you can create materials with different texture and strength. Atlast receives a lightweight fibrous mass from the mycelium, which resembles a whole piece of meat in texture. But it turns into bacon thanks to five ingredients: sugar, salt, coconut oil, beet juice and a "smoky" flavor. Not the most useful composition, but in the future Atlast can use the technology to produce more healthy dishes — for example, whole pieces of chicken or turkey.
The Russian company BioFoodLab has recently entered the growing vegetable meat market. Under the Bite brand, well-known for lovers of healthy snacks and vegetable milk, she released a line of products with the taste of marbled beef — it included meatballs, minced meat and cutlets. An alternative is obtained from pea protein using a two—stage fermentation method - the company has been working on this technology for two years. The resulting analogue of marbled beef contains 42% less fat, and there is no glucose, gluten and artificial flavors in the composition.
There are not so many players on the Russian market yet, and no one has yet managed to reach the same level with the American giants Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. However, according to BioFoodLab, they have already managed to solve one of the main problems of vegetable substitutes and achieve maximum similarity in taste and texture with ordinary beef, which is confirmed by blind testing.
In the coming years, the company plans to solve the second significant problem — to significantly reduce the cost of the product. Today, vegetable meat costs 30-40% more than usual. But due to the existing know-how, investments in R&D and expansion of production, BioFoodLab hopes to solve this problem by 2023. In addition, in the coming years, the company plans to launch the production of lump vegetable meat, as well as vegan sausages, sausages, dumplings and bacon.
For a company that once started with the release of a small line of cereal bars, this is quite a serious step. Interestingly, Bite has been successfully working for a long time and for export — products are already being transported to 14 countries.
Arugula and basil cannot be called the food of the future, but their production is a question that haunts many agricultural engineers and biotechnologists. How to grow greens quickly and efficiently, without sowing hectares of soil and without spending gallons of water? The solution is vertical hydroponic farms, which do not take up much space, and they can be equipped anywhere — even in a parking lot, even in an abandoned mine.
Bowery Farms is one of the largest players in a relatively new market: the company is estimated at $2.3 billion, and its technologies allow you to get up to 5.5 tons of greens per day — about 20 million packages of lettuce per year. Bowery is not the only operator of vertical farms, but one of the most technologically advanced — the startup has developed its own operating system based on machine learning, which tracks the condition of plants by dozens of parameters and allows you to "customize" the color, taste and even texture of greenery. Bowery Farms does not hide that it is trying to build an analogue of Amazon, only in the field of food technology. The company optimizes not only the processes of growing products, but also logistics. This helps to minimize the amount of waste, as well as to provide salad to consumers even from the most remote regions.
New Wave Foods
Food tech startups are trying to find an alternative not only to meat, but also to fish and seafood. And if vegetable beef producers rely on a low fat and cholesterol content, then companies in the "marine" market offer an eco-friendly and kosher product that does not contain allergens. New Wave Foods receives shrimp from algae and masha (golden beans), and in the future plans to create ersatz versions of crab, lobster and even scallops - and even allergy sufferers will be able to use them.
In January, the company raised $18 million in a round of investments. In the coming months, the startup plans to enter the b2b market and sell products to restaurants and supermarkets. In parallel with New Wave Foods, other non—standard projects appear: for example, the Hong Kong startup Avant Meats cultivates artificial fish swim bladders - this is a popular type of snack in Asia. There are also vegetable versions of salmon and tuna, and in different formats — both in the form of fillets and steaks, and in the form of canned food. Nestle has also recently become interested in the production of alternative tuna — in August, the giant launched the Vuna brand, and it took only 9 months to develop the product.
Chilean food tech startup NotCo has already received the status of a unicorn, although it entered the market relatively recently — in 2015. For 6 years, the company has built a small empire for the production of vegetable meat, milk, as well as mayonnaise and cream. But unlike numerous competitors, NotCo does not try to perfect one technology. The startup uses artificial intelligence — Giuseppe's own algorithm — to select the best alternatives among a wide range of herbal ingredients. At the same time, both the molecular properties of the components and their taste characteristics are taken into account. And it seems that this approach works — NotCo's sales have tripled over the past 4 years, and in the next round the company raised $ 235 million. The startup is not so popular in the USA and Europe, but, for example, in Chile it has already captured 5% of the burger market.
NotCo is developing substitutes not only for beef, but also poultry and seafood. Biotechnologists plan to get an alternative from a wide range of ingredients, including coconut, cabbage, bamboo, chickpeas, beets and even pineapple.
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