A clear sign of maturation for the startup food-tech sector is reflected by the entry of new venture capital from tradition VC firms as well as big names in the food industry. Along with an array of global venture capitalists, Campbell’s, Tyson Foods and General Mills have established multimillion-dollar funds to support new companies in a myriad array of future of food entrepreneurs.
Two areas within the food technology sector that are the focus for investment are meal delivery and grocery delivery. According to VC tracker, CB Insights, in its November 2016 report, the market shifted in Q3 2016 when 30 deals related to meal delivery surpassed the 27 in the grocery delivery sector. The individual investments for the meal delivery marketplace appear to be smaller than grocery delivery, as the total for grocery delivery was higher at $406 million, compared with $376 million for meal delivery. In addition, one deal for a meal-delivery startup, London-based Deliveroo, was for $275 million –accounting for 70% of that area’s Q3 dollars.
Others food-tech firms receiving large Q3 VC investments were Fresh Direct with $189 million and meal service Home Chef with $40 million.
Between the meal delivery and grocery delivery space lives another emerging space receiving more than its share of funding. Companies such as Blue Apron, which offer meal-kit subscriptions, sell pre-packaged groceries that align to specific step-by-step recipes. Satisfying the grocery and meal delivery crowds, meal kits offer the convenience of skipping the supermarket combined with the joy of simple cooking. Blue Apron has received more than $500 million in VC funding today, including money from Bessemer and First Round Capital. The company is reported to have more than a $1 billion valuation.
Not to be left behind, major food brands have set up venture funds which serve the dual purpose of protection against future market trends as well as smart capital management. Tyson Foods launched Tyson New Ventures in December 2016 to expand beyond its 5% interest in plant-based protein startup Beyond Meat. The Tyson fund will be managed by Mary Kay James, a former managing partner in DuPont Ventures. Her previous interest was in biotech and specialty food products. In the case of Tyson, a leading producer of poultry and meat, investing in new forms of proteins protects, and simultaneously positions, the company against major consumer shifts in eating habits.
In February 2016, New Jersey-based Campbell’s Soup Company launched Acre Venture Partners with initial fund totaling $125 million. To date Acre has invested in food safety startup, Sample6; agricultural data provider, Farmers Business Network; urban farming’s Back to the Roots and home juicing manufacturer Juicero. As with other food companies investing in startups, this lineup provides Campbell’s access to either distribution opportunities, new channels or expanded uses for its existing products.
In October 2105, General Mills launched 301 Inc, a business development and funding arm focused on early-stage food companies. To date, 301 Inc has invested in Beyond Meat, Kite Hill (vegan non-dairy products), and Tio Gazpacho, a bottled-soup manufacturer.