Following World Agri-Tech, our team continued an exciting week of events in San Francisco by attending Future Food-Tech. We are energized about the future of the industry after two days of convening with entrepreneurs, co-investors, and strategic partners to discuss themes ranging from scaling alternative protein production to combating food waste to digitalization across the supply chain, from production all the way to purchase.
One of the highlights of the gathering was an investor panel discussion on “Funding Blueprints for Sustainable Growth”. The panel was moderated by Ryan Shadrick Wilson, Founder and CEO of Boardwalk Collective and featured S2G’s Chuck Templeton alongside Phil Erlanger, Founder & Managing Partner at Pontifax AgTech, Pae Wu, Partner at SOSV and CTO at IndieBio, and Matt Spence, Managing Director at Guggenheim Partners. The group spoke on what is driving record levels of investment in food and ag tech, what’s next for alternative protein, and their continued excitement for the future of the industry and its potential to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.
The panel kicked off with a discussion about the drivers behind increasing investment in food and ag tech. According to Crunchbase, investment into foodtech reached a high of $12.8B in global venture investment in 2021. Matt Spence spoke on the confluence of factors driving investment and the ability of food system transformation to result in meaningful impact in many areas. According to Spence, “There is an enormous opportunity in food tech to get ahead of major national security issues- climate change, food security, the tremendous cost of trying to feed a growing global population while water is getting scarcer and land is becoming more difficult.” Chuck Templeton also mentioned how technological advancements have enabled continued progress. Templeton said, “Every time we think something’s been invented, there’s this leapfrog in technology and capability. We’ve seen technology from Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston start to move over to food and ag- computational capabilities, machine learning, and AI.”
The panelists then delved into one of the key themes of the conference overall: how to drive scale for alternative protein technologies and production. While nearly half of the $12.8B of foodtech investment in 2021 went towards alternative protein, panelists think we are still in the early stages of potential with plenty of opportunities ahead. Templeton touched on continued runway to improve the product itself, while Wu mentioned the opportunity to bring down production costs and new ways to bring technology into the process and infrastructure to make alternative proteins accessible more broadly.
Spence identified 3 key areas alternative protein companies are still working to solve. “You need to have great R&D and great food technology to work on taste and quality. You need to have a way to sell the consumers and have great branding, great access, things that some of the largest consumer brands have done for decades. You need to have a great production and great supply chain when bioreactors and other things are in pretty short supply and were often designed for different types of things than food so the cost equation doesn’t work.”
Wu chimed in on the additional element of regulatory dynamics. Wu said, “Increasingly we’re seeing different geographies and countries trying to pick up the baton and take the lead on creating a regulatory framework that is friendly to these new innovations, in part to support their own strategic requirements around food security and onshoring own manufacturing.”
The panelists were aligned that it will take many players- including investors, public-private partnerships, strategics, and governments- leaning in to support entrepreneurs looking to scale. Erlanger noted the importance of building partnerships, stating “The other area of collaboration that is increasing is between the entrepreneurial sector and the corporate community. We’re coming out of a period of large scale industry consolidation, growth and margins that are exploding thanks to world events, so it feels like there will be more and more corporate capital that flows alongside the risk capital that’s being put up early from financial investors.”
The investors wrapped up the panel by talking about what themes in food tech are exciting them the most. The group touched on a wide variety of topics, including sustainable alt protein production technologies, supply chain transparency and traceability, data infrastructure and automation, labor efficiency solutions, and food as medicine. Templeton noted, “One of the most exciting things for us right now is food as medicine and starting to see label claims that are clinically backed being able to show up on product. Computational capabilities are helping us learn much faster about products that can be good to eat from a taste perspective, but also a health perspective.”
In addition to this panel, we enjoyed the opportunity to hear some of our entrepreneurs share their insights and perspectives with the broader food tech community. Ellis McCue of Territory Foods spoke on the impact of D2C and eCommerce on how consumers are eating and shopping, while Jasmine Hume discussed how Shiru leverages AI and machine learning to revolutionize R&D processes and ingredient discovery.
We left the week feeling inspired and grateful to be a part of such a dynamic ecosystem focused on developing the next wave of food innovation and solutions, and remain hopeful for a future food system resulting in better planetary and health outcomes for all.