Emerging Trends: The Future of Food

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With the world population projected to reach 8.5B people in 2030 by the UN from today's population of 7.3B, a crop of foodtech startups and technologies are under development to tackle this immense challenge of feeding such a huge population.  This challenge is further exasperated by the decline of clean accessible water and depletion of nutrients in crop soils global.  Several technology trends are arising to tackle this challenge in different ways.

Indoor Farming

This set of technologies is based on increasing crop density and yield by having perfect control of growing conditions (humidity, lighting, air composition) as well as making use of vertical farming.  The idea, which has yet to be proven economically viable, is to reduce waste of the inputs (i.e. fertilizer, water, energy, etc) while dramatically increasing the speed of crop growth and completely eliminating plant diseases and rot.  More crops more quickly for less cost then current methods is the goal.  The poster child for this set of technologies is startup Plenty which is backed by a number of big name and deep-pocketed investors.  They advertise yields up to 350 times conventional farming techniques with only 1% of the water.

New Methods of Producing Meat

It is well documented that cattle rearing for the world's ever growing hunger for meat products is horribly inefficient and damaging to the environment releasing high amounts of greenhouse gases.  A number of startups have arisen over the last few years seeking to grow artificial meat from cells in a lab environment.  Of these the one that has received the most press and funding is San Francisco based Memphis Meats.  The technology here is basically to use animal stem cells and bioreactors to grow meats in a lab setting that is indistinguishable from the traditionally raised and processed meat we eat daily.  It's a much more complex scientific challenge than it initially sounds.  The advantage is it likely will be much faster, cheaper and efficient pound for pound to produce any type of meat once the technology is developed and scaled.

Farm 2.0 - The Digital Farm

There are a ton of startups focused on improving traditional farming with everything from using drones and software to analyze crops in the field (i.e. Farmers Edge), robotics to replace human workers, software to better manage farm operations (AgCode), and many other areas.  While not as likely as the above two categories to dramatically increase food yields, this is a much faster to implement and less difficult set of technologies to bring to market.  In a word the Digital Farm is a sustaining set of technologies rather than a revolutionary set of technologies.

New Wave Foods

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New Wave Foods is a food startup working on sustainable seafood created from plant based components.  Their first and only currently available product is lab created shrimp made from algae and other vegetables.  Currently their shrimp alternative is available through 20+ restaurants and food distributors with the company targeting general retail availability within the next couple of years.  In developing the product, the team has been able to generate the same nutrition profile, taste and texture as fresh caught from the ocean shrimp.  The company is already at work developing fish and shellfish alternatives.

The team is based in San Francisco and currently has 3 full time employees.

Why I like Them

This is an innovative product that fulfills a large unaddressed need in the market.  Seafood-like alternatives have been mostly ignored by FoodTech companies to date, many of whom are focused on creating meat and egg alternatives.  However, there is obvious interest in these types of products with a growing number of consumers looking for their food to be environmentally sustainable, antibiotic free, allergen free, kosher, vegan, and mercury free.  More than 10% of college students today identify as vegan 

It was also smart that the team chose their initial distribution channel as restaurants directly since +70% of seafood is eaten out of the home. 

Disclosure:  I have spoken to members of the executive team.