“Different from previous years, for FoodBytes! Pitch 2021 we actively sought out and recruited startups to apply who were innovating on the forefront of sustainable supply chains, improved resource management and the next frontier of nutrition. All of which are focus areas for our corporate and investor network, creating relevancy and urgency in implementing and accelerating change,” Anne Greven, head of food and agriculture innovation at Rabobank, told FoodNavigator-USA.
The competitors are divided into three categories: CPG, food tech and ag tech, but all reflect shifting values and concerns that have been exacerbated by COVID-10.
In the CPG space, “we are seeing a trend towards convenience, health and sustainability,” said Greven, adding: “This year’s startups are answering the consumer demand for ‘alternatives’ through the lens of the pandemic related or inspired habits – seeking more ‘better for you’ options, plant-based ingredients and immunity boosting foods.”
For example, the frozen meal and hot sauce brand AYO Foods and the beverages offered by Ginjan Bros makes flavors and ingredients from Africa more accessible globally, while the brain food tech company Ārepa, the allergy-introduction brand Lil Mixins and the electrolyte and antioxidant-packed beverage brand Pricklee Cactus Water offer advanced nutrition and technology solutions.
Advancing sustainability in CPG are the New York-based Seconds, which upcycles veggies into snacks, Australian-based Great Wrap, which makes a compostable cling wrap made from food waste, and Your Food Collective, which brings carbon positive food to consumers’ doors.
Finally, CPG competitors playing in the fast-paced and rapidly growing plant-based segment are milk-alternative manufacturers Upright and Ulu Hye, meat-alternative brands Hooray Foods, Fable Food and Plantcraft, and vegan gelato maker Nubocha. California-based Down to Cook also moves fresh vegetables to the center of the plate.
Food tech is ‘all about revolutionizing supply chains’
In the food-tech category, Greven said, “it’s all about revolutionizing supply chains, especially in proven weak spots due to the pandemic. Our chosen startups are providing incredible solutions for the future of the industry at every interval.”
This includes enhanced food safety and traceability solutions, alternative protein, enhanced nutrition technologies, and packaging innovations. Grouped by core offering, competitors in this category, include:
- Food Safety & Traceability: Marble Technologies, Agnext Technologies, Galley Solutions, Inc., ProfilePrint, and Xnext.
- Alternative Protein Technology: Done Properly, California Cultured, and Biftek INC.
- Nutrition Technology: Biolumen, The Live Green Co, and Paragon Pure.
- Packaging Innovations: Cruz Foam, SoFresh, Inc., Papkot, and Kiinns.
Ag-tech offers on-farm solutions to climate change & supply chain weaknesses
Finally, FoodBytes! welcomes 15 ag-tech companies focused on supply chain optimization, regenerative and precision agriculture, novel farming solutions and packaging innovations.
“Upstream startups are focused on developing cleaner inputs on-farm and creating greater connectivity between producers and suppliers. These startups are aiming to address the pressures of climate change, as well as solve for supply chain issues exposed by COVID-19,” Greven said.
Competitors in this space include:
- Supply Chain Optimization: AgriDigital and AgUnity.
- Agbiotech, Biopesticides & Livestock Management: Syocin Biotech, Nanomik Technologies, SwineTech, BioLevel, Vytelle, and 3Bar Biologics Inc..
- Regenerative Agriculture & Precision Agriculture: Lucent BioSciences, ThinkBio and Greeneye Technology.
- Novel Farming: Aqua Development and IGS Ltd.
- Robotics & Automation: QualySense AG.
- Packaging Innovations: SBM-Transpirational.
The 45 companies will receive a week of in-depth mentoring and coaching before being winnowed down to 15 startups – five CPG, five food-tech and five ag-tech – that will publicly pitch Nov. 10 for a chance to win one of three awards in each sector.
This year’s competitors were selected from 370 applicants hailing from 15 countries and represent a diverse range of perspectives with more than 50% led by women or BIPOC founders.
Overcoming barriers to large scale adoption
Taking a step back from the competition, Greven says she sees the most potential for innovative companies developing solutions that commercialize emerging methods of sustainable food production, but, she added, “we need even more focus on removing known barriers to large scale adoption.
Greven says she also see significant potential for “food technologies that have a demonstrable functional benefit … to address a market of increasingly health-conscious consumers.”
She explained: “Technologies innovating in this space will differentiate themselves from novel ingredients and processes that exist purely because it is scientifically possible. Scaling functional foods requires corporate collaboration to take prototypes ‘off the bench’ and utilize commercial manufacturing capabilities.”
Finally, Greven says an emerging area where she sees significant unmet demand is for sustainable packaging solutions.
“Cruz Foam, one of our food tech startups, is a bio-material company that is producing compostable, sustainable alternatives to plastic polystyrene foam, at a similar price point and performance,” Greven said. “Alternatively, Great Wrap, one of our CPG startups, is providing a similar solution direct to consumers – in an effort to put plastic out of business, their household cling wrap is made form food waste.”
FoodBytes! is growing
Rabobank’s FoodBytes! platform is more than just a pitch competition – it is an integrated networking and education platform that offers year-round opportunities for established and emerging food and beverage industry players to connect through webinars and other community-building events that are part of the FoodBytes! Pilot program.
The FoodBytes! Pilot program fosters lengthier six- to nine-month collaborations between startups and corporate members, and builds on the FoodBytes! Pitch competitions.
Since redesigning the platform to better foster the FoodBytes! Pitch and FoodBytes! Pilot programs last year, corporate members, including investors, service providers, and globally food and ag companies, have climbed 120%, according to Rabobank. And since 2017, their investments in FoodBytes! alumni have climbed to nearly $216m.
FoodBytes! alumni have built on the connections and their success in the program to secure additional funding – including a “hallmark” investment year to date in 2021, in which startups in the network raised more than $500m in the first six months of the year – more than all of last year.