For a long time food and nutrition were topics only super health freaks cared about. Today, everybody talks about what they eat, when and why they eat it. Even investors have recognized the potential food companies provide as investment opportunities.
I personally believe that entrepreneurship in nutrition is the fuel to feed 9 billion in 2050. I also believe the time has come for nutrition experts to step out of shadows and start playing a leading role in the food and nutrition startup ecosystem.
In many of our societies, the entire food value chain has been commercialized since the 1950s – from buying fruits and vegetables to home-delivery services. The industrialization of food has gained momentum and led to a focus on profit to shareholders. This commercialization of the food value chain has happened in a way that is detrimental to our societies: one billion of the world’s population is overweight and another billion is underweight. That is the bitter-sweet reality. Although we cannot stop the industrialization of the food value chain, we can participate in it and shape it by fostering an enabling environment for entrepreneurs. In fact, there has never been a better time to start a business with the purpose of improving human nutrition – whether in Europe, the US, Africa or Asia. The world of nutrition is changing at a fast pace, and this is due to the following three factors:
1. Advances in nutrition: Scientific advances have revealed the importance of nutrition to human health. The hard work of nutrition scientists and dieticians has paid off: The importance of nutrition has diffused among the population, and consumers are more and more mindful about what they eat.
2. Attitude of millennials: Millennials – the generation born between 1981 and 1996 – want healthy, transparently sourced & produced, and sustainable food. They are passionate about changing how we produce, sell and buy food, and are forcing companies to adapt.
3. Capital: Food companies have realized that developing disruptive products within their core business is challenging and often not successful. Therefore, many have decided to invest into venture capital funds to be part of start-up companies offering healthier or more innovative products.
These three factors have enabled start-ups to accelerate and scale up their businesses – some of them having even scaled to a size that they were acquired by large food producers. The start-up Beyond Meat received US$72m to develop and market plant-based burger patties. The start-up Plenty, which develops plant science for crops to flourish in a pesticide- and GMO-free environment using vertical farms, received US$226m in funding.5 The company RXBAR, founded in 2013, manufactures and distributes whole fruit and nut energy bars that are rich in protein. The company was acquired in 2017 for US$600m by Kellogg’s. Gardein was founded in 2003 and produces and markets dairy- and meat-free products and recipes, including barbecue wings and a meatless meatloaf. It was acquired by Pinnacle Foods for US$154m in 2014. These examples indicate that it is possible (and much easier compared to ten years ago) for food start-ups to receive venture funding. In addition, development organizations active in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) increasingly invest in financing models for small to medium-sized enterprises.
I am sharing this with the nutrition community, because nutrition scientists, dieticians and public health experts are perfectly educated to take a leading role as founders. Two examples of successful food startups and the essentials you need to know about the start-up ecosystem I recently summarized for the Sight and Life magazine. You can find the whole article here: https://bit.ly/2Myv8qL. I hope you are inspired - let us know about your business ideas.