According to a Pitchbook Q4 2022 report, after declining for three consecutive quarters, FoodTech VC funding seems to have stabilized. In Q4 2022, FoodTech VCs invested $2.8 billion across 316 deals, a slight 4.8% QoQ decline in deal volume. 1,578 agreements, totaling $20.2 billion, were completed annually. Deal values plummeted by an astounding 56.5% YoY after an exceptional investment year in 2021. Despite this reduction, the deal count in 2022 was the second highest on record, and values declined in accordance with five-year historical medians. It is obvious that the sector is facing the same structural problems as other tech sectors. However, if global market circumstances improve, we anticipate that we will see a full recovery in investment activity soon.
2022 Investment Highlights
We continue to develop a robust pipeline of exciting companies that we believe will have a transformative effect on our food system and our environment, all while tapping into what we believe are large and profitable markets.
We are very proud to have added two new companies to the Rethink Food strategy in 2022.
We invested in Omeat in Q2. We have been following the faster-than-anticipated scientific progress in the field of cultured/regenerative meats, commonly referred to as “lab-grown meat” or “cellular meats,” for some time. This sub-category is driven by technology that enables actual mammalian cells to be harvested from live animals and replicated in fluids known as “growth factors.” This is in contrast with plant-based meats which typically use micro-organisms to express cells in a fermentation process that closely resembles those of beef, chicken, pork, and seafood. These “cultured meats” are essentially bio-identical to “conventional meat,” giving them a better chance of overcoming consumer taste barriers that are largely to blame for the recent slowdown in the plant-based meat market.
We have met with a lot of interesting businesses in the cultured meat industry, but there has been one issue that has continued to bother us: unit economics. The industry needed a direct connection to a consumer price point that was comparable to traditionally produced beef. As result, we lacked faith in cellular meat’s ability to gain the widespread acceptance needed to significantly lower the level of animal husbandry required to satisfy the current demand for protein.
We still cannot say too much about Omeat yet because it remains in “stealth mode,” but we are excited by the approach they are taking to develop a sustainable and scalable cultured meat, while resolving the price challenges mentioned. Plus, Omeat was founded by Ali Khademhosseini, one of the top tissue engineers in the world. With our upcoming updates, you can expect to learn a lot more about Omeat.
Our newest investment is in Harmony Baby Nutrition, a new company founded by MIT scientists that we believe has the potential to transform the $55.8BN (10% 5Y CAGR) Infant Formula industry. Harmony synthesizes protein using precision fermentation to produce the first allergy-free formula with protein almost bio-identical to human breast milk. The result is animal-free, allergen-free, organic, and sustainable.
Focused first on producing human albumins, Harmony aims to provide a solution for up to 17% of babies who face side effects after consuming cow’s milk formula and the 24 million babies around the world with cow’s milk allergies (the key ingredient of incumbent infant formula products).
The emergence of this exciting new company could not come at a better time. The concentration and oligopolistic structure of the current infant nutrition industry reached crisis levels in 2022. As many will painfully recall, due to the global supply chain disruption that occurred in 2021–2022, a significant product recall after two babies allegedly died after consuming Abbott infant formula, import restrictions, and market concentration, there was a severe infant formula shortage in the United States in 2022. Unlike other dietary items, infant formula frequently lacks a suitable replacement as a source of nutrition for individuals who rely on it. Out-of-stock rates were reported to be 43% nationwide on May 14—an increase from 31% two weeks earlier—and to have risen to 70% by May 22. These levels remained unchanged through the beginning of July.
We are currently immersed with the leadership team at Harmony to help them frame and position the category, products, and brand that will help them gain maximum traction with consumers and regulators. We will continue to update you on the progress of Harmony in subsequent updates.
With the addition of Omeat and Harmony, we feel very excited about the breadth and depth of the strategy across our six FoodTech subsectors. We will be particularly focused in 2023 on the “No/Low Waste Tech” and “Packaging Tech” sectors where we have not yet found the right opportunities.
Looking Ahead into 2023
“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” – Yogi Berra
The greatest prediction we have about 2023 is that many predictions will be incorrect!
Who would have thought that in January 2020, when COVID-19 was just beginning, that venture capital activity would not only continue to be as robust as it was but would also gain enough traction to have a record year in 2021? Then, though, 2022 arrived, and everything changed.
But despite the risk of predictions in these unpredictable times, here are six of ours:
- Climate tech may be a bright light
Climate tech investing may become a relatively predictable safe haven for entrepreneurs and investors as tech and crypto retrench under the economic crisis. The recent Inflation Reduction Act and the unavoidable effects of climate change could set the stage for a protracted strong market in climate technology.
- Celebrity entrepreneurs will suffer but strong operators will thrive
The year of the operator will be 2023. The most successful businesses will not be those who rely on their celebrity, but rather those that prioritize execution and the practical aspects of surviving in the current market and emerging stronger from it.
- Better investors, better entrepreneurs
Businesses based on bigger ideas and better investors will emerge. Because there is less money in the system, businesses must improve their operational excellence (do more with less money). Investors are also returning to the fundamentals. An appreciation for businesses that are creating real value, rather than relying solely on future value, is returning along with better, more thorough diligence. .
- 2023 will be rough, but 2024 may be better
Year-end 2023 headlines may appear much better than they do now. Although the news cycle may be difficult right now, persistence and innovation, along with a brighter economic future, will bring back the positivity that has always characterized the VC world.
- More creative funding options
As ongoing uncertainty disrupts regular fundraising cycles and prompts more businesses to turn to insider rounds and alternative forms of finance (such as venture debt) to maximize liquidity and extend runway, founders will review their funding plans and be more creative, as a result.
- AI may change the world
The growth of applied AI and digital biology in the living sciences this year will show how powerfully big data can be used to address some of society’s most pressing issues. It is the key reason we invested in Brightseed and Gro Intelligence. As more money is invested in top-performing companies, the valuations of early-stage companies will continue to be promising. We should expect to see more capital directed at AI-enabled companies.
This has been an exciting year for Planet FWD, which continues to advance its commercial agenda and sign exciting new customers. The Californian apparel company’s new F&B division, Patagonia Provisions has acquired Moonshot Snacks, a product within Planet FWD known for its climate-friendly practices. Planet FWD Founder, Julia Collins, created Moonshot Snacks to demonstrate the consumer demands around brands with strong environmental claims. Exiting Moonshot not only proves this thesis, but also allows Planet FWD to focus on its core mission of providing fast, inexpensive LCAs to food companies.
In other news on Planet FWD, Julia was spotlighted in Erin Griffith’s New York Times piece on “’Recession Resilient’ Climate Startups Shine in Tech Downturn”. Julia also gave hope to Lex Kiefhaber on her “Who’s Saving the Planet?”podcast and wrote about joy in the workplace – the key to success – in Fast Company.
Brightseed Bio formalized its partnership with the ingredient company ADM, which invested in Brightseed. With this partnership, Brightseed now has access to ADM’s microbe library that will assist in developing synbiotics. As Food Navigator points out, while probiotics and prebiotics have gained in popularity recently, the two in the right proportions create synbiotics that can offer important gut health benefits.
In other news on Brightseed, Co-Founder and COO, Sofi Elizondo, was featured in NYSE’s The Cure(ious) article with other leaders working to change the current paradigms of health and wellness. The Brightseed team published preclinical findings in the Journal of Food Bioactives and Sofia was featured in NBC News’ David Ingram’s article on the rising movement of gut health. And finally, BioTech Breakthrough selected Brightseed as the winner of their Nutraceutical Innovation of the Year award.
Motif FoodWorks, which is developing the next wave of delectable foods, recently announced the short-term, direct-to-consumer sale of its first finished format product. The business sells Motif BeefWorksTM Plant-Based Burger Patties, which customers can now order and have delivered right to their homes or other preferred locations.
Motif FoodWorks’ ground-breaking components of HEMAMI and APPETEX, which deliver rich, meaty flavor and a delectable, juicy texture, are used to make Motif BeefWorks Plant-Based Burger Patties. For $12 USD, customers can pre-order a 4-pack of the Plant-Based Burger Patties for delivery later this month. In the company’s taste-testing research, customers and restaurant patrons loved the plant-based burger patties.
In other news, Motif recently joined the Precision Fermentation Alliance along with eight other FoodTech start-ups. The PFA will:
- Engage with regulatory agencies, policymakers, industry stakeholders and consumers to educate and build trust around precision fermentation.
- Establish best practices regarding regulatory, manufacturing, food safety, and communications standards and compliance.
- Develop market access and unlock public funding and public-private partnerships.
Rethink Food’s own Rini Greenfield named Motif FoodWorks as one of the “10 of the most promising foodtech startups, according to top VCs” in her recent Business Insider interview. And in other news, Motif FoodWorks’ CEO, Michael Leonard wrote an OpEd in FoodDive on “Why plant based meat is not ‘just another fad’” and Blue Horizon & Olon featured Motif in report highlighting key steps in building a bioeconomy-based future.
Gro Intelligence’s CEO, Sara Menker, joined the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)’s Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC) at their public meeting to present Gro’s analysis on the current state of global agriculture markets.
Gro’s highly accurate climate and environmental indicators, such as the Gro Drought Index, as well as our Global Yield Forecast and Acreage Models can be used to monitor current global crop conditions and yields and the short and long-term impacts of drought conditions on production prospects.
In other Gro-related news, the company released its 2022 Performance Report, that displayed that their models are accurately predicting agricultural yields. Gro was mentioned in a New York Times Op Ed on “How Russia’s War on Ukraine is Worsening Global Starvation” and Axios’s piece on “The future of global food security”. Jonathan Haines, Senior Researcher in New York Times, also mentioned Gro in “Forget Pandemic Puppies. Meet Inflation Chickens”.
Sara Menker spoke at the Munich Security Conference and at the World Economic Forum in Davos. She joined Guy Raz on NPR’s How I Built This with Guy Raz and was featured on Bloomberg New Economy’s “Action-Planning for a Global Food Crisis” panel.
Territory Foods was featured in People magazine as “Best Mediterranean Diet Meal Services of 2023”. Plus, the company partnered with Xponential Fitness, the largest global franchisor of boutique fitness brands.
Harmony Baby Nutrition’s CEO & Founder, Del Afonso, spoke on a FrieslandCampina Ingredients panel and was featured on Big Idea Ventures’ The Big Idea Podcast. Finally, Harmony was included in Brinc’s blog post on infant formula innovation.
In the News
“While sustainability continues to become an important consideration in consumer choice, the majority of consumers are less prepared to trade off functionality – and sometimes price – in order to get it. We need to understand that sustainability is now an ‘and,’ not an ‘or’ in the consumer choice matrix.”
Brad shared his insights on the role of the consumer in the effort towards a more sustainable future in a recent AdWeek podcast. He was joined by Lauren Taylor and Jose Gorbea in discussion with moderator, Adweek’s Jenny Rooney.
“Innovative new companies…are combining science and technology with food and agriculture to drive systemic change – for a healthier planet and people.”
CapShift recently shared their platform with us to discuss the ways FoodTech is driving systemic change and increasing food access. Brad and Rini shared how innovative new companies are combining science and technology with food and agriculture to drive systemic change for healthier people and a healthier planet.
And finally, ImpactAlpha included Rethink Food on April 2023’s The Liist. This edition focuses impact managers who craft fund strategies working to restore lands and oceans and effect climate change, more generally. We were honored to be featured with a handful of other impressive managers.
On the Stage
This past quarter has included quite a few exciting speaking opportunities for both of us. Here are some highlights:
Rini was featured in Kayo Conference Series’ list of Top 23 Miami Women in Private Equity.
Standing room only when Brad joined the Future Food-Tech panel “Creating the Next Generation of Food!” The panel was stellar and included Motif FoodWorks’ CEO Michael Leonard, Irina Gerry from Change Foods, Lou Cooperhouse from BlueNalu, and Melissa Sue Sorrells from Alt-Meat.
Rini joined policymakers, scientific experts, corporate leaders, investors and innovators, artists, young leaders, influencers, and the public for the Aspen Ideas: Climate conference in Miami Beach!
She spoke on a private roundtable at the conference focused on “Unblocking the Pipeline for Investment in Sustainable, Values-based Blue Food Production,” focused on the Future of Food from the ocean.
Rini also spoke at Private Equity International’s Responsible Investment Forum on March 1st focused on the continued push towards impact investing.
1. Harmony company research and data.
2. Source: Victoria M Martin et al (2020) Prospective Assessment of Pediatrician Diagnosed Food Protein Study
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