Fully integrate start-ups from farm to fork

23 August 2019


Start-ups play a crucial role in helping big corporations bring key trends, such as sustainability and personalized nutrition, to consumers. This is according to Caroline Bijkerk, Global Partnerships Manager at StartLife, which supports food and agtech start-ups as they grow into global enterprises. Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Bijkerk explains how the food industry has changed in the last decade and how start-ups are well positioned to capitalize on this shifting landscape. Consumer issues have become more complex, she says, with social media giving consumers an avenue to share their views about the safety and quality of food products.

“People today are much more aware of safety and quality issues. This coincides with stricter regulations applying to the food industry nowadays.” She notes that another significant change affecting the sector has been the rapidly expanding world population, which is predicted to grow to nearly ten million by 2050. The industry is already trying to proactively figure out how to respond to this demand.

As a result of this, sustainability is currently a major trend. “With a growing world population and limited resources, the demand for dairy- and animal-alternatives is growing,” Bijkerk notes. She adds how this is impacting the food industry as people turn more toward alternative proteins following various plant-based initiatives. Sustainable launches with positive impacts on the planet also tend to be successful.

Other key aspects of successful innovations are those that are healthy, as well as affordable. “Next to that, since people have limited time nowadays, companies with service-oriented, time-winning solutions stand out. These could take the form of mobile apps or food delivery, for example,” Bijkerk says.

In terms of the next big trends to come, she notes that many people are predicting that the demand for plant-based and alternative proteins will grow. “Other aspects of sustainability will also be popular. This includes things like packaging and making the food supply chain more transparent and traceable.”

Additionally, sugar-reduction or replacement is set to expand. “Sugar-reduction is becoming a trend, with people and retailers becoming more conscious about eating and being healthier in general. Sugar-reduction is just one aspect of this,” Bijkerk says.

“Personalized nutrition is also becoming more and more of a hot item. The increasing number of specific diets that people follow is an example of this. Additionally, there are so many different allergies that people have now. As a result, consumers have very specific wishes, meaning that retailers are pressured to manufacture their products more precisely. In terms of start-ups, this has led them to getting more involved with retailers in general, in order to connect with data and various platforms,” she continues.

Start-ups give a “taste of a different mindset”
StartLife recently helped bring sustainability to its corporate partner, Lidl, with the “FutureGoods” week, which saw stores around the Netherlands partner with agri-food start-ups. Products sold included seaweed wraps, edible insects and cruesli made of residual food, also known as “rescue food.”

“The project with Lidl has been a special one since not all of the start-ups had special technology, which is normally a requirement of our program. For this project with Lidl, the opportunity was about creating impact. Ultimately, the start-ups selected have the potential to be real category changers. They all have aspects of sustainability in mind and want to make the world a better place,” Bijkerk explains.

Additionally, as Lidl profiles itself as a sustainable retailer, it is important to it that it shows that the supply chain is innovative and that it supports the initiatives of retailers, notes Bijkerk. She continues that the company wants to show impact through its actions.

“Meanwhile, for the first-time movers, it was a great opportunity to produce 20,000 of their products at once, for example. You can’t produce these amounts in your own kitchen, so that has been the greatest challenge for them,” she says.

She notes that another major challenge for start-ups is being able to plan and organize operations to successfully deliver on an order. Additionally, start-ups can encounter roadblocks when finding people to work with, as well as in maintaining quality. “The quality on an order of 20,000 items is totally different than if you only produce 100 products at once,” she notes.

Looking forward, Bijkerk hopes that the food industry cooperates with ambitious start-ups. “It would be great if start-ups were fully integrated into the supply chain from farm-to-fork since they are the drivers of new innovation news. This includes examples like seed breeding techniques, robotics and new categories on the shelves of a retailer.”

Additionally, Bijkerk notes that established companies generally feel very warm towards fledgling business. “The big companies are very excited about new ideas – I’ve never heard about them feeling intimidated and they are happy to get a taste of a different mindset. It’s great to see the different companies meet and talk to each other. It’s more like a cooperative challenge to see how they can make the world a better place together. Often, the collaborations also enjoy challenging consumers, for example, by making them see how they could eat differently.”

Bringing it back full circle to sustainability, Bijkerk adds that start-ups could also be key for responding to the need for sustainable solutions. This has been seen in innovations such as extracting protein from algae or growing quinoa in the Netherlands, instead of importing it from South America.

Published by Foodingredientsfirst.com on August 12, 2019
Image from Shutterstock


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