The future of the agriculture industry is inextricable from the issue of climate change — and many of today’s agritech and foodtech startups are attempting to act as the needed solution.
“The best pieces of land, the best soil around the world, are getting totally overused, and not really able to support life,” says Luc Boulet, a baker, who with French investor Alexandre Garese, opened a bakery in New York to highlight ancient grains and local suppliers engaging in regenerative farming practices.
But for investors, separating the wheat from the chaff can be tricky.
Take the enormous hype surrounding lab-grown meat for example. Despite that, consumer habits haven’t shifted substantially away from meat — in fact, global meat consumption is expected to rise 14% by 2030, according to OECD predictions.
“The Beyond Meat IPO was really a catalyst and an accelerator,” says Rosie Wardle, cofounder and partner at Synthesis Capital and an early investor in Beyond Meat, which broke records in 2019 when its IPO rose 160% in its market debut. With that startling debut, investors flooded into foodtech and agritech — but many were unfamiliar with the regulatory burden involved. It was a “false dawn”, says Garese.
“Investors were using the playbooks that we see in SaaS, in fintech, in cyber, these hockey stick companies that can go from making 1m in revenue to 5, to 20, to 50, to 100m,” says Gil Horsky, senior director of venture investments at Mondelez.
An awakening for many has forced the current market correction and VC investments in agritech and foodtech plummeted 44% in 2022. So what’s next? We asked four investors what they think.
Agriculture without reducing soil quality
For Garese, the drop in VC funding in food and agritech was necessary and isn’t going away immediately. However, his sense is that agritech is a “long play now”, and expects a rebound in capital inflows in the medium to long term.
Agritech is "a long play now
His heritage seeds project is driven by a conviction that the practices of mass agriculture are short-sighted and require a rehaul of contemporary practices that degrade soil quality and fertility, and impact human health.
As Garese works toward the Grand Heritage Bakery showcase with Boulet, he has his eye on some other agritech enterprises that serve the same broad mission.
Technologies that make agricultural production more efficient without reducing the quality of soil — automation in harvesting, circular systems that convert biomass into hydrogen and biochemical advances in fertilisers — are some areas where Garese is excited to see advancements.
Of Dealroom’s 100 agritech startups to watch list, 33 are European.
Differentiated plant-based products
Wardle is similarly optimistic about the long-term future for agritech and foodtech, despite her prediction that the industry’s “correction” is still in its early stages, and any bounceback will take time.
One foodtech startup in a good position that Wardle’s eye is on is US-based cultivated meat company Upside Foods. Well-capitalised and poised to extend its competitive advantage, it raised a $400m Series C round in April 2022.
Tel Aviv-headquartered Redefine Meat is another startup that Wardle is watching, because they “really offer a differentiated product in the plant-based category”. Her approach to investing is to steer clear of any startup that’s “yet another chicken nugget product that you see on the shelves all the time”.
Regenerative farming techniques
Isabella Fantini, foodtech investor at REMUS Capital, is seeing a number of problems that were thought of as “impossible” being finally tackled. US-based Tortuga AgTech’s agritech robotics and Adaviv’s AI-driven crop visibility are two prime ones to watch, according to Fantini.
I think investment will go towards things that are a little less shiny
She’s also paying attention to the companies that are well-placed to ease farmers’ transitions into regenerative farming techniques. “It’s a very fundamental shift to your business model,” says Fantini, adding startups offering compromises and tangible business steps toward more sustainable methods are also necessary.
“I think investment will go towards things that are a little less shiny,” Fantini predicted: the focus now is on realism over moonshots.
Food as medicine
For Horsky, 2022’s investment decline in agri-foodtech made sense. “In food, even if it’s an outstanding company, there are actually no shortcuts,” he says.
In food, even if it’s an outstanding company, there are actually no shortcuts
A theme that’s definitely one to watch, according to Horsky, is an impact on energy security. “After Covid and the war in Ukraine, the topic of food security really elevated the importance of those industries,” he tells Sifted.
For example, to tackle food security and meat overconsumption, startups like Sweden’s Mycorena are deploying fungi as potential solutions.
Another is the idea of food as medicine. Horsky is keeping an eye on the rise of supplements, precision nutrition and synbio technologies.