Rabobank, the Netherlands-based banking group, has set up a venture-capital fund to invest in start-up food and agriculture companies.

Rabo Food & Agri Innovation Fund, which is part of the bank's Rabo Private Equity arm, intends to invest in "high-potential, early-stage" food businesses in western Europe and the US.

"The fund focuses on companies that are in support of Rabobank's Banking for Food strategy," explained Lizette Sint, global head of Rabo Private Equity. "This strategy focuses on contributing to food security in the context of a rapidly growing world population, changing demographics and consumption patterns and an increasingly complex food system."

Richard O'Gorman, who leads the investment initiative as part of Rabo Private Equity, added: "We consider investments all along the food and agri value chain, with a particular focus on ambitious companies that operate in sectors in which we can optimally leverage the bank's knowledge and expertise, network and position to help create shareholder value."

As well as backing businesses with cash, Rabobank also intends to be a "close investment partner", providing the companies in which it chooses to invest with expertise and advice.

Rabobank added the fund will be "complementary" to the other activities the bank supports in the food and agri sector, including its indirect investments in venture capital and private-equity funds.

With the announcement, Rabobank is muscling its way into what is becoming a crowded area. During the last two years, more of the world's largest food companies including Kellogg, Campbell Soup Co., Tyson Foods and Danone have all launched in-house funds to invest in fledgling food and drink companies.

Only last week, Unilever, which was among the first food majors to set up this kind of division, headed a round of investment into Sun Basket, the Californian organic meal-kit delivery service.