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Ninjacart Joins Ynsect, Pinduoduo At Food Future Asia Forum To Discuss Investments In Agri-Food System

Ninjacart is India's largest fresh produce supply chain company that is solving one of the toughest problems in the world through technology.

Caption: Xin Yi Lim of Pinduoduo (right) with Timo Recker of Next Gen Foods at the Future Food Asia
Caption: Xin Yi Lim of Pinduoduo (right) with Timo Recker of Next Gen Foods at the Future Food Asia

Agriculture and food technology start-ups flush with cash from raising a record $51.7 billion last year are investing in other companies in search of technologies that can enable a more sustainable and resilient food system.  

The main rationale for investing in other start-ups is to gain market access or new product categories, according to a panel discussion at the Food Future Asia forum involving NinjaCart, Ynsect, Next Gen Foods and Pinduoduo.  

“There are lots of problems to solve in the agri supply chain,” said Ben Mathew, director of strategy at NinjaCart, India’s largest fresh produce supply chain company. “And it’s not possible to solve all of them in-house.” 

The Bengalaru-based startup, which counts Flipkart and Walmart as backers, recently raised $9 million from STIC and Mainstream Digital, and is seeking to create an agri supply chain platform to enable retailers, restaurants and sellers to source fresh produce directly from farmers. It currently has a network of 100,000 stores and handles 2,000 tons of fresh produce a day.  

For Pinduoduo, an agricultural e-commerce platform in China serving 16 million farmers and 880 million users, partnerships can involve more than just taking equity stakes in companies.  

When Pinduoduo saw a gap in the availability of cost-effective technology that can help small-scale farmers boost their productivity, it organized an annual Smart Agriculture Competition to serve as a proving ground for precision farming technology and launchpad for promising solutions. To date, many participants in the competition have successfully launched commercial pilots and rolled out their technology to help farmers.  

“As a tech platform, we believe in the importance of harnessing tech to improve every link of the agri-food value chain,” said Xinyi Lim, Executive Director of Sustainability and Agricultural Impact at Pinduoduo.  

Venture capital firms pumped a total of $51.7 billion into agri-food tech startups last year, an increase of 85% from 2020, according to data compiled by AgFunder, an agri-food tech investor.  

Over in France, Ynsect, a start-up that breeds mealworms as a protein source for aquaculture, livestock, pet food and fertilizers, recently purchased mealworm producer Jord Producers to extend its foothold in the US.  

“We had to build everything from scratch when we started out,” said Ynsect co-founder and CEO Antoine Hubert. “Now we’re investing to gain access to new product categories and markets.”  

The company made its first entry to the U.S. market in late 2021 by supplying ingredients to make premium dog food. It has identified North America and Western Europe as the two key regions for expansion.  

To be sure, investing has its own potential pitfalls for start-ups, which is why looking for the right cultural fit is just as important as looking for the right technology, Hubert said.  

Sometimes, the best course of action may turn out to be to do less and not to over-reach, according to Timo Recker, co-founder and chairman of Next Gen, a Singapore-based food tech company.  

“As start-ups you’re always tempted to do more, especially if you have the money to do so,” said Recker, who was moderating the session. “But the smart thing to do may be to just focus and just do one thing and do it well.”

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