While food tech is “a very nascent industry,” investors are starting to look at the space because of its potential to drive impact and provide solutions to address the climate crisis, Berger explained. Investors received a “wake-up call” in recent years, as many had to recalibrate their expectations, taking into account the dynamics of the food and beverage industry, he added.
“There's still a huge gap or need for funding. There is very little dry powder people are sitting on ... So, unfortunately, we are going to lose many companies that won’t make it. I think that it's a wake-up call for many [who] invested in what we call the bubble of '21-'22. So, companies that raised money and valuations dream of tech, but at the end of the day, this is food, you have to produce it, sell it, [and it has] to be safe at scale.”
Plant-based meat 2.0: ‘Flavor is king; texture is queen’
The plant-based meat market faced scrutiny and numerous challenges in 2023, as consumers shifted away from the category amid high inflation. When asked about how the plant-based meat category can shake off these recent challenges, Berger noted that it needs to address some of its historical barriers — flavor, texture, and price.
"We were in the era of plant-based 1.0, and we have to move to 2.0 and this is where tech comes in. But it's very simple: flavor is king, texture is queen, and it has to be at a reasonable price. The products are not good enough," Berger said. "Meat substitutes or alternatives to meat have to be simpler, healthier, [and] tastier, and I'm pretty sure that technology can get us there."
The Mediterranean Food Lab is one company that Berger has invested in, and he believes can help address the taste for plant-based meats. The company "takes grains and legumes and by using solid-state fermentation creates natural flavoring that if you add them to those burgers, you can achieve the real umami ... meat sensation," he added.