Ahead of the Breakfast Briefing on Demystifying the Chinese Market, hosted by Bits x Bites, we spoke to Matilda Ho, Managing Director at Bits X Bites about the food-tech opportunities in China and the population and packaging challenges faced there.
The agri-food innovation scene in China has evolved significantly over the last few years. Tell us more about what Bits X Bites has been doing in this space?
The Beyond Meat IPO has put the plant-based sector and the larger food tech industry on the map for many parts of Asia. China is no exception. More investors are approaching us in fear of being left behind the curve. And in China’s typical high-octane pace, within a few months we have already seen a new wave of Chinese plant-based companies making headlines, whether dumplings or mooncakes.
But three years ago, when Bits x Bites first launched, food tech had virtually no presence in China. If you were an agri-food tech start-up looking for investors, there was no ecosystem to lean on. That’s why we launched Bits x Bites to invest in bioscience, data, IOT, and food processing companies that are introducing disruptive technology to address the China opportunity. To date, we have 14 portfolio companies, advancing gene editing, cellular agriculture, plant protein, and more.
Bits X Bites pioneered the launch of a China Food Tech Hub earlier this year, fostering collaboration between start-ups and global food leaders to fuel food tech innovation for the Chinese market. What were the needs you saw in the industry?
In the early days, we understood we couldn’t just be a food tech fund. We needed to build an ecosystem that could sustain the growth of start-up companies. They need partners for follow-on investments, technology commercialisation, and even M&A. So in addition to investments, we set out to build a community of start-ups, investors, and corporates. These companies see the value to not only focus on operation priorities in a growing market but also recognise the need for collaborating with early-stage tech companies to maintain an innovative edge. That’s how the China Food Tech Hub was born, a consortium of corporates looking to explore food tech start-up partnerships in China.
When you look at how deep and far-reaching the systematic challenges are in China’s food supply chain, and how quickly technology could be adopted and scaled in China, the opportunity is immense. And we are just at the beginning.
The Breakfast Briefing plans to demystify the Chinese market, particularly for global leaders and innovators looking to enter or increase their presence in the region. Where do you see the biggest opportunities and challenges for agri-food innovation in China?
Whether it’s protein, nutrition, or packaging, each challenge facing China is an invitation for disruptors to apply their technology and achieve substantial impact. On the nutrition front, by 2050, China’s population of over 60s is going to exceed 30%. Their need for bone, digestive and nutritional health solutions will continue to grow. On the sustainable packaging side, domestic waste is accumulating so quickly that the government put a stop in the waste imports that fed the local recycling industry for years. On the protein security front, how might technology enable more efficient, sustainable, and safer protein production in an era of supply chain threats like African Swine Flu?
In addressing these challenges, sometimes it’s not the most technologically advanced but the most adaptive solution that can answer China’s call. Understanding the nuances and be ready to adapt the business approach for the needs in China is a vital first step.
Matilda will be joined by a panel of experts bringing their insights on China at the ‘Breakfast Briefing: Demystifying the Chinese Market’ taking place from 7.30-8.45 on Friday November 22 at Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Week.