Spain has more than 400 Foodtech startups, being one of the major powers in the sector worldwide.
The agri-food sector is one of the engines of the Spanish economy, concentrating almost 10% of GDP, but we also have the opportunity to become a world power in innovation in the sector, thanks to “Foodtech”, a term with which any technology applied to the agri-food value chain is known. And this is demonstrated by the 2021 edition of the report on the State of Foodtech in Spain, a quantitative study that analyzes the sector that has been prepared for the second year by Eatable Adventures, one of the three leading foodtech accelerators globally.
2021 has been a great year for the entrepreneurial ecosystem in new technologies applied to food. Despite the difficulties suffered by the economy as a result of COVID-19, the net figure of 407 startups in the sector was consolidated, with 9% of them having been born this year. Spain is positioned as one of the main global powers in the sector, similar to France, ahead of the United Kingdom, but far behind the 900 startups in Israel or the 200 in Singapore, much smaller territories than our country.
However, the most remarkable fact is the significant growth in investment received by these startups throughout 2021, reaching 695 million Euros, a growth of +220%, more than triple that in 2020. This figure places foodtech as the second category of investment in startups in our country, behind only transportation. Most of this investment takes place in very early stages (23% preseed and 46% seed). The 23% is in series A and only 5% in later stages or 2% in acquisitions. Glovo leads the highest round, with 450 million euros, followed by Biotech Foods with 36 million euros, Heura with 16 million euros and Biome Makers and Crowdfaming with 15 million euros each.
Startups and the agri-food value chain
The concern of our entire society for sustainability, combined with the growing demand of consumers for healthier products, has been understood by the sector as great opportunities, increasing the number of startups that focus on the primary sector of the chain, on agriculture and livestock, seeking more sustainable formulas in production. Thus, 24% of startups work in agrifoodtech (vs. 17% in 2020), 35% in production and transformation, 24% in distribution and retail, and 17% in restaurant tech.
Of those startups working in the primary sector, this year there is a greater weight in projects focused on the modernization of crops, applying software and automation in the processes (36%), while the weight of new methods of cultivation (18%) or the application of biotechnology in the fields (16%) is slightly reduced.
Analyzing the food process, which continues to be the most important point in the agri-food value chain (35%), there is a change in the search for new ingredients with which to produce alternative foods (47%), as opposed to plant-based or insect-based foods, which was the main driver until now (24%).
In the logistics section, the weight of direct-to-consumer models (74%), which in 2020 had gained very significant weight due to COVID-19, is slightly reduced. However, we see how many of these startups, which started out focused on the distribution of cooked food in restaurants (delivery), are expanding their catalogs to shift towards e-grocery.
Finally, in restaurant tech, we can clearly see how projects related to improved management thanks to artificial intelligence and the use of data are growing (40%), whereas until now this category was led by reservation platforms.
An important point of the study is the technology used in these projects. In 2021 we see how the use of biotechnology (32.05%) grows, mainly in food processing and crop improvement, but also Artificial Intelligence (28.21%) and Machine Learning (24.36%), in this case in a much more transversal way as they have applications in practically all points of the value chain. Robotics (12.82%) and Blockchain (6.41%) have a lower use in the volume of projects analyzed, for having a lower versatility and being more specific technologies but we see how there is growth compared to the 2020 report, confirming their consolidation as base technologies of foodtech.
It is important to highlight that 30.2% of the projects have patents, which helps to build a solid ecosystem with its own intellectual property that places our country in an opportune position of leadership, allowing us to export not only materials and processes, but also knowledge.
The profile of the entrepreneur is similar to that of the previous year: 40 years old, male (80%), starting up alone (14%) or with 1 partner (26%), and with less than 5 employees (46%), but 92% of them declare that in 2022 they will increase their workforce, confirming the employment generation capacity of the ecosystem.
What still needs to be improved, according to entrepreneurs
The study also includes a qualitative dimension that seeks to reflect the sector’s unfinished business. According to this, entrepreneurs state the importance of research centers in the development of startups in the sector (89% in 2021 vs. 65% in 2020), although it is perceived that universities do not fulfill this role, although this has improved slightly (50% in 2021 vs. 61% in 2020).
Knowledge of the sector by international investors is attributed as a reason why they invest in the sector (88% in 2021 vs 85% in 2020), which contrasts with the sentiment that the domestic investor lacks this knowledge, although this has improved this year (41% in 2021 vs 63% in 2020). It is important to highlight how the data reflects the change that the food industry is undergoing and is perceived as supporting the development of startups (67% in 2021 vs 43% in 2020).
And the point of subsidies is still pending, although it has improved. Entrepreneurs continue to demand greater ease of access to specific public aid for the sector (53% in 2021 state that this is a problem vs 72% in 2020).
For José Luis Cabañero, CEO of Eatable Adventures: “The tripling of investment data in 2021 and the significant volume of startups operating in our country show how the foodtech sector is confirmed as a great opportunity for the economy of our country, which will grow even more with the involvement of the public sector, corporations, research centers and universities”.