Perhaps No Other Sector Feels This As Much As AgriFood, Which Historically Has Been Utterly Reliant On The Free Flow Of Goods And Labor
2020 has been a year like no other in living memory for the vast majority of us. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the global economy to its knees. Perhaps no other sector feels this as much as agrifood, which historically has been utterly reliant on the free flow of goods and labor – and the ability of consumers to go to shops and restaurants. But it hasn’t all been a catastrophe. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’ as the saying goes – and it’s often the case that the greatest leaps forward in innovation happen in the midst or the aftermath of a crisis. For the food and agriculture industries, that means that tech has found its time to shine. Below are some of the biggest tech trends that have emerged in agrifood this year:
Food e-commerce just keeps getting bigger
Perhaps unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has seen the online grocery category cement its leading position in 2020, as consumers were forced in many cases to turn to online shopping in order to fulfill their everyday grocery needs. Two of the year’s largest deals went to an eGrocer: China’s Missfresh, which banked $495 million in July from investors including Goldman Sachs, Tencent, and Tiger Global. It followed this up with a $306 million injection from Chinese state-linked funds earlier this month.
Other big eGrocery funding deals happened in the U.S. (Instacart, $225 million); India (BigBasket, $102 million across two deals); Italy (Tannico, $27 million); Mexico (Jüsto, $16 million); and Saudi Arabia (Nana Direct, $18 million). Likewise, online meal delivery apps, online restaurants, and cloud kitchens also attracted major funding during the year. U.S.-based DoorDash raised $400 million during the first half of 2020, before going public in a blockbuster $71 billion IPO this month. Will the switch to online ordering of groceries and meals continue after the pandemic has abated? That still waits to be seen, though numerous surveys suggest that COVID-19 may have converted many consumers to the convenience of online shopping.
Automation, robotics, and ‘contactless’ tech thrown into the limelight
Another knock-on effect of the pandemic and the lockdowns that have come with it is an increased interest in technologies that take the human out of the process – whether it be farming, manufacturing, or logistics. Farmers have become more open to technologies such as sensors, drones, and robots as they struggle with labor issues due to the pandemic and a resurgence in isolationist politics that have hit immigration in some countries. China’s XAG raised what may be the largest funding yet for an ag drone startup, banking $182 million in a Baidu and SoftBank-led round last month. Toward the consumer-facing end of the value chain, automation and ‘contactless’ technologies have also seen a boost – from tech-enabled food delivery lockers and self-driving grocery carts to unmanned supermarkets and robotic waiters and grill cooks.
Bring on the biologics
Back on the farm, 2020 has seen a growing number of biologically-inspired crop inputs emerge from the lab as farmers, consumers, and regulators alike become more conscious of the negative side-effects of chemical treatments. Belgium’s Biotalys raised $55 million in Series C funding early in the year for its antifungal crop protection tech, which imitates the immune response of animals with heavy-chain antibodies such as — disparately — llamas and sharks. Israeli startup WeedOut closed out its Syngenta-led Series A round for $4.22 million last month. It has built a platform to create biological herbicides that imitate pollen, allowing them to be applied while weeds are flowering and overcoming chemical herbicide resistance by using weeds’ own reproductive systems against them. The first product created with the platform targets Palmer amaranth, which has developed resistance to the commonly used chemical-based herbicide glyphosate. There’s still work to do, however. To that end, Farmers Business Network — one of the world’s top online agribusiness marketplaces — launched an on-farm R&D network for biologics. The network will connect developers of biological ag inputs directly with farmers, who can be rewarded for performing full-scale, real-world trials in their fields.
This news was originally published at Growing Produce