Population rise, climate change and the shortage of natural resources, along with the global trend towards healthier diets, are generating new opportunities. Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), new farming techniques, fungi, microorganism fermentation, upcycling and other innovations, a number of Chilean start-ups are now positioned at the cutting edge of the healthy food industry.
NotCo has become an icon of the healthy food industry, not just in Chile, but at a global level. It was a pioneer in replacing meat with plants and in the use of AI, and today this Chilean Foodtech company is valued at over USD$1.5 billion, with big names such as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos having already backed the company to succeed.
The company has traveled the world, paving the way for more Chilean start-ups to create future in the healthy food industry in a global context of rising global population – forecast to reach 10 billion by 2030 – climate change and the shortage of natural resources. Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), new farming techniques, fungi, microorganism fermentation, upcycling and other innovations, a number of Chilean start-ups are now positioned at the cutting edge of the industry.
AgroUrbana: Vertical agriculture in the middle of the city
Founded in 2018, AgroUrbana is the first Latin American company to introduce vertical farming, which produces 100 times more produce per square meter compared to traditional methods. It does this using a technique known as hydroponics, which, instead of soil, uses water and nutrients to grow plants. This revolutionary technology allows them to cultivate all kinds of vegetables while saving water, since they only need 5% of the water required for traditional agriculture. It is also pesticide-free.
The process uses vertical layers which have LED lights and a hydroponic cultivation system, in order to deliver the light and water necessary to grow vegetables with the precise level of nutrition in climate-controlled environments. The harvested vegetables are then sold in supermarkets as sustainable products.
The founders of AgroUrbana, Cristián Sjögren and Pablo Bunster, two professionals from the renewable energy sector, set up the company to respond to two great needs. First, the need to feed a growing population while keeping in mind the impact of climate change, water shortage and the degradation of agricultural soils. Second, the growing need of consumers to know more about the food they are eating.
The Live Green Co: Artificial intelligence for a vegetable-based diet
In 2018, Priyanka Srinivas and Sasikanth Chemalamudi, originally from India, chose the city of San Fernando in Chile to set up their company, The Live Green Co. It makes healthy, plant-based alternatives to food products of animal origin. The process is helped by their AI platform, Charaka, which replaces additives with plant-based products.
The Foodtech company is using Chile as a platform for developing its products and exporting them to the rest of the region and its growth has been exponential. In January 2022, the start-up secured a Pre-Series A financing round, in which it raised US$7 million, led by investment funds from the USA, Canada, Mexico and Argentina. Two months later, the company announced the acquisition of five other Chilean start-ups in the farming, food and manufacturing industries: Terrium, Aztlan Dulcería, Gibit, Regional Food and EcoKetrawe.
Srinivas explained that the decision to set up in Chile was down to a number of factors, including its wide range of trade deals (65 worldwide), the support from organizations such as ProChile, InvestChile and Corfo through Startup Chile, and Chile’s human capital.
Mycobites: The power of fungi
The Foodtech company, Mycobites is revolutionizing the industry with a new category of fungi-based foods, which are high in nutrition, free from health warning labels and boast many health benefits. The range currently includes a burger (Funger), meatballs (Fungi Balls) and its most recent creation, a ground beef substitute (Smashrooms).
The company was set up in 2015 (under the name ‘La Roblería), by three partners who were looking to start an environmentally friendly project. They started by developing the cultivation of shiitake mushrooms and, after two years of research, Rodolfo Ulloa and Juan Enrique Bernstein founded Mycobites, after developing a biotechnological matrix called Mycomix, which makes it possible to create food products using fungi as the principal ingredient.
In 2022, the company was recognized as the fifth largest Foodtech company in Latin America, according to the global #Foodtech500, a list that ranks companies in the AgriFoodTech industry. Mycobites’ three products are available in shops and restaurants.
Amarea Snacks: The future is in the sea
For the founders of Amarea, the future lies in the sea, specifically in seaweed such as cochayuyo, a species which grows very quickly without the need for water, soil or fertilizers.
In 2019, two sea-lovers José Tomás Sagredo and Ignacio Cueto decided to devote their master’s thesis to a sea-based project, taking advantage of the natural properties of seaweed while also building contacts with the communities of people harvesting seaweed along the coast in the O’Higgins, Maule and Ñuble regions of Chile. They also turned to the chef, Marcos Baeza, renowned for his restaurant Naoki, which opened in 2014.
Thus Amarea was born: a healthy snack company whose mission is to use seaweed to create delicious and nutritious food made in a sustainable way. The products are crunchy cochayuyo snacks, made almost entirely from algae and in such a way that they comprise 50% dietary fiber, which not only leaves the customer feeling satisfied but also helps the digestive system.
Quelp: Taking advantage of the versatility of algae
Another company which is taking its inspiration from seaweed is Quelp, which sells healthy and easy-to-prepare frozen, vegan food that is free from gluten and health warning labels. The food also has a threefold positive impact: it contributes to health, provides employment for more than 200 communities of seaweed collectors and helps to sustainably manage the algae population.
The idea came about as a result of a thesis project by agronomist Alejandra Allendes, who following a master’s degree, continued to pursue this idea, founding Quelp alongside her university colleague, Alonso Díaz. In 2019, after three years of research, they started to sell products, at first burgers and meatballs, then nuggets and now they are designing prototypes for sausages and chorizo.
The name Quelp comes from the English word kelp, which refers to the family of brown algae to which the cochayuyo and huiro varieties belong; these types of seaweed represent the main ingredients in Quelp’s products.
But Quelp wants to take it even further. Alejandra Allendes explained that her objective is to develop biomaterials, as a way of replacing plastic with algae. In a bid to raise capital, Allende and Díaz signed on to the US accelerator program, The Conscious Venture Lab, and by June 2022, their products will already be on sale in the USA.
Cáscara Foods: Upcycling as a purpose
The juice industry throws up to half of every piece of fruit away. This means that thousands of tons of fruit end up in the garbage every year, which in turn results in environmental pollution if not properly treated.
Cáscara Foods was born out of the goal to tackle food wastage in Chile, a start-up which in 2019 was awarded the national Avonni prize in the healthy food category. Cáscara Foods was set up in 2017, as part of a thesis by three business students at the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, of whom two – Mateo Rubio and Domingo Chong – remain with the company.
The start-up transforms the fruit waste of juice companies into ingredients, such as apple, strawberry and blueberry fiber. This enables it to take advantage of the benefits contained in the pulp, skin and seeds. These ingredients are used in products such as Azana – powdered apple fiber; collagen antioxidant; apple fiber, oat and quinoa bars; and pancake premix.
The process they use is called upcycling or suprarecycling, which means rescuing a resource which would otherwise be thrown away and using technology to convert it into a new product of higher value.
The Imperfect Project: Imperfection is perfection
This Foodtech company is also committed to upcycling: It takes “imperfect” fruits and vegetables that have been thrown away by market traders, small businesses and small-scale farmers and converts them into healthy bars (both sweet and savory) with a long shelf life, thus avoiding food wastage and its subsequent impact on the environment.
The Imperfect Project was created in 2021 by agronomists Adriana Behm and Pedro Mena and dental surgeon Amanda Behm. They had for years been concerned about the wastage of fruit and vegetables both on farms and in the markets and dreamed of transforming this waste into convenient, vegan food products with a long shelf life (over 12 months).
The start-up has just been named among the winners at the fifth edition of the Talento Emprendedor Caja Los Andes (Tecla 5) awards for entrepreneurial talent and is part of the Food Innovation Catalogue 2021, where it was selected among the top 50 most innovative products of the year.
In the medium-term, The Imperfect Project is looking to gain a foothold in more Chilean retail chains. In the long-term, it plans to test the model in other parts of Chile and abroad, making any necessary adaptations, in order to continue contributing to reducing food waste.
Wild Foods: The king of cereal bars
The food company Wild Foods was the brainchild of business graduate Pier Colonello, who was looking for a way to revolutionize the healthy food industry. In 2018, the company raised US$100,000, and Felipe Hurtado and Javier Castro joined the company.
The brand never stopped growing, and today it is present in 15 different categories with over 80 products, from granola and cookies to health supplements for athletes and pizza premix. It does this by outsourcing the production processes and by selling products in Chile, Peru and the USA. As well as selling products free from health warning labels, Wild Foods has cemented recycling as part of its philosophy. All of its packaging is 100% recyclable and, thanks to an agreement with TodosReciclamos, for every bar sold, a can is recycled.
In two years, Wild Foods has risen to the top of the cereal bar industry in Chile, and in March 2022 the BTG Pactual Venture Debt I fund decided to financially back the company to the tune of $1.5 billion.
Now, they have ambitious goals: to become the healthy food company in the region with the largest portfolio of products.
Done Properly: Microorganisms for the future
Established in 2019, Done Properly, is a Foodtech company that uses fermentation technology and specific microorganisms to transform vegetable raw materials into bioingredients, thereby offering alternative proteins with a natural flavor. Its two main products are Raise, a natural flavor enhancer that not only improves the taste of food but diminishes the need for salt, and Mico, a fungi-based protein alternative that uses 20 times less water in its production and can be transformed into burgers, sausages or nuggets.
The company was set up by four partners who saw the need for science and food technology and believed this should be done in harmony with the planet: Eduardo Zavala (MA in Biotechnology), Freddy Boehmwald (PhD in Biotechnology), Claudio Pedreros (Business graduate) and Javier Olave (Business graduate, MSc in Management).
In 2020, the company won the national Avonni award in the “Agriculture of the Future” category and, in October 2021, entered Spain in collaboration with the company Europastry. It is also collaborating with large Chilean and multinational businesses to reduce salt in food production and develop new products from alternative protein sources.
Owned by the same company as La Casona El Monte family, Froyatt offers a line of natural products that can replace a full meal in with a 20-gram portion. Its range of different formulas have inspired a wide selection of low-calorie products that are high in nutrients and made from spirulina (with its flavor and odor removed).
It all started in 2017, with the dream of creating a complete meal that would be easy to prepare, contain all the necessary nutrients in their natural form and would be free from allergens, gluten, health warning labels, sugar, added fats and preservatives, whilst having a pleasant flavor and smell. This led its founders to discover that the WHO had declared spirulina to be the most complete food in the world, consumed even by astronauts.
The company’s name comes from the initials of its founders, sisters Fernanda and Rocío Rodríguez and their mother, Yanett Omegna.
They now produce the core product, Froyatt, for the food industry, as well as 14 other products for the retail market, such as pasta, cereal, flour and powdered nutri-drinks. They operate in Chile and the USA.