The term startup has become synonymous with growth, new frontiers and creativity. Driving innovation in any given field, they bare are close resemblance to the Dot-Com companies of the 90’s. They aim to disrupt traditional markets and pipelines by leveraging technology, new models of thinking or sources of production. The incentives of a startup are often clear – bringing new products and more efficient services to the market. The food industry is no different, but remains one of the most difficult industries for entrepreneurs to make their mark in.
Entrenched food companies and vast conglomerates operate multi-national interests with equally vast economies. Supermarket chains and global farming corporations maintain a stranglehold on the pipeline of food from the farm to the consumer. Times are a-changin – slowly at least. People are becoming more conscious about what they eat, where it comes from, and how it impacts on the environment. Increasingly educated consumers are pushing for a revolution in the way we source our food, the way we farm it and what we eat. A food startup commonly aids shifting our eating habits away from the destructive, mass-produced and land intensive factory farming of the twentieth century model.
A Healthy Startup is a Good Startup
An emphasis on health and nutrition has been the core market strategy for many startups in the food industry, hence an ingredient for their success. Increasing awareness of nutrition’s crucial role has led consumers to seek healthy alternatives for a better diet. Society has also become alert to the destructive effects that high fructose corn syrup and sugar have on our health. UNREAL is a snack food startup that aims to provide healthy, organic versions of mainstream candy bars and snacks by using only natural ingredients and little sugar. Health is often the major concern and selling point for a majority of new food startup ideas, ranging from cold-pressed juices to paleo-friendly diet foods. Examples for this development are the food alert services Zipongo and Healthyout. Customer are being notified about healthy options in a given area. Offering an alternative to the perceived ‘unhealthiness’ of mainstream meals, health-conscious eating remains the central tenet of most food startups.
Convenience through Technology
Besides providing healthy options, convenience is one of the other key benefits a startup can bring to consumers. Offering an alternative to the supermarket, many people seek to be freeing from the daily or weekly grind of grocery shopping and queuing. Food and beverage delivery startups generally fall into two categories: delivery of cooked food from a restaurant or a central kitchen, or delivery of uncooked ingredients packaged ready for cooking. Blue Apron, Plated and HelloFresh in New York deliver meal kits to your doorstep from $10 a meal. Other food startups, such as Spoonrocket and Platejoy on the West Coast, perform a similar service. Local delivery services that merely coordinate the delivery from existing restaurants have been well established in the F&B industry for some time, whereas meal-kit startups deliver throughout the entire country via courier. These food startups also provide an alternative to big farming corporations and the mainstream F&B industry, as they claim to source their ingredients seasonally and direct from farms, importers and family-owned businesses. They deliver organic produce and sustainably farmed seafood to regions in the United States where such produce is often unavailable or difficult to procure.
Food Startups and the Future
The growing number of food technology startups aims to revolutionise the way we farm and consume food. It has been recognised that in the long run the factory farming processes practiced by the mainstream meat industry are destructive, cruel and unsustainable. This acknowledgment is also fuelling startup ideas. Alternatives to meat production are already made possible by improvements in food science. Impossible Foods in California has secured over $75 million in funding and has developed a plant-based burger product, which looks and tastes like meat to the extent it actually bleeds. The very same startup also intends to make cheese products from plants. A food tech company based in California, Beyond Meat, has developed similar alternatives. They have already produced a chicken-textured plant-based alternative that was sampled Bill Gates and declared indistinguishable from real chicken. Hampton Creek Foods in San Francisco has developed an egg-substitute product for mayonnaise and intends to challenge the battery-farming process by replacing eggs with plant-based egg substitutes. Modern Meadow in New York aims to 3D bio-print beef and leather to provide an alternative to farming cattle. With a expected world population of 9 billion by 2050 and the corresponding rise in demand for efficient protein, the development of plant-based alternatives in food science seems to be a promising way forward given the grim alternative of Soylent as a nutritional meal replacement substitute.
Creating Communities with Food
Another driving force in food tech is the idea of bringing communities together and increasing sociability. This includes new approaches of connecting people with meals and making the dining-out, or dining-in, process more streamlined and intuitive. A good food startup should never forget that our meals and our daily quest for food is deeply rooted in the sense of community.
Tablecrowd in London and Grubwithus in California operate under largely the same principle. They are bringing people with similar interests together for networking and socialising over dinner or drinks in a restaurant or a bar. The restaurant industry has its own attendant share of related startups, including Pandapay and Mycheck. They aim to streamline and simplify the payment process in a restaurant. No matter whether time-limited discounts and set meals at independent restaurants or successful booking system for restaurant reservations – the trend aims for efficiency and community. It seems that one of the secret ingredients for the food startup industry is engagement. Although this is not very surprising, this engagement is based on community building. Food is surely should be tasty, but perhaps even more important is that food is supposed to be social.
The food and beverage industry is a notoriously difficult industry for entrepreneurship. This is due to low growth, intense competition and the scaling difficulty compared to pure technology companies. The food industry however remains one of the few fields where room for internet and technology integration exists. The vast potential of growth continues for companies that offer healthier food alternatives, sustainability, convenience and community.