‘Impressive growth’: Spain’s entrepreneurs show growing appetite for food tech

8 Mar 2021

In recent years, some places, such as Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv, have become synonymous with food tech and innovation. Spain does not tend to spring to mind.

However, a recent report, compiled and published by Forward Fooding, suggests that the country’s agri-food innovation ecosystem is one-to-watch. Last year saw the launch of the Food & Food Tech Innovation Hub in Barcelona, which aims to promote the country’s agri-food ecosystem, and the number of start-ups developing tech-driven products is on the rise.

‘Impressive growth’: Spain’s entrepreneurs show growing appetite for food tech

Alessio d'Antino, CEO of Forward Fooding, said Spain’s food tech scene has seen “impressive growth” in the past few years, thanks in part to its entrepreneurial capital and “amazing” food heritage.

From Natural Machines, which makes 3D food printers, to Cubiq, which is developing cell-cultured fats that are high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids; or from Novameat, a plant-based start-up developing meat analogues to AlgaEnergy, a biotechnology company working in the field of microalgae, Spanish food tech companies are developing products that meet the demands of a global market.

José M. Cobo, CEO of strategic consultancy The Food Intelligence Company, said that young people have been responsible for driving the growth of Spain’s food tech scene in the past five years.

“[…] demand for new food models by millennials catalysed the need to innovate with new textures, flavours, new moments of consumption, new food origins, sustainable models, reduction of food waste and the accelerated growth of flexitarian diets, promoting animal well-being with lower CO2 footprint. The high youth unemployment also was a driving factor to explore alternative pathways,” he said.

“Although entrepreneurship is not considered as a stable profession, it is a great alternative to develop a creative idea and to discover new personal and professional goals that are close to Spain’s culture, its roots, gastronomy and agri-food market.”

Going forward, Cobo of The Food Intelligence Company, predicted increased digitalisation of the agriculture sector and more circular economy solutions, fuelled by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“To increase efficiency, productivity as well as safety, new models of food traceability and industrial process and water tech optimisation are now topics more start-ups are working on,” said the CEO, who previously held senior positions at The Coca-Cola Company and Danone.

Several start-ups are already tapping into these trends and white spaces.

Andalusia-based Vestigia offers Blockchain-based traceability for food industry supply chains. It is currently certifying food products with designations of origin and tracing the barrels used to age spirit drinks through its ’CryptoTag’ product, which has been rolled out in the US, Australia, and Mexico through a Spanish exporter.

Agrosingularity, based in Murcia, is developing Spain’s circular economy with its vegetable- and fruit-based powders that are made using fresh agricultural by-products. It says its decentralized model reduces the environmental impact, empowers primary producers, and provides on-trend ingredients for food and nutrition brands.

Clara Bartra, food entrepreneur and innovation advisor, said Spain’s food industry is well positioned to drive innovation thanks to the central role food occupies, both culturally and economically, although there are challenges.

“[…] Spain is still a country that hosts many small start-ups rather than established ones,” she said. “There is a disconnection between the traditional food industry that has the power to push for scale but is culturally risk-averse, the retail chains that have the power to reach consumers but do not bet enough on innovation, and the start-ups with impactful ideas and courageous entrepreneurs but little funding. Fortunately, investors as well as policy makers have started identifying food tech as key to face global food challenges and a promising area to invest public and private funds.”

Spain’s food sector accounts for 9% of national GDP, and employs half a million people in more than 30,000 companies – 96% of which are small and medium enterprises (SMEs), according to the report.

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