[Startup Watchlist] High time we ask -- what really is food tech?Jubin Mehta
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Food technology used to be defined as a branch of food science that deals with the production processes that make food. Early scientific research into food technology concentrated on food preservation.
But if one looks at the current food tech scenario in India, it seems as if food technology begins after the food is prepared. We have made lists -- here and here – of more than 25 startups but all of the startups have to do with what happens after the food is made! Doesn’t that very factor remove the food bit from food-technology? Tracxn, a Bloomberg for startups, released a slideshow for food tech startups and this is how they look at the space:
Are we all missing the point? India is supposed to be a nation which heavily relies on agriculture and most of the efforts with respect to food technology are being put into what happens after the food is made!
I tried to look around and found a few very impressive initiatives globally:
- Ecovative: Founded by Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, Ecovative is a company that grows oyster mushrooms and uses them to make material that can be used for packaging. The material has properties similar to plastic and is bio-degradable. In effect, the company grows packaging! (read more about them).
- Hampton Creek: The mission of the US-based Hampton Creek is to bring healthier and affordable food to everyone, everywhere. Hampton Creek has built a technology platform to enable the production of healthier food at a lower cost, starting with the safe and sustainable option of the conventional chicken egg. The company raised a $23 million series B round in February 2014.
- RealTimeFarms: A crowd-sourced nationwide food guide is the US that enables users to trace food back to the farm it came from.
- FoodTechAfrica: A public-private initiative combining the strengths of Dutch agro-food companies (mainly SMEs), knowledge institutes, governmental agencies and their East-African counterparts to improve food security in East Africa through the establishment of a fully integrated aquaculture value chain.
Coming to India, there are initiatives like WIMWI Foods (IIM-Ahmedabad alumni startup which deals with Shiitake mushrooms but they only market and distribute the product), ChloroEarth (which makes wood) or Licor Armada (CIBA, Goa incubated company that deals with innovation in liquor). There are also educational institutes like Central Food Technology Research Institute which has listed a bunch of innovations but most of them remain in research papers.
It seems to be high time that the VC industry which seems to be funding every food delivery app wakes up to some real food technology being built in the nation. And on the other side, it would be refreshing to see ventures emerging that are dealing with the real food. But that’ll require time and heart, than just building an app.
These were the initiatives for this Monday, do drop in your comments as to what do you think about them and drop in your suggestions as to how we can make this column better.