General Mills and Tyson Foods among early investors in Beyond Meat

General Mills and Tyson Foods among early investors in Beyond Meat

Our guide to some of the main in-house venture capital funds operated by major food businesses. 

For big food companies looking to gain exposure to new, exciting, potentially faster growing categories, M&A remains a popular route.

But an alternative, especially when it comes to start-up companies, is to make a minority investment. And, over the last two years, an increasing number of food majors have established an in-house development and venture capital arm to back innovative young companies with bags of potential, with a view to helping them to grow.

This is not altruism of course but such investments should, in theory, benefit both parties, enabling so-called Big Food to tap into evolving consumer trends and learn more about how to innovate and do business in a more agile manner.

Here we look at what some of the major companies have done in this area and at some of their key investments.

General Mills

General Mills has its 301 Inc arm which outlines its strategy thus: "We are seeking emerging food brands with a compelling product, a strategic fit and fuelled by founders that are driven, passionate and aren't going to settle for anything less than success."

Investments include

Good Culture, a US cottage cheese maker (2016)
US snacks firm Rhythm Superfoods (2016)
Tio Gazpacho, a convenience food firm (2016)
Kite Hill, a US maker of nut-based dairy products (2016)
California-based emerging probiotics firm Farmhouse Culture (2017)
US plant-based protein bar supplier D's Naturals (2017)
Purely Elizabeth, a US oatmeal, muesli, granola and cereal firm (deal done 2017)
Beyond Meat, an alternative protein business (2017)
Urban Remedy, a California-based plant-based food company (2018)

Kellogg

Kellogg's Eighteen94 Capital proposition is: "If you have a food-industry consumer product in-market or ready to launch, we have the capital and resources to take it to the next level".

Investments include

Kuli Kuli, which makes products using moringa (2017)
Bright Greens, a US smoothie businesses (2017)
US mushroom ingredients firm MycoTechnology
Cargo (pictured above), a US, in-car product sale business (2018)

Campbell Soup Co.

Campbell Soup Co. launched its US$125m venture capital fund Acre Venture Partners in February 2016.

CEO Denise Morrison said at launch: "We believe that defining the future of real food requires new approaches, new business models, smart external development and an ecosystem of innovative partners."

Investments include

Spoiler Alert, also a food technology business (2016)
ImpactVision, a food technology business (2017)
Pilotworks, which aids food entrepreneur start-ups (2017)

Tyson Foods

Tyson Foods, the US meat giant, has a venture capital arm, Tyson Ventures, which was established in autumn 2016 to invest in companies developing breakthrough technologies, business models and products to sustainably feed the growing world population.

Key investments include

Beyond Meat, an alternative protein company (2016 and again in 2017)
Memphis Meats, a US producer of 'lab-grown' meat (2018)
Tovala, a US steam oven and ready-to-cook meals start-up (2018)
FoodLogiQ, a US food-tech business (2018)
Future Meat Technologies, an Israel-based lab-produced meat firm (2018)

Hain Celestial

Hain Celestial, the organic and natural food specialist, established its "strategic platform" Cultivate Ventures in November 2016 with a mission to "grow strategic investments and act as an incubator of small acquisitions until they reach scale for inclusion in the company's core platforms."

Key investments include 

Local 130 Seafood, a seafood business
Maketto, a culinary marketplace
FoodyTV, a TV food network
Foodify, an office food delivery firm 
Better Bean Co., a US manufacturer of bean-based products (2017)

Unilever

Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant, established its Unilever Ventures arm as long ago as 2002. It now has EUR450m under management and has 40 direct investments.

It works closely with the company's incubator programme Unilever Foundry, which provides access to pilot projects, mentorship and grant finance.

Key investments include

Froosh, a smoothie brand (2008)
Gousto, a recipe box company (2014)
Instacart, a grocery store delivery business (2016)
Sun Basket, an organic and non-GMP food ingredients business (2017 and 2018)
Milkbasket, a grocery delivery service in India (2018)

In the food area they include organic and non-GMO ingredients business Sun Basket, grocery store delivery business Instacart, recipe box business Gousto, smoothie brand Froosh and, most recently Indian grocery delivery start-up Milkbasket.

Nestle

Nestle launched its venture capital fund in 2002. It is managed by an independent company, Inventages Ventures Capital, and is intended to provide the Swiss-based food giant with better access to new science, technology and know-how opportunities, through acquisitions, minority stakes, licensing and joint-ventures.

Key investments include 

Vital Foods, a digestive aid business
XO, a canned beverage innovator
Velle, an oat-based product group

Danone

Danone, the French dairy giant, has a venture capital arm in the shape of Danone Manifesto Ventures, based in New York.

It said it employs a "carefully selected team that is driven, passionate and eager to team up with exceptional entrepreneurs".

Key investments include

Yooji, a French baby food start-up (2017)
Kona Deep, a Hawaii-based water business (2017)
Harmless Harvest, a US-based coconut water supplier (2018)

Barilla

Barilla, the Italian pasta and pasta sauce specialist, launched a venture capital fund and innovation hub called Blu1887 in November 2017, the name reflecting the colour of its packaging and the year it was founded.

Blu1877's initial plan was to seed investments in innovators in products and meal solutions connected with Barilla's core business and related ones.

Key investments include

Regrained Supergrain, a health bar company  (2017)
BluRhapsody, a 3D pasta shaping business (2017)

Katjes Group

Katjes Group, the German health conscious confectioner, has an investment arm called Katjesgreenfood which, as its name suggests, puts money into up-and-coming food brands with an eye on innovation and alternative food sources.

Key investments include

Veganz, a vegan supermarket chain in Germany (2016)
Haferkater, a German porridge business (2017)
Caté, a coffee and cherries-based drinks company (2017)
Hemptastic, a hemp lemonade producer
Seven Sundays, a US muesli manufacturer (2017)
Foodstirs, a US organic baking start-up (2018)

Fonterra

In March 2017, Fonterra, the world's largest dairy exporter launched the Fonterra Ventures Co-Lab – an open platform designed to forge potential partnerships with "entrepreneurial individuals and businesses".

A year later, Fonterra announced the division's first "strategic partnership" with a stake in Germany-based sports-nutrition firm Goodminton, a holding company that includes local start-up Foodspring.

Orkla

Nordic food group Orkla has more than one investment vehicle.

At a group level, it set up an in-house venture fund in March 2017 to back start-up businesses.

On launch it said that through Orkla Venture it planned to build "a project portfolio consisting of exciting, relevant growth companies with significant potential".

Orkla Venture will initially focus on businesses in the Nordic region and Baltic states. It has set aside NOK100m (US$13m) to invest.

Meanwhile, in India, Orkla subsidiary MTR Foods has set up its own investment fund. MTR Foods announced its first investment in May 2018, backing kids' snacks start-up FirmRoots.