Fundnel Spotlight 08 June 2020

Fundnel Spotlight — Continuing our Agrifood Conversation with Trendlines

 

In late May, we saw a highly engaged crowd tune in to our Deal Friday x Fundnel Spotlight fireside chat with Dr Nitza Kardish, CEO of Trendlines Agrifood Fund. The hour was filled with discussions on the future of food security and sustainability in Asia, as well as the investment

In late May, we saw a highly engaged crowd tune in to our Deal Friday x Fundnel Spotlight fireside chat with Dr Nitza Kardish, CEO of Trendlines Agrifood Fund. The hour was filled with discussions on the future of food security and sustainability in Asia, as well as the investment horizon for agrifood technologies

As the nature of webinars go, we received a stream of compelling questions from the audience, but were unable to address them all during the Q&A segment of the programme (something we will aim to invest more time towards for our upcoming virtual events). Fortunately, we were able to gather some responses from Dr Nitza and the Trendlines Group to the questions posed, after the event.

Read on below for some post-webinar thoughts from Dr Nitza and the Trendlines Group, based on the questions submitted during the webinar on 26 May. Questions have been edited for clarity.


What can Singapore do to collaboratively help food security issues across Southeast Asia?

Singapore has the infrastructure and resources to be the technology leader in this region. We believe that it is mutually beneficial for Singapore to build a platform for R&D collaboration between Singapore companies with companies in Southeast Asian countries and strengthen the framework of IP protection to encourage more innovators to be willing to share knowledge.

If Singapore technologies help farms in Southeast Asian counties to produce more and also increase the efficiency of supply chain, there will be mutual benefit to Singapore.

Should traditional meat producers look at plant-based and cell-cultured alternatives as potential direct competitors?

Plant-based alternatives to meat are only viewed as a competition now because they are the only alternative that is widely available to the mass market.

The real competition will be between cell-cultured meats and traditional meats.

Plant-based alternatives are an entirely different product, and there will always be people with their own biases for or against it. However, with cell-cultured meats, it is essentially the same product that is being sold to the public.

One of the biggest determinants will be the issue of labelling. Will regulations be put in place that require cell-cultured meats to be labeled as cell-cultured, or will they be able to masquerade as traditional meats? Will they need to differentiate themselves from traditional meat producers? We believe that this will determine how fierce the competition will be.

What are your more general views on insect proteins? Lots has been done in the space, but it seems many have trouble scaling up beyond the lab to mass-produce.

It’s true many are unable to scale in a viable manner. However we need to remember that insect farming is a new type of agriculture, so it does take time to “master” a new “crop”, and it is natural that some growing protocols / insects species will not work at large scale, and some will.
At the same time, scaling up requires heavy investments in Capex, which may not be available for all startups raising funds. Finally, a critical point in making insects farming profitable is decreasing operating costs, and this requires a multi-disciplinary approach, which is complex, long and costly, e.g. robotics, genetics, feed etc.

May the panelist explain more about the technologies to enhance food freshness? Are those cold chain dependent, or are they disruptive to the cold chain?

New technologies are becoming less reliant on cold chain. A good example is Apeel Sciences that recently raised USD 250 mil. It is a technology of applying edible coating directly at the packing houses for fruits. It is exciting in that not only is the coating, safe but it is made of food waste, and the coating takes away the need for plastic wrappers. It is fantastic news for our environment.

On the upstream, more advanced plant genetics technology has demonstrated that it is possible to grow crops that remain fresh longer after harvest.

Given the current challenge to the food supply chain is in processing and logistics, it would seem that the indoor farming trend would be unaffected by current conditions. The pain point to solve is in processing and logistics.  How do you see the industry responding to address processing and logistics?

There is definitely an increasing trend of localising the growth of food, this reduces the logistic challenges. We believe that seeds genetics will play a part in the diversification of crop types and optimisation in the yield in the local environment.

What is status of microalgae in Israel?

There is a big interest in microalgae in the academia and startups in Israel. Most of the microalgae farms are located in Negev desert, utilising the available sunlight. The application is much focused on the extraction of high-value active ingredients from the microalgae and a smaller percentage is for feed and food.

What is status of microalgae as a novel protein in Singapore?

We are seeing a few of such companies in Singapore. We think that generally in Singapore, the market will be receptive to microalgae protein as it does not have much of a ‘yuck’ factor. However the challenges of scaling up remains: that is to develop the right process (growing, harvesting, extracting) that ensures quality and consistency of products.


This dialogue is part of the Fundnel Spotlight series, where we share insights into the growth and investment potential of deeptech sectors featured in Deal Fridays.

Catch a recap of our conversation with Trendlines Agrifood Fund here.

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