- FoodTech Weekly
- FoodTech Weekly #167 by Daniel S. Ruben
FoodTech Weekly #167 by Daniel S. Ruben
News on FoodTech, food, and society
FoodTech Weekly #167
Attended a big and surprisingly good event in the beautiful Golden Hall (the closest I’ll ever get to the Nobel Banquet ball) in the Stockholm City Hall this week, on ‘Innovation in an urban food system’. The city mayor was there, plus a plethora of insightful speakers and panelists from business, gov’t, NGOs, and academia, discussing how to bring down food-related emissions, increase the share of healthy food consumed, and how the future urban food system should look like.
Stockholm City Hall, Johan Jörgensen, Golden Hall
The perhaps most memorable talk was delivered by Johan Jörgensen of Sweden FoodTech, who spoke about the need for radical systemic change, and reminded everyone that ‘today’s food system lives in a financial La-La Land, as it doesn’t take into account impacts on health and the environment’ […] Food is 3x more expensive than what we think we spend, but we don’t see the true price as we pay for the health and environment costs from other wallets.’
He also poked fun at the (attending) Stockholm top politicians, showing an image of a recent street ad campaign in the city by McDonald’s and (Delivery Hero-owned) food delivery brand Foodora that had the slogan ‘French fries for main and dessert. Because I want to.’ Johan commented: ‘I hope the city was paid a handsome amount for this ad space, but whatever they got paid it will never cover the costs of people consuming junk food’.
Recent Foodora/McDonald’s campaign in central Stockholm
We’ve still got a long way to go in fixing urban food environments and indeed urban food systems.
This week's rundown:
French Umiami lands €32.5M to boost plant-based meat production and expand to the U.S.
Desert Control harvests $6.2M for Liquid Natural Clay that can reverse desertification
Scentian Bio of New Zealand bags $2.1M for technology that can detect microscopic amounts of e.g. harmful bacteria on food
Had a long-distance Zoom call last week, with Dylan McDonnell, Founder and CEO of Foodini in Sydney. Dylan grew up in Ireland where he went to university and law school, eventually becoming a corporate lawyer. Four years ago, he moved to Sydney, Australia for a better lifestyle. ‘I enjoyed legal work, and worked with all the massive tech companies in Dublin, but law wasn’t my ultimate calling’, he acknowledges.
Dylan was diagnosed with celiac when he was 10. ‘Celiac and gluten free wasn’t in the Irish dictionary back then’, Dylan says and continues: ‘The issue has exploded in the last 20 years, and food allergies and dietary needs are massive issues globally. Any venue serving food has a problem navigating this challenge. And that was the genesis of Foodini.’
About 2 years ago, Dylan founded Foodini. The company enables people to download a free app, create a personalized dietary profile (e.g. gluten, keto, lacto-ovo, coriander, mushrooms, etc) and then show them exactly where and what they can eat via a personalized menu. Restaurant guests can also scan a QR code in a venue, or access a link on the restaurants’ website to see what’s suitable for them to eat.
Foodini has a team of six dieticians that review menus and also works directly with many venues, verifying the ingredients and how the food is prepared in detail, to ensure people with dietary needs can make an informed decision. Foodini also has advanced tech processes in place to track restaurant menu changes as they happen in live time. ‘Foodini provides customers with as much data as possible to allow them to make an informed decision based on their dietary needs. However it is worth noting that we do not provide guarantees, as of course we are not the ones preparing the food. Consumers will always need to flag their allergies to the waiters’, Dylan explains.
Foodini amasses lots of data, and can tell a venue about the demographic makeup and dietary choices and restrictions of all consumers that e.g. scanned the Foodini QR code for that particular venue last month. This provides valuable insights for the venue, e.g. that they can increase sales by adding or altering items on the menu.
Foodini currently has 15 people on the team: ‘I’ve managed to surround myself with some really smart people. I’m not a tech, sales, or marketing person — but I have those on my team, and they’re world class’, Dylan says. The company is mainly active in Australia where Foodini’s user growth is 36% month-over-month, although ‘we’ve started to dip our toes in the U.S. as well’, as Dylan puts it.
The company is currently raising a $3M Seed round, and is hiring for several positions incl. that of a Senior Backend Engineer (‘that person needs to be outstanding, and purpose-driven, but not necessarily based in Australia’). And Dylan is interested in chatting with people who are mission-aligned and want to revolutionize how food is consumed, whether chefs, investors, potential partners or venue operators. He can be reached via LinkedIn.
Images: Foodini (Dylan McDonnell in back row, left)
Plant-based meat scaleup Umiami of France, founded in 2020, has secured a €32.5M (appr. $34M) Series A extension, bringing its total A round to €59M (appr. $62M). The company, which makes plant-based alternatives to e.g. chicken breasts, cod, and nuggets, will open a new factory in Alsace (with a production capacity of 20K tons) and expand to the U.S. The round was led by Bpifrance’s funds Sociétés de Projets Industriels Fund (SPI) and French Tech Seed, and backed by previous investors.
Scentian Bio of New Zealand has raked in a $2.1M Seed round led by Finistere Ventures and Toyota Ventures. The startup makes biosensors using the olfactory receptors of insects (the biological machinery that enables bugs to understand their environment through smell). These biosensors can detect volatile organic compounds like bacteria in e.g. foods and plants, at a sensitivity equal to one water droplet in 20,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
AgTech startup Sentinel Fertigation of Lincoln, Nebraska has scored a $2.5M Seed round led by Homegrown Capital, Grit Road Partners, and Invest Nebraska. The company specializes in helping farmers to optimize nitrogen fertilizer usage through a software solution; this saves them $40 per acre (about 0.4 hectares) on nitrogen costs.
Atypique of Lyon, France has bagged €2.1M (appr. $2.2M), aiming to become the European leading wholesaler of ‘non-standard’ fruits and vegetables — i.e. produce that’s deemed to have the wrong size, weight, or appearance — or just is in oversupply. The startup purchases from farmers and sells the fruits B2B at a 20-50% discount (h/t DigitalFoodLab).
Desert Control of Norway has completed a NOK 67.5M (appr. $6.2M) capital raise. The company had developed a Liquid Natural Clay (LNC) that can restore soil ecosystems to e.g. reduce water usage and improve the uptake of fertilizer. LNC can turn desert sand and arid soil into fertile soil in less than 7 hours (here’s a video on how it all works).
Image: Desert Control
evja of Naples, Italy has raised a €4.2M (appr. $4.4M) pre-Series A round, led by CDP Venture Capital and Sefea Impact. The company has developed a precision agriculture system that helps optimize irrigation, nutrition, and crop defense using ‘predictive agronomic models and AI’.
Lumen Bioscience of Seattle, Washington has engineered spirulina algae to produce a natural enzyme (lysin) that targets the microorganisms in a cow’s digestive system that make methane. Experts say the regulatory approval for this could take at least a decade.
Norway is moving towards banning the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages (such as those high in sugar, salt, and fat) to children and youth under the age of 18. In related news, Marion Nestle shared some quick interesting photos and insights from Mexican store shelves on food warning labels.
Nestlé — the company, not Marion above — has vowed to increase sales of healthier foods with 50% by 2030. (In personal news, I have vowed to consume a higher proportion of healthier foods by 2030).
Swedish convenience store chain Pressbyrån has launched a ‘Transition Hot Dog’ (co-developed by plant-based brand Peas of Heaven), which is 100% meat on one end and 100% plant-based on the other (reflection: I suspect both vegans and meat lovers will be upset about this sausage).
Pymwymic has invested an undisclosed sum in Vivent; the startup has developed sensors that can understand plant signals and thus provide the plants with what they need.
A single-use plastic cutlery ban has come into effect in England, banning the sale of e.g. polystyrene cups and food containers, and restricting the supply of single-use plastic plates, trays, and bowls.
Dynamic pricing may help fight food waste, a recent study from UC San Diego indicates. Not to be confused with last-minute clearance sales, the pricing for perishable foods should rather be gradually adjusted based on how long they’ve been on the shelves.
Too much sodium is bad for you. So is too little. The tongue actually has two separate salt-taste systems (sweet, sour, bitter, and umami) to make sure we right-size salt.
Of the world’s 20 biggest food companies, over half fail to live up to their emission pledges. Chipotle, for example, pledged to halve its emissions by 2030 but their emissions have actually increased by 26% (according to their own 2022 sustainability report). Cue: slow clap.
News from the FoodTech Weekly community
Fermify (Austria) is hiring an Upstream Technician… Volta Greentech (Sweden) is recruiting a Chief Operating Officer… New School Foods (Canada) is looking for a Director of Engineering & Commercialization… Essential (Kenya) is bringing on a Fermentation Science R&D Lead.
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It’s never too late to complete your bucket list; an American woman aged 104 just went skydiving.
Indian farmers are using chatbot KissanGPT to make better decisions around e.g. irrigation, pest control, and crop cultivation. The chatbot, which is available in nine Indic languages, also features an AI-powered voice assistant which enables farmers with limited reading or writing abilities to access expert agricultural advice.
The AgTech investment party is over, Shubhang Shankar of Syngenta’s VC arm says in a really interesting conversation on the current status of the AgTech investment landscape.
Living in the U.S. for a number of years, I never really understood the Imperial system of units. A recipe would call for 2 cups of flour, and I’d go ‘sure…what size of cup?’ And yeah, I know, before you judge someone’s measuring system you should make sure to walk 1.609344 kilometers in their shoes. But still. Anyways, I just found the handy chart below, so move over, Metric system:
I love you.
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