Digital technologies are leveraging this transformation and today, unsurprisingly, in the wake of the Internet of Things, we now refer to the Internet of Food, a neologism comprising everything that derives from the fusion of food and digital technology.
The potential of this has inevitably attracted the attention of many investors who have decided to bet on numerous new companies based on highly innovative ideas and services: in the US, in Europe and in Asia.
In an attempt to understand what is happening in the food world and which future trends could emerge, Fine Dining Lovers presents an overview of the most promising start-ups of the Internet of Food: the pattern of investments may in fact be viewed as a reliable indicator of the decisions destined to determine the next market trends and consumer styles in the coming years.
This report makes no claim to being exhaustive, but we believe we can offer our readers a service with this research and selection of useful data and information, in the hope that it may also be useful to those contemplating the future of food.
THE INTERNET OF FOOD IS HERE TO STAY
A closer look at the so-called ‘Internet of Food’, a fusion between digital technologies and the food industry: a worldwide phenomenon still growing.
What do we mean by the term Internet of Food? It refers to the fusion between digital technologies and the food industry, a union that now concern every phase and person involved in this area’s value chain: manufacturers and chefs, restaurant owners and consumers, scientists, IT specialists and, of course, venture capitalists.
The services and products stemming from this union are many and varied. They range from food delivery (the delivery of cooking ingredients and more or less gourmet ready-made meals) to online restaurant reservations, from e-commerce sales of deli foods, fine foods and wine that may be quite impossible to find through traditional sales channels, to big data (the analysis of huge quantities of useful data); from the 3D printing of pasta, chocolate or cakes to robots endowed with artificial intelligence and programmed to replace human in the kitchen or to even serve meals at the table.
INTERNET OF FOOD, A WORLDWIDE PHENOMENON
The interest of investors, business incubators, venture capital firms, large technical companies and others has grown exponentially in recent years and the Internet of Food has become a worldwide phenomenon: in 2015, more than five billion USD were invested to fund hundreds of deals an international level.
Just five years ago, David McClure, founder of the business accelerator 500 Startups in S.Francisco, reproached what to his mind was a dozy business sector:
Menus suck. We need less items, more pictures, and [just] a few recommendations. Menus should be online, so they can integrate user data & purchase history to customize selection, offer discounts, and to connect with friends for favorites and referrals / group offers. The market is huge, purchase behavior is frequent, industry incumbents are old, slow, and easily disrupted. Everyone eats, everyone is online; what the hell are we waiting for?
What McClure pointed out was that the world’s most important industry in terms of size – that of food – needed to open up to new trends, and that is exactly what has happened in the subsequent years. The process is still underway and even if the overall investment growth trend seems to have slowed down slightly, one thing is clear to everyone: the Internet of Food is here to stay.
Which countries and geographical areas are most active in this innovative surge forward in the food industry? And which sectors attract most investments? The statistics provided below will enable you to understand who and what is moving ahead in the industry.
FIVE COUNTRIES ON THE ROOFTOP OF THE WORLD
The US, India, China, Germany and Great Britain are the five countries that invest most in food technology worldwide. In 2015 alone, 104 start-ups were funded in the US compared to 74 in India, 27 in China, 15 in the UK and 11 in Germany (source CBInsights). In Europe, Sweden follows as the third most active country on this front (source Tech.eu).
ASIA ON THE RISE
If wider geographical areas are taken into consideration, however, from a comparison between North America, Europe and Asia, it is clear that there has been an abrupt inversion of the trend in the space of one year.
North America has been widely overtaken in terms of innovative investments in the food industry and in 2015 Asia became the most active continent in this respect. (Source CBInsights).
The best performances have been recorded in many business areas. Food delivery is the Internet of Food (IoF) area which has attracted the greatest interest to date. It is followed by:
- tools for restaurateurs (from online reservations to venue management software, for forecasting customer behaviour patterns or inventing new recipes);
- the vast and variegated world of e-commerce (from the single raw ingredient to an entire ready-to-serve menu);
- the search for new or “impossible” foods and ingredients (for example, meatless meat);
- the frontier of big data applied to food that entails the collection and analysis of large quantities of data used to orient marketing strategies;
- finally, devices – from 3D printers to sensors, from robots to drones – that are increasingly intelligent and food-focused.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM 2017
2016 is not yet over so there is still no reliable data available on this year’s investments in foodtech start-ups. Various analysts have revealed that growth rates are generally lower than those of previous years.
It is possible that, following an initial phase of widespread enthusiasm, investors have started to exercise greater caution when choosing which projects to back, also because food shows several critical factors that make it different from other businesses.
But the road has been mapped out and, in the future scenario, an important role will be played byconsumers who demand the abundance, affordability and easy access of the existing system along with produce that is genuine and wholesome, food associated with culinary traditions but also enhanced by new ideas.
At the present time, the most mature area – food delivery – is also the most crowded. As can be seen from the chart here below (source CBInsights), many companies have sprung up in recent years but the sector has already entered a phase of reorganisation, with the customary turmoil of closures and mergers characterising the market. Despite this, some operators continue to invest in new niche or ultra-specialised areas.
There is one sector that shows no sign of slowing down, that of the restaurant industry to which IoF start-ups offer a vast range of products and services: from advanced payment systems to table reservations, from smart kitchen equipment to food waste management, from marketing to recipe creation and purchasing.
It’s a sector which, in 2016 – according to the forecasts of CBS Insight – is even expected to surpass the investment volume of 2015.
Food technology would not have reached such a pinnacle of success in the past 5 years, without the boost provided by those investors who have backed its new ideas and development.
The Internet of Food certainly thrives thanks to technology and innovation, but it owes its vitality to the large and small angels, accelerators and incubators and venture capitalists who have chosen to finance good ideas, also with the help of crowdfunding platforms at times. Let’s see what this is all about.
FOOD INDUSTRIES AND PRIVATE INVESTORS
The first operators interested in developing innovative ideas are the large companies already operating in the food and beverage market, which want to stay there and continue to be successful. In fact, many of them (Campbell Soup, CocaCola, General Mills, Kelloggs 1894, Nestlè, Mondelez and Unilever among others) have chosen to allocate funds to support the best ideas in the industry.
Also some individual entrepreneurs have financed food technology projects: Bill Gates, for example, is among those who have enabled Impossible Foods to create their first meatless burger.
VENTURE CAPITAL FIRMS
There are plenty of venture capital firms in the world. One of the best known active in the food sector companies in the US is Circle Up. Every year, it recognises the 25 best ideas to have innovated the market with interesting products comprised food.
Seed2Growth is behind the success of Beyond Meat and specialise in backing start-ups focused on healthy, sustainable, and local food. Other examples of ‘angels’ also from the US include: Accel Foods and Cavu Ventures, while those wishing to open a successful restaurant can turn to Gluttonomy.
Crowdfunding platforms (fundraising through a portal) attract great interest from the public, often with success. Who hasn’t heard of Indiegogo and Kickstarter? Today there are several platforms specialising in the food business such as the British-based Crowdfooding. PieShell (formerly Fundafeast) from New York, utilises the “All of Nothing” funding model: projects are required to create three stepping-stones and each must be reached for the money to be guaranteed to the campaigner. If they fail to reach any stepping-stone they only get the funds that successfully got them to the previous stepping-stone; Californian Barnraiser specialises in Internet of Food projects associated with sustainability, environmental protection and natural foods; while the Dutch platform of Farmers Funding is dedicated to sustainable farming.
Here are some examples taken from different contexts.
FARM TO (RESTAURANT) TABLE
As well in the consumer market, restaurateurs have also been brought closer to farmers to give them access to healthy, locally grown, quality certified products. With this aim in mind, companies have been set up to operate in the online marketplace.
Alongside recently founded, consolidated businesses in the US of more or less recent foundation (Veritable, Zone 7) this technology-empowered approach is also rapidly expanding also in Asia: in China with Meicai (which means “buy vegetables”), in Japan with Planet Table and in India with Crop Connect. Their aim is to exploit technology to gather requests from restaurateurs and to supply them with produce grown by farmers in their area.
FINE DINING DELIVERY
The delivery of cooked meals directly to the consumer is one of the most sought-after sectors of the Internet of Food: even some highly acclaimed restaurateurs have chosen to address this market and to offer a top notch gourmet experience, not only in their venues but also at home.
The most recent example of this trend is Ando, the start-up from David Chang, the internationally renowned chef and heart and soul of the Momofuku restaurant, operating in some areas of New York. Chang is the protagonist of another food delivery experience recently launched in New York, Maple: in this instance, a network of skilled chefs present new menus every day on a rotating basis and prepare them for a Manhattan clientele who receive them at home. Their motto is to offer quality meals that are never boring.
RESERVATIONS AND ORDERS
Online reservations – one of the earliest IoF services to be made available – interests both restaurateurs and consumers, but the former often can obtain a lot of useful statistical informations from the same reservation platform to improve their business (see Big data paragraph below). To quote some examples: from OpenTable to Reserve which is operating in 7 large American cities exclusively with up-market restaurants, to which it also supplies important information regarding the category of client, who can book through a website or an app.
The service provided by Allset is aimed at eliminating restaurant waiting times: the customer reserves a table, orders from the menu and pays directly through the app or via Facebook. When they arrive at the restaurant, they’re shown to the table and served immediately. Software programmes like Qminder manage the waiting list and provides interesting statistics to restaurateurs. Others, such as Ziosk – possibly the best known service for restaurants in the tablet category – enable clients to place their order at the table and send it straight to the kitchen, and even to pay the check without having to await the arrival of staff.
One of the most interesting spheres of the Internet of Food regards the collection and analysis of millions of pieces of data that, when taken as a whole, can supply useful pointers to the food business. Food Genius, for example, collects and analyses menus, prices, customer types etc.: all the data from hundreds of thousands of restaurants worldwide. The restaurateur consulting them can learn, for instance, which dishes ‘work’ in which areas and at what price, and in this way can perfect products and services.
Another example is BevSpot which offers bars, and other venues an online catalogue of cocktails and beverages that are always available along with the possibility to check that their own cocktail list is in line with consumer tastes in a particular geographical area.
At the end of every day, restaurants throw away a lot of food: this is not only wasteful but also a disposal problem. Various companies now offer intelligent tools to deal with it. These include the British company Winnow which has invented a sensor and touch screen system connected to each waste bin on the premises to monitor quantities and types of “waste”. This helps the restaurateur to understand which ingredients are wasted the most and to correct purchasing quantities accordingly.
In Finland, ResQ focuses on the food that is cooked but not served. Its platform connects potential customers who wish to buy the food prepared in excess with reductions of up to 60%.
People increasingly expect quality food, rapid delivery and the possibility to verify the production chain and measure their consumption; likewise, they want to enjoy meaningful gourmet experiences, whether at restaurant, at home, or when invited to friends’ homes, but the ingredients must be ‘special’ yet ready to use…
Thanks to digital technology, many of these desires can be satisfied. Let’s take a look as some of the best food apps for consumers.
MEAL AND FOOD DELIVERY
One of the most sought-after and crowded areas of the Internet of Food: some companies have grown to global dimensions while others have disappeared or have undergone a process of reorganisation. However, the market is so appetising that several big players from outside the food industry are entering it (e.g. Amazon, Uber).
This sector is vast and variegated in terms of service and product categories: it goes from the delivery of meals prepared by affiliated restaurants (e.g. Deliveroo, Foodpanda) to companies engaged in the preparation of themed menus by dedicated chefs and their delivery, (e.g. Blue Apron). This huge market – apart from those linking up food producers and consumers – comprises grocery and liquor deliveries as well as suppliers of meal kits containing all the ingredients for cooking dishes, even of a complex nature (e.g. Plated) or online video tutorials (Chef Day).
The Internet of Food has led to a vast range of applications and devices enabling those wishing to do so, to control their food intake.
Eat with AVA, for instance, is a Boston-based start-up offering an “intelligent eating” service, that allows a rapid calculation of the calories and nutrients in the dish you are eating from a simple photo: the app immediately provides a chart containing all the data you need to plan the rest of the day’s intake.
HAPIfork is an intelligent fork which that, when connected to an app compatible with all devices, teaches you to eat slowly by monitoring the length of the meal.
The idea of social food is to unite the tasting experience with a social experience: websites have sprung up globally to collect, vote and classify “home-cooked dinner” proposals.
In the wake of the considerable success achieved by ‘home restaurants’, there are also intelligent search engines such as Bon Appetour enabling users to recommend and consult the best “domestic venues” worldwide and to give a mark to their experience. Viz Eat is a French-Italian social eating platform that is expanding all over Europe, connecting gourmet tourists with local chefs, cookery courses and food and wine tours.
Cookisto, on the other hand, is an app that collects and shows those people who are willing to share their meal with others in the neighbourhood.
WYSIWYG (WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET)
The latest discoveries in the field of artificial intelligence and neural networks (IT networks reproducing the functions of biological ones) are starting to be applied to the food industry.
An interesting experiment is that of Borsch, a food recommendation application able to analyse and recognize food pictures posted on the social networks: at the precise moment in which a user expresses appreciation for a particular dish, the application is able to provide him or her with a list of restaurants in the neighbourhood carrying a similar dish on the menu.
One particular aspect of the Internet of Food that currently shows a strong growth rate is that of research into new nutritious and tasty foods, both natural and artificial, with a preference for the eco-friendly variety.
For this reason, there is much talk about biotechnologies applied to food, farming technology, artificial foods, and even, paradoxically, foods that are not foods.
Consumers are increasingly food conscious so manufacturing companies are having to supply precise information on the composition of their products. Genomics, together with food DNA studies, come to their aid in this respect: Clear labs supplies manufacturing companies with molecular food analyses able to reveal whether a food contains allergens and synthetic products, but also bacteria and GMOs.
Trace Genomics analyses the soil to be farmed, in order to check for the presence of any pathogens prior to crop sowing.
The most famous start-up in the industry is Impossible Foods: California-based, it unites engineers, researchers and genetic experts to recreate a meatless burger in a lab whose taste is identical to the “real” version. Its objective is to recreate a taste experience for those consumers who cannot or do not wish to eat meat, but also to reduce the environmental impact of animal breeding.
Similarly, Beyond Meat also leans on laboratory research to artificially recreate proteins (those of beef and chicken) and to produce packaged food for distribution through supermarket retail channels. Another start-up associated with the test tube creation of foods without animal-sourced ingredients is New Harvest. This company has led to various spin-offs such as a start-up producing eggs without hens and another producing milk without cows.
DRONES AND ROBOTS
While the pace of adoption of drone delivery will have disappointed some futurists – and there are a number of legal obstacles to overcome – it seems inevitable that one day our packages and takeout will arrive, quite literally, by air.
The likes of Flirtey, who have already cut deals with food and product delivery behemoths such as Dominoes and Amazon, could well be at the forefront of that, while Infinium Robotics is exploring the possibility of service drones in restaurants. If the thought of the latter has food and drinks professionals alarmed, then Moley Robotics’ chef arms will do nothing to sooth their concerns, though the reluctant home cook will likely welcome a helping mechanical hand.
Along with impossible foods and alternative ingredients, today’s beverage industry is characterised by a proliferation of new formulations.
Some start-ups have entered the high varied ‘healthy’ drink market: such as Soylent which offers products containing an ideal intake of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, thanks to “food engineering” or Juicero that provides consumers with a cold juice extractor and packaged organic fruit and vegetables which go straight into the machine.