If you want a hint about what cool new startups and innovations are coming around the corner, look to Y Combinator. Twice a year, the accelerator, which has helped launch tech giants like AirBnB and DropBox, invests money and time to mentor a cohort of young startups.
With over 200 companies, the Y Combinator’s recently-announced Winter 2019 class is its largest yet. And we’re pleased to note that the group contains quite a few food tech startups. We’ve sifted through the list to highlight the top 10 companies we think are ones to watch.
A few months ago California passed AB-626, opening up a new market for the sale of home-cooked food. Dishdivvy was the first to jump on this opportunity, connecting Southern California home cooks with hungry diners, but clearly it’s not the only startup realizing the opportunity here. Shef is a new service that lets Bay Area-ites order refrigerated meals made by nearby home cooks, which are delivered to their door. Hungry folks can order four, eight, or twelve meals per week, which cost between $6.50 and $7.50 a meal.
Habitat Logistics is a delivery-only service that helps restaurants get online orders to their customers. The company promises to take a lower commission than other aggregation/delivery services, like GrubHub or Postmates, while also dealing with staffing issues and responding to customer complaints.
Taali foods is a new natural snacking company. The company’s first product, Water Lily Pops, is a popcorn-like snack made of popped water lily seeds. The snacks come in flavors like Tangy Turmeric and Sriracha Spice, and have significantly less fat and calories than regular popcorn. I sampled some Water Lily pops while at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco this winter, and I have to say, they were pretty tasty.
Shiok Meats, the Sinapore-based startup that is making cell-based shrimp and other crustaceans, is the first cultured meat company to participate in Y Combinator. Co-founder Dr. Sandhya Sriram told The Spoon that they’re planning to roll out their products in Southeast Asia, and expect to have their first cell-based product to market in three to five years.
Based in Sinapore, Maitian AI makes high-tech vending machines that it calls “autonomous stores.” Hungry people download Maitian’s app and scan a QR code on their phone to unlock the store’s doors. They can pick up and examine the selection of fresh products (yogurt, salads, etc.) before choosing what they want, after which they shut the door and are charged for their selections. The company doesn’t disclose which technology they use to track customer selections, but the whole operation sounds a heck of a lot like Byte Foods. Maitian AI currently has two stores operating in a WeWork in Singapore.
Restaurants can license Bensen technology to let customers place their orders via voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant. Restaurant partners upload their menu to Bensen, which builds out a voice ordering interface. The voice technology can be used in drive-thrus (like Valyant AI and Clinc are already doing), or even on restaurants’ apps or website.
Eclipse Foods makes plant-based dairy products that it claims are indistinguishable from their animal dairy counterparts. With co-founders Thomas Bowman from JUST (who spoke at last year’s Smart Kitchen Summit) and Aylon Steinhart of the Good Food Institute, Eclipse Foods has quite the plant-based pedigree. Details are scant on what exactly Eclipse’s first product will be, but the team told Techcrunch that it would debut in pilots with SF-based Wise Sons deli and Humphrey Slocombe ice cream.
Startup Taobotics makes a self-driving robot that roves around supermarkets to help retail brands promote their products by putting them on their circular, tiered shelves. To me this sounds kind of annoying, but there’s no denying that shoppers are more prone to buy something when it’s right in front of them (damn you, Twix bars at checkout). Taobotics is currently operating in Chinese grocery stores and, according to Techcrunch, recently closed a Letter of Intent for 1,000 retail robots.
Releaf is developing machines to help affordably scale the processing of raw food materials in Africa. In their website, the company claims that food factories are operating under-capacity because they can’t secure enough consistent, high-quality raw food ingredients. The company didn’t give specifics on how they will scale to supply better raw materials, but the website stated that they’ll start by tackling the Nigerian crude vegetable oil industry.
There’s no worse feeling than getting ready to brew a pot of morning coffee and realizing you’re out of beans. Startup Bottomless makes a connected scale which, when placed under a bag of coffee beans/grounds, tracks users’ coffee supply and re-orders when they’re about to run out of joe. Bottomless users get an alert 12-24 hours before the system reorders, and can opt to get the same bag every time or switch it up. In addition to the bag of coffee, users also pay a shipping fee and a membership fee.