Kosher foods at the center of a globally energized foodtech industry

It is a hungry world out there, and getting hungrier.

The world population today is close to 8 billion, out of which, at least 690 million go to bed hungry each night. By 2050, according to the United Nations, world population will be close to 10 billion, and there is no doubt the Earth’s resources will be stretched even more thinly then, than now. Ram Reifen, professor of human nutrition at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel’s second oldest university, agrees that the planet is facing growing food supply challenges.

In this environment, the world is seriously focusing on food technology. Global leader on insightful market research, BIS Research, forecasts, that the global food tech market will be worth over $250 billion by 2022. Currently there are over 1,200 foodtech startups in the world, 230 of them focused  on producing novel ingredients, and another 230 focused on creating consumer apps

Tzachi Schnarch, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA), the Israeli government’s tech investment arm, based in Jerusalem, said, “The world is getting older, with a much larger population and fewer resources to grow food,” and he believes “Israel is in a good place for companies looking for innovation in this area.”

Furthermore, the World Economic Forum’s 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report states that Israel is the second most innovative country in the world. Even though agriculture and food technology innovations, collectively nicknamed agrifood-tech, is a new addition to Israel’s other highly advanced tech sectors,  according to records at IIA,  investment in Israel’s  foodtech industry has nearly tripled over five years. Israel is, in fact, positioning itself as a key player in the foodtech industry recently valued at $8.7 trillion. A recent report by independent nonprofit focused on Israeli innovations, Start-Up Nation Central, stated that Israel has over 350 agriculture and food technology companies. In fact, Israel’s foodtech industry had a record $109 million in capital in the first half of 2019.

Israel’s success in the foodtech industry is due to several reasons. For instance, Israel has a history of food and water shortages, which required the intervention of tech knowledge and expertise to overcome the issues. This led to Israel creating some of the world’s first academic technology transfer companies in the world. Israel also has many immigrant communities demanding different flavors in foods, and uniquely open to new flavors. Overall, Israeli consumers have sophisticated taste in food, and are willing to pay more for better quality food products.

Israel’s foodtech industry was, therefore, into the invention of new ingredients like plant-based proteins, cultivated meats, fish and poultry products, dairy, eggs and sugar alternatives, as well. The reasons include health, ecological and moral benefits, also, endless opportunities for enhancing taste and nutritional value.

For instance, upon researching the environmental impact of eating meat, researchers found the real cost of consuming meat is significantly higher than generally believed. Yet, with billions of people in the habit of eating meat, it is not possible to just remove it from their diet. So, in 2017, an Israeli food company engineered cultured beef, growing meat in labs from cow cells. Biologist and food engineer, Didier Toubia said, “The objective was to bring balance back to nature, and to use the natural resources on earth in a wiser way.” His company also made global headlines recently for developing the first slaughter-free beef steak. According to Barclays forecasts, the meat sector could reach about $140 billion in sales over the next decade.

Tamar Weiss a leader in Israel’s Ag-Food-Tech sector, said, the country’s food tech innovations are also connected to culture. “In Israel, there is a lot of awareness of animal welfare … I think it is encoded into the Jewish tradition,” she said. And this is where Kosher food comes in. In fact, the Kosher culture, according to Weiss, “brings in a lot of awareness around food: it being clean, or made in a specific way, or linking values with food.”

Kosher foods, in fact, fall into three categories – meat, dairy, and pareve. If the animal died naturally, the meat is not Kosher. Certain organs of an animal, including fat, nerves and blood, can never be Kosher, either.

Animal welfare extends to poultry and egg production too, with Israeli startups developing a technology to detect the gender of chicks before hatching. And so, instead of killing 7 billion male chicks each year as they are not needed to produce eggs, the eggs of those male chicks before they are hatched, could be repurposed for food or the cosmetics industry.

There is also an algorithm developed by a Tel Aviv-based startup, customizing online recipes. The algorithm, trained on 1 million recipes, recognizes the role of each ingredient and its taste and texture parameters. Customers will obtain the technology through wellness and health apps or recipe publishers; it is expected to cater to the rising global trend of veganism and vegetarianism, and increasing food allergies. The World Allergy Organization estimates that 240- 550 million people suffer from food allergies worldwide.

These Jewish perspectives of food have led to spiraling demand for Kosher foods in the U.S., where only 7.5 million people, amounting to 2% of Americans, are Jewish, but where 41% of all packaged food is certified as Kosher. This includes the traditional apples and honey consumed during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  

Israel’s innovative successes in food technology are known around the world, and 45 countries have reached out to Israel to learn deeper, and to get involved in new creations. In particular, in the last six years, $25 billion of US venture capital has gone to food and agriculture innovations in Israel.

As experienced venture capitalist, Arama Kukutai said, “The same ingredients that have made Israel very successful in sectors such as cybersecurity and fintech, will make Israel successful in the context of food and agriculture.”

About the Author
Scientist turned techie. Founder at Neliti & Reputio. Interested in sharing lessons learnt from Tel Aviv's bustling technology ecosystem.
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