Food and Agri Tech

“Food tech has always been about disruption and evolution”

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We caught up with Elsa Bernadotte, Co-Founder & COO of Karma, to discuss the current Food Tech environment and what impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the sector.

What initially sparked your interest in food tech and setting up your business / was there a Eureka moment?

I’m a serial entrepreneur and Karma is my second venture. I’ve always loved food so my first business was a healthy alternative to ice cream (we put frozen fruit on a stick) – for those in the FMCG world reading this, I’m definitely pleased I no longer need to think about freezer logistics!

I met my other Karma co-founders during a round of “founder speed dating” – our values just matched perfectly and it was a fantastic opportunity to grow a business together.

Once we found out that ⅓ of all food produced globally was, and still is wasted, we wanted to do something about it. As a team of experienced entrepreneurs, we knew that together, we could apply our knowledge of building successful businesses and create something with real value and purpose.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known in the early days when starting your business?

Plenty of things! Hindsight is a funny thing, and it definitely keeps you reflective on what you could have done better – and therefore how to continue improving.

I would definitely remind myself that everything will cost at least twice what you think it will, and need to be done twice as quickly!

I would also add the importance of focus. To have the discipline and confidence to have the focus to say no. And the alternative cost of saying yes. As an entrepreneur I’m naturally curious and optimistic about the opportunities around us, which is a strength, but can also lead to doing too much at once and stretching yourself and your team too thin. You can do anything, but not everything at once.

One of the most important things that you learn very quickly, and which I’m glad I did know even in those early days, is the power of a strong team. We’ve been very lucky to have a myriad of energetic and talented people apply to work at Karma which has made it easier to achieve the high goals we set for ourselves.

What impact is the Covid-19 pandemic having on the food tech sector and where is innovation most needed right now?

Coronavirus has changed the game in almost every industry out there, and certainly food tech has not been immune.

As part of the food tech industry, I think the biggest impact in our markets was the extent to which our core business became inappropriate with the lockdown in place. For us, with restaurants closed in the UK and France, it was a challenge to operate and support our hospitality partners through this difficult period.

That said, food tech has always been about disruption and evolution – and for us, coronavirus was just another example of that. We were able to launch home delivery almost overnight, and set up an entirely new business vertical with our Karma Subscription boxes. Our focus has been and will continue to be about using innovation to support the food industry as they tackle the crisis and rebuild, to ensure the safety of our customers – and to stay true to our mission: to eliminate food waste across the food chain.

Have you seen areas where Covid-19 has positively impacted innovation/tech adoption?

Absolutely. I have found it particularly inspiring and heartening to see that the uncertainty and anxiety has in no way dampened creativity and innovation across many different sectors.

From tech companies  who have set up new routes to market for closed garden centres, to the ways in which tech is being used to help track and trace the virus – the crisis has forced us to become experimental and driven to build new things.

When it comes to the food industry, I think the ability to use technology to ensure ongoing social distancing is going to have a big impact. Click & collect platforms will be an important way to re-open food businesses in a safe environment for both staff and customers. Tech platforms like Karma allow businesses to operate with a continued level of distance, reducing operational costs whilst still allowing for some level of customer engagement and brand experience.

How important is it for events like Food Tech Matters to bring the agri-foodtech community together to explore the big questions around food and sustainability?

It’s such a pleasure to be returning to Food Tech Matters again in 2020, albeit virtually!

Last year, I had the chance to meet with so many new people, discuss and debate the future of food – and be inspired by those doing incredible things in our industry.

In 2020, the world has changed in a way none of us expected. Events like these will be critical to exploring how we learn from the experience as a collective industry and inspire us to re-think solutions to challenges, new and old.

Elsa Bernadotte will be speaking at the Food Tech Matters virtual event in October.