Corporate VC in the Food System

June 8, 2017

Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) is not new. Tech companies, energy companies, and multinational conglomerates have all had active venture funds for years.

But in food and agriculture, corporate venturing is a relatively new phenomenon. Strategic investments are increasingly critical, though, as food system investments often require patient capital, other investors remain hungry for more exits, and the big companies themselves struggle to keep pace with changing consumer preferences.

Here’s a look at which companies have funds, and what the startups are saying.

Who’s Investing

Corporations along the supply chain are getting into the venture capital game. Many, like Bayer, are investing indirectly into other Venture Capital funds, rather than investing into startups directly. Others have both indirect and direct investments, like Rabobank, have both indirect and direct investment vehicles. Another difference is management: some funds are managed by employees of the company, while others are fully or partially outsourced.

The indirect funds are a bit harder to track as sometimes LPs are not disclosed, but we’ve done our best to capture all the direct corporate venture capital funds along the food supply chain.

Startup Perspectives

Food system startups have mixed responses to venture activity by corporates. Having a CVC investor can add strategic value: the corporate is an industry veteran with established distribution channels, networks, and processes. CVC can also lead to acquisition, giving the entrepreneur and other investors an exit, and adding additional scale and resources to help the former startup grow.

Stonyfield’s acquisition by Group Danone was one of the early examples of a big company investing in a smaller, mission-oriented brand. Though Danone will now sell the company as they move on to bigger plays in the organics space, the acquisition enabled Stonyfield to expand their transportation and manufacturing operations and become a nationally recognized brand.

“The verdict is in- it’s been a great deal” — Stonyfield CEO Gary Hirshberg told mnn

Similarly, Honest Tea and Krave Jerky achieved a national footprint- bringing consumes healthier snack time options- because of Coke and Hershey.

However, many food system startups are out to disrupt- and fundamentally change- how business is done in the industry. Taking on investment from “the enemy” may feel like selling out or compromising on company values.

“We would categorically not let Monsanto buy us for farmer data” — Charles Baron, CEO Farmers Business Network told Fortune

The reality, of course, is varied and subtle. And largely, it’s still too early to tell.

If you have a story about working with (or within) a CVC, we’d love to hear it!