It’s a great time to be a food startup. Big venture capital firms are pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into new ventures that are completely changing the way we think about and interact with food, and these 12 companies should definitely be on your radar.
According to CBS Insights, the food tech category (which covers everything from food delivery to food replacements and restaurant tech) has pulled in more than $750 million in equity funding in the first half of 2015 alone. According to The New York Times, that figure was less than $50 million in 2008. Venture capital firms including Khosla Ventures, 500 Startups, Slow Ventures, and Lerer Hippeau Ventures are putting hundreds of millions of dollars on the line by placing their faith in companies that are doing everything from delivering meals to replacing them entirely, and smaller early-stage accelerators like AccelFoods are fostering eight companies at a time to the tune of $400,000 per startup.
According to The Huffington Post, more than 80,000 food companies are currently up and running in America, with thousands more coming online every year. There are plenty of reasons why venture capital firms would want to back food startups: These companies are attractive because they have broad appeal, can adapt quickly to changes in the marketplace, can pull in vast sums of money, and can even, in some way large or small, change the world.
We tracked down 12 companies that have brought in millions of dollars in startup capital in the past few years, including a company that invented a drink that can replace food entirely, others that deliver meal ingredients and recipes directly to your front door, some super-healthy fast food chains, and one that’s turning pea protein into a believable meat substitute. While this isn’t a list of every company that can call itself a certified success over the past five years, it should give a you very good idea of which startups have risen to the top, along with a clear indication that there’s a major movement toward healthy, sustainable food. Pay attention to these companies, because you’re going to be hearing a whole lot more about them.
Few food items have been getting more buzz lately than Soylent, “a simple, healthy, and affordable drink designed to efficiently serve your staple food needs” that earlier this year secured a $20 million investment led by VC firm Andreessen Horowitz. Developed by a busy entrepreneur who didn’t want to think about food but also didn’t want to sacrifice nutrition, Soylent distills food to its essentials, namely carbohydrates, fatty acids, fiber, protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. A day’s nutrition (the mixture looks like a milkshake) can be prepared in three minutes, and it costs less than $10 per day. If there’s a food of the future, this is it. The only problem with Soylent might be what it's called; anyone who saw the 1973 Charlton Heston starrer Soylent Green will remember that the miracle protein of that name on which the world is fed is revealed to have an unexpected source: human beings. "Soylent Green is people!" Heston cries near the end of the movie.
#11 Lyfe Kitchen
With locations in California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Tennessee, New York City, and Texas, Palo Alto-based Lyfe Kitchen was founded in 2011 and has been quietly gaining steam (and investors) since then. Memphis-based Carlisle Group, a major Wendy’s franchisee, bought a stake in August 2014, and they’re hoping to grow the chain to 60 locations by next year. Breakfast is served until 11 a.m. daily, and items include quinoa buttermilk pancakes; a spinach and avocado frittata; and a Greek yogurt bowl with blueberries, pomegranate, chia seeds, and toasted almonds. Lunch items include barbecue chicken flatbread with grilled chicken sweet corn, caramelized onion, barbecue sauce, and mozzarella; mahi fish tacos with chayote slaw and cilantro and chipotle aïoli; a grass-fed beef burger with Cheddar; “unfried” chicken with roasted Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, and cashew cream sauce; roasted salmon with tomato and fennel; and a Thai red curry bowl with broccoli, eggplant, peppers, peas, wheat berries, and Thai basil. It all sounds healthy and delicious, right? But what sets this chain apart from all the other start-ups? Every single item on the menu, even the burger, consists of 600 calories or less. With a wide assortment of smoothies and beer and wine on tap, Lyfe Kitchen is a chain that’s easy fall in love with.