Funding Good Food: How Tech Investments Are Changing Our Food System

Corie Brown, a journalist who writes for Fast Company and Zester Daily, is on the steering committee for the Annual Chef’s Collaborative Summit, helping to craft the programming. She’ll also be moderating a keynote panel all about venture funding in sustainable agriculture and healthy food ventures, exploring how the money—nearly $5 billion in 2015—can change our food system.

“I’m so struck by the huge consumer support for transparency—for clean, healthy, pure, whole food,” she says. “It permeates everything going on in food commerce. Consumer support changes the economic equation and makes it possible for chefs to be more ambitious and do what’s best for their customers, themselves, and the land.” 

She notes that while Chefs Collaborative members have always lived by the “know thy farmer” mantra, now the whole world is finally on their side. The practices that used to make it difficult to turn a profit (i.e., spending more on ingredients) are now just good business.

Areas of Investment

Here are a few investment trends in the food industry that are furthering the good food movement.

Farming. Corie says she’s seeing a revolution in the farming community, with companies using big data, cloud computing, drones, and sensors for more sophisticated farming practices. “There’s a lot more precision going on, and there’s the potential to reduce chemicals and better manage water,” she says, adding that these technologies can even help conventional farmers limit the amount of pesticides they use for a more sustainable product.

Alternative proteins. Companies like Hampton Creek are coming out with plant-based substitutes for staple foods, and new startups are using plant proteins to improve the nutritional value and overall quality of vegetarian fare.

Food waste. In addition to improving the composting process, new, innovative technologies are looking at other ways to solve the problem of food waste, agriculture waste, and organic waste.

Restaurant tech. “We’re seeing more and more innovation on computer systems, giving restaurants the ability to reduce costs by improving their own systems,” says Corie. Solutions that make processes such as ordering more efficient are incredibly meaningful to time- and resource-strapped restaurateurs.

Transparency. Additionally, technology allows us to track ingredients from farm to table—literally. We can trace where food travels; what started out as a health and food safety issue has, thanks to consumer demand, become a marketing tool. “We’re not trying to sell consumers anymore on the idea that this is good for them—that it’s worth a little more to eat heritage pork,” Corie explains. “They’re sold! They’re driving this demand because this is what they prefer.”

The Next Step

Consumer demand: check. Technology: check. What needs to happen to make our food system healthy? Corie cautions that at this phase good food could still be just a fad, but the pieces are in place for revolution: “We need a lot of policy change.”

That means promoting consumers’ desire for transparency and clean food, and fighting against farm subsidies, she says. It means instructing representatives to use tax dollars to produce food we want to eat, transforming the system. It’s the same message activists have had for decades, but now the consumer is leading the charge.

“Now the job is to make sure everybody understands what’s happening, to educate chefs and food professionals and help them find economical ways to meet consumer demand. The pieces are in place, but we can’t think the problems are solved.”