Food Tech 25 Full List
Ember bills itself as “the world’s first temperature control mug,” which basically means you can dictate a specific temperature for your brew via the corresponding app and keep your coffee (or tea or whatever) hot for as long as you need to. The significance here isn’t so much about coffee as it is about where else we could implement the technology and relatively simple concept powering the Ember mug. The company currently has patents out on other kinds of heated or cooled dishware, and Ember has cited baby bottles and medicine as two areas in which it might apply its technology. And yes, it allows you to finally stop microwaving all that leftover morning coffee.
The Instant Pot is not the highest-tech gadget around, but its affordability, versatility, and speed have made this new take on the pressure cooker a countertop cooking phenomenon. It also has a large and fanatical community, where enthusiastic users share and reshare their favorite Instant Pot recipes across Facebook groups and online forums. By becoming the first new breakout appliance category of the millennial generation, the Instant Pot has achieved that highly desirable (and rare) position of having its brand synonymous with the name of the category; people don’t go looking for pressure cookers, they go looking for an Instant Pot.
We chose Deliveroo out of the myriad of food delivery services because of their Editions project, which uses customer data to curate restaurant hubs in areas which have unfulfilled demands for certain chain establishments or cuisine types. This model allows food establishments to set up locations with zero start-up costs, and also gives customers in more restaurant-dry areas a wide variety of delivery food options. Essentially, it’s cloud kitchens meets a food hall, with some heavy analysis to help determine which restaurants or cuisines customers want, and where. These “Rooboxes” (hubs of shipping containers in which the food is prepared) show that Deliveroo is a pioneer in the dark kitchen space, and are doing serious work to shake up the food delivery market.
There are any number of ways that Amazon could have been included in this list, but its Amazon Go stores are what we think will be the real game changer. The cashierless corner store uses a high-tech combination of cameras and computing power, allowing you to walk in grab what you want — and leave. That’s it. At its first location in Seattle, we were struck by how seamless the experience was. As the locations broaden, this type of quick convenience has the potential to change the way we shop for snacks, (some) groceries and even prepared meal kits.
Restaurants have more pieces of software to deal with than ever. In addition to all the delivery platforms they are now plugged into, there have to deal with payments systems, HR software, and inventory management software. And right now, none of those applications talk to each other. Created by a former IBM Watson engineer, Ingest.ai promises to extract and connect the data from ALL of those disparate software pieces and tie them together to give restaurant owners a holistic, data-powered view of their business. It also helps them have more precise control over their business and automate tasks like food ordering and staff scheduling.
The produce supply chain has a people problem. Namely that people who sell produce and people who buy produce don’t always agree on what “good produce” means. One person’s perfect tomato may be another’s trash. AgShift is working to remove these biases through a combination of computer vision and artificial intelligence. With their mobile phones, buyers and sellers in the supply chain can take a picture of their product, which AgShift then analyzes for color, bruising and other factors. Using USDA (or customized) guidelines, AgShift then returns an objective rating for the food, which buyers and sellers can use to determine a fair price while keeping food from going to waste.
Caliburger seems like that one friend you have who is always up for an adventure. The quick service restaurant’s Pasadena location is a test bed for new technology; in the past year the company has implemented Miso’s burger cooking robot, as well as automated kiosks that let you use your face to pay. While the Flippy the cook had to be sidelined after just one day, it has since returned to the line and is working the lunch shift every day. CaliBurger’s willingness to experiment and stick with new tech secured them a spot on our list.
With the launch of the Pico U, PicoBrew continues a pattern of delivering new products with more functionality at ever-lower prices as it tries to use technology to take the homebrew market mainstream. PicoBrew’s digital beer marketplace has created a template for others by creating a successful recurring revenue food business for its connected kitchen appliance, while also creating an entirely new line of business for craft brewery brands. The company has also established an onramp for aspiring craft beer pros with the launch of its PicoBrew Z series, the long-awaited successor to the product that started it all: the Zymatic.
While the first generation of CafeX’s robotic coffee maker definitely turned heads when it was released in 2017, the second generation, which the company unveiled this past February, gives us a true glimpse into how this automated coffee shop in a box could truly serve the masses. The newer model is smaller than the original — taking up only 40 square feet — and costs less to install, making it an attainable purchase for cafes and offices alike. That said, anyone who’s ever been a barista knows there’s a definite skill involved with making coffee drinks which may not be as simple to replicate with machines as tech pundits might hope. On the other hand, if one of these got set up at LAX, jet-lagged travelers would probably line up in droves.
Beyond Meat’s plant-based products are non-GMO and soy-free, relying on pea protein to mimic the taste and texture of meat. Unlike black bean veggie burgers and the like, Beyond is one of the new plant-based meat companies trying to make animal-free burgers that taste (and cook) just like the real thing, but are healthier and don’t have the ethical and environmental costs of meat. The company has drawn some serious investors such as Leo DiCaprio, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson. After some debate, we chose Beyond Meat over Impossible Foods as the company most shaking-up the plant-based meat industry. We were impressed by how consistently good — and widely available — their products are, as well as their wide range of options (sausages, chicken strips, beef crumbles, etc). Their versatility and accessibility mean that Beyond Meat really does have a shot at becoming “The Future of Protein.”
With traditional livestock farming becoming increasingly unsustainable, and as celebrities helping us wimpy westerners get over the ick factor, edible insects are an increasingly important part of the conversation around alternative sources of protein. Leading the pack is Aspire Food Group, whose CEO recently referred to the company as the Procter & Gamble of bugs — they run an e-commerce site for bugs, started their own automated cricket farm, and, recently acquired insect-protein bar maker Exo to furnish the company’s line of consumer products. While we can expect the number of players in this $1.2 billion market to increase over time, Aspire’s definitely gotten a head start by seeing more than one early opportunity in this space.
PerfectDay is using genetically engineered yeast to make cow-free milk that’s genetically identical to the real thing. And, like regular milk, it can also be used to create a myriad of dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. This technology has big implications for vegans (especially ones who also have nut or soy allergies) and can help alleviate the pressure that cattle put on our environment. Most interestingly, Perfect Day recently shifted from a B2C to a B2B model, opting to partner with dairy companies large and small to create a supply chain for animal-free dairy products, instead of producing their own brand. Ultimately, they hope this move will bring their technology to market much more quickly.
Byte Foods is reinventing the workplace lunch by creating a platform for unattended fresh food delivery in the office market. They function much like Amazon Go: Byte stocks them with popular local food items, office workers swipe their credit card and make their selections, and then the fridges scan-and-detect people’s selections and charge them accordingly. Byte relies heavily on data to optimize what they put on offer, and are constantly adjusting their selections based on customer preferences and food trends. And they recently went after the dinnertime spend by stocking Chef’d meal kits, giving workers the chance to grab dinner-in-a-box on the way home from the office, without having to stop by a grocery store.
Durham-based startup FoodLogiQ is a food safety tech company which aims to increase transparency in the food supply chain. Their SaaS platform (called FoodLogiQ Connect) helps food industry professionals trace their products’ journey from farm to fork. The platform can verify suppliers’ information, trace food on its journey throughout the supply chain, and help simplify food recalls. FoodLogiQ just launched an innovation hub to experiment with pilot tracking programs using buzzy blockchain. What with the recent Romaine E. Coli hysteria, food safety is at the front of a lot of our minds — FoodLogiQ and other food tech companies, like Ripe.io and Intelex, will play a growing role in ensuring that our food is good to eat.
One of the tricky things about ending (or at least diminishing) food waste is that it can be easy to lose track of how much food you throw out, whether you’re a business or an individual family. There’s more than one software solution out there for this (LeanPath and Spoiler Alert being notable names), but Copia stands out because it doesn’t just track food waste: it also connects users with organizations, typically non-profits, in need of all that unused food. In its native San Francisco, the company will even deliver the food to recipients. This trend of redistributing this so-called waste to places where it will get eaten is something we’ll see a lot more of, and Copia is a leading example of software turning a relatively simple concept into an efficient, sophisticated operation from which many hungry people will benefit.
As consumers demand more transparency in their food supply, we grow less tolerant of hidden allergens at restaurants and schools serving up traces of wheat and peanuts. Nima’s flagship product was specifically designed to detect gluten in foods, but part of investor excitement is its potential to pick up any allergens in any piece of food placed in the handheld device’s chamber. A big part of the attraction here is the power it puts back into the hands of the average consumer. Labels — even smart ones — are simply not enough when it comes to telling us what’s in our food. It seems plausible that places like restaurants and schools might eventually keep devices like this on hand for anyone wanting to double-check the elements in the meal they’re about to eat.
While Innit’s plan to create a culinary GPS is an ambitious one, a succession of partnership announcements with brands such as LG, BSH, Philips and most recently Electrolux, indicate that their strategy is starting to work. The company has been building a personalized recipe orchestration engine that uses inputs from consumers to create a shopping and meal plan, then maps the recipes directly onto a variety appliance models from Innit’s partners to finish the journey to the plate. The company teamed up with Google to add voice-guided cooking to their app, and its recent deal with Chef’d brings meal kit shopping into the mix. While the company has a long way to go to achieve its vision, we think Innit has made significant progress in the last six months towards creating a truly innovative food and cooking guidance system.
With its quick, shot-from-overhead, quirky videos of disembodied hands making everything from fried chicken to cake balls, Buzzfeed Tasty has created the template for the modern cooking video. With over 65 billion views last year — the bulk of them on Facebook — Tasty has become the most watched video creator of Internet cooking content by an order of magnitude. Last year, the company entered the guided cooking space with an induction cooktop and pan called the One Top, and just last month the company partnered up with Walmart to sell a line of Tasty branded cookware. While it’s unclear if Tasty’s massive video views will convert to cookware sales, we’ll be watching closely to see if they do.
Forty three million Americans are on food stamps. That’s ridiculous. In addition to the all the stresses and stigmas that go along with that food insecurity, low-income families often live in food deserts with limited shopping choices and can’t use their benefits card to order fresh, healthy food online. All_ebt uses Facebook Messenger and a virtual Visa card to help families on food stamps do just that, opening up new outlets to receive all the same types of food higher income people have access to (carefully following all of the restrictions that come with food stamps). All_ebt even opens up pop-up stores to help teach people how to use their service; they have one in East L.A. and another opening in Charlotte, NC this summer.
INTELLECTUAL VENTURES/MODERNIST CUISINE
Intellectual Ventures is the modern day Willy Wonka Factory, where it seems no idea is too crazy. While Nathan Myhrvold and his group of inventors don’t just stick to food in their attempts to create the future, the company has accumulated dozens of patents along the way that may someday serve as a foundation for a world of personalized food manufacturing or household 3D food printing. And while Modernist Cuisine is technically a different company operating under the same roof, IV inventors like Pablos Holman often tap into to the expertise of the same team that helped take the precision cooking and molecular gastronomy movements next-level when figuring out what science fiction food concept to bring to life.
Shoppable recipes have become a center of action in the digital kitchen market — and there’s no one doing more in this space than Whisk. The London-based startup’s impressive publisher lineup includes Allrecipes and the BBC, and on the delivery side they’re working with both Amazon Fresh and Walmart. In the appliance realm, the company’s software powers food shopping for both Samsung and – through their just-announced acquisition of Avocando – one of Europe’s largest appliance makers in Bosch Siemens. With traction in grocery, appliance and food media industries, the company is well-positioned as it looks to make its AI-powered recipe recommendation engine into a fully connected kitchen platform.
ANALYTICAL FLAVOR SYSTEMS
Analytical Flavor Systems’ (AFS) AI-driven Gastrograph platform helps packaged food companies achieve greater success in a saturated food industry that has an over 80% failure rate. Gastograph moves CPG brands’ development process beyond traditional tasting panels; it surveys each product with a flavor profile engine that is predictive, anticipating how new foods will perform in different markets, over a long time horizon, and against various demographic archetypes. Food companies are struggling to launch new products in an era of rapidly shifting consumer tastes, and an AI-driven platform like Gastrograph gives big food a more accurate map with which to navigate into the future.
Chef’d has always been a different kind of meal kit business. While companies like Blue Apron invested millions in building their own brand, Chef’d created a white-label meal kit business model to power big brands like Nestle and Campbell’s. The company also quickly focused on customization, building a factory that’s able to pack a wider variety of meal kits than other providers. The company was one of the first to pursue the retail channel and now is in almost a thousand physical locations, including Costco and a variety of regional grocery chains. Most recently, the company’s Byte partnership made Chef’d meal kits the first to enter the office market, providing an option for busy professionals as they head home from work.
People get hung up on Zume’s pizza making robot, which we get, because, you know — robots. But the more interesting story is how the Bay Area startup uses hundreds of data points to predict how much and what types of pizza will be ordered in a given area on a given day. If that weren’t enough, the company actually cooks pizza in a moving van so it’s delivered to your door literally straight out of the oven. With pizza making mastered, Zume is now opening up its platform to help other types of restaurants create the same type of predictive delivery system, and even partnered with Welbilt to build customized mobile cooking vans.
Starting a food business is hard. Maintaining and growing that business is practically impossible if you don’t have money, space, and a certain amount of business savvy on hand. Nick Devane and Mike Dee addressed this problem by starting Pilotworks, which is best described as the AWS of the kitchen: emerging food startups that join have access to shared infrastructure (kitchen space and equipment, a network of contacts, mentorship opportunities) that might be otherwise unattainable for these young brands. Other companies offer aid or space to cottage food businesses, such as Commonwealth Kitchen, but none on the same scale as Pilotworks; it now operates in six U.S. cities, and is still growing. For businesses that need help to clear some of the major hurdles of working in the food industry (or, for that matter, just need kitchen space), it’s a great option.
Do you agree with our selections? Is there an exciting new startup or food innovation veteran you think should be on the list? Tweet us @TheSpoonTech and use #FoodTech25 to share your thoughts!