Foodland Ventures optimistic about prospect of Taiwan agrifood tech amid global automation and digitization trends

Ambrose Huang, DIGITIMES, Taipei 0

Founder & CEO of Foodland Ventures, Victor Chen

Optimistic about the global agri-food tech market of over US$500 billion per year, the estimated value of the investment portfolio of Foodland Ventures in the relevant industries has also surpassed US$250 million. Mr. Victor Chen, Founder & CEO of Foodland Ventures, stated that given the density of resources, Taiwan is equipped with a complete "farm-to-table" agri-food supply chain. From its local funding, talent pool, and technological strengths, Taiwan possesses the competitiveness required to expand into the global market.

A comprehensive overview on opportunities and challenges facing entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry in Taiwan, shows that similar to the Gold Rush in the 19th-century America, those who sold crowbars and pickaxes had in fact more potential and opportunity to grow than those who participated in the gold rush. In other words, in an industry with relatively intense competition, those with access to critical technologies and tools have the greatest chance to profit. In particular, there is a large gap in terms of the communications between the food and beverage industry, and the high-tech industry. Furthermore, prospects are looking up for Taiwanese startups that can act as "tool providers" in the food and beverage industry, thereby assisting the industry to grow through innovative technologies.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working and labor shortage have prompted a rapid transformation for in-store dining. The demand for software-as-a-service (SaaS) and automated services is rising, and this will also be the optimal entry point for the Taiwanese high-tech startups into the food and beverage industry. In addition, smart agriculture, fishing and animal husbandry in the upstream agri-food industry will also experience much development, given the concerns for food security and climate change.

The food and beverage industry in Taiwan boasts a comprehensive industry chain. With its high-quality software and hardware R&D talent pool, there are opportunities for Taiwan to showcase its advantages in the international arena.

Compared with the global market, although the Taiwanese market is relatively small, it possesses a comprehensive industry chain from the agri-food sector to the food and beverage industry, as well as a well-rounded information and communications technology (ICT) industry framework and manpower. All of which will make Taiwan a conducive environment for developing an agri-food tech market. Therefore, Foodland Ventures has chosen Taiwan as its first stop toward international development.

Since Taiwan already has a comprehensive local food and beverage ecosystem, Foodland Ventures is proactively facilitating partnerships between enterprises and startups, so that Taiwanese entrepreneurs could have an opportunity to test the product-market fit by engaging in conversations with industry. In addition, Foodland Ventures also notes that many major traditional businesses have already proactively invested in innovative technologies to promote corporate transformations.

In the development of agri-food tech, each market has its distinctive characteristics and needs. Therefore, Foodland Ventures will assist startups to choose the right international markets based on their individual technological competencies and operational qualities. Foodland Ventures will also guide them in market development. At the same time, the startup teams also need to reinforce their understanding of local markets. On top of building a team that will be stationed locally for the long-haul, they will also need to search for the right local partners, which will enable them to rapidly build a competitive edge in these markets.

Mr. Chen said that Taiwanese startups and their products will be just as competitive even on the global stage. Looking forward to the next decade, agri-food startups in Taiwan will be very proactive in areas such as automation, artificial intelligence (AI), digital transformation, and environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG).

Moreover, the international capital market has undergone many changes in 2022, including post-pandemic developments, war and inflation. Mr. Chen pointed out a decline in the number of venture capital (VC) investments after the pandemic. This is mostly attributable to the restoration of rationality in the capital market. Nevertheless, early-stage investments in Taiwan have always been made in a more conservative and rational manner than those by international venture capitalists. Therefore, Taiwanese startups have become more prudent in seeking profitability after immersing in such a culture and addressing these demands over an extended period. Thus, the withdrawal of hot money and the increasingly conservative attitude of international VCs may not be such a bad thing for the Taiwanese startups after all. For startup teams that are already experiencing robust growth, the developments may even be helpful.

In the long term, Foodland Ventures is optimistic about the potential of Taiwanese startups that wish to go global. As such, it will continue to form enterprise networks, gather international resources, and work toward aligning the startups with the necessary funding to help them succeed.

Readers can download "2022 Taiwan Startup Ecosystem Survey" jointly conducted by PwC Taiwan, TIER and DIGITIMES: