Hello Tomorrow: Deep tech elevating global food solutions

April 30, 2024

Exploring transformative trends in the food and agriculture innovation ecosystem with an industry leader

Alizée Blanchin, Director and Partner of Consulting at Hello Tomorrow, combines her background in biochemistry with her experience in consulting to champion deep tech solutions in the food and agriculture sectors. After studying cardiovascular diseases in California, she returned to France, transitioning her focus towards innovation consulting with a human-centric approach. At Hello Tomorrow, she works to bridge the gap between scientific advancements and market implementation, particularly in sustainable practices.

Deep tech 

Alizée Blanchin spoke with the SIAL Newsroom to discuss Hello Tomorrow’s impact on the food and agriculture innovation ecosystem, the emerging trends in food waste management, and the initiatives driving these advances.

Could you introduce Hello Tomorrow and how it is involved in the food and agriculture innovation ecosystem?

Hello Tomorrow was created in 2011 by a group of individuals convinced that science and technology have the power to help enhance human and planetary health. But the traditional model of technology transfer bringing solutions from lab to market, and from idea to impact, could not rise to this challenge. In turn, we have built a global ecosystem that accelerates ‘deep tech’ innovations by connecting society’s global challenges with the right solutions.

Over the course of nine editions, our Global Startup Challenge has received 30,000 applications from 132 countries, partnering with universities and research institutions worldwide to identify deep tech solutions that can reach global impact. Some of our winners within the Food & Ag track include game-changers such as Gelatex Technologies and Perfat Technologies. We also use our unique position to identify future technology trends so that food & agriculture corporations such as Danone, IFF (International Flavors & Fragrences Inc) or Bayer, can seize the alternative ingredients (including proteins) revolution, transition to regenerative agriculture practices or leverage biobased and recyclable by design packaging to name a few topics we explored.

Through our international events, we connect those key players with VCs and Institutions in order for them to harness their full potential and help us build more sustainable food systems. 

We do this on Food & Agriculture but our focus also includes Energy & Climate, Healthcare and Green Manufacturing. 

Can you share with us some of the most transformative trends you see emerging within the food waste space?

Considering several technologies can be applied throughout the food and ag value chain, we like to analyse them with the thought of “what part of the challenge is it tackling?” Is it limiting the production of waste, or is it upcycling existing waste? 

For limiting waste, while we’re consolidating solutions in food monitoring and traceability with digital and even biological tags, the shelf life of perishable foods is currently what’s the most under the spotlight. Reducing losses during storage, transportation, and retail; innovative solutions like modified atmosphere packaging or smart packaging are already starting to hit the stores. Tending to the defense mechanism of produce, antimicrobial sachets and edible coatings leveraging biotechnology are also key examples of transformative solutions.

When it comes to repurposing residual waste into valuable resources, we’re still exploring the burning of said waste for energy and agricultural inputs, yet are slowly adopting combinations of nano and biotechnologies for waste-to-ingredient solutions. Producing chemicals, cosmetics, and even food, deep tech has upgraded conventional extractions and fermentations for complete upcycling of food waste, contributing to truly circular economies. 

Could you share with us a few examples of successful initiatives and ventures tackling those trends?

Of course! Several startups are already exemplary. Such is the case for Apeel Sciences, specialising in extending the shelf life of perishable foods through innovative coatings derived from plant materials. The purified monoglycerides and diglycerides, edible fatty acids commonly found as natural compounds in fruits and vegetables, are simply sprayed onto produce, mimicking a natural cuticle layer and slowing down the ripening process. The company has already partnered with several retailers such as Tesco, and in 2023, has claimed to have prevented over 60 million pieces of fruit from going to waste, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and conserving water resources.

For waste upcycling, most companies are looking into fermentation as a means to biologically convert waste. A great example of this is Green Spot Technologies, leveraging industrial food waste (brewery spent grains, winery grapes marc, beverage apple pomace…) and a zero waste fermentation technology to generate nutrient-dense and multifunctional ingredients. 

When it comes to broader initiatives, stakeholders throughout the value chain have come together and developed consortia that have sprouted worldwide. Initiatives such as LOWINFOOD and EFFICIENT (EFFectIve food Chain IntervENTion) combine academia knowledge and industrial resources to discover, develop, and implement effective innovations in food waste.

What main challenges do these solutions face when entering the market or attempting to scale?

Following their maturity and technology, deep tech solutions encounter several challenges. Gaining widespread acceptance and navigating regulatory frameworks pose significant hurdles when entering markets. Ensuring compliance with food safety and environmental regulations demand meticulous planning and resources, elements that burgeoning startups often lack. 

When it comes to scaling, technologies require substantial investments in infrastructure, research, and development. Building manufacturing facilities, establishing distribution networks, and securing funding are essential for achieving economies of scale and maximising resources. The currently challenging landscape of venture capital adds an extra layer of difficulty around funding, as investors may be hesitant to invest in early-stage companies with unproven technologies, and prevent them from ever reaching markets, or consumers. 

Finally, a lot of the waste upcycling relies on the connection between several industrial value chains, namely the one producing the waste and the one being able to valorize it. It could be the case between agri-companies and cosmetic-companies for instance, but those connections requiring heavy investment both in terms of infrastructure but also quality standards appropriation, they are not widely adopted yet.

With consumers at the center of food innovations, how do you think they can contribute or delay the adoption of these technologies?

Consumer involvement through purchasing choices, behaviors, and advocacy, is crucial in driving the adoption of deep tech in the food waste sector. 

On one hand, with awareness rising about sustainability, consumers are more and more looking for green or organic products. However, studies show that they will still favor the taste or performance of food products over its footprint. And that is where a lot of startups are falling short on adoption.

Another element to weigh in for the adoption of such products is pricing. If it is not competitive with existing solutions, it will never scale its market shares. But on the other hand, price parity is often reached by scaling quantities. A bit of a chicken and egg problem… A challenge often addressed by starting to commercialize hybrid products, including a mix between upcycled waste and new raw materials.

Finally, regulators have a big role to play as well in adoption: 

  • on one hand raising awareness among consumers about the planet and health benefits of reducing waste and eating more sustainable food; 
  • on the other hand pushing the development of those new products and associated technologies by advancing regulations in the field both pushing industries to go greener and easing the go to market by adapting certifications and regulatory framework for R&D 

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