Direct U.S. private investment into solutions to reduce food waste reached an all-time high of $2 billion in 2021 following ten years of accelerating growth in the sector, according to new data from ReFED, the national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system. But substantially more funding is still needed to cut the 35% of food that goes unsold or uneaten each year in the United States in half by the year 2030, in accordance with national and international goals. The data come from ReFED’s new Food Waste Capital Tracker, a first-of-its-kind, free resource offering a deep-dive analysis of food waste funding at both a systems level and an individual company deal basis, designed to provide investors and innovators alike with the information they need to develop their food waste funding strategies.
ReFED’s data show that over the last ten years more than $7.8 billion of private capital – including venture capital, private equity, corporate finance and spending, and commercial project finance – was invested in companies offering solutions to reduce the amount of food loss and waste throughout the supply chain. During the same period, the quantity and size of deals accelerated, with 2020 and 2021 seeing 111% and 110% year-over-year investment growth, respectively.
“We’re encouraged by the increasing flow of capital into food waste solutions in recent years, but a significant funding gap remains,” said Alejandro Enamorado from ReFED’s Capital, Innovation & Engagement team. “As ReFED continues our work to catalyze the additional capital that’s needed to scale food waste solutions, we’re excited to introduce the Capital Tracker, an important new resource to support private, and eventually also public and philanthropic, funders interested in using their capital to solve food waste challenges.”
Looking forward, ReFED expects this momentum to continue due to a range of factors that are driving continued solution development and adoption, including the growing number of food businesses making public commitments to fight food waste, as well as the implementation of new policies mandating partial or full organic waste bans, like California’s SB1383. And while 2022 is already a period of uncertainty – with an inflationary environment, geopolitical risks, increasing food prices, supply chain challenges, and the lingering effects from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic – these factors further highlight the need to build a food system with less waste.
According to ReFED, private capital investment in food waste showed the following trends:
- In the early 2010s, a limited number of organizations were focused on developing food waste solutions, as seen by the fact that the top ten deals during this period made up more than 95% of all funding in the space, with just 1-2 deals making up more than 50% of this amount.
- The year 2016 marked an inflection point, with a healthy set of early stage innovations continuing to emerge, along with a large number of startups from the early 2010s growing into rapidly scaling companies, as demonstrated by an increasing number of later stage venture capital rounds. During this period, the top ten deals made up only 60-80% of total annual investment, and 3-7 of the largest deals made up more than 50% of the total as the decade progressed. (In 2016, ReFED released its first Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste report, which provided an action plan and detailed the benefits of investing in various food waste solutions.)
- Since 2020, the data show that food waste has established itself as an investable sector with a growing body of case studies demonstrating that funding food waste solutions delivers both a meaningful return on investment and positive social and environmental impacts.
- A majority of private capital went to solutions focused on preventing food waste from occurring in the first place, and funding concentrated in specific solutions, including active and intelligent packaging (e.g., companies like Hazel Technologies), edible coatings (e.g., Apeel and Mori), imperfect and surplus produce channels (e.g., Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods), enhanced demand planning (e.g., Crisp, Afresh, and Shelf Engine), and meal kits (e.g., Home Chef and Blue Apron). Recycling solutions also received interest from private capital, including anaerobic digestion (e.g. companies like Bioenergy Devco and HomeBiogas), insect farming (e.g., AgriProtein and Protix), and waste-derived biomaterials (e.g., Tidal Vision).
- More recently, larger deals have become more and more frequent, with average deal size increasing to $17 million in 2021 compared to just $2-$5 million in the early 2010s. Over the last two years, companies including Apeel, Misfits Market, Too Good To Go, Crisp, and Spoiler Alert have all completed large raises, contributing to increasing momentum in the space.
Despite this, much more funding is needed to continue developing and scaling the solutions that are required to reduce food waste by 50% by the year 2030. ReFED estimates that approximately $14 billion in funding is needed each year to achieve this milestone. The good news is that investment would result in approximately $73 billion in net economic benefit – a five-to-one return – as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 million metric tons, save 4 trillion gallons of water, and recover the equivalent of 4 billion meals for those in need. Plus over ten years, it would create more than 51,000 jobs.
To help support funders of all types who are interested in exploring the opportunities the food waste sector offers at all stages of development, ReFED has developed the following tools:
- Food Waste Capital Tracker: A new tool in the ReFED Insights Engine – an online knowledge hub for food waste data and solutions – the Capital Tracker offers a deep-dive look at private capital food waste investments over the last ten years, from industry-wide trends to deal-level details. Through an analysis of investment data sourced from Pitchbook, ReFED has created a first-of-its-kind platform to support capital providers and solution providers in developing funding strategies. The tool currently details private investment in food waste and will be expanded to include philanthropic and public investment later this year.
- Circular Food Solutions Funding Platform: ReFED is partnering with Closed Loop Partners, a circular economy-focused investment firm and innovation center, to launch a first-of-its-kind, hybrid funding platform to support and scale food waste reduction solutions and innovations. Managed by Closed Loop Partners, an experienced investor in circular food and organics solutions, and leveraging ReFED’s expertise in food waste financing and innovation, the Platform aims to mobilize further capital into circular food systems by offering a range of catalytic funding vehicles, including an investment fund, an innovation program, and a grant fund (see below). With full funding, the Platform will advance circular solutions that keep valuable food and organics in circulation and out of landfills.
- Catalytic Grant Fund: Part of the larger Circular Food Solutions Funding Platform, the ReFED Catalytic Grant Fund is a new five-year initiative designed to provide a total of $10 million+ in philanthropic funding to de-risk and scale high-impact solutions to food waste. Managed by ReFED, the Grant Fund will distribute recoverable and non-recoverable grants to for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations, and other initiatives across the food waste solution spectrum and has already received more than $1 million in anchor funding from Google and the Betsy and Jesse Fink Family Foundation.
- Food Waste Funder Circle: The Food Waste Funder Circle (FWFC) is a network designed for private, public, and philanthropic funders interested in using their capital to solve food waste challenges. Co-founded by ReFED and Upcycled Food Association, the FWFC offers a curated platform for funder education, collaboration, and investment to help drive the capital flow needed to reach national and international goals to reduce food waste by 50% by the year 2030.