The food business is worth nearly $9 trillion, and while its criticality to the global economy is clear, its wider impact on the Gulf region is less well understood. Big food is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation, and as diets have evolved, fast food has been a major factor in the growing prevalence of diabetes. There are also animal rights issues that arise from live transport, and of course, security, price and supply risks that come with a reliance on food imports – Bahrain, for example, imports 95% of its supply and neighbouring countries are not far behind. With food consumption rising, the Gulf is vulnerable to a mix of different food shocks, and although this creates risk it also makes the region a natural centre for food innovation.
FoodTech can transform the region
Food technology has the potential to transform the GCC’s production capacity into one that is self-sufficient, but it’s an even bigger story than that. Global food technology trends promise multiple additional benefits, including a healthier and more environmentally friendly food production approach. International businesses like Memphis Meats are growing meat from cells – completely removing the animal from the equation. Equally, Turtle Tree Labs are removing the cow with cell-based milk, and JUST Foods is creating eggs without any chickens as their eggs are made from plant-based protein. Such novel methods can cut down on the sector’s emissions across the supply chain, improve animal welfare and produce more nutritious food products. Emerging clusters around food technology can also create high-skilled jobs across GCC economies and contribute to GDP growth over time.
How to get there
When mitigating food security risks, all stakeholders can play their part. Corporates can act as catalysts for technology adoption and research, and development anchors that test proofs of concept and provide contract manufacturing services for innovative global startups. In Saudi Arabia, key players like Al Marai, Al Rabie and Al Safie Dannon have already started responding to changing consumer preferences. Meanwhile in Bahrain, Mondelez and Arla are cornerstones to attracting new food clusters in the fields of food technology and agricultural technology – and Brinc, a venture impact accelerator with deep expertise in food technology, is transplanting its frameworks and systems to the region.
Building strong ecosystems
Brinc’s comprehensive approach to foodtech ecosystem-building brings together stakeholders that rally around foodtech startups and scaleups, which can utilise Bahrain as a launchpad to the wider region. Brinc is a global-first mover in foodtech ecosystem building, having launched a dedicated acceleration program for the sector in Hong Kong in 2018. As part of this, Brinc invested in 16 companies across multiple verticals including cellular agriculture, alternative protein, beverage innovation, sustainable packaging, food supply chain and agritech.
Now, to catalyse the GCC’s growth in the field, Brinc is leveraging its global network of corporates, mentors, regulators and investors to replicate structures and learnings across the region. They primarily do this through engaging with home grown food giants and MNCs with regional presence. These corporates will play a crucial role in startup mentorship, proof of concept partnerships, research and development facilitation, market guidance and investment.
Taking a leadership position
The Gulf – and Bahrain in particular – have many of the essential building blocks necessary to genuinely move away from a position of reliance to one of leadership and greater self-sufficiency. Lessons from global regulatory frameworks, food centres of excellence and testing facilities can be rapidly adopted to ensure that FoodTech entrepreneurs have the infrastructure and guidelines to rapidly develop, test and deploy their products safely. The impacts of success in this area would be profound – reshaping the Gulf economies and turning the Gulf region into a global leader.