Tyson Foods, a food and beverage giant with approximately 137,000 employees, is no stranger to thinking big. It built staple brands like Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farms and of course, Tyson. But lately, big companies like Tyson are also thinking small.
Tyson and Whole Foods are just two food giants that have developed formal programs to find and nurture small, entrepreneurial food and beverage companies. Tyson is targeting those that innovate, while Whole Foods is looking to support local brands, giving customers a taste of their hometowns to try to make the local Whole Foods Market truly local.
Partnerships and investment in smaller companies, often through their venture capital (VC) arms, is one way big companies are hoping to find and fund the future. In the words of John R. Tyson, president of Tyson Ventures, the company aims to “play our part and help foster those innovations we think will have the greatest impact to our food system.”
In addition to its own research and development (R&D), Tyson has selected and is funding companies with “breakthrough sustainable technologies.” Since 2016, Tyson Ventures has invested more than $100 million in startups and other companies focused on emerging proteins, new technologies for food and worker safety, and sustainable food production.
Tyson Ventures’ portfolio now includes Clear Labs, Future Meat, MycoTechnology, New Wave, Soft Robotics and Upside Foods, among others. Tyson is eager to grow its portfolio, holding its first Shark Tank-styled event online July 11 where company executives will listen to pitches. Tyson Ventures’ Demo Day will allow companies to demonstrate how they can help create a more sustainable food system.
Whole Foods’ Local and Emerging Accelerator Program
Last month, Whole Foods announced it would be launching its Local and Emerging Accelerator Program (LEAP). It’s planning on starting by selecting ten companies that don’t yet have products in its stores, then working with existing suppliers. While Tyson’s goal is focused on technological innovation, Whole Foods wants to buy and sell local brands.
The selected companies will receive shelf space and the potential for investment. And applications for the first LEAP cohort are due by April 8. Whole Foods is already making a kind of “buy local” initiative, even without its latest LEAP, by adding 500 new local brands and 6,500 new local items to its shelves in 2021.
“Since we opened our first store, we have been on the lookout for small, local and emerging producers with products that our customers will love. Over the years, we’ve helped many of these producers find their footing and grow their businesses, and we are thrilled to formalize this assistance with our Local and Emerging Acceleration Program,” said Will Betts, vice president of local merchandising at Whole Foods Market, in a press release.
Other Food Companies Investing in Innovation
General Mills is doing something similar to Tyson Ventures with 301 Inc., which the company calls an “emerging brand elevator.” It selected Good Catch, No Cow, Pet Plate and Beyond Meat, an alumnus of its program. Other brands are also creating accelerators to help entrepreneurial companies grow.
Kellogg’s, for example, is trying its hand at VC with 1894 Capital. “If you have a food industry consumer product in market or ready for launch, we have the capital and resources to take it to the next level,” the VC said. The Kellogg’s program has included companies such as Kuli Kuli and Plantible.
One way Tyson, Whole Foods, General Mills and Kellogg’s are finding young innovators is at showcases like the Innovative Emerging Company Showcase for companies with less than $10 million in revenues at Marcum’s upcoming Food & Beverage Summit in New York City on June 15.