FNHIC members convened in early June for the first of a series of dialogues with a discussion on “Investable Opportunities in Food is Health.” Panelists spanned academia, business, finance, and start-up sectors and discussed their perspectives on what has and has not worked in the Food as Health movement, the current priorities in nutrition and human health, and the future opportunities for investment and development.
For a quick refresher, the Food, Nutrition, and Health Investor Coalition (FNHIC) was launched at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health and calls for $2.5 billion in private investment over the next three years to improve hunger and health outcomes through food. FNHIC was founded by S2G and Food Systems for the Future, alongside almost 30 other agtech, food tech, nutrition, healthcare, biotech, pharma, and generalist investors.
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian
Dary Mozaffarian is an esteemed cardiologist and a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and the medical school at Tufts University. His work centers on developing the scientific basis for the connections between food and health and translating that science for a variety of audiences to support policy change, behavioral shifts, and technology innovation.
Dr. Mozaffarian pointed out that our food and healthcare systems are at critical tipping points due to macro forces, such as increased healthcare spending, scientific progression, shifting consumer demand towards healthier food, and the war in Ukraine and COVID, which exposed fragilities in both systems. As a result, we are at a pivotal moment for a non-linear step up in the Food as Health movement. To provide a framework for the solution space, Dr. Mozaffarian shared the following graphic.
According to Dr. Mozaffarian, groundbreaking innovation in food as health will occur in a few key areas:
More advanced and efficient delivery systems that are crucial to getting food-based healthcare solutions to consumers.
The underlying technical infrastructure that enables employers and health plans to facilitate and incentivize the purchase or acquisition of healthy foods.
Solutions that go beyond produce boxes to precisely designed meals and meal replacements
Solutions that combine lifestyle changes and food as medicine with drug prescriptions to help patients reduce drug use or improve drug efficacy.
Dr. Mozaffarian noted that for these changes to happen, we need to shift toward implementing effective market incentives for consumers and the healthcare community.
Steven Finn is the co-founder and co-managing partner at Siddhi Capital, an operationally-focused food and beverage growth equity firm specializing in consumer brands. Siddhi Capital emphasizes supporting its portfolio through a 15-person team to derisk early and understand where to dedicate time and resources.
Finn shared that Siddhi Capital looks for three key characteristics when making investments: propensity for repeat purchases, gross margins, and the ability to scale. To ensure the likelihood of repeat purchases, Siddhi mirrors its investments to consumer data to meet people where they are and find substitutes for unhealthy foods that are easy for consumers to understand. According to Finn, the number one priority for consumers is taste, followed by price, nutrition, and then sustainability. No matter how healthy or sustainable a product is, it won't get very far if it’s not delicious. According to Finn, “We have to make it easier for consumers to make healthy choices.”
Pam Schwartz is the Executive Director of Community Health at Kaiser Permanente, the country’s largest private nonprofit healthcare organization providing care for 12.6 million Americans. At Kaiser, Schwartz leads the new organization-wide effort to accelerate food security and transform health and health care in America.
Schwartz highlighted that this is an exciting moment in healthcare as much as food. The regulatory environment in healthcare is shifting, and there is growing evidence about what works and under what conditions. According to Schwartz, solutions must be informed by a human-centered design approach to truly understand barriers and design effective interventions. She spoke to the importance of creating a portfolio of interventions; for example, at Kaiser, she developed a SNAP text campaign that helped 123,000 members apply for SNAP, alongside medically tailored meals and produce prescriptions. Coming from the healthcare perspective, Schwartz emphasized that partnerships will be essential for startups to meet the scale required in the industry.
Ellis McCue is the founder and CEO of Territory Foods, a chef-prepared meal delivery service that offers nutritionist-approved menus to support a wide variety of dietary needs and preferences.
McCue spoke to the significant market opportunity to craft highly-specific meals to meet customers' needs. While targeted meals used to cater to more general health trends such as paleo, keto, or whole360, today, we have much more control over the ingredients and nutrients in medically tailored meals. For example, Territory is building out the macro and micro-level nutrition data for all of its meal offerings so customers can select the foods that will best support their particular health needs and objectives. McCue also spoke about the opportunity to drive adoption through culturally relevant food developed within communities. She emphasized that we must bring together infrastructure, data, and standardization for solutions to be effective.
The Path to Scale
Panelists also shared a few obstacles to realizing food as health objectives. The main challenge that all panelists agreed on is the need for more and better data on food as health solutions. We need rigorously designed clinical trials to prove the efficacy of interventions, but many startups struggle to develop high-quality studies because they are not research outfits. Dr. Mozaffarian shared that Tufts is launching a Food as Medicine Institute aimed at working with startups to design more effective studies and build a clinical evaluation network.
Another challenge is the timeline and capital needed for many food as health solutions. As McCue noted, startups want to move fast, but the infrastructure needed to build resilient and data-structured solutions can require more time and patient capital.
Luckily there is a rapidly growing bucket of capital available that understands what it will take to build and scale food as health solutions. The convergence of research, tech advancements, and shifting consumer preferences make this sector ripe for long-term investment that will have system-transforming impacts and see market-rate returns.
We are incredibly excited by the progress and discussions occurring within the Food, Nutrition, and Hunger Investment Coalition, and we look forward to continuing to learn from and partner with individuals, companies, and organizations at the forefront of the mission to connect food to health outcomes. Visit the FNHIC website for more information about the coalition and how to apply for membership.