A Farmers Markets in the Metaverse & The Coming Home Robot Invasion

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Come With Me as I Walk Around a CPG Farmers Market in the Metaverse

Last night I walked around a farmers market. I spent about an hour walking from stand to stand, having conversations, and learning about new CPG products. Someone even offered me free candy. It was a blast!

And all of it happened in the metaverse. I attended a virtual pop-up farmers market put on by an organization called The Metamarket. The event featured over a dozen different CPG brands, each of which had a virtual exhibit stand in a virtual 2D Sims-like world that allowed me to interact with both the products and the people.

The platform The Metamarket used for the event is Gather, a virtual world/metaverse startup that started during the pandemic and has since raised $76 million in funding. Gather has some interesting features, including one called ‘proximity chatting’ in which a video pop window emerges for chats with people in the space (see below), making it a nice mashup of video game meets professional networking tool.

Come to SKS Invent on October 12th to Explore The Future of Food & Cooking. Use discount code NEWSLETTER to get 20% off tickets!

Robot Butlers & Roombas: Elon and Amazon Are Getting Serious About Building Home Robots

Last week, Amazon announced they were acquiring iRobot. The acquisition of the maker of the popular Roomba robotic vacuums comes less than a year after Amazon unveiled its own home robot, Astro.

The news came the same week we got a sneak preview of Optimus, Tesla’s robotic humanoid. After the preview, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he thinks the impact of the Optimus could someday exceed that of the company’s hugely popular electric vehicles.

“I’m sort of surprised that you know people are like analysts out there are not really understanding the importance of the Optimus robot,” Musk said. “My guess is Optimus will be more valuable than the car long term.”

While Musk has suggested his company’s robot will someday provide a nearly inexhaustible amount of “labor” (of the mechanized, non-human variety), he also outlined how the robot will also help us at home with everyday tasks.

“It should be able to, you know, please go to the store and get me the following groceries, that kind of thing,” he said.

For Amazon, much of the early hot takes on the company’s purchase of iRobot frame it as part of a larger effort by the online giant to better understand its customers. And no doubt, adding the home mapping capability of the Roomba to the already rich data profiles Amazon has through our purchase history and Alexa voice interactions will give the company an even better contextual understanding with which to sell us even more stuff.

But I also think Amazon is serious about becoming a leading platform builder in home robotics. Robotics are just a natural evolution of the smart home – something us old-timers used to call ‘home automation’ – and I expect the roboticization of the home will ultimately lead to a multi-hundred billion dollar market. Today’s consumer robot market – mostly products like the Roomba – is forecasted to be a $9 billion market next year. One can only imagine how big it will be once multipurpose, life-assisting robots that can do more than just clean our floors are widely available.

Read the full story at The Spoon.

Food Waste 

From Grad School Project to $115 Million Series B: Afresh’s Matt Schwartz on Building an Operating System for Fresh Food

While in graduate school Matt Schwartz had an epiphany.

At the time, he was learning about the food system as part of Stanford University’s Earth Program and also participating in an internship with food tech investor Dave Friedberg, and it was this combination of advanced education with a front-row seat to food tech innovation that helped him to see the future.

“That’s when I came to believe that things were heading towards fresh,” Schwartz told me this week in a Zoom interview. “That we need to move towards a more nutrient-dense form of eating, a less calorie dense form of eating, to be able to nourish the world sustainably. And those two things converged into saying, I want to accelerate this fresh technology thing.”

The focus on fresh food soon led Schwartz and his eventual cofounder of Afresh, Nathan Fenner, to do a graduate study in which they talked to close to one hundred people involved in the food supply chain. It wasn’t long before they realized that, despite the increasing importance of fresh food for food retailers, there wasn’t any technology optimized for managing it.

You can read the full story at The Spoon. 

Q&A: Goodr’s Jasmine Crowe Talks About Her Plan To Build a $100 Million Company Addressing Food Waste & Food Insecurity

Last month, food waste reduction and food insecurity startup Goodr raised an $8 million Series A funding round.

When Jasmine Crowe founded the company, the Atlanta-based startup used technology to help large food service providers reduce food waste. Over the past two years, Goodr has expanded its business to provide expertise to companies looking to provide food to those in food insecure situations.

I wanted to catch up with Crowe to ask her about how the business has evolved, the challenges of raising venture funding as a Black founder, and where she sees the company going in the future.

You can read the full interview transcript below.

Before this most recent round, you’d managed to operate without a lot of outside funding.

We really just bootstrapped. To date have done more revenue than we’ve done in funding, which is something I’m personally proud of.

What was some of the thinking behind deciding to go after new funding?

It was really about scaling up to meet our demand. We had so many big deals that we were bringing in, so many new customers that we were onboarding. Because we have always been really lean and capital efficient, we’ve also had a very small team. So it really got down to ‘hey, we need to, we got to get more people in the door.’ And so that’s kind of really what happened. I was like, ‘I’ve got to raise money because I’ve got to hire more people.’

This round comes at a time where we are seeing a pullback in venture funding. You were right in the midst of that pullback.

We definitely were 100% all involved with that market change and it was scary. It was really scary because we just didn’t know. When I started raising funds in the market in late September, October of last year, and I remember one of my investors was like, ‘oh, Jasmine, your numbers are so great, look what you’ve done.’ At the time, I had only raised like $1.4 million or whatever prior to so we were like ‘you’re going to be able to raise this money so easily, like this is going to be the fastest money you’ve ever raised’. And it definitely wasn’t that. I think we had some struggles with it.

To read the full interview, click here. 

Food Delivery

‘Late Empire Sort of Stuff’: Wonder Faces Backlash Over Environmental Impact of Vans

By and large, the residents of the northern New Jersey suburbs where Wonder delivers agree that the well-funded startup’s food tastes great.

What they can’t agree on is whether having hundreds of Mercedes diesel vans idling curbside each night while Wonder employees prep meals is a good idea at a time when most experts agree climate change is fast becoming an existential crisis.

A story published in the Wall Street Journal details the bickering that has broken out amongst residents of South Orange and Maplewood, New Jersey, about the omnipresent vans zig-zagging through their towns each night.

On the one hand, some feel the Wonder trucks are an unnecessary and carbon-emitting extravagance.

“There’s a stigma of calling the Wonder truck and having them idle outside your house for the decadent purpose of making you dinner in a truck,” resident Will Meyer told the Journal. “It feels like this is late empire sort of stuff.”

And then there are those who don’t see a problem with the trucks.

“It doesn’t bother me,” said Lisa Bressler, who didn’t see the trucks being much different from Amazon and UPS trucks driving around town. “I guess I like unnecessary luxuries.”

To read the full story, head over to The Spoon.

Future Food

Here’s Our Q&A With Ranjani Varadan, Who Just Became Shiru’s New CSO After a Decade With Impossible Foods

When she became the first scientist ever hired by Pat Brown at Impossible Foods in 2011, Ranjani Varadan became a pivotal part of the R&D team for one of the earliest entrants in the modern plant-based meat industry. Over the next decade, she would play a part in helping guide Impossible through many technical milestones, from the very early days in its stealth lab all the way to commercial scaleup.

And now, Varadan hopes to witness many more seminal moments in the alternative protein space as part of her new role as the Chief Science Officer for Shiru, a company that makes ingredients for CPG companies building plant-based meats and other alternative proteins. Varadan will oversee all aspects of R&D, from discovery and screening to ingredient pre-production.

I sat down with Varadan to talk to ask her about her time at Impossible, the decision to come to Shiru, how she believes her new company differentiates itself in a fast-growing alt protein market, and what she sees going forward for the plant-based foods and alternative protein industry. Answers have been edited slightly for readability.

You can read the full interview with Ranjani at The Spoon.

Podcast: Building a Next-Generation Ingredient Company with Shiru’s Jasmin Hume

As the former head of food chemistry for Eat Just, Dr. Jasmin Hume thought there was a lot of white space for innovation when it came to food ingredients.

She knew food companies would increasingly need new and novel ingredients they could build plant-based food products around, but felt there wasn’t enough research being done to discover these critical building blocks.

So she decided to start a company to do just that. So far, the company has raised over $20 million and recently hired Impossible Foods’ former VP of R&D and strategic ingredients.

On the podcast, Jasmin and I discuss a variety of topics, including:

  • How the alternative protein market is evolving from early fully vertically integrated brands to companies like Shiru that build ingredients and solutions for a variety of companies
  • The new cohort of food companies utilizing AI and ML to build the next generation of food
  • How what Shiru is doing with precision fermentation is different from that of Perfect Day and others trying to create animal-identical proteins
  • Where Jasmin sees the ingredient industry going in the future
  • Plus lots more!

You can listen to the full episode at The Spoon or, as always, find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Food Robots

Ottonomy Debuts a Swervy, Customizable Delivery Robot in Ottobot 2.0 as it Closes $3.3M Seed Round

Earlier this month, Ottonomy, a maker of autonomous delivery robots, unveiled its second generation robot, the Ottobot 2.0, alongside its announcement of its $3.3 million seed funding round according to an announcement sent to The Spoon. The new funding, which is led by pi ventures, also has Connetic Ventures, Branded Hospitality Ventures, and Sangeet Kumar (Founder & CEO of Addverb Technologies) joining the round.

As you can see in the video below, the second-gen Ottobot introduces several features, including a new swerve-drive capability (which Ottonomy calls “crab mode”) in which the Ottobot’s drive train can turn each wheel independently. This allows the Ottobot 2 to spin in place (aka ‘zero-radius turning’) and swerve as it navigates (vs. the more tank-style mobility of robots without a swerve drive) towards it destination. This type of advanced maneuverability allows robots to weave through tight spaces, something that the Ottobot will need with its emphasis on both indoor and outdoor delivery.

To read the full story, click here!

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