A review of 2021 food tech trends
How accurate was the forecast?

2021 was not what we expected but the trends were pretty accurate

Instead of being a year of economic recovery, 2021 pushed budgetary limits, especially regarding food. Factors like supply chain disruptions and inflation caused the cost of food to go up (and there's no end in sight). Labor shortages contributed to the mess–emboldened by the "Great Resignation" and covid-related travel restrictions. Restaurants, from mom-and-pop to major chains, continued to shutter their doors.

But on the bright side, investors were bullish, financing more than double the investments from the previous year. Estimates range from a record-breaking $5 billion. Major advancements were made in technology and regulations. There was also debate around topics like the viability of cellular agriculture and the greenwashing of vertical farming. All in all, 2021 was not exceptionally great for the food consumer or restauranteur. Still, it was a monumental year for the advancement of food technologies.

Let's take a look at how the five future food trends I wrote about at the beginning of 2021 performed:
1. Animal-free dairy

There are more animal-free options in your cereal today than there were a year ago. Instacart reported that sales of alt-dairy 'milk' are growing at 2x the rate of dairy milk. And choices expanded beyond nut and oat. For example, Perfect Day uses precision fermentation technology to create cow-free dairy milk. Brave Robot used their milk in ice cream, which launched in over 5,000 stores. And while stock prices are not doing great, Oatly was the first al dairy company to IPO.
Rotting fruit on the ground (Photo by Joshua Hoehne)

2. Less food waste

From farm to table, it's estimated we waste 40% of our food. Unfortunately, that number has not gone down over the past year. However, several innovative companies are attempting to solve this issue from different angles. For example, Sufresca and NatuWrap developed a coating for fruit and vegetables that extends their shelf life. Yumbrella is also in the coating business, but theirs goes on the fruit at the farm. Apeel has been honing this technology for a while and raised another $250 million in funding this year.

Another approach to food waste is monitoring the chemicals food emits when it starts to go bad. Strella Biotechnology developed ethylene monitoring devices for perishables that send an alert out when fruits and vegetables are ripe. From the fruit genetic side, Canadian company Okanagan Specialty Fruits are growing an apple that doesn't brown when bruised. Their apples don't have the enzyme that makes them go brown when damaged. Generation Waste created a measuring tool that helps solve food waste in the places where it occurs in hotels and restaurant kitchens from a data point of view.
3. Insects-as-a-feed

In August of 2021, the EU approved the use of certain insects as animal feed, opening the door for companies like Ynsect to expand their offerings and bring more climate-friendly livestock feed to market. Ironically, bugs are what chickens and other livestock feast on in the wild, so it's kind of funny that the EU needed to approve this. Future Market Insights noted that the demand for insect protein rose almost 9% last year.
VitaBite farm in Shanghai. Photo by Dagerotip George
4. The expansion of cellular agriculture

The world eats more meat than ever before, so it is excellent timing for even more cellular agriculture companies to come online. Whether you fancy foie gras and snails or sashimi-grade salmon, cellular agriculture companies are growing almost every type of animal-based protein (and even some we would never dare eat). The Good Food Institute reported that as of Q3 2021, cellular agriculture companies received investments of over $763 million–which is already double the $360 million invested in 2020. One notable investment was the USDA giving Tufts University a $10 million grant to open a cultivated protein research center. This year also saw a healthy debate on the viability of cellular agriculture. You can read more and learn my take on this here.

5. Vertical farms scaling up

AeroFarms planned to go public through a SPAC but then ended up not doing so. But as they say, all publicity is good publicity. So while this was not good news for AeroFarms, it did bring much attention to the vertical farming industry. Meanwhile, Germany's Infarm raised a hefty $200 million series D. They plan on expanding to 20 countries with 100' growing centers' by 2030. Kalera was another vertical farm making news last year with their growth and acquisition of &ever–making them the owner of more physical vertical farm locations than any other company. Gotham Greens moved into more than 800 stores in 2021, making its total year-over-year growth 62% (the industry average expansion rate for indoor farms is 52%). They also opened up a new farm in California, giving Plenty some competition. Overall there was a ton of growth and scale in the vertical farming industry last year.

What does the future of food hold in 2022?

The amount of money invested in food technologies reached a monumental high in 2021. We can only hope that the money being spent will bring more efficiency to our lives, equity, justice, healthy food and less harm to animals as food systems evolve in 2022.
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