Transformation is an apt descriptor for 2020, but several innovations found purchase during the ongoing COVID-19 transformation and are creating disruption of their own. Alternative proteins, vertical agriculture, ingredient discovery, and the microbiome all received significant advancement despite a turbulent year.
From cellular agriculture and fermentation-derived proteins to insects, alternative proteins found purchase globally. Vertical agriculture and controlled-environment agriculture in general received funding eclipsing that of 2019, which will enable significant commercial expansion, even if that production remains in greens and herbs. Ingredient innovation saw significant advancement led by the likes of Brightseed, NotCo, and MycoTechnology, and Google's DeepMind contributed significant advances toward improving protein discovery. Lastly, the influence of the microbiome expanded and grew in areas outside of food, with skin, animal health, and plant and soil health receiving significant funding and partnerships.
As we reflect on 2020, we take a look at some of the most important developments that occurred in the Transformative Innovations Disrupt the Entire Ecosystem storyline.
- The world's first regulatory approval of cell-based meat came from Singapore. This major milestone created a small but key market for cell-based meat to become a commercial reality.
- Canadian investment firm Eat Beyond put its focus on Singapore, investing in two local startups. This move capitalized on Singapore's approval of cell-based meat, establishing it as a cellular agriculture hub.
- Memphis Meats looks to commercialize cell-based meat with $161 million in Series B funding. This funding kicked off a great year for cell-based meat as it aimed to overcome challenges toward scaled commercialization. While hurdles exist, momentum will continue into 2021.
- Ynsect snagged a $375 million Series C, escalating the buzz around insect protein. Among the protein alternatives, insects gained momentum in the feed sector as many leaders, including Ynsect, raised the funding needed to begin scaling production.
- Perfect Day received FDA approval for its fermentation-derived dairy protein. With its engineered yeast strain receiving approval, Perfect Day was able to raise significant funding in 2020, $160 million, to bring products to market. Achieving cost parity remains a hurdle.
- Revol Greens raised $68 million to construct a third lettuce greenhouse facility in Texas. Along with other leading greens producers relying on greenhouses (e.g., BrightFarms) rather than vertical systems, scaling was the common outcome in 2020.
- AppHarvest went public to become the center of controlled indoor farms. The company brings a new fundraising strategy to the table through its IPO and also targets establishing indoor agriculture as a new industry for areas that previously relied on energy, such as the Appalachia region of the U.S.
- GreenFactory Emirates' 43-acre greenhouse facility pushed the scale of indoor agriculture. The scale of the initiative, along with other funding injected into the region, pointed to opportunities to align indoor food production along the water-energy-food nexus.
- Pure Harvest Smart Farms secured a $20 million Series A plus a $100 million commitment to produce a smart tomato farm in the UAE. Expanding indoor production of other crops regionally is a key area of growth for vertical as well as controlled environment agriculture in general.
- Google DeepMind's hybrid deep learning approach again exceeded expectations in a protein folding prediction competition. The demonstrated progress indicates that predicting protein folding from DNA sequences is within reach and may greatly reduce the data requirements necessary to carry out discovery and analyses.
- Brightseed formed an alliance with Pharmavite for phytonutrient discovery. Along with its funding success, the company continues to add solid engagements to its resume, supporting the role of ingredient informatics in the future of food and health.
- Ingredient informatics continued to witness funding momentum as NotCo raised $85 million in Series C funding. The company's role in developing plant-based products through players like Burger King demonstrates the broad capabilities of ingredient informatics platforms.
- MycoTechnology raised a $39 million Series D to focus on its functional ingredients platform. The company's strong funding record plays on the continued interest in functional ingredients across agrifood.
- L'Oréal partnered with bacteriophage company Micreos for skin microbiome applications. The partnership exemplified the expanding interest away from the gut as others like Bayer also explored the broad effects of the microbiome.
- ADM Ventures invested in Seventure Partners' fund for the microbiome. ADM's extension into the ecosystem without direct interaction allows it to understand the momentum of the space from a safe distance.
- Ascus Biosciences used its livestock microbiome expertise to raise a $46 million Series B. Outside of human applications, the microbiome generated significant momentum toward improving animal health, with particular emphasis on antibiotic alternatives.
- Pivot raked in a $100 million Series C as demand for its product grew. Technologies aimed at nitrogen reduction in agriculture achieved early commercialization thanks to significant investment, and Pivot was not alone in 2020.
Additionally, the Lux Agrifood Team curated the following "Analysts' Choice" readings on the evolution of Transformative Innovations Disrupt the Entire Ecosystem:
- Our case study,"Could emerging skin microbiome-modulating natural ingredients be skin care products' kryptonite?" explores the opportunity around modulating the skin microbiome.
- "Alternative Insects for Alternative Protein Sources" provides a comprehensive analysis of the players and identifies attributes of the various insect choices available.
- "How food companies are embracing digitally enabled innovation" details the various ways companies are leveraging informatics to support product development.
- "Cell-based meats: The state of the industry in 2020" provides a grounded view of cellular agriculture, the funding, and the existing challenges ahead.
This blog is part of the Lux Agrifood and Health Team's Year in Review series examining the highlights and key developments of the agrifood sector in 2020. For an overview of the other storylines in Emerging Ecosystem of Agrifood and Health program, be sure to subscribe to our agrifood newsletter.