Agtech investor profile

Cargill Ventures: From plant-based foods to soil health – which solutions are best placed to solve ag’s urgent challenges?

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Cargill
Image: Cargill

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Cargill Ventures invests in companies that align with Cargill's long-term growth objectives, says Erin VanLanduit, Head of Corporate Ventures at Cargill.

“As global food production and agriculture evolve, we will need innovative solutions to solve the most urgent challenges,” she began. As a result, Cargill Ventures invests in companies that align with Cargill's long-term growth objectives to turn “imagine if” into “we can” on a global scale. “We are exploring what the next generation of food and feed will look like, how to improve and better the health of humans and animals, making improvements in sustainability, smart midstream technology and digital platforms, as well as reimagining the farm of the future.”

Since its establishment as a centralised function in 2020, Cargill Ventures has made a variety of investments across the food and agriculture sectors. For example, in 2021, investments were made in Bushel, a software developer for the agriculture industry; Aleph Farms, a cultivated protein company; and ReGrow, a carbon MRV technology platform. More recent years have seen further investment in start-ups such as Cubiq Foods, a foodtech firm pursuing alternative fat solutions; Grão Direto, a digital commodities trading platform; and Flyability, an industrial drone tech developer.

All investments are considered the starting point for long-term, truly strategic partnerships, stressed VanLanduit. In some cases, there may be a commercial agreement parallel-pathed with an equity investment to maximize mutual value. “An advantage that Cargill offers as an investor is access to expertise in areas such as commercial operations, supply chain, regulatory, R&D or procurement. Additionally, there is opportunity to access a global network and deep relationships with key customers – which many start-ups need to scale their businesses.”

What's it eyeing next?

Are there specific sectors Cargill sees growth potential in? “We are focused on delivering the innovations that will shape the future of food and agriculture,” said VanLanduit. “Some great examples of this include investments in plant-based foods to regenerative agriculture.”

Take, for example, the plant-based nuggets and patties that we’ve launched with foodservice and retail customers. Or our partnership with food-tech startup CUBIQ FOODS and the big fat solution — literally — that innovative fats like Go!Drop help us provide customers making plant-based food.

When it comes to cultivated meat — meat produced by growing animal cells — Cargill Ventures is investing for the future in companies like Upside Foods, a leader in cultured protein; Aleph Farms, a cell-based protein producer focused on growing complex meat varieties like steak; and Wildtype, an organization developing cultivated salmon. “We’re also seeing that the cost of ‘cell culture media’ — the feed that grows cultivated meat — needs to reduce for this category to continue growing.”

How does Cargill build working relationships with founders? It’s “crucial” to build trust on both sides of a strategic partnership from the start, we were told. “Founders and CEOs are a crucial part of that process. Setting expectations, having a plan for regular communications and being honest about what is – or isn’t - going according to plan is key to having good working relationships with portfolio management teams.” It’s also part of Cargill Ventures’ role to create access and make connections to resources both within the organization as well as the external network to help the company achieve their goals.

Current market conditions continue to challenge start-ups, and likely will for the foreseeable future, however. “We have a tremendous opportunity as a strategic investor to add value to the growth stage companies that we invest in,” VanLanduit said. “Unlike many financial VCs that have struggled to raise capital and pulled back on active investing, Cargill is positioned to continue to invest in areas of interest and provide resources beyond just funding to our portfolio.”

Lastly, how does Cargill Ventures define success? “Cargill Ventures is a strategic investor, but also has financial return targets for the capital deployed, so that is one measure of success,” VanLanduit replied. “However, we’re interested in a combined value creation for Cargill and the portfolio company over the long term; that’s where we expect an outsized return.

“Examples of what we would consider strategic success are being able to leverage a new technology from a start-up that was invested in to create a truly differentiated product line at scale for a core business, or to enable Cargill to advance more quickly on ESG initiatives. It varies widely, but truly does depend on the strategic goal when the investment is made.”

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