Strauss – Israel’s largest food company – is active in more than 20 countries and has over 14,000 employees. Its products can be found in grocery stores around the world, and a variety of brands, including Elite and Sabra, fall under its umbrella.
What many people don’t know is that Strauss is also at the forefront of food technology – a topic I recently discussed with Strauss’s chief growth and innovation officer, Shahar Florence.
Bracha: Strauss has a division called The Kitchen. Can you tell me about it?
Florence: The Kitchen is an incubator. It’s a place where we nourish ideas. I say ideas because, most of the time, when people approach us, it’s not a company. It’s a person with an idea.
We provide everything – funding, business support, tech support, and industry support. We have a vast network of partners who work with us so we have access to many markets around the world.
The Kitchen is just one aspect of Strauss’s activities in innovation. We also heavily invest in internal development. For example: Strauss Water, which is a purification system that converts any tap water in the world into drinking water.
The Kitchen is part of the bigger picture of innovation at Strauss. We are the largest food company in Israel, but we are a relatively small company in the world. The only way that we can compete in the global market is through innovation. And, at the end of the day, technology and innovation is how to make a difference and improve people’s lives.
How do you decide which start-ups to include in The Kitchen? What criterion are necessary for you to say, “This is worth our time and investment”?
We focus on things we can add value to. Developing fertilizer, for example, is not something we have the internal resources for. We are also trying to invest in projects that make the industry more efficient. Aleph Farms is one example. Another is Zero Eggs, a company that can make egg substitutes that are more efficient than traditional eggs.
A third example is a sugar supplement we developed with Amai. It’s a sweet protein – and sugar replacement – that is 6,000 times sweeter than sugar. Because it’s actually digested in the body as a protein, it doesn’t trigger insulin. The product will taste sweet, but it will also be protein so it won’t harm the body.
What are some interesting new food technologies that The Kitchen is currently involved in?
We have a company that detects bacteria in food. It will prevent food waste and is much more accurate and timely than anything in the industry today.
Can you talk more about food modification?
We are the largest sesame consumer with Sabra. But there aren’t enough sesame seeds to produce what’s needed for Hummus. Therefore, we took seeds that only grow naturally in Africa and developed a sesame seed – non-GMO – that we can grow in Idaho, a place where it was never grown before. The sesame tastes and looks the same.
The knowledge and ability to alter foods to our liking exists. The challenge is how to do it without genetic modification. You can do a lot with genetic modification. Currently, however, it is not used because of the philosophical question. Also, in most countries, there are restrictions on this kind of technology. If you ask me, future generations will have to solve this issue and find ways to overcome the risks associated with genetic modification.
What do you think will be the next big thing in the food technology industry? Where do you believe this industry is heading?
Technology is led by a need. Without answering some need, you won’t get enough funding and interest. Today’s needs are, first of all, more food. That relates to the agricultural side of the industry – advances in irrigation and fertilization and the need for animals that develop faster.
We also need a more efficient route to market, from packaging to retail. Think about it: If you know where you can find the food you are looking for and if it gets to you in a timely manner, you won’t need to buy excessively and, consequently, you will throw out less, and so on.