What Beyoncé Has to Do With My Investment Portfolio
Tech startup Lighter’s collaboration with Beyoncé reveals software’s place in the food revolution.
Welcome to our miniseries: Pioneers of the Post-Animal Food Economy, where we are taking a look at a handful startups that are ending our reliance on industrial animal farming and building a robust new market sector in the process. This piece was written by Emily Byrd.
Andreessen Horowitz’s slogan that “software is eating the world” has lodged itself so firmly in my brain that it gives me an apocalyptic feeling every time I descend into the labyrinthian and addictive tunnels of social media. It’s consuming, to be sure.
I’ve woken up from nightmares with this phrase in my head. No disrespect to Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz — they’re funding some incredible and positive ventures — it’s just that what I’m really on the hunt for is software that feeds the world. I’m talking real nourishment, not another social feed.
In New Crop Capital’s work discovering, evaluating, and funding transformative food startups, “hardware” typically rules the day, and for good reason. People can’t eat ideas. What they can do is swap their Whitecastle slider for a bleeding plant-based burger, cutting back on animal products while cutting down on the negative externalities of factory farming (think antibiotic resistance, zoonotic diseases, environmental degradation, and so on).
The CPG side of plant-based meat, dairy, eggs, and seafood has set the media abuzz* (and tastes amazing), but as obsessed as I am with finding the perfect animal-free Philly Cheesesteak, I’m painfully aware that product innovation alone does not constitute world transformation. The incredible animal-free products we see today exist within an infrastructure that heavily favors traditional animal products, in terms of normative culture and supply chain build-out.
This is why I’m fascinated with the category of enabling technologies that connect consumers with healthy, humane, and sustainable plant-based options and build a robust ecosystem for these options to thrive within the mass market.
I did not expect this fascination to bring me within one degree of separation from Beyoncé.
But that’s exactly what happened when Bey announced the launch of her 22 Days plant-based meal planning platform, powered by software from New Crop Capital’s portfolio company, Lighter.
Lighter’s software enables users to to discover personalized meals to plan their week, shop for ingredients, and cook, all on one site.
Lighter’s machine learning technology provides the connective tissue between multiple macro-trends within the food industry and consumer preferences, which is why their team first caught our attention.
Trend 1: Grocery Delivery
AmazonFresh. Instacart. Peapod. Walmart. The biggest players in food are vying to be the store-to-door provider for consumers as the retail revolution moves further toward convenience and web-based services. Market research by Nielsen predicts that grocery delivery will become a $100 billion market by 2025.
Trend 2: The Internet of Food
The food supply has come online, and this digital visibility across the supply chain presents an array of opportunities to connect people and products with unprecedented speed, transparency, and personalization.
Trend 3: Personalization
Speaking of personalization, tailored nutrition based on increasingly niche preferences and even on individual genetics is in vogue, and companies like Campbell Soup and Nestlé are searching for ways to stay ahead of this major shift in how people eat.
And, of course, let’s never forget consumer demand:
Consumers are becoming increasingly motivated to adopt plant-based diets due to an uptick in awareness of the harms of animal agriculture (both personal and existential), coupled with high-profile endorsements (again: Beyonce).
Additional drivers of plant-based eating range from health benefits, novelty, and, as always, taste. As an outcropping of this, food industry execs predict that novel plant-based alternatives will grab an increasing share of the trillion-dollar market for animal products, and that plant-based meats will soon reach and exceed the popularity that plant-based milks have achieved.
Lighter is not only powering Beyonce’s meal planner. Their technology personalizes the recommendations of a wide variety of influencers (leading healthcare providers, world-class athletes, expert authors, filmmakers, etc.) and delivers them to users (in more than 130 countries thus far).
They are well-positioned to capitalize on all of these trends, and thus far, it’s doing so well: Lighter is one of those rare and blessed startups that consistently covers its expenses with revenue. This is a good sign for the future of integrated, personalized, and plant-based food distribution.
The Boston-based startup also has a talented, mission-driven team that inspires confidence:
Alexis Fox — Chief Empowerment Officer (right)
Attorney and leadership professor turned startup co-founder.
Micah Risk — Chief Nourishment Officer
Ultra-runner, clinical researcher, and childhood nutrition advocate challenging the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Ron Pastore — Chief Technology Officer
Former tech lead for Verizon Wireless and software engineer for AOL dedicated to creating tech for good.
We’re proud to be supporting this team and its tech-enabled avenue for food-system change, and we can’t say we’re upset to be one step closer to meeting the most influential plant-based power couple in the game.
Keep changing the world, Lighter.