FoodTech Weekly #149 by Daniel S. Ruben
News on FoodTech, food, and society
FoodTech Weekly #149
Hybrid rice is often 10-20% bigger than the best inbred strains, but in low- and middle-income countries, fewer than half of all farmers can afford to buy these special seeds. Also, the hybrid seeds are only good for one year before they lose their mojo. A new technology called synthetic apomixis however promises a future where farmers could buy hybrid seeds once, and grow them forever, without relying on the big seed companies. This could help boost yields and lift millions of smallholder farmers out of poverty. Simply, transformative. Niko McCarty of Codon has written an insightful piece on this.
By the way, Sonalie Figueiras captured the magic of HackSummit in a beautiful way.
This week's rundown:
Incredo of Israel has nabbed $30M in funding to enable a 30-50% sugar reduction in various products
Scientists have found out how to sort eggs by gender through ‘sniffing’ them, potentially saving billions of male chicks from culling
Meatable cuts production time of cultivated pork from 3 weeks to eight days
Visited indoor circular farm Johannas outside Stockholm, Sweden, and met with its founders (who are also a married couple), Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson and Anke Johanna van Lenteren. Thomas used to run tech companies in the U.S., Europe, and India; Anke is a graphic designer turned horticulturist. Thomas was doing his master thesis at Sundrop Farms in Australia and decided to go into circular food production. He — almost — got a MSc in Environmental Science, and felt that water and energy use in agriculture wasn’t sustainable. ‘The solution is to work in a circular way. That requires complete transformation of the food system. That isn’t a trivial thing to do’, Thomas explains. Five years ago, Johannas was born. The pilot circular aquaponic farm was built from scratch, which took two years. Thomas and Anke decided to grow a crop where one could make money, and that turned out to be premium vegetables, such as leafy greens. Fish are grown in tanks on site; the ammonia that the fish breathe out converts via a bacterial process into nitrite and then nitrate, which becomes nutrients for the plans in the farm. After 12 months the fish are harvested (although 90% of products sold, per weight, are plants). Internal waste become feed for insects, which make up half of the fish feed. ‘We’re not a vertical farm — that’s just a linear system in extreme’, Thomas says. The farm is optimized for sustainability; e.g. about 99.8% of the water used is recycled, the LED lights are turned on when the electric price is the lowest, and so on. ‘Here, the vegetables are always in season. We can grow whatever we want, giving a restaurant exactly the crop, volume, quality, and price they need. We can guarantee a 2 week shelf life. The chefs love us,’ Thomas smiles. Johannas currently grow 60 different crops, focusing on those that work well in their circular system. When harvested, the crops are sold to top restaurants and hotels. The goal of Thomas and Anke is to build automated, scalable and replicable circular food facilities, which can be run locally without having to import inputs from abroad. The first large-scale facility, producing 500 tons of vegetables and 40 tons fish per year, will be placed at Morgongåva Företagspark in Sweden. Johannas has raised appr. $1M in equity and $0.5M in soft funding thus far, and aims to secure about $20M in tranches to build a commercial-sized, automated facility, which should generate an annual revenue of $8M. The company is looking to speak to investors, as well as connecting with larger restaurant chains in Europe to set up offtake agreements. Thomas can be reached via [email protected].
Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson and Anke Johanna van Lenteren of Johannas
Israeli sugar reduction startup Incredo (just rebranded from DouxMatok) has gobbled up $30M in a Series C round led by DSM Venturing and Sienna Venture Capital, and backed by e.g. Teseo Capital (an investment fund managed by the Ferrero family). Incredo’s sugar-based sweetener allows for a 30-50% reduction in sugar.
Boston-based FoodTech startup Foodberry is in the midst of raising a $15M Series A round; the company is developing plant-based coatings from fruit and vegetable fibers, that can replace packaging such as plastic for fruits and veggies.
Nigerian cold-chain startup Figorr has closed a $1.5M Seed round led by Atlantica Ventures, and joined by VestedWorld, Jaza Rift Ventures, and Katapult VC. Figorr has developed IoT-powered solutions that help provide insights to businesses about e.g. the location, humidity, and temperature of highly perishable products, which helps to cut food loss.
Every year, billions of male chicks are killed just days after they are hatched, as they cannot lay eggs and are of no use (sidenote: If you want nightmares, check YouTube for “chick culling”). Researchers at UC Davis together with startup Sensit Ventures now say they’ve been able to sort eggs by gender early in incubation with 80% accuracy based on ‘sniffing’ volatile organic chemicals. The researchers hope the technology will enable a reduced need for chick culling.
Plant-based food brand Wicked Kitchen of Minneapolis, Minnesota has acquired plant-based seafood brand Current Foods. This comes less than a year after Wicked Kitchen’s acquisition of plant-based seafood brand Good Catch. Current Foods had raised over $21M before it was acquired.
Researchers believe food delivery apps can be used to nudge consumers to consume fewer calories. The researchers conducted three RCT’s (randomized controlled trials) with a simulated food delivery app that used different interventions such as pre-selecting smaller portions by default, positioning lower-calorie foods more prominently, and displaying calorie labels. Consumers that tried the app purchased a lower number of calories on average, vs. other consumers in a control group where no interventions where added.
Danish upcycled food producer Agrain raised $1.3M in a Seed extension, backed by e.g. Collateral Good Ventures and Planetary Impact Ventures.
Israeli startups Enzymit and Aleph Farms have partnered to cut the cost of cultivated meat. In related news, Dutch cultivated meat startup Meatable announced they’ve managed to cut down the cultivation time for pork from 3 weeks to just eight days.
The sheep-to-human ratio of New Zealand just dropped below 5 to 1, for the first time since the 1850s. The country still has 25M+ sheep ambling around (and kiwifruit is still New Zealand’s largest horticultural export by value).
ADM has partnered with Air Protein to make meat analogs. Air Protein (which has raised north of $100M so far) uses microbes that can turn carbon dioxide into protein. The protein can then be turned into alt chicken and alt seafood products.
Swedish online grocer Mathem has banked almost €85M in new funding from e.g. Kinnevik, Axfood, Verdane, AMF, Bonnier Capital and VNV.
German/U.S. startup ingarden, which produces hydroponic cultivation systems that consumers can use at home to grow fresh microgreens in just seven days, has harvested €500K in funding.
The Gates Foundation has awarded almost $5M to PennState’s PlantVillage, to help increase smallholder production in Sub-Saharan Africa — e.g. by developing computer vision and ML models that can identify, track, and predict pest outbreaks.
eFishery of Indonesia reeled in a $108M Series D round, backed by e.g. SoftBank Vision Fund. The company develops solutions for fish and shrimp farmers, such as smart feeders, digital farming operations systems, an online marketplace, and access to financial services.
News from the FoodTech Weekly community
If you’re in Stockholm next week, don’t miss Sweden FoodTech Big Meet, May 31 - June 2.
FoodLabs has released its Food For Climate Report 2023, e.g. highlighting 340+ startups driving the transition towards a sustainable food system in Europe.
Want to share some FoodTech news/project with other FoodTech Weekly subscribers? Hit reply.
The Netherlands has opened a facility to train scientists how to ‘prevent, spot, and respond to chemical warfare’ — anyways, their hazmat suits are pretty hysterical because they totally look like Mike Wazowski of Monsters, Inc:
How is the water in the U.S. West used? Nice NYT graphic based on this paper in Nature:
So yes, livestock is water intense:
$8 ice cubes are now a thing. An L.A. company called Disco Cubes is trying to meet an ‘unmet demand’ for luxury ice, where the cubes contain everything from flowers to logos.
This world map flashes every time a baby is born in a specific country.
Ah, America: ‘Winnie-the-Pooh book teaches Texas kids to ‘run, hide, fight’ in a shooting’. (h/t Sonalie F)
I love you.
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This issue was produced while listening to Hey Now (When I Give You All My Lovin') by Romare. Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter. And here's the Appetizer which I co-host. Did your brilliant friend forward this to you? Subscribe here.