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Main article: Food and drink

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Alpha Foods raises $28 million for its vegetarian prepared foods

19:01 | 11 February

Alpha Foods, the vegetarian prepared food manufacturer, has raised $28 million in financing for its portfolio of vegetarian burritos, tamales, nuggets, pizzas, burgers, patties, and sausages.

The Glendale, Calif.-based company was launched by Loren Wallis, the founder of the dairy substitute, Good Karma Foods, and Cole Orobetz, a former director with the agricultural debt lending firm Avrio Capital.

First launched in 2015, Alpha Foods previously raised $9.5 million in financing from investments firms like New Crop Capital and AccelFoods, whose other brands include Kite Hill, Good Catch, BRAMi, and Evoke Healthy Foods.

As more Americans move to supplement their diets with plant-based products, companies like Alpha Foods have found willing investors for new food brands. The company’s new round was led by AccelFoods with existing investors including New Crop Capital, Green Monday Ventures and Blue Horizon also participating.

Companies like Alpha compete with huge consumer packaged goods companies like Kelloggs (through its Morningstar Farms line of vegetarian products) and Nestle (through Sweet Earth Foods).

While the Morningstar Farms brand might seem a bit stale, the market has been reinvigorated through the marketing muscle and venture dollars supplied by companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods whose products have captured contracts from some of the world’s biggest fast food chains — including McDonalds, KFC, and Burger King.

Alpha Foods said it will use the latest money to launch new products, make new hires and expand its distribution channels nationally and internationally.

The company is already sold in well over 6,000 stores at chains including Wegmans, Walmart, Krogers, and Publix.

“As more and more people actively seek out plant-based options, whether for their health or the environment, we are looking to expand our innovations within the category and bring easy to prepare products to a wider audience,” said Cole Orobetz, Co-Founder and President of Alpha Foods, in a statement.

The sale of pre-prepared plant-based meals reached $387 million in 2019, up 6% over the past year, according to data from the Good Food Institute.

“We are in the early days of plant-based consumption. As a portable, functional food business geared towards the newly emergent flexitarian consumer, the Alpha platform meets all of its customers snack and mealtime needs,” said AccelFoods Managing Partner, Jordan Gaspar. “We couldn’t be prouder to lead this strong nexus of collaborative investors, who had the opportunity to organically build trust this past year allowing for an incredibly successful outcome in this financing.”

 


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For alternative meat manufacturer Beyond Meat, fast food chains giveth and taketh away

17:05 | 29 January

Beyond Meat, the publicly traded producer of plant-based protein replacements for meat, is currently giving other companies in the alternative meat space an education in just how finicky appealing to consumer tastes can be.

On the same day that the Canadian Tim Horton’s restaurant chain is dropping Beyond Meat products from its menus, the company and fried chicken chain KFC announced the expansion of a pilot run of the company’s chicken replacement products at new stores in Nashville, Tenn., Charlotte, N.C., and across Kentucky, according to multiple reports.

KFC had originally launched a one-day test to gauge consumer demand at a location in Atlanta last August.

On Wednesday, Beyond Meat said that 66 restaurants will receive chicken products and chief executive Ethan Brown told Yahoo Finance that he expects his company to have enough capacity to potentially meet demand from all of KFC’s locations.

“We do everything we can to keep the Colonel proud. I think the Colonel would be very proud on what we are doing here with Beyond fried chicken,” KFC U.S. CMO Andrea Zahumensky told Yahoo Finance.

KFC gets more plant-based meat from Beyond Meat.

Despite the good news, investors would be wise to not count their chickens before they hatch (or are formed into chicken-like approximations from pea protein and a mix of other ingredients).

The restaurant chain Tim Hortons is actually pulling Beyond Meat from its stores at the same time as sales are slowing for Burger King’s Impossible Whopper from Beyond Meat rival Impossible Foods.

Taken together, the reports may point to a slowdown in consumer interest for meat replacements at fast food chains.

Still, even as the Tim Hortons door closes, other doors are opening at dining establishments willing to welcome the Beyond Burger onto broader menus. On Monday, Denny’s became the latest chain to offer a Beyond Meat burger at all of its locations.

With the latest partnership, the company seems to be pulling away from its other well-capitalized rival Impossible Foods, despite the decision to scrap the company’s menu items

Beyond Meat’s ability to manufacture at scale seems to have been one of the deciding factors in the company’s partnership with McDonald’s, something that Impossible Foods chief executive, Pat Brown, referenced in an interview with Reuters earlier this month.

Denny’s launched its Beyond Burger in restaurants across Los Angeles last year and will now take the menu item to more than 1,700 locations across the U.S.

 


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Instacart gets into ready-to-eat food deliveries with build your own sub service

12:52 | 28 January

Grocery picking service Instacart is dabbling with on-demand food delivery, announcing the launch in Florida of a pre-made meals delivery option that shoppers can tag onto a bigger supermarket order.

It’s partnering with US supermarket chain Publix for the initial launch of Instacart Meals — offering what it dubs a “digital deli counter” where app users can build their own sub and have it picked up and delivered alongside a grocery order.

“We know that when customers grocery shop, they’re thinking about both the food they need for the week in addition to what’s for dinner that night,” it writes in a blog post announcing Instacart Meals.

It says the service will be rolling out to Publix locations across Florida “in the coming weeks”, and to “nearly all Publix stores across the Southeast in the months ahead”.

“We see the highest volume of orders placed on the Instacart marketplace between 2 and 4pm and at less than half the price of an average fast-casual food order, made-to-order grocery meals offer access to a fresh, easy and more affordable option when life is hectic and dinner is soon,” it adds.

Instacart says the meals product integrates with existing grocery order management systems to generate what’s touted as “precise preparation and counter pickup windows at the end of the Instacart shopper’s shopping route”.

“This ensures that the customer’s sandwich gets from the store to their door as fresh as possible,” it adds.

Although quite how long a ready-to-eat sandwich might end up waiting around getting soggy before it’s picked up and delivered to the customer as lunch is one question. (As fresh “as possible” is a pretty open-ended promise.)

It’s notable that Instacart is touting the premade meals service as a price competitive option vs an “average fast-casual food” — presumably such as those a consumer might order via an on-demand food delivery app such as PostMates or Uber Eats.

So “more affordable” seems likely to translate to ‘not as quickly as those kind of services’ — but, hey, you’re getting cheaper eats.

Instacart also makes a point of noting that the pre-made meals feature will automatically apply any relevant deals vis-a-vis the rest of the shopping cart — so that app users will get “all applicable combo options and discounts”, just as an in store shopper would.

The move is the latest sign of the category overlap going on between on-demand food delivery and grocery delivery services, as startups in the space search for ways to cross-sell existing users on additional products that can boost the unit economics, per delivery.

Spain’s Glovo, for example, has expanded from on-demand food delivery into running its own dark supermarkets — where it stocks and sells (via app only) a limited selection of groceries which can be tagged onto a ready-to-eat food order. Though it’s also focused on very fast delivery as the differentiating factor for this ‘Super Glovo’ service, and does partner with select supermarkets for larger grocery deliveries.

Instacart, meanwhile, looks to be hoping to gobble some of the lunch of on-demand food delivery app rivals by being able to undercut them on price, as the meals are coming from supermarket deli counters not a standalone fast food brand. So speed of delivery can be handled as a secondary consideration.

Instacart Meals is the latest product expansion from the company — which, in recent years, has been building out an alcohol delivery service. It is also piloting prescription deliveries with Costco in select states.

The company has a network of 350 partner retailers operating 25,000+ stores across more than 5,500 cities in the U.S. and Canada — from which it could seek to build out the pre-made food offer.

Earlier this month Instacart announced upgraded pick-up options.  The business has come under fire for how it compensates the army of professional shoppers who do picking and delivering of orders.

 


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Memphis Meats raised $161 million from SoftBank Group, Norwest and Temasek

02:42 | 23 January

Memphis Meats, a developer of technologies to manufacture meat, seafood and poultry from animal cells, has raised $161 million in financing from investors including Softbank Group, Norwest and Temasek, the investment fund backed by the government of Singapore.

The investment brings the company’s total financing to $180 million. Previous investors include individual and institutional investors like Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Threshold Ventures, Cargill, Tyson Foods, Finistere, Future Ventures, Kimbal Musk, Fifty Years and CPT Capital.

Other companies including Future Meat Technologies, Aleph Farms, Higher Steaks, Mosa Meat and Meatable are pursuing meat grown from cell cultures as a replacement for animal husbandry, whose environmental impact is a large contributor to deforestation and climate change around the world.

Innovations in computational biology, bio-engineering and materials science are creating new opportunities for companies to develop and commercialize technologies that could replace traditional farming with new ways to produce foods that have a much lower carbon footprint and bring about an age of superabundance, according to investors.

The race is on to see who will be the first to market with a product.

“For the entire industry, an investment of this size strengthens confidence that this technology is here today rather than some far-off future endeavor. Once there is a “proof of concept” for cultivated meat — a commercially available product at a reasonable price point — this should accelerate interest and investment in the industry,” said Bruce Friedrich, the executive director of the Good Food Institute, in an email. “This is still an industry that has sprung up almost overnight and it’s important to keep a sense of perspective here. While the idea of cultivated meat has been percolating for close to a century, the very first prototype was only produced six years ago.”

 


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Impossible adds ‘ground pork’ and ‘sausages’ to its lineup of plant-based foods

04:13 | 8 January

Impossible Foods made huge waves in the food industry when it came up with a way of isolating and using “heme” molecules from plants to mimic the blood found in animal meat (also comprised of heme), bringing a new depth of flavor to its vegetarian burger.

This week at CES, the company is presenting the next act in its mission to get the average consumer to switch to more sustainable, plant-based proteins: it unveiled its version of pork — specifically ground pork, which will be sold as a basic building block for cooking as well as in sausage form. It’s a critical step, given that pork is the most-eaten animal product in the world.

Impossible has set up shop in CES’s outdoor area, situated near a line of food trucks, and it will be cooking food for whoever wants to come by. (I tasted a selection of items made from the new product — a steamed bun, a meatball, some noodles and a lettuce wrap — and the resemblance is uncanny, and not bad at all.) And after today, the new product will be making its way first to selected Burger King restaurants in the US before appearing elsewhere.

It may sound a little far-fetched to see a food startup exhibiting and launching new products at a consumer electronics show, attended by 200,000 visitors who will likely by outnumbered by the number of TVs, computers, phones, and other electronic devices on display. Indeed, Impossible is the only food exhibitor this year.

But if you ask Pat Brown, the CEO and founder of Impossible Foods (pictured right, at the sunny CES stand in the cold wearing a hat), the company is in precisely the right place.

“To me it’s very natural to be at CES,” he said in an interview this week at the show. “The food system is the most important technology on earth. It is absolutely a technology, and an incredibly important one, even if it doesn’t get recognised as such. The use of animals as a food technology is the most destructive on earth. And when Impossible was founded, it was to address that issue. We recognised it as a technology problem.”

That is also how Impossible has positioned itself as a startup. Its emergence (it was founded 2011) dovetailed with an interesting shift in the world of tech. The number of startups were booming, fuelled by VC money and a boom in smartphones and broadband. At the same time, we were starting to see a new kind of startup emerging built on technology but disrupting a wide range of areas not traditionally associated with technology. Technology VCs, looking for more opportunities (and needing to invest increasingly larger funds), were opening themselves up to consider more of the latter opportunities.

Impossible has seized the moment. It has raised around $777 million to date from a list of investors more commonly associated with tech companies — they include Khosla, Temasek, Horizons Ventures, GV, and a host of celebrities — and Impossible is now estimated to be valued at around $4 billion. Brown told me it is currently more than doubling revenues annually.  

With his roots in academia, the idea of Brown (who has also done groundbreaking work in HIV research) founding and running a business is perhaps as left-field a development as a food company making the leap from commodity or packaged good business to tech. Before Impossible, Brown said that he had “zero interest” in becoming an entrepreneur: the bug that has bitten so many others at Stanford (where he was working prior to founding Impossible) had not bitten him.

“I had an awesome job where I followed my curiosity, working on problems that I found interesting and important with great colleagues,” he said.

That changed when he began to realise the scale of the problem resulting from the meat industry, which has led to a well-catalogued list of health, economic and environmental impacts (including increased greenhouse gas emissions and the removal of natural ecosystems to make way for farming land. “It is the most important and consequential issue for the future of the world, and so the solution has to be market-based,” he said. “The only way we can replace themes that are this destructive is by coming up with a better technology and competing.”

Pork is a necessary step in that strategy to compete. America, it seems, is all about beef and chicken when it comes to eating animals. But pigs and pork take the cake when you consider meat consumption globally, accounting for 38% of all meat production, with 47 pigs killed on average every second of every day. Asia, and specifically China, figure strongly in that demand. Consumption of pork in China has increased 140% since 1990, Impossible notes.

Pigs’ collective footprint in the world is also huge: there are 1.44 billion of them, and their collective biomass totals 175 kg, twice as much as the biomass of all wild terrestrial vertebrates, Impossible says.

Whether Impossible’s version of pork will be enough or just an incremental step is another question. Ground meat is not the same as creating structured proteins that mimic the whole-cuts that are common (probably more common) when it comes to how pork is typically cooked (ditto for chicken and beef and other meats).

That might likely require more capital and time to develop.

For now, Impossible is focused on building out its business on its own steam: it’s not entertaining any thoughts of selling up, or even of licensing out its IP for isolating and using soy leghemoglobin — the essential “blood” that sets its veggie proteins apart from other things on the market. (I think of licensing out that IP, as the equivalent of how a tech company might white label or create APIs for third parties to integrate its cool stuff into their services.)

That means there will be inevitable questions down the line about how Impossible will capitalise to meet demand for its products. Brown said that for now there are no plans for IPOs or to raise more externally, but pointed out that it would have no problem doing either.

Indeed, the company has built up an impressive bench of executives and other talent to meet those future scenarios. Earlier this year, Impossible hired Dennis Woodside — the former Dropbox, Google and Motorola star– as its first president. And its CFO, David Lee, joined from Zynga back in 2015, with a stint also in the mass-market food industry, having been at Del Monte prior to that.

Lee told me that the company has essentially been running itself as a public company internally in preparation for a time when it might follow in the footsteps of its biggest competitor, Beyond Meat, and go public.

“From a tech standpoint I’m absolutely confident that we can outperform what we get from animals in affordability, nutrition and deliciousness,” said Brown. “This entire industry is most destructive by far and has major responsibility in terms of climate and biodiversity, but it going to be history and we are going to replace it.”

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

 


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Weber’s new Smart Grilling Hub uses June tech to make everyone a grillmaster

19:21 | 6 January

Weber is deepening its partnership with smart cooking startup June, with a new product debuting at CES 2020 today that can turn any grill into a smart grill – and providing expert guidance and grilling advice to even novice home cooks.

The new Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub includes a small device with ports for connecting wired thermometers that you can use to monitor the temperature of your meats or other foods as they cook. The Hub supports use of up to four temperature sensors at once, so you can monitor the temperature of different dishes all at the same time, and you connect to the hub with your smartphone via Weber’s dedicated app to receive up-to-date info about the current internal temperature of whatever you’re cooking. The app will alert you when your meats reach the proper temperature for whatever level of doneness you’re shooting for.

The app also provides step-by-step cooking instructions, notifications for things like when it’s time to flip food if that’s part of the cooking process, and tips and tricks culled from actual expert grillers about how best to cook your stuff. Weber also says it plans to add Alexa support to the Hub later in the year, as well as provide other new features via software updates.

Weber previously partnered with June on their forthcoming Weber SmokeFire pellet grill, the first pellet grill made by Weber, which also has smart cooking technology similar to what the Smart Grilling Hub provides, but built-in.

The Smart Grilling Hub will launch in over 30 countries initially starting in “early 2020,” and will sell for $129.99 in the U.S..

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

 


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Dutch startup Meatable is developing lab-grown pork and has $10 million in new financing to do it

20:22 | 6 December

Meatable, the Dutch startup developing cruelty-free technologies for manufacturing cultured meat, is pivoting to pork production as a swine flu epidemic ravages one quarter of the world’s pork supply — and has raised $10 million in financing to support its new direction.

When the company unveiled its technology last year, it was one of several companies working on the production of meat derived from animal cells — a method of meat production that theoretically has a far smaller carbon emissions footprint and is better for the environment than traditional animal farming.

At the time, it was one of several companies including Memphis Meats, Future Meat Technologies, Aleph Farms, HigherSteaks, and many, many pursuing technologies to bring cultured beef to market. Now, as pork prices rise globally, Meatable becomes one of the first companies to publicly shift gears and turn its attention to the other white meat.

That’s not the only way that the company is setting itself apart from its peers in the market. Meatable is also  an early claimant to a commercially viable, patented process for manufacturing meat cells without the need to kill an animal as a prerequisite for cell differentiation and growth.

Other companies have relied on fetal bovine serum or chinese hamster ovaries to stimulate cell division and production, but Meatable says it has developed a process where it can sample tissue from an animal, revert that tissue to a pluripotent stem cell, and then culture that cell sample into muscle and fat to produce the pork products that palates around the world crave.

We know which DNA sequence is responsible for moving an early stage cell to a muscle cell,” says Meatable chief executive Krijn De Nood. 

To pursue its new path the company has raised $7 million from a slew of angel and institutional investors and a $3 million grant from the European Commission . Angel investors include Taavet Hinrikus, the chief executive and co-founder of TransferWise and Albert Wenger, a managing partner at the New York-based venture firm, Union Square Ventures.

Meatable’s De Nood says that the new cash will be used to accelerate the development of its prototype. The small scale bioreactor which the company had initially targeted for development in 2021 will now be ready by 2020 and the company is hoping to have an industry scale plant online manufacturing thousands of kilograms of meat by 2025, according to De Nood.

Industrial farming is responsible for between 14% and 18% of the greenhouse gas emissions linked to global climate change and Meatable argues that cultured (lab-grown) meat has the potential to use 96% less water and 99% less land than industrial farming. Powering facilities using renewable energy could further . reduce . emissions associated with meat production, according to Meatable.

 


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Einride to launch commercial pilot of driverless electric pods with Coca-Cola European Partners

21:39 | 5 December

Autonomous robotic road-riding cargo pod startup Einride has signed a new partner for a commercial pilot on Sweden’s roads, which should be a great test of the company’s electric driverless transportation pods. Einride will be providing service for Coca-Cola European Partners, which is the official authorized bottler, distributor, sales and marketing company for Coca-Cola branded products in Sweden.

The partnership will see Einride commercially operating its transportation system between Coca-Cola European Partners’ warehouse in Jordbro outside Stockholm, and retailer Axfood’s own distribution hub, transporting Coca-Cola brand products to the retailer ahead of sending them off to local retail locations in Sweden.

Coca-Cola European Partners is looking to this partnership as part of its goal to continue to reduce emissions, since Einride’s system could potentially cut CO2 output by as much as 90% compared to current in-use solutions. This pilot is set to take place over the next few years, according to the two companies, and Einride says it hopes that it’ll be able to be on the road as early as some time next year, pending approval from the authorities since it’s a trial that will take place on public roads.

Einride announced $25 million in new funding in October, and has been running trials of the Einride Pod electric transport vehicle it created on public roads since May.

 


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Amazon launches a Dash Smart Shelf for businesses that automatically restocks supplies

17:00 | 21 November

Amazon may have stopped selling its Dash buttons for consumers, but it’s not done with dedicated Dash hardware: The company is launching its new Amazon Dash Smart Shelf today. Aimed at small businesses rather than individuals, the Dash Smart Shelf is also even more automated than the Dash buttons, as it uses a built-in scale to automatically place an order for re-stocking supplies based on weight.

Available in three different sizes (7″x7″, 12″x10″ and 18″x13″), the Dash Smart Shelf is just 1″ tall and can basically be placed under a pile of whatever stock of supplies you commonly run through while operating a business. That could mean printer paper, coffee cups, pens, paper clips, toilet paper, coffee or just about anything, really – and Amazon’s replenishment system can either be set to automatically place an order when it detects that on-hand supply has fallen below a certain weight, or you can just have it send someone in your organization a notification if you’d rather not have the order happen automatically.

The Dash Smart Shelf connects via built-in Wi-Fi, and can be powered either connected by cable to a power outlet, or via four AAA batteries, providing flexibility as to where you want to put it. Using the web or the Amazon app, you then sign in with your Amazon Business account and just pick what product you’re using on the scale that you want to top up. And if you find that your staff doesn’t like the coffee selection, for instance, you can easily change up the brand or product your’e re-ordering from your account, too.

Dash Smart Shelf isn’t available immediately for anyone to purchase directly, but instead Amazon is going to be working with select small businesses in a trial pilot this month, with the plan being to open up general availability to any Amazon Business customers that have a registered U.S. business license beginning next year. If people are keen on getting Smart Shelf into their business, they can sign up directly with Amazon to be noticed about availability.

 


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Weber’s new SmokeFire pellet grill uses June technology for smart cooking

19:28 | 18 November

BBQ legend Weber is getting into the connected cooking game with their new SmokeFire grill, which uses wood pellets for fuel and which incorporates technology developed by Weber in partnership with appliance startup June for WiFi-enabled smart cooking.

The SmartFire grill, which will be available for pre-order in the U.S. starting on Cyber Monday and which will star shipping early next year, is a first in more ways than one for Weber. Yes, it packs in connected smart cooking – but it’s also the first time Weber has made a pellet grill, a style of outdoor cooker popularized by Traegar, and useful for both low and slow smoking, as well as high-heat grilling like a more traditional coal, natural gas or propane BBQ.

Weber may not have a history of building pellet grills, but it does have a very strong reputation when it comes to outdoor cooking appliances. The business introduced its iconic Kettle Grill back in 1952, and consistency racks up top marks for its range of BBQs, known for their even, consistent temperatures and long-term durability.

[gallery ids="1913242,1913241,1913240,1913235,1913239,1913238,1913237,1913236"]

This legacy cooking industry heavyweight apparently decided to partner with June once word of the startup’s own Smart Oven started circulating around the office. June and Weber teamed up to test thousands of recipes in the development of the Weber Connect smart grilling software, which provides step-by-step directions ranging from prep through the entire cook, as well as a an ETA on whatever you’ve got on the grill, delivered to and controlled from your smartphone.

The SmartFire comes in two different sizes, with 24″ and 36″ grilling surfaces respectively, for $999 and $1,199 respectively. The design looks like what you’d expect from a pellet grill – with the interesting choice of locating the hopper wherein you feed said pellets to the back of a small prep shelf on the right side of the grill. If you’re new to pellet grills, they feed these processed wood pellets, which produce great smoke but very little ash because of their high-efficiency burn, in a controlled manner that keeps temperature inside the grill consistent where you set it.

Low and slow is a great way to grill, and having intelligent cooking features to guide you along the way should help alleviate rookie mistakes like over and undercooking. Plus, it’s just exciting to imagine what Weber can do withs its first pellet grill.

 


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