FoodBytes! by Rabobank: Circular economy, plant protein and ag-tech in spotlight

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

FoodBytes! London spotlighted 'game-changing' innovation to support a sustainable food system
FoodBytes! London spotlighted 'game-changing' innovation to support a sustainable food system

Related tags: FoodBytes!, Rabobank, Sustainable food systems, Circular economy, plant-based

Fifteen innovative start-ups tackling some of the big issues around sustainable agricultural production, healthy diets and circular economy solutions for the food sector joined FoodBytes! by Rabobank yesterday.

The global pitching competition and networking platform is part of Rabobank’s efforts to ‘support ecosystems of people who are going to change the world’, Tamira Treffers-Herrera, regional head of Europe for Rabobank, told the FoodBytes! audience.

Treffers-Herrera said that the sector is going through a period of ‘immense change’ and stressed the enormity of the challenge posed by population growth, with the global population expected to reach almost 10 billion people by 2050, according to UN forecasts. “We will need to nourish more people in a sustainable way… Food will define the world more than any other sector.”

In this context, the need for innovation is clear. “We cannot stand still in front of the challenges facing the global food sector,”​ Treffers-Herrera urged in a call to action.

‘Game changing ideas’ for a sustainable food system

Start-ups pitching their solutions to an audience of industry players, investors and executives, showcased pioneering solutions to a range of challenges faced by the food sector, from the need to make agricultural production more effective, to combatting plastic packaging and delivering personalised nutrition solutions. A core theme running through the event was the need to develop new ways of promoting healthy, sustainable diets.

Accelerating agricultural development, ag-tech startups addressed everything from increasing crop yield to improving supply chain efficiency with smart technology and AI, bringing to light the real future of farming.

“The solutions we have seen here at FoodBytes! today really adhere to our long-term vision to feed the world sustainably with game changing ideas,​” Tamira added.

Meet the contenders

Sustainable CPG:

  • Seaweed & Co.​​​ produces ‘naturally innovative’ seaweed ingredients and finished products for the food and nutrition markets.
  • Borrago​​​ manufactures an alcohol-free botanical spirit.
  • Plant Pops​​​ makes snacks from popped lotus flowers.
  • Else Nutrition​​​ produces a 100% plant-based alternative to dairy-based baby nutrition.
  • Element Packaging​​​ – creates packaging solutions made from bamboo paper, plant starch and other sustainable polymers, which are fully compostable or biodegradable.

Ag-tech:

  • Computomics​​​ – uses biological data to enable decisions that accelerate sustainable agricultural development, with a focus on biotech, breeding and indoor farming.
  • N2 Applied​​​ adds nutrient value to manure and enabling farmers to replace mineral fertiliser with an environmentally-friendly fertiliser.
  • Co2i / DryGro​​​ has developed a ‘new way’ to grow an animal feed protein ingredient called Lemna, which can be used as a supplement to soybean meal.
  • LLeaf​ ​is an acronym for Luminescent Light Emitting Agriculture Films. It produces tech that increases yield by improving the light that reaches plants.
  • Trellis​​​ allows the key players – growers, manufacturers, and retailers – to access insights from supply chain AI to predict crop production and yield, supply chain fluctuations and market trends.

Food Tech:

  • Stix Fresh​​​ has developed peelable stickers for fruit which help to keep them fresh. The company said this is an ‘all-natural’ way to extend the shelf life of fruit by up to 14 days.
  • Fresh Check​​​ offers a ‘simpler, faster and low-cost’ method of hygiene testing with colour change spray to detect bacterial, chemical or organic contamination.
  • Zero Waste Biotech​​​ developed the Aero-D machine which converts food waste into clean renewable energy.
  • NOURISH3D​​​ produced a patented 3D printing technology which allows them to combine seven different active ingredients into personalised nutrition ‘stacks’.
  • Redefine Meat​​​ produces animal-free meat with the same appearance, texture and flavour of animal meat, from natural and sustainable ingredients.

And the winners are...  

FBLND19_Winnners_L-R__Stephen_Beck,_Zero_Waste_Biotech_Dr._Alexander_Soeriyadi,_Lleaf_Adam_Lahav,_Redefine_Meat[1]
Stephen Beck,_Zero_Waste_Biotech_Dr._Alexander_Soeriyadi,_Lleaf_Adam_Lahav,_Redefine_Meat[1]

In a hotly contested competition, Scottish start-up Zero Waste Biotech came away with the Judge’s Choice award for the development of their Aero-D Machine, which is able to convert food waste into clean, renewable energy over a 24-hour period.

According to CEO and founder Stephen Beck, the machine – which is located on site - ‘works like a bin’, does not require sorting of waste and operates on a ‘continuous cycle’. The company has developed a business model that involves leasing machines to customers ranging from government service providers such as NHS hospitals to food service operators. As well as being environmentally more sustainable, it is economically effective for customers because it cuts their spend on waste collection.

“We hope that this award will accelerate our entry to the market where we can help businesses combat climate change,”​ Beck commented.

Winner of the People’s Choice award, as voted for by the audience, was Redefine Meat, an Israeli company that has developed a 3D printed plant-based steak as part of the next generation of meat analogues.

Unlike any other plant-based meat analogues on the market, co-founder and CBO Adam Lahav explained that the company is able to 3D print a whole muscle plant-based steak based on 3D modelling of meat that looks at three layers – muscle, fat and blood.

“We are going to sell the machine to target butchers, meat producers and retailers,”​ Lahav explained.

Would it stand up to steak in a blind taste test? Well, Lahav explained, that depends on the cut. Compared to Wagu beef, Redefine Meat ‘has a way to go’ – but the company believes it has achieved a plant-based steak analogue that is well ahead of anything currently on the market.

“It’s a humbling accolade as Redefine Meat is created for the people – to bring them better options when it comes to meat-alternatives, animal welfare and environmental responsibility,”​ Lahav said after winning the People’s Choice.

Dr._Alexander_Soeriyadi,_Lleaf_Pitch[1]
Lleaf 'super-charges sunlight' to optimise growing conditions

Lleaf was recognised as the winner of the Highly Commended award for its method of optimising sunlight to support enhanced plant growth in greenhouses.

CEO and co-founder Dr. Alexander Soeriyadi explained that the Australian scientists have developed a patent-pending plastic material that can ‘super-charge light’, increasing plant exposure to red spectrum light.

He explained that the plastic sheets are ‘easy to install’ in existing greenhouses and cost effective with a payback period of two- to three-years for growers. Tests have demonstrated that the use of the plastic light modifiers can increase yields in some crops by as much as 40%.

The company is now ready for commercial trials – and potential customers are keen to see further validation, Dr. Soeriyadi revealed. “It is simple but no one has done it before. [Potential customers] want to see a result.”

“For us its really about using natural resources the best we can. Lleaf will harness the power of sunlight and prove how we can use it better for growing​ our food – giving farmers the opportunity to increase their yield, without imposing a negative impact on the environment,” Dr. Soeriyadi commented.

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