Hosted during Fi Europe, the Fi Global Startup Innovation Challenge gave startups the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a jury of R&D experts, investors, and major food and beverage industry company representatives. Vanilla Vida was the deserved category winner for Most Innovative Processing Technology, for its cutting-edge harvest and post-harvest vanilla bean technology.
We spoke with vice president of business development and marketing Gali Fried about applying innovation to leverage an identified market opportunity; the confidence needed to bring fresh ideas to market; and why this award is different from other accolades.
“The thing that sets the Fi Global Startup Innovation Challenge apart is that ideas are pitched not only to investors, but to customers,” says Gali. “This exhibition is all about customers, who are also there in the audience. So, the day after we won, people knew about our award and really looked at us differently. This has been perfect for client engagement, because people see that our technology is backed by this award.”
One-stop-shop vanilla solution
Israeli startup Vanilla Vida was recognised for its innovative vanilla bean processing technology, which it hopes will revolutionise this challenging and complex market. Co-founder and head of agriculture Shlomy Kadosh – who has a background in agriculture - was growing kiwi in northern Israel when he started reading up about and visiting various vanilla growing projects from around the world. He believed he could grow vanilla in climate-controlled conditions not only better, but to industrial scale.
To do this, he reached out to Oren Zilberman, who worked for a venture capital fund investing in agriculture, and convinced him to come on board. Support was also given from the Strauss Group – a major food company in Israel – as well as the Kitchen FoodTech Hub.
“The idea was to develop a truly vertically integrated, one-stop-shop solution for natural vanilla,” explains Gali. “The pair also managed to get one more co-founder on board. This was Raz Krizevski, who holds a PhD in plant aromas and is an expert in agtech and foodtech. He has been key to developing our curing process, which helps us to achieve a concentrated vanilla bean that offers a cost-effective solution for manufacturers.”
From agriculture to post-harvest
From the start, Vanilla Vida was clear about the need to develop cutting-edge solutions at both the agricultural stage and post-harvest stage. These could then be combined to deliver a unique approach to growing and curing natural vanilla.
“Growing vanilla is very complex,” says Gali. “Even under controlled conditions, plants vary from season to season and farmer to farmer. Once you get vanilla beans into a sorting facility, you need to be sure that you are comparing like-with-like.”
To achieve this, Vanilla Vida focused on collecting and analysing huge amounts of agricultural data, to ensure that water use is optimal and that beans are only harvested when mature. This data-driven approach to growing vanilla is one element that makes Vanilla Vida’s approach to growing unique, it says.
At the same time, the company has been working on its post-harvest technology. It has developed a unique approach to curing to deliver a concentrated sensory profile. “We have been working with early adopters to continually improve this technology,” says Gali.
Meeting global demand for vanilla
While 2022 was about scaling up post-harvest curing technology, 2023 will be about scaling up on the agriculture side. More greenhouses will be built inside and outside of Israel, with potential partners in the frame.
“Our target market is primarily industrial flavour and fragrance houses,” says Gali. “But we are also interested in the gourmet market – restaurants and end-use customers - which could be great for building our brand. There is also potential for us to license out our post-harvest technology for use on other crops.”
Ultimately, Vanilla Vida believes that its complete solution – from growing through to processing - will help meet global demand for natural vanilla in a responsible and sustainable way. “We believe our technology fills a need,” says Gali. “Our challenge now will be to complete our agricultural proof of concept, as we have done on the post-harvest side, and scale up.