Established by Chinese venture capital firm Bits x Bites last year, the consortium currently has 15 members and aims to nurture collaboration between start-ups and multinational companies ranging from consumer foods, animal feed, flavours, ingredients to agricultural processing.
Matilda Ho, founder and managing director at Bits x Bites said: “Over the past decade, China has had its foot on the gas pedal to accelerate science and technology development. Just this April, China became the world’s biggest source of applications for international patents. In food and agriculture, Chinese scientists are also some of the most prolific producers of scientific research patents and papers.”
She added that converting research into commercial successes would take time and a supportive network, which she hopes the China Food Tech Hub can provide.
Italian pasta giant Barilla’s food innovation and venture arm Blu1877 in one such newcomer.
Vice president Michela Petronio told FoodNavigator-Asia: “Wehave recently launched our new call for start-ups, Good Food Makers and we hope to reach out to many visionary teams and find new opportunities for innovation and collaboration for Barilla.
“The plant-based, sustainability, well-being and convenience trends are some areas that we are interested. Today, we are all facing new challenges related to food access, food excess, food waste , food safety, and as players of a broader food system, we need to find new solutions to facilitate people’s access to healthier sustainable foods anywhere if we want to have a real impact on the wellbeing of the communities where we all live in.”
For existing member, Givaudan, its global director of innovation Alexandre Bastos told us: “China is undoubtedly a key high growth market for Givaudan now and in the near future. We have seen an emerging foodtech ecosystem, and many startups in China, and we believe these innovators will play a key role in accelerating and customising key global trends such as alternative protein, cell culture, farming of the future to the local and regional needs of consumers.”
Bastos said its first year in the consortium had given the firm access to the most innovative companies in China and in the region. “We clearly had the ‘first row’ view of all of them and had the opportunity to explore potential collaborations. We want to join them in this journey and help bring innovation to China via collaborations, leveraging our knowledge, scale up expertise and market access.”
Ho added several start-ups were in discussions with member companies on pilot projects, although she was unable to share more details.
The three new members join existing mega players including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo Greater China, General Mills, Ferrero, Griffith Foods, LDC, Mars Wrigley, Mondelez, and others.
Ho said that while overall VC investment in China in Q1 2020 had seen a 65% decline from the same period a year ago, but stressed the future for future tech remained bright.
“In the last few years, many of the food innovation startups that received investor funding were downstream companies competing on distribution and branding. Going forward we might see the balance shifting toward companies creating value by solving real industry and market challenges.”
Ho is also excited about opportunities in health and wellness, better nutrition, as well as functional food and beverages.
“Thirteen per cent of China medical expenses are used for treating diabetes. That’s just one of many lifestyle-related diseases that will demand attention as older populations continue to grow in China. As consumption grows in health products, consumer scrutiny will rise with it. We’ll be looking at companies that can provide differentiated solutions with scientific support to earn consumer trust.
“We are also looking closely at technology that can add value as plant protein products continue to upgrade. This includes sugar, fat, and salt reduction, ingredient and processing tech that improves texture, mouthfeel and clean label,” Ho added.