Food Tech 25 Full List
It would be tough to do a list about foodtech and not mention Amazon, as whatever the Bezos Behemoth does invariably influences others. And the company is putting its hands in a growing number of areas of the food sector. Besides entertaining the possibility of its own grocery store chain (which would be Amazon branded, not Whole Foods), Amazon placed its own meal kits into high-end retail stores, released its own delivery robot, and received a patent for a different robot that lives in your home and will fetch your groceries and other deliveries for you. But beyond the individual aspects of Amazon’s business, the company is setting the pace of innovation and forcing rivals in retail, logistics, and delivery to respond.
Apeel Sciences’ approach to fighting food waste tackles the pre-sale side of the food supply chain. Rather focus on sustainable packaging the food comes in, Apeel, as its name suggests, is making the food itself more sustainable. The company’s Edipeel product is a plant-based powder that, when mixed with water, creates an all-natural coating for the produce that extends the shelf life of things like lemons and avocados. Taking a preventative approach to food waste will be crucial for fighting it effectively in the future, and Apeel sets an example — and a quality bar — many will soon follow.
When choosing which plant-based meat company to feature in the Food Tech 25, it was almost a toss-up between Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. However, Impossible eked out into the lead for two reasons: its super-speedy pace of expansion and its new recipe, which tastes a heckuva lot like ground beef. The former means its “bleeding” patties will soon be in over 12,000 restaurants, including all Burger Kings nationwide, while the latter gives the company a real shot at attracting enough flexitarians to disrupt the meat industry, especially as it moves into grocery stores this year. Oh yeah, it also just raised another $300 million in funding. Next up: IPO?
McCormick is one of the oldest brands on the list, the company being well over a century old. Age hasn’t slowed it down, however, in terms of both improving existing flavors for food and creating new ones. Earlier this year, the company announced it had partnered with IBM Research AI to use data to predict new flavor combinations and improve upon old ones. The company’s new ONE platform does this by drawing on both new consumer preferences and decades’ worth of McCormick recipes, proving that, at least where flavor optimization is concerned, sometimes you have to look forwards and backwards at the same time to innovate.
Nowadays you can’t turn a corner without running into a sign advertising for CBD edibles, and between CBD jelly beans, the usual assortment of baked goods, and Willie Nelson’s coffee, it can actually be hard for any one company to stand out. TraceTrust sidesteps that problem because it doesn’t actually create CBD products. Rather, it offers a certification program for cannabis goods that puts them through a rigorous set of protocols to ensure they’re not only safe to use but also of consistent quality and come with clear instructions for consumers on how to best use them. As the excitement over CBD keeps growing, we need companies like this out there who can do the kind of background check every consumer needs for new sectors like CBD.
Goodr uses tech to keep unused food out of corporate cafeteria trash bins and, through coordinating with non-profits, transport it to populations in need. But where Goodr stands out is with the number of other tech initiatives it’s working on to further its mission of fighting food waste by feeding those in need. Running with the idea that hunger is not a scarcity issue but instead one of logistics, the company is experimenting with blockchain, using food waste for renewable energy, and licensing out their tech to Big Food companies in an effort to help everyone cut down on food waste.
Domino’s often gets called “a tech company” thanks to the sheer number of different avenues the delivery-centric pizza chain has tried. Most, if not all, of those initiatives have one mission in mind: get the pie to the front door (or park bench) as fast as technology and human brainpower can manage. Domino’s has implemented everything from chatbots answering phones to in-car ordering to its AnyWare program, which enables the customer to order a pizza from a non-traditional location, like the beach or park. Through these and other partnerships and projects, Domino’s has shown time and again it’s willing to try disrupting the pizza industry without changing what we love about it in the first place: the actual pie.
Motif Ingredients is democratizing protein R&D for smaller plant-based food startups. Using genetically engineered microbes (think: yeast), Motif can “brew” food proteins to be used in plant-based animal products. Small startups trying to make new alternative meat/dairy/egg products who can’t afford an R&D department of their own can outsource their protein development to Motif to make it faster and less expensive. The company is a spinoff of Ginkgo Bioworks, a Boston-based biotech company, and has already raised a whopping $90 million Series A funding round.
Tyson is the largest meat producer in the U.S., but the company has been making waves for its innovation in meat (and other protein) alternatives. It has invested in cell-based companies Memphis Meats and Future Meat, and had acquired a 6.5 percent stake in Beyond Meat, which it sold off just before the plant-based meat company went public. The latter move is likely because Tyson is creating its own line of plant-based protein, which is due to drop this summer. It’s refreshing to see a mega company reading the tea leaves and becoming so invested in its own disruption.
JUST may have missed its self-imposed deadline to bring cell-based meat to market in 2018, but it still earns a spot on the list based on its existing products. We at The Spoon are big fans of JUST’s eggless cookie dough, and its animal-free JUST Egg product (whose magic ingredient is mung beans) is rapidly appearing on more menus and grocery shelves in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. JUST also has grand plans for the future: it claims it’ll bring cultured meat to market this year (likely in Asia) and already has a partnership in place with Japanese Wagyu producers to make cell-based Wagyu beef.
A subsidiary of the French pharmaceutical company Cellectis, Calyxt uses CRISPR — essentially a higher-tech, more efficient form of genetic modification — to manipulate crops to have better nutrition, be more resistant to pests, and grow faster/bigger. This technology is already starting to touch the food we eat and will only become more omnipresent, especially as climate change makes farming more challenging. Calyxt’s first product is a soybean whose genes for trans fats have been “turned off” so the final product has fewer unhealthy fats. Next up, they’re developing a high-fiber wheat.
Singapore-based Shiok Meats is representing the cell-based meat space on this list for a few reasons. First, the company makes cultured crustaceans — a rarity in a space filled with burgers and chicken nuggets. It’s also the most evolved cell-based meat company in Asia, which just so happens to be the place where cell-based meat will likely enter the market (hi, Hong Kong!). Shiok Meats was also the first cultured meat company to be accepted into the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator, and just closed a $4.6 million funding round.
Solar Foods sounds like something out of science fiction: the Finnish company makes edible protein using just air, water, electricity and microbes through a technique called gas fermentation. It not only creates protein — something that lately we can’t seem to get enough of — it also sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. But it isn’t only intended to work on Earth; Solar Foods is also in talks with the European Space Agency to use their tech as a renewable food source for astronauts.
Keep your eye on the edge, because that is where food creation is heading. Bellwether creates electric, ventless coffee bean roasting machines, which basically allows any business to roast their own coffee with no build out. That alone is worth a spot on this list as it lets local grocers and smaller coffee chains create their own bean roasts customized to their region’s (or even neighborhood’s) preferences. But Bellwether is emblematic of a bigger trend: de-centralized production. Coffee no longer needs be roasted at central locations and shipped across the country. It can be made on the spot, anytime.
Sure, Creator has a burger-making robot, but that’s not new. Creator is on this list because of how it integrates robots and humans in the workplace. In other words, the company seems to genuinely care about its human employees. By offloading the repetitive task of “burger flipping,” Creator frees up human workers to provide more customer service and get creative on social media. Creator also gives its employees 5 percent time to learn a new skills beyond just working on robots. Automation is coming to the food world, and Creator is showing thoughtful leadership in using robots to create human-centric dining experiences.
Kiwi makes little cooler-sized delivery robots that scurry about college campuses delivering food. Open the app, place your order, and tell the robot where to drop that order off. It’s pretty crazy (and awesome) and a little like having an R2D2 at your beck and call. These little rover bots will change how an entire generation interacts with their meals by making any food delivery on-demand wherever you are. Burrito in quad? Sure! Kiwi has expanded to 15 colleges and is even bringing students at each one on board to run the Kiwi program at those schools.
Fun fact: Kroger was founded in 1883. But over the last year, the grocery giant has been anything but stuck in the past, ramping up its innovation efforts. Through its Ocado investment, Kroger is building 20 smart, robot-driven fulfillment warehouses. It has expanded its self-driving delivery vehicles tests from Scottsdale, AZ to Houston, TX. Kroger also partnered with Microsoft on a smart store and launched an innovation hub with the University of Cincinnati. The company knows it’s locked in a multi-front battle with the likes of Amazon, Walmart and other grocery retailers, and it’s willing to invest and experiment so it doesn’t get left behind.
Where does one begin with Walmart? The company continues to be on a ruthless high-tech tear, trying out all new kinds of innovation. It just launched the IRL store, which uses sensors and cameras to monitor inventory (and will surely lead to cashierless checkout). It’s expanding the use of robots to scan shelves, scrub floors and speed up online order fulfillment. The retailer is even dipping its toes into the driverless delivery vehicles. The point is, this massive company is moving like a startup, and that should concern all of its competitors.
Vending machines are going to change how we eat. I’m not talking about crumpled dollars to get stale snacks or a can of soda. Yo-Kai Express is among a new vanguard of vending machines that dispense hot food on demand. It serves piping hot ramen developed by a Michelin star chef, and it is pretty delicious. Soon, Yo-Kais and other high-end vending machines will be at airports, hospitals, dorm rooms and other public spaces, creating full-on food courts smooshed into a small square footprint and feeding hungry people 24 hours a day.
AWM SMART SHELF
There is no shortage of startups looking to create the cashierless store experience. Walk in, grab what you want and go. AWM Smart Shelf sets itself apart from the others because cashierless checkout is just one facet of a more holistic, high-tech approach to shopping. AWM incorporates sensors, cameras and smart signage to offer instant, customized ads to you as you stand in front of a shelf wondering what to buy, but it can also guide you around the store, make recommendations and yes, allow you to pay automatically as you walk out of the store.
In the worlds of investing, sports betting and politics, it sometimes pays to be a contrarian. If Thermomix is any indication, that rule also applies to kitchen appliances. The German company, which pioneered the do-everything countertop appliance category, almost always zigs where everyone else zags. From their direct-sales selling channel to their infrequent (every four to five years) product introductions, Thermomix continues to march to the beat of its own drum nearly 60 years after Carl Vorwerk invented his first multifunction appliance in 1961. And now, with this year’s introduction of the newest generation in the TM6, early indications are Thermomix’s success will continue. The TM6 brings Thermomix fully into the future kitchen with native connectivity and a powerful microprocessor, both of which they will need over the next decade as the company looks to attract a new generation of cooks into the Thermomix community.
When California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Homemade Food Operations Act into law in 2018, it opened the door for enterprising amateur cooks along the Golden Coast to start their own businesses doing what they love: cooking at home. DishDivvy jumped on the opportunity, and just like Uber pairs drivers with riders to reimagine local transportation, DishDivvy is already matching hungry eaters with home cooks through their marketplace app. DishDivvy, which followed in the footsteps of Josephine (RIP), prequalifies home cooks, helps them get certified, and handles ordering, payment and can even help arrange for home delivery. While the cottage food marketplace space is extremely nascent, once consumers realize there’s an app for instant-access to good home cooked meals, DishDivvy could be in the pole position in their home state of California.
If you thought creating interesting food and kitchen tech is just for nimble Silicon Valley startups, think again. This January, Whirlpool showed that the big guys can innovate, too, when the appliance behemoth barnstormed CES with new product concepts. An augmented-reality-enabled built-in wall oven was one of the biggest surprises, as it was the first example of any major appliance-maker looking to us AR as part of its interface technology. The other major surprise was an innovative modular oven that allowed consumers to plug-and-play features like steam and a baking stone. Some of the company’s new concepts spin out of WLabs, the company’s incubation hub, while the software stitching much of the company’s future kitchen together is Yummly, which has moved beyond recipe app they acquired to the company’s smart kitchen “operating system.”
One of the biggest problems in food is the sheer amount of it that goes to waste. While companies like Goodr, Copia and a whole host of interesting players are working hard to create modern platforms for businesses to reduce waste, the consumer is still stuck with ziplocks and plastic containers as their primary defense against spoilage. Enter Silo, which combines a vacuum seal storage system with a modern inventory management to create what could help usher home food storage out of its stasis. Throw in Alexa capabilities and reminders, and we think Silo is one to watch when it comes to helping consumers reduce the 40 percent of food they throw out every year.
Sweetgreen operates like a restaurant but thinks more like a tech platform. The Culver City, CA-based salad chain keeps busy sourcing local ingredients while at the same time dabbling with IoT and blockchain, refining it’s mobile app for online orders, and even redesigning some of its physical locations in order to better accommodate the delivery craze. At the same time, the chain continues to assess its business and tech in the context of society’s needs. Case in point: it was one of the first chains to run with cashless business, a model it recently dumped in response to growing concerns about the ethics of that practice. A company willing to change its technology for the sake of making its business available to everyone is definitely one to watch.
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!