By Stephanie Nevel & Saskia Hoebee – Analysts, Food & Agriculture Startup Innovation
With a vibrant music scene and a culture known for equal parts friendliness and quirkiness, Austin is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the US. So it is perhaps no surprise that the home of fried pickles and a new food waste reduction law makes a compelling home for food innovators. Texan post-hurricane resilience and creativity was on full display last month as food and agriculture startups from around the world gathered at FoodBytes! Austin, a pitch competition-meets-networking event that brings together food and agriculture startups, investors and industry leaders to explore new ideas catalyzing the future. What new and emerging trends were on display? Read on to find out.
Taste Is a Given—On-The-Go Eaters Want Convenience & Performance
Ask any U.S. eater what they expect out of a food product apart from great taste, and they will likely mention convenience or health benefits. Take breakfast food, a sector that has experienced upheaval as athletes and civilians alike opt for performance-enhancing and portable morning meals over sugary cold cereals. Native State Foods makes the ancient Aztec blue corn mixture pinole available in ready-to-eat snack cups, offering health conscious eaters access to the same boost enjoyed by the Tarahumara people of Northwestern Mexico, a population known for their superhuman running abilities.
Your Superfoods understands consumers’ desire for fast fuel, too, noting in its pitch that as much as 90% of Americans are vitamin or mineral deficient. Your Superfoods’ nutrient-dense products allow smoothie drinkers to incorporate a quick spoonful of flavorful ingredients like acai, chia seeds or the energizing guarana plant. Performance is not purely physical; enhancing concentration and overall brain health is also a growing area of focus. Know Brainer is looking to address both the breakfast market and the $3b coffee creamer market with a product that harnesses grass-fed fats to help coffee drinkers remain alert and satiated throughout the morning. The shelf-stable coffee creamer comes in single-use, travel-friendly packets and is suitable for people following the ketogenic diet, a high-fat and low-carbohydrate way of eating used to help mitigate conditions including epilepsy, inflammation and insulin resistance.
Home-Cooked Quality Made More Accessible
While the startups mentioned above are addressing eaters’ on-the-go-needs, others are meeting the demand for accessibility and quality in the 50 – 60 % of meals that Americans consume at home. Inspired by a growing consumer interest in grass-fed, sustainable and humane proteins, Greensbury Market offers an online marketplace for the highest quality, meat, fish and poultry. At the same time, the success of brands such as Amy’s and evol has demonstrated the potential of the frozen organic meals category, which is growing at 16% per year. The Empanada Shop is looking to enhance this trend by applying it to traditional Mexican flavors via certified organic, ready-to-heat empanadas.
A Public Enemy & Sweeter Alternatives
Sugar has been eviscerated in recent years as a key culprit in the obesity epidemic, and consumers and big food companies are searching for more healthful ways to conquer the mighty sweet tooth. Companies like D’Vash Organics, which makes a locally produced, vegan date syrup with 25% less sugar than honey, present an attractive proposal. Peaceful Fruits has identified a socially beneficial opportunity in the sugary snack alternatives category by producing a 100%, sustainably-sourced fruit leather while employing individuals with developmental disabilities. Bringing a natural alternative to the $250b U.S. alcoholic beverage market, Ripened Ventures is a biotech company that applies fermentation technology to accessible and economical fruits such as oranges to produce fermented drinks.
The FoodBytes! audience was most impressed by biotech startup Sugarlogix (People’s Choice Award Winner), which has studied the nutrients in human breast milk and developed an FDA-approved functional sugar with myriad health benefits. The team has signed letters of intent with multiple infant formula manufacturers and is also eyeing the $199b nutraceutical market as they trial a prebiotic supplement for adults.
Waste Reduction & New Ingredient Frontiers
Other pitch companies brought new perspectives to the theme of waste reduction, showing that feeding the world sustainably will require not only reducing waste, but also creating new things from under-utilized ingredients. Coffee Flour highlights the power of up-cycling by turning coffee production by-product, some 21b kilograms of which is wasted globally each year, into a nutritious and gluten-free flour. The production process also results in sustainable job opportunities for farmers in some of the poorest areas of the world. Austin-based startup GrubTubs is putting leftovers to use by converting food waste from restaurants into affordable animal feed for local farmers, creating a closed loop waste system.
Novel ingredients were also on display in Austin. Beyond the Shoreline (Judges’ Choice Award Winner) uses sustainably-harvested seagreens to create snacks like Kelp Jerky. The company employs East Coast ocean farmers to harvest the plants. Seagrasses are projected to account for at least 15 percent of the $5b plant-based protein market by 2020 and in addition to being one of the most sustainable crop groups on the planet, they pack a dense vitamin and nutrient profile. Aspire Food Group (Highly Commended Award Winner) works with another ingredient that has gone under-utilized in North America but is consumed by 80% of the global population – insects. It has developed the world’s first automated cricket farming technology and uses it to produce a line of consumer products including cricket flour and granola as well as additives for fertilizer and pet food. Think.Eat.Live is using the sunflower seed in new ways—its gluten-free sunflower flour can be used in baked goods, pasta and snacks and contains 3 times more protein than traditional wheat flour.
Intelligent Farming is Sustainable Farming
By equipping farmers with the tools to make more informed decisions, startups from around the world are enabling more time, cost and resource-efficient farming. Vence is facilitating smarter management of the $1.5t asset class that is livestock via a FitBit-like device that creates both static and dynamic boundaries, guiding grazing patterns and protecting waterways. Livestock diseases like Mastitis cost farmers as much as $4b globally each year, and XING offers a nanotechnology that delivers a pathogen detection solution to detect and prevent these infections, which have enormous public health implications. Intello Labs allows farmers to monitor crop quality using artificial intelligence photo recognition so that they can respond to problems quickly. Regen’s app analyzes farmers’ irrigation practices to produce recommendations that optimize resource use and minimize leaching.
Discover the trends catalyzing the future of food in person at FoodBytes! In 2018 we will be in San Francisco, New York, Montreal, Europe and Asia. Stay tuned via FoodBytesWorld.com and follow FoodBytes! on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or view curated content via the hashtag #FoodBytes. Interested in learning more about applying to pitch or sponsorship opportunities? Get in touch with the FoodBytes! team today!