A Look Back at 2016

With the first snowfall, we can officially say it's winter here in Boston, and with winter comes the end of 2016. What better time is there to sit back and take a look at the past year? After all, a lot happened in the food world. There's no perfect place to start, so let's just dive in!

2016 seemed to be the year of socially conscious eating -- companies with strong social missions flourished. Impossible Foods, for example, had a soft launch of their Impossible Burger -- a meaty, bleed-y burger made from plants. After rolling out at Momofuku Nishi, the burger has made its way to California and earned accolades along the way. This is good news for climate-conscious consumers, as plant-based foods are significantly better for the environment. And it shows no signs of slowing; the market for meat replacement products from companies like Beyond Meat is poised to continue growing in 2017, according to New York-based market research group Baum + Whiteman. Big Food is taking notice, however, and meat giant Tyson has taken a 5% ownership stake in Beyond Meat.

In addition, we saw the spread of greater food waste awareness. Supermarkets are selling ugly produce. Spoiler Alert, a Boston-based startup, just completed a new funding round. We’re seeing startups all over the place, each taking a different attitude towards food waste -- Hungry HarvestImperfect ProduceZero Percent, and so on.

Then there are grocery delivery services -- of those, too many to name -- but the market for such services is blooming. Since 2014, the market has grown by 55%. Look around you and you’ll find dozens of companies vying for the piece of the Amazon Fresh and Instacart pie. Variations on this theme abound as well -- farm-fresh organic delivery from companies like Boston Organics and, formerly, Farmigo.

Automation, too, is heating up in the food sector. Spyce, based in Cambridge, is aiming to make fast, healthy food robotically. Allset, from San Francisco, is aiming to streamline lunchtime by allowing customers to make reservations, order food, and pay without having to wait for service. This kind of technology isn’t new. In fact, many chain restaurants have already begun installing table-side tablets that allow you to order and pay through an app. With 2,465,100 service jobs in the US according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, increased automation is guaranteed to shake up the industry more than it already has.

Big Food, seeing a market that is rapidly shifting towards natural, organic food, has been making strategic acquisitions and investments. Kellogg started “eighteen94 capital” with plans to invest $100 million in food startups. General Mills’ 301 Inc.  invested in Good Culture, Beyond Meat, and Rhythm Superfoods. The aforementioned meat giant, Tyson, launched their $150 million VC fund. Even Campbell Soup got in the game!

Holding together the complex food tech industry are the myriad of events and conferences that connect entrepreneurs, investors, and consumers. Natural Products Expo East had a turnout of over 28,000 this year, the largest on record, and Expo West did just as well. In November, the Future Food-Tech Summit was held in London and also New York in June. Seeds & Chips was held in Milan and highlighted innovation in the global food-tech industry. Global Food Tech had a three-day event in Tel Aviv. And the list goes on -- there’s the reThink Food ConferenceLondon Tech Week, and so much more.

When we look back on it, we can clearly see that 2016 treated the food tech world very well. And, in addition, all signs point to 2017 nurturing further growth and opportunity. In the meantime, relax and break out the spiked eggnog! Happy holidays!