Shaka Tea, Bushel, and Toast Ale take top prizes at FoodBytes! San Francisco 2019

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

L-R: Bushel cofounder Jake Joraanstad, Shaka Tea cofounder Bella Hughes, and Toast Ale chief toaster Rob Wilson. (Picture: Kassie Borreson)
L-R: Bushel cofounder Jake Joraanstad, Shaka Tea cofounder Bella Hughes, and Toast Ale chief toaster Rob Wilson. (Picture: Kassie Borreson)

Related tags FoodBytes Rabobank

Shaka Tea, Bushel, and Toast Ale scooped the top prizes at FoodBytes! San Francisco 2019, Rabobank’s 15th global pitch competition for food and ag startups, after wowing judges with their innovative products and business models.

The three winners​ were among 15 startups competing in a pitch ​competition on Thursday after a day of meetings with industry experts helping them to hone their pitches, gain direct feedback on their products and technologies, and network with investors and corporate leaders.

Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) Award​: Shaka Tea

2019-03-29 08_07_17-Shaka Tea (@drinkshakatea) • Instagram photos and videos

Unlike many products that are 'Hawaiian' in branding only, naturally caffeine-free, zero-calorie Shaka Tea is built around māmaki - a plant that only grows in the Hawaiian islands, said cofounder Bella Hughes, who wowed the FoodBytes! judges with her unique concept and strong sales traction, but also with Shaka's business model, which supports local regenerative agriculture and economic development through the cultivation of māmaki.

"We've had to grow the māmaki industry from scratch, because historically it's something people have grown in their own gardens or foraged for in the wild. So we have a 29-acre sister company called Shaka Forest Farms where we've planted māmaki. We also have 11 farmers contracted to grow with us and about nine farmers on a wait list."

She added: "We are a competitive company and we're designed to scale​. Last May we were only in 300 doors; this May we'll be in 3,000 doors, and early market traction shows we're on fire. And we've done that with zero dollars spent on marketing. 

 "Our SRP is a solid to $1.98 to 2.49, which is a price that works whether in Los Angeles or in Akron Ohio, and we believe in getting things done with a no problems, only solutions, attitude."

Food and Agriculture Technology Award:Bushel

bushel pic

North Dakota-based Bushel ​has built a software platform that allows grain elevators to digitally connect with their growers to deliver near real-time information that informs better business decisions, said cofounder Jake Joraanstad.

"We met a new customer on day one of FoodBytes! and can already see the direct impact this experience will have on our business as we continue to expand in the US and introduce our technology internationally."

People’s Choice Award (voted by the audience across both categories):Toast Ale

toast ale

Toast Ale impressed the audience and the judges with its innovative approach to fighting food waste: brewing craft beer from unsold bread from local bakeries. It also donates 100% of its profits to charities reducing food waste.  

"We replace one third of the malted barley in beer with surplus bread, but the rest of the process is exactly the same," ​said 'chief toaster' Rob Wilson on the FoodBytes! stage.

However, the reason the approach is a win-win is because the product tastes incredible, he said: 

"We're winning international awards in blind taste tests."

In the US, he claimed, "33% of the bread we bake goes to waste, so when a friend of mine said why don't we start a beer company and get wasted on waste? I said, Hell yeah!

"We use fresh surplus bread that would otherwise go to waste... so with a slice of surplus bread in every one of our craft beers, we think we're the best thing since... you know what​."


The winners - whittled down from several hundred applicants - will each have the opportunity to pitch and network with c-level food and agriculture executives at Rabobank’s annual food & agriculture summit in New York City in December, participate in an innovation day with ADM’s food and beverage product advisors, and gain access to legal consultation from Polsinelli, go-to-market consultation from The Intertwine Group, and recruiting consultation from Creative Alignments. They will also have access to Rabobank research reports.

The judges were primarily looking for excellence across these criteria:

  • Management team: ​​Exceptional domain and entrepreneurial experience.
  • Business model: ​​Companies with a clear understanding of their costs and margin structures, competitors, and ability to scale.
  • Market opportunity: ​​High growth market opportunities and high barriers to entry.
  • Product innovation: ​​Game-changing approaches to solving problems.
  • Production validation and traction: ​​Evidence companies are building a successful business and are able to raise external funds.
  • Sustainability and social impact: ​​Concept is focused on the triple bottom line: people, profit and planet.

FoodBytes! SF​ is supported by presenting sponsor ADM​, with additional support from official sponsors Printpack​, Polsinelli​ and foodspace+co​;​ and supporting sponsors Agropur​, Compass Group​, Creative Alignments​, The Interwine Group​and Boulder Food Group

Watch all the pitches from FoodBytes! San Francisco HERE,​ ​and checkout FoodNavigator-USA next week for coverage of the event and interviews with mentors, judges, and startups.


“The food and ag startups at FoodBytes! SF demonstrated enormous potential to address major challenges in our food system and meet consumer demand for products that provide both health and environmental benefits. FoodBytes! is an incredible resource not only for startups, but for industry leaders and investors like myself who want to preview what’s possible for innovation in food and agriculture.” 

Arif Fazal, managing director, Blueberry Ventures​ and a FoodBytes! SF judge

The 15 shortlisted startups were:​


  • Hawaii-based Shaka Tea​​​ has created the first Hawaiian ready-to-drink iced tea, and the first brewed with māmaki, a plant that only grows in the Hawaiian islands, supporting regenerative agriculture and economic development.
  • New York based Toast Ale​​​ produces pale ale from surplus bread.
  • Illinois-based The Worthy Company​​​ has developed the Worthy Blendie Bowl, which combines fruits, vegetables, legumes and chia to create a nutritious on the go snack or mini meal.   
  • California-based GEM​​​ has developed ‘chewable bites of daily nutrition’ made from 13 algae and plant-based ingredients that provide 15+ vitamins and minerals per bite.  
  • Delaware-based Taali​​​ has developed a snack made from popped water lily seeds.

Food/ag tech:​​

  • California-based SnapDNA​​​ has developed what it claims is the fastest food pathogen test in the industry, eliminating the need to culture bacteria prior to analysis, enabling sample-to-answer test results in one-hour for key pathogens; listeria, salmonella, and E. coli. Its RNA/DNA-based patented technology is being tested by the USDA, which will validate SnapDNA products for use by government agencies including the FDA, FSIS, and CDC, says the company.   
  • New York-based Zymtronix​​​ has developed an enzyme immobilization platform claimed to improve the “activity, stability and reusability of any enzyme​​.”
  • Colorado-based Bond Pet Foods​​ ​​is taking a single celled micro-organism and adding DNA sequences (which can be 3D printed using synthetic biology techniques) which effectively instruct the organism to produce the proteins found in chicken after being fed sugars and other nutrients in a big fermentation tank. The resulting protein can then be harvested and mixed with other foods to make petfood.
  • California-based Planetarians​​​ has developed a process to upcycle defatted sunflower seeds to create flour with twice the protein and three times the fiber for the same price as wheat flour.
  • Israeli-based Hargol FoodTech​​​ has built the world's first commercial grasshopper farm for human food consumption.
  • North Dakota-based Bushel ​​​has built a software platform that allows grain elevators to digitally connect with their growers to deliver near real-time information that informs better business decisions.
  • California-based Osmo Systems​​​ has built a water quality sensing system (osmobot) to help shrimp farmers monitor ponds online.
  • India-based CropIn Technology Solutions​​​ is on a mission to “digitize every farm”​​ enabling farmers to archive patterns and predict trends.
  • California-based Corumat​​​ makes 100% plant-based, compostable, packaging that it claims generates 60% less CO2 during production than plastics traditionally used to make red party cups.
  • Canada-based Healthy Cow ​​has developed ProPreg, a combination of pre-and probiotics designed to support and augment an optimal microbiome in dairy cows.
The FoodBytes! winners celebrate with the judges
Bella Hughes at foodbytes
And now the interviews...

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