Interview: Food Tech Matters Partner The Food Cons on the Italian foodtech ecosystem

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4 min read
AUTHOR: Stef Bottinelli

Founded byAntonio Iannone in 2017, The Food Cons is an Italian company striving to shape a better world through food. The Food Cons provides digital and advisory services to agri-foodtech start-ups both in Italy and abroad and collaborates with notable players in the agri-foodtech space including accelerators and food magazines. The Food Cons’s aim is to support the Italian food innovation ecosystem. We’ve caught up with Antonio Iannone to find out more about theagri-foodtech ecosystem in Italy.

What does the agri-foodtech sector in your country look like?

The situation of the agrifood-tech in Italy is pretty controversial. In fact Italy ranks in fourth place for the number of startups launched in the decade 2011-2021, with 217 projects, but it’s in tenth position for capital raised, with €259 million. We can say that Italy is a country with a huge potential, but definitely unexpressed. In particular, Italy pays the price for the lack of a true foodtech VC and in general the weakness of the Italian venture capital market. With The Food Cons I strive everyday to reverse this trend, introducing investment rounds of Italian start-ups to international investors.

What is the most important progress made in agri-foodtech in your region?

In the last few years, much progress has been made. 2019 witnessed the rise of three important open innovation projects: the Foodtech Accelerator, the first batch of Plug and Play in Italy and the Agrofood Bic. All the three initiatives can rely on the support of some of the most important Italian food companies. That’s proof that something is changing. Furthermore it has launched an institutional venture capital fund to support startups in the seed stage. This year I personally launched along with other four partners the association Agrifood-Tech Italia, with the aim to build and support the foodtech italian ecosystem.

What are the challenges currently faced by the agri-foodtech industry?  Which areas of the agri-foodtech sector are in particular need of innovation?

Definively, the keyword must be one and only one: sustainability.
In my opinion this must rest on four pillars

  • Food Waste and Upcycling
    Global food waste is a huge concern, but fortunately the world is full of start-ups active in this field: Too Good To Go, OLIO, Imperfect Foods, Apeel, just to name a few.
  • Value and Supply Chain
    With a particular focus on the primary sector. On one hand it’s necessary to make agriculture more sustainable, through vertical farming, precision farming and regenerative agriculture; in this field, we have a powerful ecosystem in Italy with start-ups such as Sfera, Planet Farms, xFarm, 3Bee, Cynomys and Ploovium. On the other hand, farmers must be rewarded with a fair price, so we must rethink a fairer distribution along the food chain.
  • Packaging
    Food system is on the right track to make packaging more sustainable but it’s still a long way away.
  • Food habits and consumption models
    This is a very wide topic. We must reshape our food habits taking the environment into consideration. In this field, plant-based companies are doing a great job, opening our eyes to the consequences of meat consumption. Then there is the thread of nutrition with a lot of reliable start-ups, such as the Italian Feat Food, that are growing at a fast pace. Particularly interesting is the category of Next Gen Food and Drinks, designed to be friends with (aimed at, ed) new generations and the environment.

What are the most important characteristics that make a successful start-up?

Ambition. No matter how big the potential market is, how skilled your team is or how much money you raised, you gotta think big. If you wanna conquer the world it doesn’t mean you’ll get there, but surely you have more chances to be a market leader. Vice versa, if your ambition is to stay in your area…

Which start-ups have you worked with and why?

Fortunately, in Italy I have a great reputation so I have the chance to collaborate on digital marketing, business development or fundraising with some of the most important start-ups, both Italian and international. I can share names such as xFarm, 3Bee, Cynomys, Feat Food, Food Evolution Future Farm and, more recently, with Ristorante del futuro, an association of seven start-ups active in the food service industry.

What is your advice for start-ups beginning in this industry?

Besides being ambitious, I would suggest focusing on B2B. It requires less marketing and there’s less saturation than B2C. Let’s take for example the plant-based market. We have a huge number of consumer brands but not the same number of ingredients manufacturers. In the near future we will see more investments in the plant-based supply chain and less in the brands.

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