As traditional methods in the food industry face a paradigm shift due to the depletion of natural resources and climate change, a growing number of entrepreneurs and technology experts are embracing the agritech movement. Investors are also displaying a keen interest in the Agrifood sector and its start-ups. According to AgFunder, investments in Agrifood tech have increased more than sixfold since 2012, from $3 billion to nearly $18 billion.
Agrifood entrepreneurs are devising multiple solutions. This article explores some of the most significant technological trends set to make a substantial impact in the coming years.
Eco-labels are voluntary certification practices employed globally. Eco-labels aim to reduce the adverse impact of consumption and production on the environment, health, climate, and natural resources while encouraging corporate social responsibility and sustainable lifestyles. Producers and service providers use eco-labels to demonstrate adherence to stringent environmental protection standards throughout the product's life cycle and the services provided.
One innovative example is Crisp, the Netherlands' first app-only supermarket. Crisp champions locally sourced seasonal products, addressing increasing consciousness about food origins and ecological impact. The app features fresh products from over 200 suppliers, predominantly small, local specialists. Launched in 2017, Crisp has raised €30 million in Series B funding.
2. Vertical farming, urban agriculture, and smart design
Vertical farming involves growing food in vertically stacked layers where arable land is scarce. This method enables the production of high-quality food without occupying additional land. Combined with urban farming, it utilises soil, hydroponic, or aeroponic growing methods, allowing, for example, the cultivation of vegetables in city centres using 95% less water, fertilisers, and soil.
UAE-based company KRISPR is an example of a firm employing vertical farming. KRISPR received its first funding, a $600k pre-Seed round, in May.
3. Organic farming
Organic farming is sustainable in numerous ways. Organic farms tend to have more fertile soil, use less energy, and sequester more carbon. Research has shown that organic farms use 45% less energy, emit 4% fewer carbon emissions, and foster 30% more biodiversity compared to conventional farming.
Danish start-up Simple Feast is an organic, plant-based food company delivering ready-to-eat meals in weekly boxes directly to customers. Simple Feast raised €30 million in autumn 2019 to expand its mission in health-conscious California, with backing from investors such as W14, Balderton, and Byfounders.
4. Artificial intelligence, IoT, and automation
AI can assist farmers in transforming into agricultural technologists who can utilise data to optimise yield for each plant row. Microsoft's FarmBeats Programme has developed an end-to-end platform that uses low-cost sensors, drones, and vision/machine learning algorithms to accelerate farm productivity and profitability.
FarmBeats is part of the Microsoft AI for Earth programme, providing cloud and AI tools to teams working on sustainable solutions for global environmental issues.
5. Blockchain technology
Blockchain is a digitised platform that stores and verifies transactions between system users. Many industries are investing in blockchain technology pilot projects, including food companies.
Coffee giant Starbucks recently initiated the "Bean-to-Cup" project, a tracking system for consumers keen to trace their coffee's origins. A pilot study by Oxfam aims to trace the journey of table grapes from their source in South Africa to European consumers, starting with Germany.
6. Biotechnology and CRISPR
Agricultural biotechnology incorporates new genome-editing approaches, such as CRISPR, increasing selectivity and reducing chance elements. These techniques not only create breeds with high resistance to adverse conditions but can also propagate them with vitamins and nutrients.
Indigo Ag, a US-based start-up founded in 2016, is a leader in agricultural biotechnologies. The company supports growers transitioning to regenerative farming practices through year-round partnerships, microbiome treatments, and optimising regenerative systems. Indigo Ag has raised a total of $809 million in funds.
7. Alternative sustainable proteins
Alternative sustainable protein start-ups are revolutionising the industry with new food technology, enabling the production of meatless and cell-based products that closely resemble traditional meat in taste and texture without raising the final price. These technologies significantly reduce input requirements and increase efficiency in the food chain.
Dutch start-up Meatable focuses on addressing the needs of eco-conscious customers struggling to abandon meat for the planet's benefit. While the artificial, cruelty-free meat market is booming, Meatable sets itself apart by being one of the first to concentrate on pork rather than beef, using opti-ox technology to speed up production from months to days. The product is created by artificially growing cells taken from an unharmed animal, which the team markets as removing the guilt from meat consumption.
A brighter, greener future is anticipated as these trends continue to dominate. Food security, climate change, and sustainability are increasingly shaping individual consumption choices and becoming important themes at policy and social levels. Consequently, the Agrifood industry is continuously attracting entrepreneurs and investors.
In light of these rapidly evolving trends, businesses must stay ahead of the curve and adapt to the changing landscape. Creo Incubator's course on Strategy and Innovation can provide invaluable support in navigating this dynamic environment. Take the chance to future-proof your business; enrol in Creo Incubator's Strategy and Innovation course today and be at the forefront of tomorrow's sustainable market trends.