FFT SF '24 Chair reflection

Previously I thought we had missed out on New Zealand's foodtech opportunity, now I know we are just on time…

· FFA,San Francisco,Foodtech,New Zealand,2024
Alex Worker, Chair, FFA, New Zealand, foodtech

Sitting on the plane back to Queenstown from San Francisco after a milestone for Aotearoa New Zealand’s food technology movement. It's been a fun and energising few days, especially contrasting it with a week prior when I was sitting in the Zanda Macdonald Australia & NZ leading farmer awards hearing of all the uncertainty towards the future.

I reflect on last being at FutureFoodTech SF six years ago wearing my Fonterra-Starbucks hat then, thinking why there wasn’t a New Zealand food technology presence across the halls, stages and rooms.

Six years later it feels good to have been part of shaping Aotearoa New Zealand’s first collective at FFT SF – arguably the world’s leading foodtech showcase.

Founders, CEOs and Chairs from six of NZ’s leading foodtech ventures were selected to join Katy Bluett, Exec Director of FFA, under a collective – Angus from Ārepa; Alex from AndFoods; Irina and Emily from Daisy Lab; Amos from Miruku; Toby, Eleni and myself from team NewFish; and Laura and Olivia from Opo Bio.

Startup chairs Greg and Leon were there, and Paul from ASB’s new venture debt fund in support. Folk from Fonterra’s Ki Tua Fund and AGMARDT were also walking the halls.

FFA, foodtech, San Francisco, Miruku, NewFish, AndFoods, Opo Bio, Daisy Lab, Arepa

Our founders came off their own backs and startup budgets - there was 0 government trip funding. FFA itself is unfunded and not-for-profit. I was surprised none of the local NZTE teams wanted to join. I found this a contrast to PM Chris Luxon’s message to the Te Hono room I was in several weeks ago articulating the importance of NZ’s food & fibre sector and needed technology for driving cash and productivity for Aotearoa going forward – after all, food & fibres accounts for over half of our country’s export revenue.

Under this SF collective, our founders pitched and hustled for the week, explaining why NZ’s foodtech pipeline is just beginning, sharing our ventures considered and aggressive growth plans, and how we are different from (and connected to!) the many other ecosystems given our eco-valley focus and ability to build truly scalable global food technologies for APAC…and on the NZD cheap. We are much more than a land of milk and honey we reminded, landing the fact our total NZ territory is only 4% land and the rest pristine ocean and water. There's so much more we can do, non-extractively.

We were interested in forging global partnerships with the world’s leading food companies, CVCs, VCs and country ecosystems directly. We were invited to showcase at some of the VIP events over the week – including at MISTA foods and Good Food Institute's oversubscribed party up the top of the Salesforce tower. We heard from leading VCs in the room tell us whilst the first wave of VC investment is down and retreating towards AI investment, the second wave of foodtech builders and opportunity is only beginning … and the time is now to build. I left those rooms feeling reassured, and excited.

Alex Worker, Laura Domigan, Olivia Ogilvie, Katy Bluett, Toby Lane, Angus Brown, Amos Palfreyman, Alex Devereaux, Emily McIsaac, Irina Miller

It felt like a good-natured wolfpack. We hunted and shared leads, we represented each other’s companies when founders were pinned in meetings, we listened to Kiwi founders like Matt Gibson from New Culture moving into Series B building non-dairy cheese technology. We listened to Marjorie from Impossible R&D who had finished postgraduate research in New Zealand, and Maxine from Kraft Heinz who remembered her days at Massey University warmly. All offered green shoots for our startups and FFA collective.

After our pitches, we had heads of global companies come to our founders saying our momentum was surprising, and our natural climate & food technologies very interesting to them. Nutrition, texture, COGs and speed to market all key discussion areas. Good people attract good energy I reflected, and our companies felt like they showed up and in response were received warmly. Good vibes were built with Danone to Vivici through to NotCo – all interesting strategies and case studies to learn from.

Perhaps most importantly, we realized this was just a beginning. It was our first debut … finally … and certainly not our last. We heard former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi's words, urging us to dodge irrelevance and build a collective NZ story together. We reminded we weren't up for tech tourism, and we are up for widening the collective if there are more good founders and technologies wanting to scale with us – with our environment and people at heart.

I’m already looking forward to FFA’s cohort at FFT SF next year, and learning what comes from the busy last week. Previously I had thought NZ was too late to the game, now I think we are just on time - as the first wave of foodtech VC crashes and the next wave of sustainable, high growth foodtech builds again.

Alex Worker
Chair, FFA