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OPN Connect Newsletter 236 · September 23, 2021

Organics Have Opportunities in Food Tech Space


For investigative reporter and tech writer Larissa Zimberoff, there is a way for the organic food industry to get involved in the high-tech food industry for the betterment of the planet and improving organic production.

“The organic community can’t sit back and relax,” she said, “You need to pay attention; you need to track the trends; and you need to adapt.”

Stemilt October 2021

Larissa Zimberoff, Investigative Journalist and Author

Speaking as a keynote presenter at the Organic Produce Summit last week, Zimberoff said the food-tech industry is talking about "healthier" foods and sustainable farming methods, but they are not talking about organic food, which she says is the leader in both categories.

“The organic community can’t sit back and relax. … You need to pay attention; you need to track the trends; and you need to adapt.” – Larissa Zimberoff

Private funded companies with huge financial backing are currently in a battle with Wall Street-funded public companies over market share at the expense of naturally healthy organic foods, Zimberoff said. These tech companies are promising healthy foods that are better for the environment, Zimberoff said, but they are not delivering on that promise and could adversely impact organic food sales.

Wish Farms October 2021

Zimberoff recently wrote a book titled Technically Food: Inside Silicon Valley’s Mission to Change What We Eat, and for her OPS presentation, she focused on three of its chapters.

She started with the chapter "Burger Wars" and talked about how food-tech companies are competing against one another with their supposedly plant-based burgers giving consumers healthy options. These burgers, Zimberoff said, are manufactured with a lot of ingredients—such as gels, binders, starches, and saturated fats—that are not particularly healthy and certainly not as healthy as organic produce. Further, these burgers contain virtually no organic ingredients and only limited plant materials compared to what is pictured on their packaging. For example, one burger claims to use green peas, but it really uses pea protein that includes none of the nutritional value of a green peas. The so-called plant-based burgers, Zimberoff said, have as much in common with plants as a Slim Jim has with beef.

Starr October 2021

The organic food industry should make plant-based burgers truly from vegetables, she believes, and compete with these food-tech companies for venture capital funding.

The so-called plant-based burgers, Zimberoff said, have as much in common with plants as a Slim Jim has with beef.

Zimberoff also takes issue with vertical farming as she said it appears that these companies are attracting huge amounts of money from farm-tech investors without delivering on their promise.

Chelan October 2021

Larissa Zimberoff, Investigative Journalist and Author

Indoor farming isn’t perfect, she said, and these non-traditional farms will struggle to market their product as certified organic and compete against outside in-the-dirt farmers. Vertical farm startups, which use LED lighting rather than sun and employ robots instead of people, continue to attract investment; however, most are not yet profitable, with almost 600 farms having gone out of business in 2019.

“Traditional outdoor organic producers have their own story to tell, and they should look to differentiate themselves from these factory farms,” Zimberoff said.

Zimberoff's final plea to the organic industry is to create organic “upcycled foods”—products made from food waste. For example, one company is taking the wasted pulp created by a juice operation to create healthy “pulp chips.” Another company is using tomato byproducts to make tomato jerky.

NatureSafe October 2021

Research, she said, reveals that 79 percent of consumers worldwide are looking to improve their health through healthy eating; 86 percent believe in the importance of sustainability; and 37 percent will pay more for sustainable products.

Zimberoff said that means the money that it will take to create compostable salad bags, for example, is worth it. People will spend the money for sustainable packaging, according to the research.

79 percent of consumers worldwide are looking to improve their health through healthy eating; 86 percent believe in the importance of sustainability; and 37 percent will pay more for sustainable products.

Growers Ice Co October 2021

All these food trends—including those being championed by the food-tech industry—are concepts in which the organic food industry already excels. Organic food, Zimberoff believes, is healthier, tastier, and more sustainable. Organics are in the lead, she said, and the industry should be capitalizing on that by trying to attract funding to improve the products and the packaging in a way that’s better for the environment.

“There are 8 billion people to feed in the world,” Zimberoff said. “The best thing we can do is feed them organic food.”

Jacobs Farm October 2021
Lakeside October 2021
Ocean Mist October 2021
Growers Ice Co October 2021
Organic Grower Summit October 2021

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