Hungry for Innovation, Big Food Firms Seek Alliances With Startups

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for humans, but for our furry companions as well. Earlier this month, Mars Petcare launched two pet-focused funds. Leap Venture Studio, which is working with R/GA Ventures, is now taking applications from startups with innovations in pet nutrition, health, and diagnostics. The Companion Fund is a $100 million fund being managed by venture firm Digitalis Ventures.

For UT’s Metcalfe, big food’s interest in seeding startups and running accelerator programs marks a necessary coming together of technologists and agronomists. “That’s a really big thing right now: How to get all this local disaggregated food production that’s out there into a more efficient system,” she says. “With food, when you’re delivering perishable things that can cause people to die, it creates a whole other level of complexity.”

In fact, she says that technologies that relate to “the last mile”—getting food to the customer’s home—are going to be a hotspot. Already, a delivery race of sorts has begun with big retailers like Walmart (NYSE: WMT), Costco Wholesale (NASDAQ: COST) and Target (NYSE: TGTstarting delivery services, as a way to beat back the encroachment of Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZNinto their sales.

Last year, beer giant AB InBev (NYSE: BUDwas one of several companies to invest in Starship Technologies, which makes self-driving delivery robots. InBev invested through its ZX Ventures fund.

Those logistical issues begin well before a customer hits “place order” on an e-commerce site, Metcalfe says. Producers like Tyson have to be able to match their technologies and processes to what their customers ultimately want. “It’s one thing to have your whole platform be a lot of pickups from farms but what if it’s pickups from vertical rooftop gardens or more proteins grown from a lab and not from animals?” she asks. “This is going to take a reimagining from a tech point of view.”

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