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Ministry bets big on fostering food-tech startups

By Lee Yoon-seo

Published : Dec. 14, 2022 - 16:23

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(Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs) (Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs)

In a bid to strengthen the nation's food technology industry, the government unveiled its plan on Wednesday to incubate 30 unicorn startups and aim to quadruple food-tech related exports by 2027.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, food-tech refers to a newly rising industry which applies state-of-the-art technologies such as biotechnology, and artificial intelligence to various processes including preservation, processing, packaging, distribution, and use of safe food.

The ministry said it would be increasing the number of food-tech unicorn startups, or startups with corporate value exceeding $1 billion to 30 from two.

Currently, there are only two food-tech unicorn startups in South Korea -- e-commerce platform Market Kurly and online food delivery service Oasis Market.

Under the scheme, the ministry will form a 100 billion won ($76 million) fund in the next five years in order to provide investments to certain selected startups.

By June next year, the Food Ministry also said it will set up a platform which would provide information related to investments and advice on establishing business for food-tech companies.

Information regarding major food raw materials such as soybeans, rice, and mushrooms will be provided to companies through a separate digital platform.

The Ministry of Food will also strengthen support for food tech companies to enter overseas markets. Companies are to be provided with information regarding regulations, needed certifications and market trends of each country.

In addition, the Ministry of Food will strengthen research and development processes by selecting "10 core technologies" based on technology trends and opinions from companies and experts. The selected technologies include cell cultured food, food upcycling, eco-friendly packaging, and food tech robots, which would automate cooking procedures.

The ministry said it will additionally consider tax deductions for R&D costs in the food-tech sector.

The Ministry of Food said with such procedures, it expects food tech exports to increase from $500 million this year to $2 billion in 2027.

"The Ministry of Agriculture and Food plans to form a food-tech industry development council with industry, government, and academia to produce tangible results," said Yang Joo-pil, food industry policy officer at the Ministry of Food.

"It will function as a control tower for food-tech industry policies by regularly discussing institutional improvements and identifying industry trends, corporate policy demands," he added.

According to GS&J, a private think tank in the agricultural sector, the global food-tech market, as of 2020, is worth around 554.2 billion dollars and worth about 61 trillion won in Korea. According to the think tank's data, global food-tech market had shown a growth rate of more than 30 percent between 2017 and 2020.