🚀🍜 Breaking News From Japan's Premier Food Tech Event
Don't miss out on the biggest trends we spotted at SKS Japan 2023!
Last week, Market Shake covered Japan’s premier food tech event, SKS Japan 2023 (if you follow us on LinkedIn, you received our daily updates). The event brought together F&B industry trailblazers for three days of action-oriented events focussed on solving the challenges facing our food system through tech and collaboration. In today’s newsletter, we recap the major announcements and activities from the event.
📸 A Snapshot of SKS Japan 2023
📆 SKS Japan: Days 1, 2, and 3
🍜 Exhibitors @ SKS Japan 2023
🚀 3 Key Takeaways From SKS Japan 2023
📸 A Snapshot of SKS Japan 2023
SKS Japan 2023 is the 6th edition of the event in Japan, and the biggest one yet. Let’s take a look at some of the stats:
🌏 100+ global speakers
🎤 45+ panel sessions and events
🙌 65+ partners
😋 30+ food tech exhibitors offering samples
🤝 Hundreds of attendees from Japan and abroad
SKS Japan was first brought to Japan in 2017 by the Japanese consulting firm SIGMAXYZ and industry media The Spoon. At the time, little was being done to promote food tech and collaboration in Japan. Fast forward 6 years and SKS Japan has become the country’s foremost event that explores “Food X Technology & Science”.
🔓 The core theme tying SKS Japan 2023 together is UNLOCK, and that’s what the event was all about. Unlocking - the innovation in products and services, the potential in individuals and professionals, and the global presence of Japan's rich food culture.
Where Does SKS Japan Fit into Japan’s Food Tech Ecosystem?
SKS Japan may not be the biggest food event in Japan (FOODEX takes that crown) but it is certainly one of the most significant. It’s where major conglomerates, investors, food tech startups, and institutions from Japan and abroad gather to discuss proactive steps for building a sustainable food future. At no other food event does innovation and technology play such an integral role for everyone involved.
All the major stakeholders come with open minds and the intention to discuss and forge lasting partnerships. SKS Japan connects many of the dots in Japan’s ecosystem by getting these stakeholders together in the same venue.
Despite the best efforts of SKS, Japan’s food tech ecosystem remains fragmented. Players, such as KDC, a co-working space, the Japan Association for Cellular Agriculture (JACA), JETRO, and Shibuya Startup Support, are very active in their own areas but do not seem to coordinate with each other regularly, if at all. There are definitely opportunities being missed here and Japan could benefit from having a leader to bring together the whole ecosystem. Event organizers SYGMAXYZ are one of the best contenders for that role.
📆 SKS Japan: Days 1, 2, and 3
SKS Japan 2023 was a jam-packed three-day event that explored food tech innovation from every angle. The panel sessions, around which the event schedule is organized, loosely followed a different theme on each day.
Day 1: The Big Picture of Food Innovation
The focus of Day 1 was on painting the big picture of food innovation today. In the opening session, Mike Wolf (The Spoon) and Hirotaka Tanaka (SIGMAXYZ) introduced the trends shaping the food industry in Japan and globally. In their closing remarks, Mike Wolf dropped a comment that would resonate throughout the event:
Following this, experts from Google, DSM, and the ex-head of Global Food System Collaboration at the World Economic Forum gave an overview of the challenges facing our food system. These included greenhouse gas emissions, supply chain fragility, malnourishment, and nutritional inequality, to name a few.
With the stage set, the remaining sessions covered the big F&B industry trends of the moment. A panel including Big Idea Ventures, AgFunder, Value Create, and others discussed how food tech investors are tightening their purse strings. We also heard about truly transformative innovations such as personalized nutrition from Rem3dy Health Group and Suntory, the future of supermarkets according to United Supermarket Holdings (USMH), the ongoing Smart Kitchen Revolution, and Japan’s emerging cultivated meat ecosystem.
Day 2: The Frontline of Food Innovation
The second day of the event was all about highlighting the experiences of experts who are at the cutting edge of food innovation. The speakers broadly explored one or more of four key ideas.
The first is the increasing importance of big data to drive powerful technologies in food such as AI and personalization.
Several panels focussed on alternative proteins. Japan’s giants, including NH Foods and Ajinomoto, affirmed their commitment to plant-based, cultivated meat, and precision fermentation innovations. We also heard from global players such as Good Food Institute (GFI) and GOOD MEAT, a cultivated chicken company, that the industry is focused on high-quality, minimally processed, and hyper-localized products.
A third thread running through many of the sessions was co-creation between the different players in the food industry. A panel of representatives from Cargill, Givaudan’s MISTA platform, and Bühler discussed how large corporates leverage co-creation with startups as an innovation strategy. We also heard about the importance of network effects and physical space when creating food tech ecosystems from several global builders, including EIT FOOD from the EU, Padang from Asia, Kok Projekt from MENA, and SKS US / Japan.
Finally, the importance of promoting entrepreneurship in the food and beverage industry was reinforced in multiple sessions. During one session, two global food-tech incubation leaders, Rusty Schwartz from SF-based Kitchen Town and Barry O’Neill from Value Create in Japan, emphasized that the food industry has never needed entrepreneurship more than it has today because innovation is key to transforming our ailing food system.
Day 3: Vision Deployment for a New Food Industry
The final day of the event aimed to tie everything together with action focussed discussion. In particular, the day’s panels touched on interesting approaches to unlocking innovation and collaboration within the food world.
The first session of the day explored how robotics can be used to streamline restaurant operations with leading startups Yo-Kai Express and Japan’s TechMagic. Ajinomoto presented on their collaboration with several startups, such as Japan’s BASE FOODS, plant-based meat ingredient maker DAIZ, and a strategic partnership with Solar Foods which create protein from air. Sarah Roversi, the leader of the Future Food Institute, described how her team’s regenerative agriculture project has revitalized a rural town in Italy and inspired collaboration across the F&B industry.
Together, all the sessions showcased examples of how different organizations, from big corporates and startups to governments and NPOS, can find common ground to collaborate and create progressive initiatives to support a more sustainable food system.
The third day closed with a networking and innovative food-sampling event.
🍜 Exhibitors @ SKS Japan 2023
A food tech event wouldn’t be complete without innovative food products to fuel up on while networking between panels. SKS Japan 2023 did not disappoint here.
We don’t have space for a full rundown of over 30 exhibitors, so here’s a sample of some of our favorites:
🍦 Eclipse | 🇺🇸 | Unbelievably creamy plant-based ice cream.
🍰 Juchhaim | 🇯🇵 | A perfect baumkuchen cake made by a specialized robot.
🥟 Sobo Foods | 🇺🇸 | The best plant-based dumplings we’ve ever eaten.
🍈 Sustainable Foods Asia | 🇯🇵 | Jackfruit-based meat alternatives.
🍬 Rem3dy Health Group | 🇬🇧 | 3D printed personalized vitamin gummies (NOURISH3D)
🍜 Yo-Kai Express | 🇺🇸 | A ramen vending machine that makes a flawless bowl of Ippudo’s noodles.
🍫 Whosecacao | 🇯🇵 | Morish chocolate made with fermented specialty cacao.
For a full list of exhibitors, check out the SKS Japan 2023 webpage.
🚀 3 Key Takeaways From SKS Japan 2023
We gained too many insights about the future of food to fit in one newsletter, so here are three of our top ones from across all three days of the summit.
#1 - The Personalized Nutrition Revolution Is Underway
Personalized nutrition solutions were a hot topic at SKS Japan 2023.
Science has shown that a one-size-fits-all nutritional approach doesn’t work. Individual differences, from physiology to culture and lifestyle, mean everyone has different health and wellness needs. The burgeoning field of personalized nutrition seeks to deliver health and wellness advice, services, and products customized for individuals.
Personalization requires extensive data about individuals. There’s growing collaboration in this space between businesses to create complementary data libraries that can be tapped to deliver a range of tailored solutions and products to individual consumers. NTT Data, a Japanese data company that manages healthcare records, is partnering with Google’s FitBit and Nine Hours, a capsule hotel startup, to use health, fitness, and sleep records to create personalized health and wellness advice solutions for consumers.
The holy grail of personalized nutrition though is products fully customized for individual consumers. This is already being achieved by Rem3dy Health Group, a British startup that exhibited at SKS Japan 2023. Rem3dy uses 3D printers to create gummies that can be customized with up to seven ingredients according to individual customers’ health needs. Rem3dy will be launching in Japan later this year.
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#2 - Alternative Proteins are Positioned for Act 2
During the event, several panels shone a spotlight on the future of alternative proteins.
There were no ground-breaking revelations about the space, but speakers confirmed that the industry is engaged in improving products based on learnings from the first wave of alt-protein.
Lypid, a plant-based fat maker, explained its work to develop solutions to improve the taste and texture of alternative meats. Meanwhile, GOOD Meat, a cultivated chicken maker whose products are approved for sale in Singapore and the US, reinforced that in addition to recent regulatory milestones, cellular agriculture still requires significant upstream and downstream investment before it can scale.
There are also startups such as Sobo Foods that exhibited at SKS, which are developing great-tasting vegan products using vegetables. For the time being, however, most alt-protein startups are choosing to focus on B2B business, such as ingredient development, as it is currently the most profitable according to investors from BIV and AgFunder.
Japanese giants in the food space, including Ajinomoto, NH Foods, Marukome, and USMH, affirmed their interest in alternative proteins as a future pillar of their businesses during the event. The slow start alternative proteins have seen in Japan does not seem to have deterred the big food companies from exploring the space. Breakout discussions with several of Japan’s major food companies revealed a general concern about how best to educate consumers in Japan and abroad.
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#3 - The Food Industry Needs To Co-Create
True to SKS Japan 2023’s theme, “UNLOCK”, all panelists advocated for closer collaboration across food and related industries to transform our food system.
There are many vehicles that can enable collaboration. One of them is strong food tech ecosystems. Speakers from Kitchen Town, Value Create, and SIGMAXYZ - all notable ecosystem builders, identified that Japan is an ideal place for food innovation to thrive because the ecosystem moves slowly. In the case of food, which is a slow-changing industry compared to the likes of IT, this gives innovations the time they need to bare fruit.
Big corporates have an important role to play in creating opportunities for co-creation across the F&B industry. Companies, including Cargill, Ajinomoto, and Bühler, all spoke about the benefits for their businesses brought through collaborating with and investing in startups. In addition to economic benefits, partnering with small innovators also helps large companies stay innovative through exposure to and sponsorship of disruptive ideas. The ecosystem builders and investors in attendance all pointed to Japanese corporates being keen to invest in food tech.
Beyond corporates and startups, the food tech industry needs to work together across the spectrum of stakeholders, such as governments and NPOs to drive progress. In this respect, SKS Japan is invaluable as a platform for connecting innovators across every part of the food tech ecosystem.
That’s all folks
A huge thank you to the whole team at SIGMAXYZ and The Spoon for inviting GourmetPro and Market Shake to cover SKS Japan 2023 as media partners. It was an energizing and important event.
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