For years, the most important food technologies were all about scale. How could we feed a fast-growing population at less expense? By doing everything bigger: food grown on bigger farms was sold by ever-merging global food giants to grocery chains of superstore proportions.
Many of today's food technologies seem to be moving in the opposite direction, toward methods and products that are economical for small farms as well as large corporate ones. This does not mean an end to big food: with the planet's population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, agriculture and food production will still have to achieve a massive scale, with help from technology and innovative research. Still, evolving technologies, including inexpensive sensors, mobile devices, and data analysis, have helped an increasing variety of food companies, retailers, and producers lower their costs and compete in many specialty markets.
This could be the start of a new food economy—one that reflects more competition and more innovation, provides opportunity for a broader group of investors, and is more dynamic and responsive than the industrial model that has dominated for decades.
This Business Report explores the implications of that shift—for financing food startups, for the development of new foods, and even for how we shop and eat.
Estimated number of people worldwide who will need to be fed in 2050
Between January 2013 and December 2014, 47 funds launched with plans to invest in food and agriculture, as tallied by the online publication Food Tech Connect. Venture investment in food-tech startups climbed to more than $1 billion in 2014, according to CB Insights—a significant increase from $288 million in 2013. One focus of Google Ventures and other Silicon Valley investors has been companies taking creative approaches to producing new foods such as vegetable-based beef substitutes, protein bars made with cricket flour, and other products aimed at small but valuable groups of consumers.