2023 trends in food tech
Mature industries we'll see on plates this year

Happy 2023!

Usually, I start the year off with a review of last year's predictions or a new list of trends. This year, what's top of mind is not a hot new set of companies or a disrupting shift. Instead, it feels like a tipping point. Companies are reaching new heights of maturity–whether they're finally turning a profit or just getting regulatory approval and being available at the grocery store.
"VC investment into AgTech and FoodTech companies plunged 44% from 2021 to 2022…Still, investments in the AgTech and FoodTech sectors were 20% higher in 2022 than in 2020. So depending on how you look at it, the glass is either half empty or half full." - Daniel S. Ruben
This year, we'll see which food tech trends and companies are sticking around for the long run as consumers put their money where their mouth is.

One thing I'm curious about is how businesses will bob, weave, and pivot to adjust to the changing financial landscape and geological climate. We will see brand new categories of foods being sold, like cell-cultured chicken. And we will continue to see companies scale back to reach profitability and others shutter their doors. 2023 will show us who is nimble in the face of a recession. (And if that's enough to succeed.)

Consumers are already making trading-offs when it comes to diet and food. People are spending less on luxury foods, and commodities are more expensive. In the US, for example, there are limits to how many cartons of eggs you can buy and I have friends who are avoiding them until the prices come down. This year, we're going to see what things people can't live without. What diets, products, and trends have staying power? What are the traits of the companies that will remain relevant and delicious? These are the answers I look forward to uncovering in 2023.
Debates have been going on for years now on the viability of cellular agriculture. This is the year we're going to begin to get an answer.

At the end of 2022, a butcher in Singapore started selling cell-based meat. The US's food governing body is two steps away from approving the commercial sale of cell-based chicken from Upside Foods. Commercial regulatory approval is expected this year in Qatar and Israel, to name a few. In Europe, regulations are moving slowly, but governments in The Netherlands, Denmark and Norway are committing large investments into the industry. Australia and New Zealand claim their regulations surrounding 'novel foods' will work for cellularly-cultivated foods, so we'll likely see this in supermarkets Down Under soon.

The next big thing in protein is cell-cultured meat.

Photo by AdobeStock.

What I think is the biggest tell about whether or not this industry will succeed is that Gen Z is excited about it too. I'm personally involved with an international group of University students called Cultivate that is putting on a hackathon for cellular agriculture. One of my alma maters, San Diego State University, partnered with the Good Food Institute to create The San Diego State Alt. Protein Project focused on cultivated and plant-based meat (and there are 35 other student chapters across 17 countries) participating). So if I had to guess, this topic is not just a VC-funded bubble. It's here to stay. And anecdotally, I think there are probably many people who would be excited about eating cruelty-free foie gras or, for that matter, maybe trying out something more exotic, like zebra.
Are plant-based alternatives losing their luster? The media has projected doom and gloom into this industry.

Aside from these headlines, this sector has some real economic issues. For example, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods had lay-offs last year (a trend seen across many tech sectors.) Pilot programs in the US did not lead to adoption. However, the opposite is happening in the UK, with Starbucks putting five plant-based items on its menu in "Veganuary" and McDonald's adding a "Double McPlant" in UK and Ireland locations.

I predict this will end up being a cultural divide, with consumers over the pond and in Europe being more excited about plant-based alternatives than here in the US. I also think ingredients are part in parcel of the success of plant-based foods. It's becoming increasingly evident that plant-based foods made up of a laundry list of ingredients no one can pronounce are losing popularity. Also, many are filled with dietary no-nos like saturated fat or common food allergy ingredients like soy, wheat, and tapioca.

Recent headlines about alternative meats.

Perhaps the veggie burgers that 'go-back-to-basics' will still be on the shelves at the end of the year. I think there will be less emphasis on products that replicate the shape of hot dogs or burgers. Instead, consumers will be steered more to flavor and quality. (Many of the vegans I've talked to didn't go vegan to suddenly get turned on by eating food shaped like a steak and filled with a bunch of potato starch.) And again, Gen Z adoption is a good indicator of future success.
Vertical farming is a complicated thing. There's no gold standard method. Enthused founders aside, no one said it would be easy or that they would get it right the first time.

Vertical farming is another big topic where the playing field is quickly leveling. Major player, InFarm, announced it is pivoting from global expansion to local consolidation in order to be profitable by the end of this year. However, they're also laying off half of their staff to do so. Frankly, this isn't too much of a surprise for any vertical farm in Europe, given that energy is the most costly operating expense and energy prices have doubled over the past year. CubicFarm took a similar route to attempt to profit by laying off staff and decreasing operational costs by 21%. So it's natural that companies like InFarm are pivoting.

Some smaller, less-established vertical farms weren't able to make a shift. Instead, Netherlands-based Glowfarms and Plantise shut down entirely. Does all of this mean that it's the end of vertical farming? No, probably not. Some farms started off way too top-heavy to only produce lettuce or microgreens several years later. I also think many more recently-launched vertical farms have spent way too much time and money developing proprietary software and hardware at a time when there are perfectly viable off-the-shelf options.

Traits I think will separate the vertical farms that make it from the ones that need to fold include: scalable but able to retain their origin story, diversity of crops--including high-value varietals like mushrooms, saffron, or medicinals, brand recognition in their community, and all of this balanced with a 'plant-factory' scope and attitude.

If you zoom out, this industry is way more efficient, knowledgeable, and widespread than it was even a few years ago. And the move towards local, sustainable food is still growing. As I write this, California is underwater, with more rain on the horizon. Climate change is in our faces–destroying crops, creating unpredictable temperatures, and washing away farmers' hard work. So a weather-proof, scalable solution has never been more imperative.

Vertical farms are a weather-proof food solution.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

 What food technologies are you excited about in 2023? Email us at and let us know what topics you want to hear more about. 
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