10 innovative foodtech start-ups to look out for in 2023
There’s no doubt that 2022 has been a busy period for food start-ups. From impressive partnerships and getting the green light for cultured meat, to winning the Earthshot Prize, several companies have achieved some important milestones which are bound to help them grow further in 2023.
The past 12 months have seen a range of innovations grace the foodtech landscape, but if there’s one trend leading the way, it’s definitely fermentation. Whether it’s used to develop animal-free growth media for cultivated meat, to turn fungi into nutritious alternative proteins, or to develop casein for better tasting, stringier cruelty-free cheese, investors have been keen to fund this space, recognising the value of the technology for the future of food.
If 2022 was anything to go by, 2023 has more exciting change and development in store for agri-food tech.
Founded just this year, Finnish start-up Onego Bio has developed egg white using fermentation but no actual chickens. Onego’s technology involves the precision fermentation of a microflora called Trichoderma reesei to produce ovalbumin, the protein found in chicken egg whites. An ovalbumin genetic blueprint is introduced to the microflora cells, which then teaches them to start growing egg white cells instead of their own protein cells. Once grown in the bioreactor, the egg protein is separated from the microflora biomass and dried into a powder. The product can be used in a variety of food applications including a range of baked goods, desserts, drinks sauces and dressings.
Onego has been busy speeding up the development of its fermented egg white with the help of new investment and partnerships. In September, the company announced it secured €4.5 million of funding from governmental agency Business Finland. This comes in addition to the successful €10 million it raised back in February in a round led by investors Maki VC and Agronomics. The start-up has also partnered with Perfect Day, a company which uses a similar technology to create its fermented whey protein products. The deal will give Onego access to Perfect Day’s bioprocess development, strain engineering, regulatory advice, and scale up services.
Out of all the innovation seen in foodtech this year, one of the biggest developments has been in animal-free cheese. One of the most popular ingredients being worked on at the moment is fermented casein that doesn’t require harming cows. Casein protein, typically found in animal milk, is known for giving cheese its unique taste, as well as melting and shredding capabilities.
New Culture is one start-up incorporating animal-free casein into its cheeses through a process of precision fermentation, and it claims to be the first to have successfully added it to animal-free mozzarella cheese alongside a mixture of plant-based fats, salt, some sugar, vitamins and minerals. The company started making a name for itself in 2019, when Kraft Heinz-backed venture fund Evolv Ventures contributed to its $3.5 million seed round. 2022 has been a particularly successful year for the company, with food processing giant Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) agreeing to a strategic development and commercialisation partnership. The agreement will help New Culture launch its cheese product in pizzerias across the US from 2023, and later to the wider market. In November, the start-up also received an undisclosed amount of investment from Korean food company CJ CheilJedang, to go towards scaling up production of the animal-free mozzarella.
Swedish start-up Mycorena has been working hard this year to boost microbial protein production. The company creates a fungi-based mycoprotein called Promyc using upcycled materials from tuber crops and fermentation technology. The ingredient can be used to produce meat and tuna fish alternatives, beverage additives and dessert ingredients. Earlier in March, the company announced the successful closure of a record high €24 million in its Nordic Series A round. During the summer, Mycorena also announced its partnership with packaging and processing giant Tetra Pak to build a new production facility in Sweden for developing fungi fermentation techniques to be used in alternative protein-based food applications. If that wasn’t enough, just last month, the company also became a founding member of a new trade group – the Fungi Protein Association (FPA), set up to catalyse the growth of fungi-based protein alternatives.
It’s been a big year for cultivated meat. While it has been approved for consumption in Singapore since 2020, 2022 saw some major developments in Europe. The Dutch government announced it would invest €60M in cellular agriculture and the Netherlands House of Representatives approved a new law to allow the sampling of cultured meat in the country. July also saw Israeli start-up SuperMeat sign an agreement with Switzerland’s largest supermarket and meat manufacturer Migros to accelerate commercial production and distribution of its cultivated chicken products in Europe.
The biggest milestone though was achieved by Californian start-up Upside Foods, who became the first company to receive a ‘No Questions’ letter from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Receiving such a document means the FDA has accepted Upside’s evidence that its cultivated chicken is safe for human consumption. Following this achievement, the next step towards commercialisation in the US will be working with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to secure the remaining approvals needed.
While we seem to be a step or two closer to seeing cultivated meat on the market in more countries, another trend growing in the alternative proteins sector is fungi-based protein. German start-up Mushlabs has been working in this area, with its unique technology which uses by-products to ferment edible fungi mycelium (the root-like structure attached to mushrooms).
With the successful year it’s had, the company’s alternative mushroom-based proteins could be on our plates sooner than we think. During the summer, the company announced its partnership with Bitburger Brewery Group (BBG), which will give the start-up access to capacity and by-products from BBG’s beer production, that can then be used as raw materials to create its fermented mycelium protein.
Founded in 2014 by Imperial College London graduates Pierre Paslier and Rodrigo Garcia, Notpla develops a brown seaweed-based plastic packaging alternative which biodegrades naturally in 4-6 weeks without releasing any microplastics. It has already successfully incorporated the material into various products – from an edible bubble designed to replace single-use packaging for liquids to grease and water-resistant takeaway containers.
The start-up was the first UK group to win the Earthshot Prize this year for its product in the ‘Build a Waste-Free World’ category, which sought to recognise projects that eliminate food waste, single-use packaging, and inspire organisations and industries to reuse, repurpose and recycle.
Earlier this year, the group also announced its successful partnership with Just Eat, which saw it make over a million food boxes using the Notpla coating.
Founded in 2013, Motatos has been described as a more sustainable Aldi or Lidl. The budget-friendly supermarket platform sells wholesalers and manufacturers’ surplus groceries which would otherwise be discarded – either due to defective packaging, short or past best-before dates, or overproduction. As a result, Motatos can sell these products at a discounted rate, ranging between 20% and 60% less than their original price.
The company has already expanded from its home country of Sweden, to Denmark, Finland and Germany, and it launched in the UK earlier this year. It also managed to raise a healthy amount – €38 million – in a Series D round in 2022, which it will use to boost growth in the UK and Germany.
As sustainability becomes more important to consumers and businesses alike, start-ups are finding new ways to help agri-food companies build green credentials. Founded in 2019, Bath-based Greener runs a platform helping small food businesses pair up with supply chain partners who share sustainability and environmental values.
Earlier this month, the company opened its seed funding round following a successful 33% growth during the third quarter of the financial year. It has raised a total of over £250,000 in pre-seed and bridge round funding, with money coming in from early-stage investor SFC Capital and national innovation agency Innovate UK.
Also based in the UK, Sustained has built a digital platform to help consumers measure the environmental impact of the food and drink they buy. The app gathers data based on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) framework – taking into account the various stages involved in making and delivering a product from farm or factory to a consumer’s plate. The app therefore takes into account the ingredients in a product and the impact they have on land and water usage, as well as the CO2 and by-product or toxic waste which is generated by producing various goods.
Despite being only a year old, the company has had an exciting year, partnering with the Food Foundation to pilot new automated LCA and Eco Labels to be adopted by the food industry. The LCA process is currently done manually, which is slow, costs money and requires human resources. An automated process would allow larger organisations such as retailers to score a wider range of products at a lower cost, allowing consumers to find more products boasting their eco-credentials.
Hyderabad-based start-up Kheyti was another winner at the Earthshot Prize this year – coming top in the ‘Protect and Restore Nature’ category.
With India being home to 120 million smallholder farmers and the country heavily affected by climate change, Kheyti is utilising agri-foodtech to protect crops. Founded in 2015, the company has designed a ‘Greenhouse-in-a-Box’ for smallholder farmers, which can shelter their crops from unpredictable damaging weather and destructive pests. According to the start-up, its product is 90% cheaper than a typical greenhouse, uses less water and fewer pesticides, and it can double farmers’ income. Kheyti currently works with over 1,000 Indian farmers, and it hopes to grow this number to 50,000 by 2027.