Feeding food tech
Silicon Valley is showing real appetite for food start-ups, with venture capitalists having thrown hundreds of millions of dollars at technologically calorific enterprises, writes Steve Mullins. The big financing rounds have revolved around the likes of Hampton Creek and Soylent, though there have been scores of small fry hovering up the speculative cash too.
Hampton Creek, which specialises in plant-based products, raised $90 million at end-2014 from Horizons Ventures and Khosla Ventures, while it can also boast support from billionaires in the shape of Bill Gates, Salesforce chief Marc Benioff and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. It’s possible these rich guys are attracted by the company’s worthy Big Data focus on cataloguing as many plant proteins as possible so that it can make affordable food alternatives.
And, like their more digitally oriented start-up brethren, food ventures get to rapidly morph as well, coming up with ever-new business models to feed the innovation monster. Take Andreessen Horowitz-backed AgLocal, for example, which started out channelling meat from farmers to buyers, such as leading chefs. Clearly that model wasn’t cooking with gas as AgLocal then developed into a more consumer-facing service based on monthly subscriptions.
After that came Amazon, as AgLocal partnered with the retail giant on same-day grocery deliveries, slotting its Family Style, Fit & Lean and Grill Master boxes into drop-offs. The company’s USP remains the same, though, and it’s to do with transparency of source, with AgLocal eager to provide consumers with info on its farmers. It’s all about ‘curating’ responsibly raised meat, in essence.