Today there is a powerful relationship between health and food choices. By default the average consumer gives much less thought to the environmental impacts of food production. The Columbia Business School Alumni Club’s recent “Tech to Table“ panel in New York City featured five panelists who share radically innovative concepts for tech-driven food sustainability. These foodtech entrepreneurs share bold visions for rebooting our troubled global food system.
During the “Tech to Table“ event, the panelists highlighted a stark contrast between modern food-tech concepts and the traditional role technology has played in our food system.
For the past 50 years, food-tech advances have largely been produced by giant agribusinesses deploying technology to power a mono-culture system producing aimlessly high yields, waste, water scarcity and massive climate change impact. The featured food-tech business models differ greatly, ranging from cultured lab-grown animal protein to shelf-stable salad that grows itself. The panelists represent a new generation of food-tech innovators that use information and direct-to-consumer distribution to make sustainable food more accessible, convenient, affordable and less resource-intensive.
Eaters and investors alike are devouring the potential. Meijers attributes “$2 billion in new investment in foodtech in March alone“ to growing consumer demand for back-to-basics production methods, cutting edge technology and a fusion of these two worlds through digital media.
Below are the 5 foodtech startups focused on transforming the way we think about food.
1. Radicle Farm Company
Chris Washington of Radicle Farm Company wants your next salad to be one that grows itself. Radicle tackles the perishable produce problem through a solution that’s shelf-stable at room temperature while being truly affordable and accessible. Radicle uses a hybrid production method that is a fusion between hydroponics and traditional cultivation. The resulting produce is organic, GMO-free, and at a price point that rivals typical grocery store products.
2. Modern Meadow
Sarah Sclarsic of Modern Meadow says “we need to drastically change the equation“ on the environmental impact of meat production by culturing animal protein, comparing cultured meat to yogurt, beer and wine. According to Sclarsic, Modern Meadow is a research stage company that takes a long-term view on producing game changing evolutions in the way we produce and consume animal protein. Cultured production methods promise dramatic increases in land use efficiency, water conservation, greenhouse gas reductions and total energy.
Rachna Govani founded Foodstand to provide good food inspiration to people who have great intentions but do not know where to start. Foodstand is a mobile app currently in private beta that encourages people to make great food at home and tell others about it. The digital service provides information on the actual ingredients in food, serving as a constructive resource. Foodstand’s monetization strategy helps people “vote with their fork all the way down to the purchase,“ Govani said. The app enables consumers to make “instinctual lazy purchase decisions for better food.“
Eileen Gordon Chiarello founded Barnraiser to “unleash the power of 40 million plus Americans who love health and sustainability.“ Barnraiser is the only crowdfunding platform focused exclusively on helping educators, beekeepers, slow meat butchers, CSA farmers and other small businesses solve problems endemic in our food system. Chiarello’s vision for Barnraiser includes returning control over our food systems to individuals and regional markets.
5. Clean Plates
Jared Koch heads Clean Plates, a multichannel media company that helps make responsible eating easier for consumers. Clean Plates produces books, apps, online guides and other content highlighting healthy and sustainable restaurants that have been vetted by nutritionists and food critics. Koch uses the Clean Plates platform to promote companies doing good things while the editorial team incorporates sustainability news and guidance “in a way that’s not overbearing for people.“
Most of the food products found in mega grocery stores are offshoots of an unsustainable food system. Current food production is powered by fossil fuels, depletes groundwater, contributes to air pollution, disintegrates soil quality and harms natural species diversity. With billions of dollars in private investment flowing to entrepreneurial foodtech startups, eaters everywhere will soon have more options to support businesses that advocate for sustainable practices. Food is an essential part of life, and sustainably produced food is an essential part of our future.