How Temasek became a leading food tech investor

When Temasek first decided to invest in the food and agriculture sector about eight years ago, it was looking for a venture fund that specialized in the space to contribute to, Agri-Food Investments Head Anuj Maheshwari said. But there weren’t any.

The state-owned investment company based in Singapore found a couple of smaller funds getting started, Maheshwari said, but they were also new to food and agriculture.

“You’re like, ‘Hey, how well have you done last time?’ ” he recalled. And then he recalled the response: Nobody had made any investments in the space.

“…That’s the big picture,” he said. “Then we were like, ‘Well, we’re just going to do it ourselves.’ “

Temasek was the first of the big investment firms to start concentrating on food and agriculture, and it’s still one of the most active in the space. Since 2013, Temasek has invested more than $8 billion in the food and agriculture space worldwide. It currently has more than 40 agrifood companies in its portfolio, seven of which have grown to be unicorns with valuations of more than $1 billion.

Temasek invests in industries and companies that are plugged into long-term trends shaping the world, Maheshwari said. We’re living in a technologically driven society, where digitization and new breakthroughs connect us all in new ways, he said. The way people consume goods and services is changing. People are living longer, therefore needs are changing. And there is a real need for the world to operate in a more sustainable way.

Anuj Maheshwari

Permission granted by Temasek


Maheshwari said Temasek regularly looks at the trends at the heart of its investments and examines how different industries and businesses fit. Temasek was among the first to realize that food and agriculture were important to all of these trends, he said. The food industry is vital to everyone worldwide, and yet conventional animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

But it isn’t just animal agriculture that contributes to pollution and is in need of innovation. Maheshwari, who is based in Asia, pointed out that rice farming is actually a larger contributor to potent methane emissions, representing about 12% of global emissions a year, according to a white paper from the Environmental Defense Fund. The flooded paddies used for rice farming, scientists say, block the underlying soil from absorbing bacteria and provide an ideal environment for methane-emitting bacteria to reproduce.

It’s something Maheshwari said people need to be more aware of, and something that Temasek is putting its resources and voice behind. At last year’s COP26 climate summit, he said, world leaders talked about the need for humanity to undergo a transition in how it gets its energy in order to meet the UN’s 2050 sustainability goals. 

“But what about the food transition?” he asked, talking to Food Dive on the sidelines of the Future Food-Tech conference, which is focused on investments in innovative companies and technology, in San Francisco last month. “That’s not just capital. That’s people changing their behavior. That’s governments changing their policy. That’s a mindset shift, which is more challenging, but very, very necessary. …We’ve got to look at the food industry and fundamentally find innovative models like all the companies over here to back them.”

Investing in holistic change

As Temasek started taking a look at the food industry and who had the passion, the ideas and the know-how to make a difference, Maheshwari said it started making investments in a variety of companies.

The first was Ceva Santé Animale, a French company that can vaccinate chicken eggs against several different avian diseases, lessening the need for antibiotics. When animals used for food are treated with antibiotics, their residue can make those drugs less effective in people. Overuse of antibiotics can also lead to more resistant bacteria. Minimizing these threats, Maheshwari said, reduces a large problem in the current food system. 

Temasek by the numbers


$8 billion

Amount Temasek has invested in the food and agricultural tech space since 2013



Portfolio companies in the food and ag-tech space, including Impossible Foods, Upside Foods, Eat Just, Perfect Day and Wildtype



Number of investments in food tech in 2021, according to Crunchbase



Lead investments in food tech in 2021, according to Crunchbase

But Pat Brown, the founder of Impossible Foods — in which Temasek has invested three times since 2017 — attacked this strategy the first time he met Maheshwari. He recalled Brown told him companies that work in animal agriculture are destroying the world and should not be allowed to exist. Maheshwari said Temasek wants to change the world, but has to continue to feed it, too.

“We allowed two alternates to a changing world and driving-faster world by investing in high-quality companies that were doing what? Adding proficiency to existing systems, and fundamentally re-questioning the system,” Maheshwari said. “So there’s Impossible Foods, which says, ‘Here’s a plant-based protein, and that’s just what people should have.’ That’s a great theory for them. But the practical reality is we still need to feed the people, and we still need companies that make chicken better.”

Temasek kept up its investment strategy, putting money into companies that improved the existing structure as well as those who looked beyond, using technology to create something new and better. Other than Impossible, many of the leading companies in the food tech sphere — including Perfect Day, The Every Company, Next Gen Foods and Upside Foods — are in Temasek’s portfolio. 

Getting into the white spaces with passionate founders

As a long-term investor that has been known to participate in multiple funding rounds, Temasek looks for companies that have the right leaders and strategies, Maheshwari said.

Right now, for example, there are many new plant-based food companies coming to the market. In the U.S. alone, there were more than 250 new SKUs in the plant-based segment last year, according to the Good Food Institute. So just any plant-based meat company isn’t likely to attract Temasek’s attention. But a company doing something unique — like Next Gen Foods, making its versatile crafted-for-chefs chicken analog Tindle — is likely to get another look.