5 Good Food Ideas reshaping our food system for the better. Also, please check out previous installments.
1. Revolutionizing the Coffee Supply Chain: Vega Coffee is building a coffee supply chain that values and benefits farmers. According to Vega founder Noushin Ketabi, traditional coffee supply chains might have up to 20 different middlemen along the path from farm to cup, where often 90% of profits go to the roasters rather than the farmers. In the Vega Coffee model, the cup is flipped. Providing training and equipment to the farmers, Vega makes it possible for those farmers to roast, package, and market coffee themselves. By cutting away the middlemen, Vega claims to offer its farmers 4-5 times more money per pound. Vega reimagines the coffee supply chain into three basic parts: consumer, producer, and marketplace. Thus, much of the cost and inefficiency of a tangled, more confusing supply chain is stripped away. The marketplace is Vega’s website, which Ketabi calls the “Etsy for coffee.”
2. This Startup Wants to Reverse Diabetes: Virta Health believes it can help people with type-2 diabetes take control of their diet and health without surgery. Currently, doctors don’t have an efficient way for monitoring diabetic patients, so Virta’s solution is a weight and diet monitoring program which can be administered online. With Virta, patients sign up online, visit a lab to take a blood test, and then connect with a Virta doctor via video chat. There are both doctors and virtual coaches available via these remote chats to serve patients. And, after hours, a chatbot is available to answer questions. Furthermore, patients are supplied with FDA-approved products to help them measure and manage blood sugar, blood pressure, and weight. While the disease cannot be cured, early studies show that Virta’s program can control the disease without the need for medications or surgery. If it works and scales as designed, the program could have a huge impact on our collective public health. Type-2 diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death among Americans, and over 28 million adults have the disease. The American Diabetes Association estimates that the disease causes $245 billion in direct medical costs and lost productivity.
3. Student Loan Forgiveness for Young Farmers: Only 2 percent of American workers are employed on farms and those employed are rapidly aging out of the workforce. The average American farmer is nearly 60 years old. And, while we’ve seen incredible advances in the automation of the agriculture sector, there is still a need for the next generation of farmers. But are we doing enough to attract and sustain agriculture as a viable employment sector? Probably not. Here comes an idea, albeit small in the grand scheme of the agribusiness, that should be part of the overall solution. The Young Farmer Success Act, introduced as a House bill, offers loan forgiveness to farmers that promise at least a decade in the profession. If passed, the bill could incentivize young people to become farmers. The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), which has helped advance the bill, estimates that 2/3 of farmland will change hands in the next 25 years. Much of that land could go out of production without a proper heir. NYFC has surveyed its members and found tuition debt to be a concerning barrier for farmers who enter the field and want to grow their business.
4. Can Microbes Solve Africa’s Food Security Crisis?: Efforts are underway to revolutionize agriculture in Africa through the use of microbial solutions. Microbial organisms such as bacteria or fungi interact with soil and plants and can help improve the quality of soil, fend off pests, and strengthen soil in the face of drought or other climate-induced calamities. AgTech startups like Biome Makers and AgBiome are leaders in this fast growing field. Biome Makers tests soil to understand its microbes and then makes recommendations on how to improve the quality of soil. It currently does this for the wine industry through its WineSeq product. AgBiome offers similar solutions and just received a large grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to test products that could protect crops from weevils in Africa. While these solutions are increasingly available and receiving substantial VC backing, there is still room to grow these solutions and others that are needed on the African continent.
5. Big Food Reformulating Products to Reduce Salt and Sugar: As consumers seek healthier food options, big food brands are reformulating their products to reduce sugar and salt content. In a survey of large consumer goods companies, researchers found that 102 companies made such reductions in their existing products. These companies are feeling the pressure from all sides. Startup food companies featuring healthy ingredients are gaining momentum. The regulatory landscape is also changing with new sugar taxes and sodium limits enacted. The Consumer Goods Forum, which conducted the survey, predicts that this reformulating trend will only continue. This is a good thing for all of us, even big food conglomerates.