2021 Food Supply Chain Tech Outlook

This is a guest post written by Seana Day and Brita Rosenheim, Partners at Culterra Capital, an advisory firm focused exclusively on tech-driven innovation across the food system. You can also find their 2020 Farm Tech and Food Tech Industry Landscapes and analysis at Culterra Capital.

We have been covering the Food Tech and AgTech sectors for the past decade, yet COVID-19 thrust the food supply chain into the spotlight as we could have never anticipated. Against the backdrop of the current pandemic, as well as nearly $500 billion in annual food waste occurring from food harvest to distribution and retail globally, it was time for a dive deep into the technology that will shape the food supply chain in 2021 and beyond. 

For those also following the tech-driven food sector it is no surprise that, to-date, most investment and innovation fanfare have been focused on the food system end-points of AgTech and Food Tech. However after our recent odyssey into the Food Supply Chain Tech category, it is quite clear to us that there is a tremendous, untapped opportunity for vertical-specific technology companies which are focused on serving the unique needs of the food supply chain.

It is with this sense of urgency and optimism about new frontiers of innovation, agility and investment that we launch Culterra Capital’s inaugural 2021 Food Supply Chain Tech Landscape:

Click image to enlarge.

For the purposes of this analysis we have highlighted a handful of predictions for the year to come, as well as emerging themes and key innovation trends that we believe will continue to impact the four supply chain pillars (Supply, Production, Logistics/Distribution, Demand).

While we cover a number of digitalization-driven opportunities for food system participants to strengthen their resilience, profitability and agility, we will reserve deeper dives into the sector-specific drivers and practical adoption obstacles in later reports. But first, a brief primer on navigating the landscape before we dig into our key takeaways below:

How to Navigate the 2021 Food Supply Chain Tech Landscape

  • “Food Supply Chain Tech” here generally refers to the technology enabling the processes and movement that occur between the farm gate and the loading dock/back door of the grocery retailer/food service provider. 
  • This is a heatmap, not a comprehensive catalog: While clearly not exhaustive, this map is meant to illustrate the layers and variety of technology solutions, early stage to mature, and primarily enterprise or B2B-focused. We have generally filtered the companies based on their food and ag customer base, and while mainly US-focused, have included a handful of global companies. Our FarmTech (inside the farm gate) and Food Tech (retail/food service/D2C) landscapes cover the other end points of the food system.  
  • IT-Driven Focus: The landscape focuses predominantly on digital technology-related companies, and although hardware is (mostly) unplugged from this landscape, there is a strong recognition that hardware is an essential part of the technology landscape, especially as it relates to key trends around Industry 4.0 and networked equipment.

In order for us to drive down and understand the many, extraordinarily complex functions involved in the food supply chain, we have organized the market around four key pillars of activity: 

  1. First Mile (Supply)
  2. Production / Food Processing (primary and secondary)
  3. Distribution and Logistics
  4. Retail / Food Service / D2C (Demand)

Across the bottom of the landscape, we included value chain players which integrate across multiple pillars.  

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