The AgFunderNews team loves taking time in December to reflect on the year gone by. Usually this centers on which articles performed the best from a readership standpoint, and we’ll be sharing the top 20 in the coming days. But this year we also wanted to highlight our favorite stories of the year; the articles we’re most proud of and enjoyed reporting the most. In many cases, they are similar to the top read, but not always!
And some of them feature in our recently-published 10-year celebration agrifoodtech e-zine, which you can access here.
Are any of these your favorite stories of the year? Let us know by emailing [email protected]
Elaine Watson, global foodtech editor, top picks of 2023:
There are scores of foods in our homes today that we weren’t eating 10 years ago, never mind 100 years ago, so the notion that we’re stuck with the status quo just because Beyond Burgers have not met expectations in the US market shows a certain lack of imagination, says Elaine Watson in this op ed piece from way back in February 2023.
“There’s no ‘Got Milk’ campaign for meat alternatives. But if enterprising food marketers can persuade consumers to pay dollars for something most households have on tap in their own kitchen for cents (bottled water in single use packaging, backed by celebrity investors touting their green bona fides, no less), surely there are creative ways to make the case for plant-based meat, which is at least attempting to address an environmental problem, rather than creating a new one?”
On paper, cultivated meat might seem like a no-brainer, says Elaine Watson in this deep dive article from November. Unlike plant-based options, which still don’t quite hit the spot for many consumers, it promises the allure of ‘real’ meat without the ethical and environmental baggage that comes with plundering our oceans and raising billions of sentient land animals for food.
In practice, however, there’s no playbook for biomanufacturing meat at scale. The funding environment has changed dramatically as investors have soured on alt proteins, and we don’t know whether consumers will pay a premium once the novelty wears off.
So, can cultivated meat make the transition from a loss-making novelty served at a handful of high-end restaurants to a commercially viable alternative to animal agriculture?
🎥 Impossible Foods CEO: ‘We kind of insulted the very people we wanted to try our product, meat eaters’
As a private company, San Francisco-based Impossible Foods has not faced the same level of public scrutiny as beleaguered rival Beyond Meat. But given the jaw-dropping sums (almost $2 billion) pumped into the startup over the past 12 years, the pressure to deliver is intense.
With some commentators questioning whether we have already reached peak ‘alt meat,’ what do Impossible and other key players in alt meat need to do to reach a broader audience? Elaine Watson caught up with CEO Peter McGuinness in September to get his take.
Eat Just—like Beyond Meat—is often seen as a proxy for the broader alternative protein space, regarded by some as a visionary foodtech pioneer attempting to disrupt two vast addressable markets (meat, eggs) and by other less charitable observers as a “house of cards built on one individual’s ability to separate people from their money.”
In this article from early September, Elaine Watson revealed that Eat Just had been sued by bioreactor partner ABEC for failing to pay its bills: “Although ABEC has delivered on all of its commitments… including the construction of pilot scale bioreactors and support equipment for facilities in the USA and Singapore, defendants [Eat Just and GOOD Meat ] have failed to live up to their financial obligations, including failing to make payment on more than $30 million of invoices.”
The future of the US pea protein industry in ‘grave peril,’ says PURIS as US investigates flood of cheap imports from China
While pea protein still lags behind soy in the plant-based protein stakes, North American production capacity has been expanding rapidly in recent years. According to the US International Trade Commission however, domestic producers are being substantially undercut by cheap Chinese imports, placing some producers in grace peril, reported Elaine Watson in an analysis penned in late September.
Exclusive: Animal-free dairy startup Remilk hits pause on plan for world’s largest precision fermentation facility
In this news story from February 2022, Elaine Watson revealed that Israeli startup Remilk—one of the best-funded players in the nascent animal-free dairy space—had hit pause on plans to build a large-scale precision fermentation facility in Denmark and had opted instead to ramp up production with a contract manufacturer in western Europe.
Jenn Marston, global agtech editor, top picks of 2023:
Startups and scientists weigh in on future of vertical farming: “A lot of it is still a DIY hobby industry right now”
Like most other nascent technologies that get hyped too much and too fast, vertical farming has spent the last couple years slugging through the trough of disillusionment. But researchers, startups and others agree the industry is actually just beginning rather than facing the end of the line.
10 years in indoor ag: After a decade of tough lessons, indoor ag nears ‘the plateau of enlightenment’
From groundbreaking global ambitions to the trough of disillusionment, the last decade has been one wild ride for indoor crop agriculture. AgFunderNews takes a look at some of the ups and downs from the last 10 years, and why there’s plenty of reason for optimism.
With all the talk these days of “sustainable food systems,” “regenerative agriculture,” and “climate-smart farming,” it’s tempting to imagine that the end of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and other inputs is just around the corner. News flash: it isn’t.
No one could accuse Australia’s Vow of simply trying to give the incumbent meat industry a makeover via cultivated analogues. The startup plans to grow a number of “exotic” meats via cell cultivation for reasons that have everything to do with making a more sustainable food system.
Louisa Burwood-Taylor, managing editor, top picks of 2023:
The agrifoodtech industry has descended into a high school movie-style food fight. It’s not only off-putting, says Louisa Burwood Taylor in this op-ed from July, but is emerging as a dangerous cancel culture for farming and food production practices rather than people.
While many commentators have likened carbon offsetting to the Wild West of agriculture for a while now, the cracks are now starting to show with the fall from grace of key certifying body Verra and other questionable initiatives. Louisa Burwood Taylor discussed this and more with panelists at the recent Hack Summit.
Alphabet brings agtech startup out of stealth with data from 10% of world’s farmland, 3 major customers
Mineral aims to provide foundational and actionable data and analytics for companies across food, agriculture, and technology and it solves for a key issue holding back digital agriculture advancements for years: lacking data, says Louisa Burwood Taylor in this article from January.
As smartphones have proliferated and technological advancements have enabled more transparency around agricultural products and pricing, farmers are gaining more trust in online tools as a means to do business and improve their finances, says Louisa Burwood Taylor.