Future Food Now: big personal news, top predictions for 2022, latest in APAC funding
It’s been a while since the last issue. There’s a good reason though. Finally can share what I have been working on for the past year:
I am launching an alt protein VC fund.
Better Bite Ventures is the first fund dedicated entirely to alt protein startups from the APAC region. More on this below.
It’s the first issue of this year, so I am doing a round-up of 2021 APAC alt protein milestones with industry experts… and some obligatory “2022 predictions”. Last but not least: 2022 is off to a very solid start for APAC startups - read on to see what rounds have already been announced this year.
About my new fund
Better Bite Ventures is the first alternative protein fund focused entirely on Asia Pacific startups.
We believe founders are the real heroes in the story of transforming our food system for the better.
We launch with a portfolio of 10 plant-based, cell-based and fermentation startups from across APAC (see the list) and will be backing many more from our Fund 1.
Better Bite is started and run by me and fellow founder/operator and impact investor, Simon Newstead.
Why Asia and why now?
Asia is the largest protein market globally and the fastest-growing. But meat, seafood and dairy are made in a way that is not sustainable. New solutions are necessary. Alt protein founders in the region need fuel and support to make the change happen. There is still a funding gap for this sector in our region and we hope to help to close it with Better Bite.
For transparency, I will be adding disclosures when I report on startups that Better Bite has invested in.
My TOP5 predictions for alt protein in APAC in 2022
Here are some of the key trends that I believe will shape the Asia Pacific industry this year.
1. Precision and biomass fermentation on the rise 🦠
Fermentation startups globally raised over $1.4b in 2021 and the category has grown 2.5x YoY, much faster than plant-based.
But a very small part of that is in Asia Pacific. I believe it will start changing in 2022 and we will see many more startups focused on PF and biomass fermentation for alt-dairy, alt-meat and alt-eggs. Talent is here, scale-up facilities are here, no reason for APAC not to follow the global trend.
2. More cell-based action in Singapore 🧫
The only place in the world where cultivated meat is approved for consumption, Singapore is clearly becoming not just a regional, but a global cell-based hub.
In late 2021 the second product from Eat JUST - a chicken breast - has been approved by Singapore Food Agency and will likely be featured at SG restaurants menus soon. Several local and regional companies - most recently Australian Vow - hinted at cell-based product rollouts here in 2022. And some exciting local Singapore startups are emerging, cannot wait to share more on that.
3. Alt-seafood wave 🌊
Asia Pacific is the largest seafood producer and consumer. But alt-seafood is still a tiny proportion of that market.
Asian seafood giant Thai Union is investing in alternatives. Taking part in BlueNalu’s funding round, releasing its own range of plant-based seafood and setting up a $9m alt protein innovation centre in Bangkok, they seem to be all in.
But many more are needed to address sustainability issues of current seafood production. I believe we will see a wave (cheap pun, I know) of new startups and products in this field this year.
4. APAC startups raising nine-digit rounds 💰
That’s an easy prediction and very much expected as the market matures in the region.
China’s Starfield announced $100m Series B, while Next Gen Foods from Singapore did Series A of the same size. At least two other startups are rumoured to be actively raising in a similar ballpark. That’s great news, as much more funding is required for scale-up - and it will also inspire new founders with new ideas!
5. Geos to watch in 2022: Indonesia, SEA, India 🌏
In previous years most APAC funding has been going to countries like Singapore, Australia, China and Korea.
But as local consumers get more and more interested in plant-based products, new startups are emerging in India as well as Indonesia and other large South East Asian markets, addressing local flavours and the need for more affordable options.
Industry experts talk about APAC market trends
I recently asked some market insiders about key trends in APAC alt protein. Here is what they said.
Key milestones in 2021
What are the key milestones and breakthroughs of the last year?
“Regional startups prioritized product localization as a key part of their strategy. As an example, Green Rebel Foods* created plant-based versions of familiar Indonesian dishes such as beef rendang, which opened doors to major QSR restaurants in their home market.” - said Mirte Gosker, Acting Managing Director of The Good Food Institute APAC, Asia’s leading alt protein think tank.
Viola Chen from Shanghai-based alt protein consultancy GFIC focused on the fact that “international and local startups, e.g. Beyond Meat, Green Monday, and Starfield, started building their own manufacturing facilities in China” - with some already up and running.
Viola also mentioned progress on the cell-ag side of the industry in China: with Joes Future Food and CellX*, the two most well-known Chinese cultivated meat startups, raising capital from mainstream investors like Matrix China and ZhenFund - as well as “a handful of Chinese fermentation-powered startups coming on the radar, such as Blue Canopy* and Geb Impact.”
Last but not least: “China included cultivated meat in its five-year national agricultural plan for the first time ever.” (more)
Back in Singapore, Mirte highlighted Asia’s first alt proteins university module launched at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. It has since been replicated at the graduate level by the National University of Singapore, often ranked Asia’s top university.
Down under, Thomas King, founder and CEO of alt protein think tank Food Frontier talks about “significant investment begin to open up the local plant protein ingredient supply chain, demonstrated by Bunge’s $45M investment in Australian Plant Proteins. He also mentioned "a catalysing partnership form between Australian start-ups (Nourish Ingredients and Vow)”.
For Bianca Lê from non-profit Cellular Agriculture Australia, it has been the first large Australian government investment in a cell ag company. “On behalf of the Australian Government, the Clean Energy Innovation Fund invested $5 million AUD in All G Foods, a Sydney-based startup producing plant-based meat and dairy products via precision fermentation.”
Back to Mirte: “It was great to see how the benefits of scaling up manufacturing infrastructure were felt by both producers and consumers. For example, OmniFoods managed to cut the price of OmniPork by an astonishing 22 percent in 2021, bringing it into parity with conventional pork in Hong Kong.”
Disappointments and disillusionment
It’s not all rainbows and unicorns though and many challenges remain.
“It’s frustrating that 2021 came and went without any other nations joining Singapore in granting regulatory approval for commercial sale of a cultivated meat product”, said Mirte.
Bianca is glad to see “the conversation [on cellular agriculture] evolving from blind optimism to evidence-based optimism”. She says that “there is a lot of nuance in the discussion around feasibility, scaling and cost”.
Mirte pointed out something similar: “One risk we need to be watchful for in 2022 is entering the trough of disillusionment in the media coverage of alternative proteins.”
She continued: “Expectations for plant-based and cultivated meat have been sky-high for years now - and yet, for most mainstream consumers, the current offerings still fall shy of the mark as a viable substitute for conventional meat.”
“APAC alternative protein industry started getting more strategic about resolving bottlenecks and challenges, even as heaps of work remain.” - said Mirte.
Hopes and predictions for 2022
Seems like everyone is bullish on fermentation as well as hybrids.
Bianca: “I suspect the precision fermentation companies will be incorporating their animal-free fats and proteins into existing plant-based foods and beverages - and these will be the first cell ag products to hit the market”.
Viola concurs: “We would like to see more Chinese startups tapping the enormous potential of fermentation-enabled technologies.”
Thomas pointed out that “existing wine/beer production equipment can be used in precision fermentation, and we may see more of these businesses thinking about how to make use of this off-season capacity in a new way”.
He also believes that as consumers are “gradually returning to pre-Covid patterns of dining out, foodservice outlets will continue leveraging the momentum of growing consumer interest in meat alternatives.”, pointing to recent moves of Australian chains like Grill’d and Betty’s Burgers.
For China, Viola would like to see “a product that truly resonates with local Chinese consumers, satisfies their expectations on taste and appeal, and fits into local consumption practices”, which would help plant-based offerings “to reach beyond the niche target group”.
Viola also believes that the sector “will secure more capital from highly influential investors looking for solutions to address climate change”.
Which APAC startups announced funding rounds this year?
The year has only started, and the region’s startups already announced rounds of over $240m. Here is the breakdown:
🔸 Next Gen Foods* a.k.a. TiNDLE (Singapore, plant-based chicken) raised $100m Series A, the largest plant-based meat startup Series A ever, from Alpha JWC, EDBI, MPL Ventures as well as current investors Temasek, K3 Ventures, Bits x Bites, GGV Capital (more)
🔸 Starfield (China, plant-based meat) raised $100m Series B, the largest alt protein round in the country, led by Primavera Capital Grup, Alibaba’s CSO Ming Zeng and existing backers Joy Capital, Lightspeed China and others (more)
🔸 Oatside (Singapore/Indonesia, plant-based milk) announced this Feb that it has raised $16.35m in pre-Series A back in December 2020 led by Proterra Investment Partners Asia (more)
🔸 Change Foods* (Australia/California, precision fermentation cheese) closed a $12m seed extension, led by Route 66 Ventures, with participation of food companies Upfield (Violife), Orkla and Sigma (more)
🔸 IntegriCulture (Japan, cultivated meat) announced $7m Series A from Future Food Fund, Kemure Venures and existing investors AgFunder, Beyond Next Ventures and Teal Tech Fund (more)
🔸 Fënn Foods (Australia, plant-based meat) raised $2.1m from Bombora Investment Management and existing investors (more)
🔸 Marvelous Foods (China, plant-based dairy) announced $1.2m with participation of Lever VC and New Climate Ventures (more)
🔸 Eight Day Foods (Australia, plant-based protein) raised $1m from unnamed investors (more)
🔸 Seawith (Korea, cultivated beef) announced $840k extension to previously raised Series A with from investor Mint Venture Partners (more)
🔸 Daisy Lab (New Zealand, precision fermentation dairy) raised $170k in first funding from K1W1 and Icehouse Ventures (more)
🔸 Blue Tribe Foods (India, plant-based meat) said it has welcomed Bollywood celebrity Anushka Sharma and her husband cricket star Virat Kohli as investors (undisclosed amount) and brand ambassadors (more)
🔸 All G Foods (Australia, plant-based meat and precision fermentation dairy) received an undisclosed amount from W23, a corporate venture capital fund of Australian retailer Woolworths (more)
* Disclosure: Better Bite Ventures is an investor in Umami Meats, Next Gen Foods, Green Rebel Foods, CellX, Blue Canopy and Change Foods
Beefless Rendang by Green Rebel Foods
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