Editor's note: Innovation Station, a new Food Dive series, will explore up-and-coming startups poised to disrupt the food and beverage industry and what CPG manufacturers need to know about them. This is the second story in this series, also examining cohorts from accelerator Food-X.
Accelerators in food and beverage are able to identify the technologies that can impact the way manufacturers operate and develop products. From DNA analysis to gene-editing technology, startups are at the head of these technological innovations and can pass their discoveries onto major manufacturers.
In the first iteration of Innovation Station, Food Dive took a look at three manufacturers driving trends in product categories and the flavors of tomorrow, courtesy of selections from food and beverage accelerator Food-X's latest round of "cohorts." Out of the 10 total cohorts, another trio were manufacturers of foods or technology that could have vast implications for the future of the industry, ranging from carton-level quality sensors to protein delivery.
Technology that measures temperature, humidity, and quality/condition of produce at the carton-level
Backstory: Technical founder John Hodges grew up on a tomato farm. There, he experienced the challenges farmers face shipping fresh produce to retailers hundreds or thousands of miles away while retaining the product’s quality. Hodges, a radio frequency design engineer, devised a new approach to assess produce quality and shelf life in real time.
How it’s different: FreshSurety uses the Internet of Things and semiconductor technology (low-cost radio frequency sensors) to monitor and communicate real-time data about the produce’s freshness no matter where in the world the shipment is located.
Why it’s disruptive: "Fresh produce is a $600 billion business that loses 30% of its product from farm to table," said president and CEO Tom Schultz. FreshSurety can save manufacturers from significant product losses while improving product quality on the consumer end.
Milestones: FreshSurety filed its foundational patent a year ago after being in development stage operation since 2014. The company has completed the initial system design, is testing the beta version of the freshness sensor unit, and is performing calibration trials. It is also in talks with three major retailers and fresh produce suppliers to recruit participants in the tech’s upcoming field trial.
Potential industry impact: While the FreshSurety technology is built for produce, the implications of using radio frequency sensors and Internet of Things technology to track food and food quality are enormous industry-wide.
Data regarding temperature, humidity, duration of travel time, and product type could be analyzed for insights into better manufacturing practices that could be implemented across the supply chain. This could lead to less product wasted, which means more products sold and increased profitability.
Technology that improves delivery of protein’s nutritional value
Backstory: The business began as an effort to create a novel nutritional therapy for old age muscle loss. But co-founders Chris Flynn Rozanski and Steve Motosko changed courses toward protein technology when they decided to impact nutrition more broadly. "We knew that if we could develop technology to improve how protein works for you, we’d be able to improve nutrition throughout the food ecosystem," said Rozanski.
How it’s different: "Most food companies have focused their R&D on the utilization of new protein sources — especially more sustainable plant-based proteins like soy, pea, or flax," said Rozanski. "However, these proteins are actually harder for your body to digest and often come with a grittier, less appealing taste profile."
"Our patented technology and process improves both the taste and absorption of protein, regardless of the source," he continued. "Our protein is ideal as both an end product and as a food ingredient — and is something nobody else can replicate."
Why it’s disruptive: "Protein is one of the fastest-growing food segments despite poor taste and underwhelming performance," said Rozanski. "Whether the goal is sustainability or increased performance, our technology delivers a protein that significantly improves the consumer experience."
Milestones: After three years of tech development, Plasma Nutrition has focused on scientific differentiation through conducting lab tests and clinical trials. The team expects to create their first customer partnerships after completing the trials.
Potential industry impact: Integrating more protein into product development isn’t always easy for manufacturers’ R&D departments. Protein comes with a number of challenges, from a bitter taste to a gritty texture, depending on the source. And then depending on the manufacturing process, nutrients could be lost or not delivered to consumers in an optimal biological way.
Technology like Plasma Nutrition’s could help manufacturers better use protein for a wider variety of products, which can introduce new health claims they can make about products without sacrificing flavor or texture.
The latest protein snack — in a chip
Backstory: Cofounder Krik Angacian was inspired to create a protein chip in college while eating an unsatisfying protein bar after a workout. He graduated and became an investment banker, buying and selling food companies. The idea returned, and he and cofounder Ryan Wiltse decided to "trade in our suits and ties for kitchen smocks and become food entrepreneurs."
How it’s different: "There are plenty of great (protein) bars and shakes out there, but nothing with a crunch," said Angacian.
Why it’s disruptive: "It has the ability to transform the functional foods industry and crossover the snack food and sports nutrition industries," said Angacian.
Milestones: ProTings has expanded into more than 10 countries and is carried by major grocery chains like Wegmans and Shoprite.
Potential industry impact: Snack-friendly sports nutrition foods are common today, but ProTings has entered a snack category that is more typically seen as an indulgence — chips.
Despite widespread concerns about reducing salt intake, salty snack sales are on the rise, particularly for fast-growing categories like RTE popcorn. By adding health benefits and functionality through protein, manufacturers could bypass consumers’ hesitations about salt, even for traditionally salty foods like chips.
These food technologies and innovations have the potential to impact larger companies' operations and manufacturing processes if these startups can capitalize on the accelerator's benefits.
"Startups are unconstrained sources of innovation, growth, and improvement throughout the industry," said Schultz. "They provide the intellectual seeds of products, services, and business models that will grow into future industry leaders."