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Kellogg’s creates a new fund, 1894, to back food and related startups

TechCrunch TechCrunch 20/06/2016 Lora Kolodny

Instead of two scoops, here’s one big one– the Kellogg Company is launching a corporate venture arm called Eighteen94 Capital (1894) to invest in food and food-related tech startups.

The name is a nod to the year that Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother W.K. Kellogg, the company’s founder, created their first decidedly low-tech cereal.

Venture investors historically ignored consumer packaged goods, but technologies from social media to molecular sensors have begun to figure more heavily in the development, manufacturing, marketing and sales of food products.

Kellogg’s effort is just the latest in a string of funds created to grab stakes in hot startups in the massive global market for food.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, global food retail sales reach about $4 trillion annually. And packaged foods alone should generate revenue of $3.03 trillion annually by 2020, according to forecasts from Allied Market Research.

Newer venture funds specializing in food-related deals include Accel Foods, CAVU Ventures, S2G Ventures and CircleUp.

And consumer packaged goods giants who already invest in venture deals regularly include General Mills via its 301 INC fund, and the Campbell Soup Co., the sole limited partner in Acre Venture Partners.

Established tech firms are also signing deals with food and beverage makers with the likes of Canaan Partners, Andreessen Horowitz and Khosla Ventures investing in, respectively, NatureBox, Soylent and Hampton Creek Foods.

Kellogg’s worked with Touchdown Ventures in San Francisco to set up its new fund, according to 1894 Managing Director Simon Burton and Kellogg Company Vice Chairman Gary Pilnick.

Ultimately, Kellogg’s wanted to start a VC arm because, Burton said, “The rate of innovation across our industry has picked up dramatically, things are changing quickly, and investing is a great way to get a sense of what’s going to be important in the future.”

Initially, Burton said 1894 will invest in North American companies that have revenue in the $5 million to $10 million range, making everything from natural and organic foods or beverages, to new packaging materials, ingredients, or sales and marketing technologies.

In a typical deal, 1894 expects to invest $1 million to $3 million in Series A and Series B stage startups. The fund is prepared to invest up to $100 million in startups over the next four years.

“We’ll have a big focus on food without a doubt,” said Pilnick, “but we remain open to technology that helps us reach the consumer or retail partners. We want to win where the shopper shops, which sounds like an obvious thing, but there are a lot of ways to achieve that.”

The money for 1894’s deals will come from Kellogg’s corporate balance sheet.

Touchdown VC’s Managing Director Rich Grant and President Scott Lenet will continue to work with 1894 and Kellogg’s to connect the Battle Creek, Michigan company with the broader VC community and relevant food-focused acclerators. Besides linking Kellogg’s with co-investors, they said, they will also help 1894 bring in and evaluate deals, and manage due diligence reviews of startups.

Ultimately, Kellogg’s will make its own investment decisions about who they back and how much they invest, Grant emphasized.

While Kellogg’s is known as a cereal manufacturer, they also own vegetarian brands MorningStar and Gardenburger, salty snacks brands including Pringles and Austin, and myriad others.

Burton said he expects Kellogg’s depth and breadth of in-house expertise, especially relationships with and knowledge of food retailers, will draw food entrepreneurs to the new fund.

Pilnick added, “We have that Midwestern mindset of working together and partnering to get things done.”

The fund has not yet announced any deals.

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