Major CPGs have been on a mission to keep pace with new food trends by partnering with younger companies via startup accelerators and incubators. Now they’re taking the concept to China, where Shanghai-based VC firm Bits x Bites has teamed with the likes of Coca-Cola, Danone, and General Mills, as well as multinational biotech firms and agricultural companies, to launch the China Food Tech Hub.
The Hub’s mission is to further the foodtech industry in China and strengthen a dialogue between older, established players and younger, smaller startups which are more in-tune to emerging trends and technologies. “By working with the startup and corporate community through the China Food Tech Hub, we want to contribute to further build the food tech ecosystem in a collaborative way, feed our innovation needs and identify new project opportunities in China,” David Machiels, R&I Director Asia Expansion and Innovation Acceleration at Danone, said in a press release sent out.
For huge corporations and CPGs like Danone, the China Food Tech Hub is also a way to stay relevant and hang on to their customer bases. Thanks to food preferences largely driven by Millennials, more consumers want things like transparency around ingredients, organic and/or natural foods, convenience, and personalized food choices. Startups and smaller companies offering such things abound and tend to be closer to the cutting edge of these trends than their corporate counterparts. Through China Food Tech Hub, major CPGs will get easier access to both startup innovation and that cutting edge.
Big Food has been pushing the convenience factor for decades (whole chicken in a can, anyone?), but not so much the whole, natural foods with ingredients you can pronounce from sources you can easily identify. China is especially ripe for disruption: it’s the world’s largest food producer, but the country has also seen a four-fold increase in child obesity rates since the 1990s.
Of course, one could argue that Big Food isn’t so much interested in the issues as it is in furthering its corporate mission in markets where things like soda aren’t yet in decline, as they are in the U.S. (Coca-Cola has actually played a significant role in how the Chinese government has addressed the obesity crisis.) That said, Bits and Bites manages a portfolio that includes companies like Alchemy Foodtech, who is fighting diabetes, and plant-based protein company InnovoPro. The firm also partners with Future Food Institute, the Food Innovation Program, and other forward-thinking organizations. I have a hard time envisioning Coca-Cola getting in on the fight against diabetes, but you never know.