In 2010, when various corporations and world leaders met at the World Economic Forum in Davos, they re-envisioned what would become the future of agriculture and food. Corporations such as Nestle, Coca-Cola, Sara Lee, Kellogg's et al, all agreed to support production of alternative food production methods and slowly start to move away from the current model of agriculture around the world: farming animals.
Three years later in 2013, when Bill Gates was paraphrased as saying "the future of food is vegan" in his online blog, a quiet kind of word-of-mouth spread on the internet of various food technologies that would eventually disrupt the current sector. Companies such as Hampton Creek Foods, Modern Meadow, Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods all cropped up in the US market in 2011, backed by major VC groups.
Whereas Bill Gates and his entourage think the future of food will be meat analogues, Sergey Brin of Google doesn't think the future of food is vegan per se, rather he believes the future of food will be meat produced in a laboratory from the stem cells of animals.
Heading this brand new world of food were headed by the strategic thinkers at the University of Oxford, when they initially did the research for the World Economic Forum more than 5 years ago, when they determined that it would be more cost effective for the global world to start producing meat analogues, rather than via traditional farming of animals.
But where are the UK startups in alternative meat production? In fact, the UK was way ahead of the trend, Quorn, the UK-Ireland venture in meat analogues was founded in 1985, Bute Island Foods founded 1988, and Linda McCartney Foods founded in 1991, the latter acquired by Heinz and quietly shelved into silence until it was sold again to Hain Celetrial Group; and V-bites Food was founded in 1993.
Despite the recent resurgence of meat analogues in the current market, it seems clear that UK entrepreneurs lead this movement from the 1980s and onward, but had stalled and came across obstacles in scaling to other nations. One of the original innovators of meat alternatives was London-based Gregory Sams, who had been producing meat analogues since 1967 and whose product VegeBurger was selling off the shelves in the commercial market in 1985. His success lead to the development of other clone companies: US-based Gardenburger and BocaBurger in the early 1990s.
So where do UK VCs stand in the future of food dialogue? Which companies are they investing in? Thus far, UK universities have been heavily involved with vertical farming. Last year, the University of Nottingham organised an International Conference on vertical farming which brought together scientists, engineers, industrialists, and policymakers to discuss current ideas, technologies and commercial applications and research opportunities.
A UK-developed Verticrop based vertical farm was created in 2009 in Devon to feed its zoo animals, and with plans underway to build vertical farms in Manchester and Tech City, it looks as if the UK is ahead of the trend once again, and looking up in its vision of the Future of Food.
By Sierra Choi, Director of Marketing