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Opinion: Five resilience strategies to learn from the Spanish food-tech ecosystem
FoodBev Media

FoodBev Media

25 January 2024

Opinion: Five resilience strategies to learn from the Spanish food-tech ecosystem

In the ever-evolving food-tech landscape, Spain emerges as a beacon of resilience and innovation. Eatable Adventures’ report – The State of Food-tech in Spain 2023 – showcases the remarkable journey of the country's food technology ecosystem in the face of global challenges. The report paints a picture of an ecosystem not just surviving but thriving, with a mere 16% decrease in total investment, a stark contrast to the 61% global decline, securing €226 million in 2023. How has the Spanish ecosystem navigated the global downturn? Julia Espeso, director of ecosystem development at Eatable Adventures, explores the resilience of the Spanish ecosystem, delving into five crucial factors such as technological robustness, a dynamic ecosystem and government support.

1.Unveiling pioneering disruptive technologies in the retail arena In 2023, the Spanish food-tech ecosystem not only navigated critical challenges but emerged even stronger. The introduction of groundbreaking technologies, such as 3D bio-printed vegetable bacon, highlights Spain's technological resilience, reaffirming its global standing. At the forefront of this achievement is the ambition of one of the flagship start-ups in the Spanish ecosystem: Cocuus. This technology-driven project, founded just two years ago, has forged collaborations with top-tier global meat corporations like Cargill and international leading investors such as Big Idea Venture, along with local enterprises, enabling a swift entry into retail channels with its innovative products. Cocuus stands out as an exemplary case due to a technology capable of producing 1,000 tons of vegetable bacon annually, equivalent to raising 30,000 pigs. Moreover, this versatile technology addresses various industrial challenges simultaneously. In the case of beef steaks, the technology repurposes by-products from the meat industry, transforming them into high-value products and producing up to ten kilograms of steak per minute. A technology that seemed too futuristic just a year ago is now readily available to any consumer. 2.A dynamic and diversified ecosystem Amid a global landscape grappling with profound challenges, the Spanish food-tech ecosystem stands resilient as one of the most dynamic, maintaining a consistent count of 420 start-ups in 2023. Spain's food-tech sector also showcases a remarkable geographical dispersion, spanning all autonomous communities. As highlighted by various experts consulted for the report, one of the ecosystem's significant strengths lies in its diversification, with innovations spanning every link in the agri-food value chain: including alternative proteins, traceability, new ingredients, robotics and more. The country serves as a home to examples representing virtually all international trends, reflecting the rich creative and technological capacity within. On the research front, Spanish start-ups benefit from the support of universities and technological centres acting as pillars for research and development in the food industry. Simultaneously, national initiatives like Spain Foodtech have played a crucial role. Developed by Eatable Adventures with the support of Icex and CNTA, this acceleration programme aims to bolster the construction and development of leading startups in the food-tech sector, capable of competing globally and becoming benchmarks in their respective segments. The programme's second edition has selected four stand-out companies, Bio2coat, Néboda, Mmmico, and Poseidona, with a focus on revolutionary solutions to extend the shelf life of foods, maximise the production and efficiency of vertical agriculture, explore natural alternatives to artificial colourants through microorganisms, and harness seaweed for biomass generation.

3. Spanish companies are betting on open innovation collaboration Strategic collaboration among companies, startups, research and development centres, and universities has proven to be a successful approach in fostering new businesses, attracting top-tier talent and elevating competitiveness within the market. Several major Spanish food companies are actively engaging in synergies with the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Mahou San Miguel, a leading player in the brewing industry, stands out as one of the pioneers in establishing connections with the startup ecosystem through its innovation platform, Barlab Ventures. Another notable example is Areas, a global leader in the F&B and travel retail segments, which has initiated the second edition of the 'Areas for Change Challenge' to discover solutions to sustainability issues. Furthermore, Pascual Innoventures, the corporate venture arm of Pascual, has introduced Mylkcubator: More Than Mylk. The third edition of Mylkcubator explores tech aligned with Pascual's strategic areas. These collaborations support the development of the ecosystem, enabling the testing and viability of proposed solutions. 4. Blossoming of government Initiatives Spain is renowned for its territorial diversity, ranging from Madrid – its epicentre and considered one of the best capitals for entrepreneurship – to its various autonomous communities. Throughout the country, numerous national and local initiatives have fostered entrepreneurship across the territory. Among the most prominent initiatives is the Madrid Food Innovation Hub, an innovation centre of Madrid's city council dedicated to driving entrepreneurial projects in the agri-food sector through its training, incubation and acceleration programs, which have already benefited over 100 startups covering the entire agri-food value chain. In 2023, another player joined the scene: Eatex, a collaborative innovation hub for the transfer and implementation of technology in the agri-food industry, supported by CNTA, the Government of Navarra and the Ministry of Science and Innovation. This new entity leverages the R&D network of technological centres in Navarra, facilitating research, industrial challenge resolution and technological transfer—a novel model streamlining access to innovation while mitigating risks. These initiatives complement other innovation hubs, such as Mercamadrid, the largest platform for the distribution, commercialisation, transformation and logistics of fresh food in Spain. These projects, born under the support of national and local governments, exemplify Spain's dedication to creating a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem, propelling start-ups and advancements across the entire agri-food value chain. 5. Internationalisation support Internationalising Is a key factor for growth. Therefore, start-ups invest significant effort in gaining visibility beyond national borders and attracting the interest of international investors. In this context, the role played by Icex takes on special significance. This Spanish state-owned public business entity is dedicated to promoting the internationalization of Spanish companies to enhance their competitiveness. Icex has committed to supporting the Foodtech entrepreneurial ecosystem through various initiatives aimed at showcasing Spanish projects and fostering knowledge and immersion in international ecosystems and events. Attracting international talent is another objective of the Spanish ecosystem. There is a growing interest in promoting connection and collaboration between different ecosystems, with prominent local events in the sector, such as Food 4 Future, joining international events that look to Spain for their upcoming editions. This is the case for the Food Innovate Summit and the Meat Evolution Leaders Summit, with their new 2024 editions which are set to take place in Madrid and Barcelona, respectively. In conclusion, Spain's Foodtech ecosystem has exhibited remarkable resilience, showcasing technological breakthroughs, strategic collaborations, and strong government support. Having a forward-looking vision is undoubtedly strategic for the sector's survival, but it is essential for all stakeholders to increasingly engage to achieve a greater impact on the food system and its sustainable transition.

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