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Where to look for disruptive startup innovation in the agrifood space?

In 2023 look out for breakthroughs relating to packaging, food value chain decarbonisation, and sustainable agricultural practices

19 Apr 2023

Key takeaways

  • In 2023, EIT Food is working with a record number of industry partners on their external innovation priorities to be filled primarily with the help of impactful startup solutions.
  • Key areas where we expect increased collaboration between startups and established industry actors are packaging, food value chain decarbonisation, and sustainable agricultural practices.
  • Joining the EIT Food Corporate Venturing Service allows for easy access to a curated pool of more than 5,000 startups. In 2022, EIT Food helped to set up more than 40 startup–corporate collaborations.

EIT Food is committed to supporting the growth and development of agrifood innovations that are helping to make the entire food system more sustainable, healthy, and trusted. Throughout 2023, the organisation is particularly interested in supporting innovation relating to packaging, food value chain decarbonisation, and sustainable agricultural practices.

EIT Food believes startups and corporations together play a major role in this transformation towards a better food system for all. Through our unrivalled network, EIT Food is in a unique position to matchmake big industry with startups and fast-track innovation. Participating in this process can unlock industry connections and pilot technology with the goal of market adoption of innovative technologies for a better food system for all.

EIT Food is Europe’s number one startup-corporate matchmaker in the agrifood space

In 2023 EIT Food is working with more than 15 industry partners to identify ground-breaking innovations in the agrifood industry and pave the way for future collaborations with young companies. At the beginning of each year, EIT Food and its partners identify innovation areas in the agricultural and food space, which then become part of the EIT Food outreach and scouting campaign.

All startups in the European ecosystems and associated countries (such as Israel, the UK or Switzerland) have a chance to apply for the three flagship EIT Food entrepreneurship programmes or through a dedicated matchmaking call. Each year around 1,000 startups seek to join the extensive EIT Food network of more than 5,000 young companies, with all applicants evaluated by our team of experts.

Selected startups will be invited to (one or more) demo days with Research & Development, Open Innovation, and business unit heads for further discussion and to evaluate the potential for collaboration. Subsequently, information is shared, typically covered by a non-disclosure agreement. If it’s a match, startup teams will then discuss a pilot/proof of concept study to evaluate the scaling potential of the product, leading to potential investments and/or an ongoing partnership.

In 2022 alone, EIT Food received more than a thousand startup applications across its matchmaking calls and programmes. Hundreds of different teams were introduced to EIT Food’s corporate partners resulting in the start of more than 40 collaboration projects.

Key innovation areas to watch out for in 2023

At EIT Food, we are excited to give a glimpse of three important domains in the agrifood space that stood out during our frequent conversations with our partner network.

1. Packaging

Regulatory changes and shifting consumer behaviour are leading to increased efforts towards more sustainable packaging and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes. While “packaging” has been a hot topic for some time, the following themes have emerged recently:

Sustainable and eco-friendly packaging innovations: Following the ban of single use plastics, industry is intensely looking at sustainable packaging options. We foresee considerable potential in the fields of biodegradable and compostable packaging made from materials such as plant-based plastics, paper, and natural fibers.

Smart packaging: Advances in technology are leading to the development of smart packaging that can help to monitor food quality and freshness and reduce food waste by alerting consumers when the product is about to expire.

Minimalist packaging and re-use models: Minimalist packaging is becoming more popular, with a focus on simple and elegant designs that are easy to recycle or to re-purpose. In 2023, we predict more food companies will adopt minimalist packaging to stand out on the shelves and appeal to consumers who prefer a more minimalist aesthetic.

2. Food value chain decarbonisation

The food value chain accounts for almost a third of global carbon emissions. As climate change becomes an increasingly pressing issue, there is a growing need to reduce emissions. As such, startup innovations are in high demand as they offer more radical solutions than conventional alternatives – in particular within the following themes:

Carbon farming, regenerative agriculture and CO2 capture: The use of regenerative agriculture practices, such as cover cropping, reduced tillage, and rotational grazing can sequester carbon in the soil and reduce GHG emissions from agricultural activities.

Low-carbon transport, storage and food waste reduction: Using low-emission vehicles for transporting food, such as electric or hybrid trucks can significantly reduce carbon emissions. In addition, minimising waste and reusing resources can reduce GHG emissions and improve overall efficiency throughout the food value chain.

Digital solutions: Whether blockchain solutions, internet of things or data analytics, software plays a significant role in food value chain decarbonisation by enabling better monitoring, optimisation, and collaboration among stakeholders. For instance, using data analytics to monitor soil health can help farmers reduce their use of fertilisers and pesticides, thereby lowering carbon emissions and improving the profitability of farmers.

Finally, there are other technological advances that are making it easier for companies to decarbonise their food value chain. For example, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power are becoming more affordable and accessible, and new technologies are being developed to reduce emissions from farming, transportation, and processing.

3. Sustainable agricultural practices

Sustainable agricultural practices aim to reduce the negative impact of agriculture on the environment. This includes reducing GHG emissions, conserving natural resources, and improving soil health. Startups that focus on sustainable practices in agriculture can play a critical role in addressing environmental challenges and developing innovative solutions to these problems. Specifically, we see startups creating positive impact in the following domains:

Increasing economic benefits for farmers: Sustainable agricultural practices can reduce input costs, increase yields and improve the quality of products. Startups that offer products and services that promote sustainable farming practices can create new markets and revenue streams for farmers.

Resource efficiency: Sustainable agricultural practices prioritise resource efficiency, such as water and energy conservation, and reduced chemical inputs. Startups can develop innovative solutions that help farmers achieve these goals, such as precision agriculture tools, smart irrigation systems, and natural pest control methods.

Climate change adaptation and biodiversity: Climate change is affecting agriculture by altering weather patterns and increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Sustainable agricultural practices can help farmers adapt to these changes by building resilience in their farming systems. Startups can develop technologies that help farmers mitigate the impacts of climate change, such as drought-resistant crops and weather monitoring systems.

Want to know more about how to connect with agrifood startups? How to work with startups as a bigger organisation? Or you just want to learn about EIT Food Corporate Venturing and what we do?

About EIT Food

EIT Food is the world’s largest and most dynamic food innovation community. We accelerate innovation to build a future-fit food system that produces healthy and sustainable food for all. ​       

Supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union, we invest in projects, organisations and individuals that share our goals and vision for a healthy and sustainable food system. We unlock innovation potential in businesses and universities and create and scale agrifood startups to bring new technologies and products to market. We equip entrepreneurs and professionals with the skills needed to transform the food system and put consumers at the heart of our work, helping build trust by reconnecting them to the origins of their food.

We are one of nine innovation communities established by the European Institute for Innovation & Technology (EIT), an independent EU body set up in 2008 to drive innovation and entrepreneurship across Europe.     

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