Rabobank redesigns FoodBytes! platform to foster year-round collaboration, engagement via membership model

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Applications are now open for FoodBytes! Pitch. (Picture credit: Kassie Borreson.)
Applications are now open for FoodBytes! Pitch. (Picture credit: Kassie Borreson.)

Related tags: Rabobank, FoodBytes!

Rabobank is updating its FoodBytes! platform with a redesign of its pitch competitions and its corporate innovation program (formerly known as the TERRA accelerator) in a bid to foster year-round engagement with its network of food and ag startups, investors, and corporate partners via a membership model.

First, the TERRA accelerator – which has historically paired large ingredients suppliers and CPG companies with startups for 12-week projects – is transitioning to FoodBytes! Pilot​, an innovation scheme open year-round to corporate partners interested in lengthier 6-to-9-month collaborations with FoodBytes! startups that could lead to product co-development, commercial partnerships, licensing agreements, new customer relationships and investment.

Here, Rabobank serves as a ‘matchmaker,’ pairing startups with corporate partners looking to solve specific problems. The startups, in turn, gain industry validation, due diligence for investors and accelerated growth through access to corporate resources.

Second, the FoodBytes! face-to-face networking events and pitch slams - which Rabobank has been running for five years in multiple cities - are transitioning to FoodBytes! Pitch​,​ a startup discovery platform that gives corporate leaders and investors exposure to a larger group of startups, with opportunities for deeper interaction and networking throughout the year.

“In pairing FoodBytes! Pitch and FoodBytes! Pilot as two programs under the same brand, Rabobank has created a more holistic and connected engine for food and ag innovation,” ​explained Rabobank.

“FoodBytes Pitch! serves as the discovery platform for startups -- who then become eligible to be selected by a FoodBytes! Pilot corporate partner for a longer-term innovation pilot.”

‘Continuous connection’

Anne Greven, global head of food and ag innovation at Rabobank, told FoodNavigator-USA that FoodBytes! is all about building a community, rather than a series of events, with the goal to “shift to a model of continuous connection.”

She added: “Since March, we’ve been offering webinar programming for the FoodBytes! community on pivoting during the pandemic, rethinking the supply chain, funding in the current market and taking action for racial justice. We’ve seen strong engagement from our community and plan to continue these ongoing educational offerings.

“We are also making additions to the team so we have dedicated talent looking proactively to make connections between startups and corporations and investors.”

Membership model

A paid membership model will replace event sponsorship as the mechanism for corporate and investor participation in FoodBytes! so that engagement with new startups and FoodBytes! alumni is ongoing rather than based solely around events, aDded Greven.    

The new platform will also encourage greater engagement between startups, she claimed: “We know from our alumni that the peer-to-peer connections startups make through FoodBytes! are highly valuable. For example, two of our alumni - upcycling company ReGrained and Imperfect Foods - recently partnered in a mutually-beneficial way in response to COVID-19.

“ReGrained had planned to launch its new upcycled Puff product at Expo West ​[which was cancelled] and through retail distribution when the pandemic hit. With these key channels gone, ReGrained was able to partner with Imperfect to get its Puffs directly to consumers through Imperfect’s weekly boxes. This was a win-win that helped mitigate waste and also helped business.”

anne greven

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that players in our food and ag system must be prepared for constant change and transformation. Rabobank is now playing a much larger role in helping companies adopt the innovation mindset and capabilities that are essential for a resilient food supply, as well as long-term business success​.” Anne Greven, global head of food and ag innovation, Rabobank

FoodBytes! Pitch 2020

This year, the two-day FoodBytes! live events will be replaced with three weeks of digital programming, workshops, and one-on-one meetings and mentoring for 45 startups selected from a broad pool of applications across three verticals: CPG, foodtech, and agtech, allowing for “deeper connections and greater accessibility for global participants who no longer need to travel, or block entire days away from their businesses to participate​.”  

Applications are now OPEN ​for startups that meet the ​criteria, with a deadline of August 10. The 45 successful participants will be announced on September 28 and will start their digital workshops and meetings with FoodBytes! investors, mentors and corporate members in October, said Greven.  

All 45 startups will have a chance to pitch their businesses via pre-recorded video to FoodBytes! judges.

Corporate executives and investors have come to depend on FoodBytes! to spot trends. Featuring 45 startups in a single virtual program offers corporate leaders and investors a broader snapshot of food and ag innovation, as well deeper views into specific verticals: food tech, agtech and CPG.’

Of the 45 participating startups, 15 finalists will be selected to participate in a public pitch event, live-streamed on December 2 in front of a virtual panel of judges, who will select one winner in each vertical: CPG, food tech and agtech.  

COVID-19 and the food investment landscape

Asked how the food & ag investment landscape had changed since COVID-19 struck, Greven said money is still available for promising startups, especially those with technologies or products that address critical food system challenges (FoodBytes! Pitch, for example, is encouraging applications from companies addressing food loss mitigation, on-farm automation, animal health tech, shortened supply chains, accessible food e-commerce and functional ingredients).

However, raising capital is taking longer and investors are being more circumspect as they go through the due diligence process, with some tightening their criteria and lowering their tolerance for risk, she said.

While big CPG companies are still interested in investing in emerging brands, meanwhile, they may be looking for a stronger track record of sales and market validation than has been the case over the past couple of years, she speculated.

They are also interested in learning from emerging brands that have developed successful direct to consumer operations given that this is a capability many large CPG companies are now trying to develop, she added. 

  • Startups interested in applying for FoodBytes! Pitch can learn more and apply here.
  • Investors and food and ag corporations interested in FoodBytes! Pitch membership should contact Caroline Keeley at pnebyvar.xrryrl@enobonax.pbz
  • Food and ag corporations interested in learning more about FoodBytes! Pilot should contact Caroline Keeley at pnebyvar.xrryrl@enobonax.pbz

Related topics: Industry Voices

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