In the vast and dynamic landscape of food and agriculture, technology has emerged as the driving force behind transformative changes. This year we saw historic breakthroughs within alternative proteins with Upside Foods getting regulatory approval to sell their cultivated chicken in the US as well as breakthrough innovations revolutionizing traditional farming practices thus steering the industry forward.
As we step into 2024, the intersection of food, agriculture and technology promises a future where innovation not only sustains our growing global population but also ensures the resilience and efficiency of the entire food production ecosystem.
With over 110 innovative agri-foodtech companies in our portfolio, Big Idea Ventures has been at the forefront of the food revolution, supporting the industry through our 3 funds. With New Protein Fund I and II we invest in the most groundbreaking innovations taking place within the alternative protein and ingredients space. Whereas the Generation Food Rural Partners Fund drives economic growth and development in rural communities by aiding commercialisation of the latest intellectual properties within ag-tech being developed at 25 prestigious universities in North America.
Having such a diverse portfolio, a global footprint and an accelerator program that helps us work closely with the most innovative companies gives us a unique perspective of the industry. The following insights come from our team of experts and offer a glimpse into the future of food innovation and the top trends set to shape the agri-food tech scene in 2024.
Increased investment in formulation and ingredients business will be important for food innovation
Currently the market is seeing a stagnation when it comes to product development. Big Idea Ventures’ Chief Investment Officer, Tom Mastrobuoni, says: “In the plant-based segment, we see companies putting in more dollars towards their marketing budget as compared to R&D to improve taste and texture of the product and supply chain. A difference will be seen when we have more investors and partners supporting innovative companies that are building the ingredients, formulation and infrastructure side of the business.”
Fats innovation is key to providing the desired mouthfeel for alternative protein products. Looking ahead in 2024, developing sustainable solutions that can replace the current substitutes used by the industry will continue to take precedence within the ecosystem. We can look forward to seeing various technologies being developed within this category – from cellular agriculture to precision fermentation, algae, and new plant sources.
Similarly, we will see an emergence of ingredient companies that are working on sweeteners, flavoring agents and coloring agents that can enhance the taste, texture and aroma of alternative proteins.
We will be doing a deep dive into the innovators and breakthrough companies in this sector in an article that will be out soon. Stay tuned for that!
Investing in enabling technology sector: the way forward for cultivated meats and fermentation products
The enabling technology sector will continue to receive a boost as these innovations are what is required to scale precision fermentation products, cultivated meat products and hybrids. This year could be the year for increased collaborations between companies to help reduce costs and increase scalability of these products.
Recently two BIV companies announced their collaboration. New Wave Biotech’s AI Bioprocess Optimization software enables synbio innovators to virtually experiment on thousands of processes for cost, quality and sustainability, learning from real life data and recommend improvements. Multus is leveraging this software to scale and improve the economics of using precision fermentation to produce some of the key ingredients for cell cultivation thereby accelerating their R&D, lowering development costs and ultimately helping to improve their unit economics.
These enabling technologies are also the key to helping precision fermentation companies move forward in terms of price parity, production and scale. Currently, one of the main barriers for these companies remains bioreactors – their size, their price and requirement of skilled operators to work on them.
We have seen many hardware, software and AI companies emerging on the market that help solve this issue, including Yeastime, which leverages ultrasound technology to increase yield inside bioreactors and reduce fermentation time, and Zymoscope, which uses an IoT Fermentation Management Platform to improve bioreactors’ performance by using data and remote control. Singapore-based Dynacyte Biosciences combines hardware with cloud technology to develop advanced bioreactor systems that improve production efficiency and ease of use.
We have also seen a number of startups working to develop enabling technologies to support the production of whole cut meat alternatives. These include Cocuus, a global leader in industrial scale 3D-printed whole cut meats, as well as Generation Food Rural Partners Fund’s newly launched Nexture Bio, specializing in biomaterial technologies like scaffolding to enable the creation of 3D alternative meat products.
Infrastructure development will be key to success for commercialisation of alternative products
While this year saw great strides forward with regulations, next year seems to be the year to push forth increased collaboration and funding to build infrastructure, facilities and production. With companies at the precipice of commercialization, corporates and bigger players within the food industry will start to play an important role in seeing this forward.
Some companies that have already set aside funds to build large scale facilities include Gourmey and Multus. Gourmey secured the alternative protein industry’s largest Series A funding of €48M in 2022. A part of that funding will be dedicated to opening a 46,000 sq ft commercial production facility and R&D center in Paris. In January of this year, Multus also closed a US$9.5M Series A round and will be using the funds to open a “world’s first” growth media production plant.
Sustainable packaging will gain traction
Agtech companies are increasingly investing in research and innovation to create eco-friendly packaging solutions that reduce environmental impact. This trend encompasses a variety of approaches, from utilizing biodegradable materials to developing packaging that is easily recyclable or compostable. Bioplastics derived from renewable resources, such as plant-based polymers, are gaining traction as a sustainable alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastics.
Two of Big Idea Ventures’ Generation Food Rural Partners Fund’s portfolio companies work within this realm. Biobond Adhesives Inc. is a material science company utilizing cutting-edge technology to replace petroleum-based adhesive materials in the food and agriculture industries’ supply chains. The company uses pressure sensitive and epoxy-strength biodegradable solutions made from natural materials that are both inexpensive and plentiful, such as agricultural waste. TerraSafe Materials, Inc.™ specializes in new products, coatings, and applications for truly sustainable packaging. Their product is a biopolymer compound that aims to displace traditional petroleum-based packaging.
Crop alternatives make an entry
To revolutionize the agri-food industry, we need to find new ways to create old products. This year, we expect to see innovation across traditional foods and in crops like cocoa, coffee, sugar, and palm. These alternatives mitigate economic risks by reducing dependence on a single crop, foster environmental sustainability through practices like crop rotation, and enhance resilience to climate change. Furthermore, they contribute to biodiversity conservation, lessen pressure on natural resources, and improve social and community resilience.
Some of our companies have already started looking at innovative solutions to find substitutes – Another Food from Singapore is the only company producing cultivated coffee using cellular agriculture and plant cell fermentation technologies.
Changing farming practices to ensure food safety and increased nutrition will become even more important in 2024
In the realm of nutrition, a pivotal shift is underway to address health and environmental concerns. This involves reducing sugar content, embracing clean labels, incorporating functional ingredients, and promoting plant-based protein sources. As consumers become increasingly health-conscious and environmentally aware, the agricultural landscape responds by focusing on sustainable and nutrient-rich food production.
A commitment to food safety through the integration of smart sensors, data analytics, and traceability technologies is also reshaping the agtech narrative. These technologies have been developed to detect pathogens in food, as well as in making antiviral and antimicrobial coatings for food to protect against these organisms.
Recognizing the crucial role of soil as a foundation for agricultural success in terms of nutrition and quality, it will become crucial to develop innovative technologies to optimize nutrient delivery, minimize soil erosion, and enhance overall soil fertility. One such practice is agricultural bioencapsulation, which includes encapsulation of agrochemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer to enhance the protective or nutritive aspects of the entrapped active ingredients. This enhances the efficacy of bio-based solutions, promoting sustainable crop management by providing controlled release mechanisms and targeted delivery.
Companies that address livestock health and maintenance will get a platform
How livestock management is taken care of right now plays a pivotal role in global food production. Thereby companies are leveraging cutting-edge technologies to enhance the well-being, productivity, and overall sustainability of livestock farming operations.
One key aspect of this trend involves the development and implementation of advanced monitoring systems. These systems utilize sensors, wearables, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to track vital parameters such as health status, feeding patterns, and environmental conditions in real time. By collecting and analyzing this data, farmers gain valuable insights into the health and behavior of their livestock, enabling early detection of diseases, optimizing feeding strategies, and promoting overall animal welfare.
Furthermore, the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is revolutionizing how livestock health is managed. Predictive analytics models can anticipate disease outbreaks, allowing farmers to take proactive measures and minimize the impact on animal health. Optimizing feed additives is crucial for livestock management, promoting animal health, and improving the efficiency of feed conversion. These include probiotics for enhanced digestibility, improved FCR, etc.
Startups focused on decarbonization will receive increased investor interest
As governments worldwide set ambitious carbon reduction targets, decarbonization in agriculture is not merely a trend for 2024 but crucial for fostering a resilient and sustainable future. Breakthrough technologies include employing renewable energy sources and precision farming methods to mitigate the carbon footprint, as well as developing innovations for carbon capture, carbon utilization and sequestration. Startups focusing on these technologies will likely receive increased investor interest, as their key areas of development help fulfill ESG criteria and support agricultural practices that align with decarbonization goals.
“2023 was a year where Big Idea Ventures adapted and expanded our investment thesis to incorporate players within the ecosystem that are essential to revolutionize the food industry. With difficult fundraising climates and valuations continuing to dip, this year and next will be the year for founders to strive towards developing technologies and products that will move the needle for the industry forward.” said Andrew D. Ive, Founder and Managing General Partner at Big Idea Ventures.
The Big Idea Ventures team is always on the lookout for innovative alternative protein companies. If you are an early-stage startup looking for investment and support, reach out to us here. If you are a corporate or an investor interested in investing in the space, reach out to us here.