Tom Mastrobuoni, Carmen Palafox, and Brian Frank discuss investment in food tech.

“As investors, we always look for the next big thing… and the food industry is the next big thing to get involved in.”

That’s how Brian Frank, founder of FTW Ventures, kicked off the food tech investment panel at the 2018 Smart Kitchen Summit. He was joined onstage by Carmen Palafox, partner at Make in L.A.; Tom Mastrobuoni, CFO of Tyson Ventures; and the Spoon’s Ashley Daigneault.

Indeed, it seems like the time is ripe for investment up and down the food supply chain. Like, for example, the shift towards meat alternatives; a growing consumer demand with which protein giant Tyson Foods is very familiar. But instead of simply staking out their territory, Tyson, which produces 35 million chickens per week, decided to capitalize on this trend and invest in its disruptors: from plant-based Beyond Meat to cell-based Memphis Meats.

“We look at technology from two angles; how applicable is this to our supply chain, or how disruptive is this to our supply chain going forward?” said Mastrobuoni. “We all diversify.”

Palafox agreed that timing is a key aspect of investment. “A lot has to do with cultural shifts and the way that people are thinking about food safety,” she added. For example, her firm, which focuses on hardware, recently invested in Pathspot, a device which scans restaurant employees’ hands to test for pathogens. “They’re trying to change culture from within food chains.”

Of course, not all food innovations work seamlessly (cough, meal kits). During the panel, Frank admitted that he had accidentally stolen a shopping bag from the Amazon Go store. “Amazon spends millions and millions of dollars to develop a system to track you in their store, yet they don’t track the bags,” he said. “And this is where I think that technology as a service for these things is still evolving.”

There are a lot of other really rich observations and smart takeaways in this panel, plus some smart insight into food system investment. Check out the video below to hear what this diverse group of investors is most excited (and worried) about in the food tech space, and how they think we’ll all be sourcing, cooking, and eating food in the future.

For more videos of panels, fireside chats, and startup pitches from the 2018 Smart Kitchen Summit head to our YouTube channel!

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