Last month, we gave a presentation on nanotech investment trends during the Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT) International Food Nanoscience Conference in Chicago. Specifically, we shared research indicating that although venture capital (VC) investments in nanotechnology decreased from 2008 to 2009, VC investments in nanotechnology for health care and life sciences actually increased (see the report 2009 Nanotech Venture Capital: Healthcare and Life Sciences Provide Life Support*).
The rise in investments encompassed targeted delivery technologies for pharmaceutical, food, and nutraceutical applications, as well as nanotechnology innovations for food packaging. We also presented our assessment of how countries within the European Union ranked – both, against each other and on a global scale – based on the amount of nanotechnology-related activity within countries there, and how successful they were at commercializing their nanotechnology innovations (see the report Nanomaterials State of the Market Q1 2009: Cleantech’s Dollar Investments, Penny Returns*).
Following the presentation, the audience was particularly interested in how much large food corporations were investing in nanotech applications such as Aquanova’s encapsulation of nutraceuticals and vitamins (see the June 29, 2010 LRTJ*). Kraft Food’s Fellow Vijay Arora confirmed our thoughts, stating that large corporations such as Kraft are “closely monitoring” technology developments in additives and functional foods, but that food packaging innovations are likely to be the “lower hanging fruit.” Additionally, Vijay stated it’s unlikely that nanotechnology targeting food applications will ever be profitable or popular unless there is a step-value improvement in solubility and bioavailability – particularly given the negative public perception of food nanotechnology. His statements were in line with the theme resounding throughout the day: innovation is ahead of regulations, and unless regulatory agencies decide how to handle food nanotechnology, negative public perception will continue to persist.
That said, we advised the audience (consisting of food scientists and technologists working in industry, government, and academia) to adopt an open innovation methodology wherein regulators, researchers, and non-governmental organizations work together. Collaborative efforts will help illuminate the real risks associated with food nanotechnology and put perceptual risks at bay (see the report Nanotech’s Evolving Environmental, Health, and Safety Landscape: The Regulations Are Coming*).