Fieldfisher was delighted to sponsor the Future Food Tech Conference which took place in London last week. The two-day event was extremely well attended by new and established companies engaged at all stages of the food supply chain.

Having spoken to most of the companies in attendance, here are our views on the challenges and opportunities which present themselves in the Food-Tech industry:

1. The last couple of years have been pretty tough for alternative protein business, from a revenue perspective. Global economic headwinds and the Cost of Living Crisis have had a significant impact on sales. Alternative protein products are generally more expensive than the meat offerings they seek to replace. When finances get tight then lifestyle choices will be the first to be cut from the household budget. Most companies selling products will have endured stagnating growth and possibly evening declining revenues as a result.

2. However, a challenging period like this has not deterred substantial interest and investment from gravitating towards the sector. This was reflected by the significant number of Banks, Analysts, and Investment Funds in attendance at the conference. Bloomberg, JP Morgan, Rabobank, and McKinsey (to name a few) were all there and were taking a keen interest in the proceedings. Fundraising in this sector appears to have been less challenging than others in recent years.

3. Then there were the Conglomerates - Google, Unilever, Siemens, Danone, Nestle, Tate & Lyle – all were present and fully engaged in identifying their place and position in this growth sector. Whether it be the brands and products themselves, or the ancillary applications such as Generative AI, Automation, or Patentable Tech... there was a huge amount of interest from a number of big corporations.

4. The panel events in the main auditorium were engaging, but the real entertainment was found in the smaller room where the Start-Up pitch event was taking place. It was standing room only as delegates crowded in to hear a number of companies make their case for investment. The quality of the pitches varied, but there was no doubting the intrigue generated by the novel products that were on offer.

5. For the cellular agriculture companies (lab-grown meat, etc..) the regulatory burden is a heavy one, and threatens to stifle progress in the sector. With the event being held in London, there was a great deal of interest in the UK's newfound ability to diverge from the rigid approach taken by the European Commission in respect of Novel Food compliance. The Food Standards Agency were in attendance, eager to portray the UK as a welcoming jurisdiction for businesses of this nature. You can read more about the FSA's efforts for reform the UK Novel Food regime in our article here.

6. Most interestingly, there was an urgency for collaboration in the air. On delegate suggested that perhaps the perfect alternative protein product would in fact be a combination of plant-based product with added meat/fat cells to provide the right taste and texture. Just last week, two companies in attendance at the conference announced a partnership. Nosh.bio, a Berlin startup developing ingredients from fungal biomass for animal-free food products, will work with Ginkgo Bioworks. The partnership aims to deliver sustainable products that taste closer to real meat than ever before.

The Food-Tech industry has a clear understanding of the key challenges to be addressed. The consensus is that these challenges must and will be overcome. Food security for future generations depends on it, and it will be innovative companies like those attending this event that will lead the way.

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