Digitalisation, distribution and biotech: Rabobank talks next gen food tech innovation

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Supply chain digital solutions are one of the major trends evident at FoodBytes! Pitch 2020 / Pic: GettyImages-lamyai
Supply chain digital solutions are one of the major trends evident at FoodBytes! Pitch 2020 / Pic: GettyImages-lamyai

Related tags digitalisation Supply chain biotech cellular agriculture Rabobank

Rabobank recently unveiled the start-ups that will take part in its virtual FoodBytes! Pitch 2020 competition. Those selected provide an interesting window into trending topics in food and agriculture. FoodNavigator speaks to Anne Greven, Global Head F&A Startup Innovation at Rabobank, to find out more.

Earlier this month, FoodBytes! Pitch announced that 45 companies will participate in the start-up discovery platform​, which provides corporate leaders and investors exposure to a group of innovative start-ups, with opportunities for deeper interaction and networking throughout the year. 

The FoodBytes! Pitch competition, which has been running for five years, will be staged virtually in 2020 due to COVID restrictions.

Participants were chosen from nearly 340 submissions from across the globe and six European applicants made the cut.

Supply chain digitalisation for efficient distribution

A predominant focus among start-ups based in Europe is digitising the supply chain, from farm to fork, Rabobank noted.

Greven said that this is reflective of the challenges faced by food corporates, who have had to evaluate their distribution strategies in recent years.

“According to a report from Rabobank’s supply chain experts, many US and European food companies have been ramping up discussions on distribution strategies in the past few years. The main reason for this is a rise in logistics costs due to an increasing variety of distribution channels and stricter fulfilment requirements set by customers. In Europe specifically, as corporates look to drive cost efficiency, the outsourcing of food logistics is once again growing,​” the investment expert told us.

Start-ups are bringing innovative solutions to the table, as reflected in the latest FoodBytes! cohort.

Switzerland’s Koa, for instance, focuses on providing digital tools to smallholder farmers in order to create a transparent cocoa product. Meanwhile, Norwegian Farmforce is working to create a mobile platform to secure sustainable sourcing for farmers. At the consumer end of the chain, UK start-up Good Club aims to provide consumers with a go-to online market for sustainable food products.

As well as addressing efficiency and cost, supply chain technologies are helping to strengthen the food system and build a more resilient and sustainable supply chain, Greven continued. “All of these technologies address various and important areas across the supply chain – from loss mitigation (shelf-life extension and food safety), food e-commerce (accessibility and transparency), and connected marketplaces that help close the gap between farmers and consumers.”

The ability of agile start-up innovators to develop new and pioneering approaches to the table has driven investment in the space. Indeed, Greven noted: “Half of capital invested into European food and ag start-ups in 2020 has been to midstream technologies focused on supply chain efficiency and digitisation."

This figure is higher than the level seen in the US, where that number is ‘closer to 40%’, she added.

Biotech and cellular solutions

Biotechnology and cellular solutions also offer the opportunity to re-think how we produce food and source materials.

New understandings of the role biosciences can play in the food industry can help address major challenges – from agricultural production to food quality and health and nutrition.

“We’re seeing excitement from our community of experts and corporates surrounding the development of next gen food technologies,”​ Greven observed.

Greven said that the rapid development of this sector means that applications from biotech companies to FoodBytes! are also increasing.

“Our biotech applications globally are on the rise – in 2019 and 2020, biotech companies comprised of 10% of applications received, double that of the two years preceding.”

This year’s FoodBytes! saw a total of three start-ups – two of whom are European – focused on cell-based meat and fermented protein.

CellulaREvolution has developed cell-culturing meat technology utilising a cell coating to facilitate the continuous production of proteins, rather than in batches, working with clients across the fields of cultured meat, cell therapy and biologics. NovoNutrients upcycles industrial carbon dioxide waste into food system ingredients. While Future Meat Technologies has developed a cell-culturing meat technology utilising the rapid growth of connective tissue cells to reach high densities before turning the cells into cultured muscle and healthy fats.

Elsewhere, innovators are looking at how fermentation technologies and bioreactors can be used to create ingredients without depleting natural resources. “One of our selected start-ups for 2020, Michroma, is a perfect example – this Argentinian based company produces next-generation natural ingredients in a sustainable, cost-effective and scalable way to brew food colorants, mycoprotein and more alternatives,”​ Greven noted.

The 45 shortlisted start-ups​

The 45 selected startups hail from 15 countries, including the US, Australia, Canada, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, India, Israel, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland.    ​​

Consumer food and beverage (CPG):​​

Food and beverage products made with upcycled ingredients are a top trend among FoodBytes! 2020 CPG startups, who are also pioneering innovations including edible spoons to reduce plastic waste, a distilled spirit made from upcycled whey byproduct, and plant-based cheese and egg products.

Food tech:​​

The shortlisted food tech startups have developed technologies for cell-based meat production, natural coatings that extend produce shelf life, and sustainable, antimicrobial packaging made from crustacean shells to replace plastic. Food safety technologies, advanced nutrition products and online marketplaces also address relevant needs in the wake of COVID-19. 

Ag tech:​​

The shortlisted ag tech startups have developed solutions that address soil and water sustainability, farm efficiency and labour needs. Their innovations include technology that transforms air pollution into fertilizer, animal feed that reduces methane emissions, a method of growing rice out of water and on-farm robotics to combat labour shortages and worker safety concerns. 

Each of the three winners (CPG, food tech, and ag tech) will receive a $10,000 prize, while FoodBytes! Pitch corporate members will also offer additional consulting to support winning startups, including:

  • ADM: ​​An hour of consulting services with a relevant ADM expert for the winners.
  • Holland & Hart: ​​A chat to talk through general company state and strategy for winners, plus for the CPG winner a chat about their packaging/claims/labels if needed.
  • TIG: ​​ Full scholarship to eTardigrade e-learning program for early-stage CPG brands for winner; 50% discount for 2nd place and 25% discount for 3rd place.
  • Propeller Industries​​: Three one-hour sessions on financial consulting per winner.

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