Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative dining, design, and consumer goods companies.
The most innovative food companies of the year span from agricultural innovators to consumer packaged goods giants.
San Francisco-based Farmwise Labs uses AI and robotics to automate farming operations. Last year, the company released a commercial weeding robot that can spot and remove weeds that would otherwise damage crops. Israeli company Groundwork BioAg, meanwhile, is trying to help crops stay healthy with an inoculant that helps grain farmers increase their yield per acre while reducing their use of phosphorus, a nutrient that contributes to water pollution. Crop gene editing firm Benson Hill also made the list for its high-protein soybeans that can be used as an ingredient in the booming alt-meat industry. Finally, India’s AgroStar has created a social network where farmers can trade tips and information on crops.
Consumers are also tasting the innovations on this year’s list of the best food companies. Jot’s coffee concentrate can be added to water or milk to create the perfect cup of coffee. Caulipower launched a gluten-free cauliflower pasta that tastes remarkably like the real thing and Oishii turned strawberries into a luxury good. Finland’s Gold&Green Foods is using oats to build high-protein alternative meats and even gin. And Barcel has tapped into the zeitgeist with a viral marketing campaign challenging people to embrace the heat of its fiery Takis tortilla chips.
1. FarmWise Labs
For weeding out dangerous plants
San Francisco-based FarmWise Labs uses AI and robotics to automate farming operations. In 2020, the 5-year-old company released a first-of-its-kind commercial weeding robot, named Titan, that identifies and removes weeds that would otherwise damage crops. Rather than sell robots to farmers, the company sells its services to farms, charging them around $200 per weeded acre. Twelve Titan machines are currently in operation and are used by half of the US’s top 20 vegetable growers.
For making healthy pasta a reality
Los Angeles-based Caulipower makes gluten-free bread substitutes out of cauliflower and sweet potato. The 4-year-old company, known for its cauliflower-crust pizza and sweet potato chicken tenders, has grown quickly: It generated almost $101 million in annual sales in 2020. In 2021, the company introduced pasta to its lineup, which is currently sold in more than 25,000 retailers and online grocers. The food startup’s new noodles, made from cauliflower and sold in the freezer isolate, look, feel, and taste remarkably similar to the original wheat variety. Caulipower also launched ready-to-heat breakfast cups filled with scrambled eggs, cauliflower, and vegetables.
For growing and scaling beyond its roots
Israeli company Groundwork BioAg produces Rootella, a cost-effective mycorrhizal inoculant, a naturally occurring fungi that is depleted due to over tilling and fertilization. The fungus, which supports plant resilience, is helping grain farmers in five continents increase their yield per acre and reduce their use of phosphorus, a critical nutrient for plant growth that contributes to water pollution. In 2021, the company tripled its revenue compared to previous year and scaled its technology by combining its existing equipment with image processing and AI to automate manufacturing (which was previously done manually). That has allowed the company to keep the price of Rootella accessible.
For launching a new coffee beverage category
In 2020, Boulder, Colorado-based Jot launched with a novel concept: a powerful concentrate that is 20 times the strength of coffee and differs from other options because of the controlled extraction process by which it’s made. The liquid is sold directly to the consumer in glass bottles—instead of single-use disposable Keurig-style cups that can take a heavier toll on the environment. It can be added by the tablespoon to a glass of water or mug of milk. In just two years, Jot has sold an estimated $10 million worth of its Ultra Coffee. In addition to creating a new coffee beverage category, the company has pioneered a limited-edition release model with different brews including Holiday (which tastes creamy and has notes of hot chocolate) and Encore (made from single-origin beans sourced by a women’s organic cooperative in Guatemala).
For creating a new luxury food category
Four-year-old New York-based Oishii designed and farms what Fast Company called “the Tesla of strawberries,” a fruit so delicious that it tastes more like candy than, well, a fruit. Fresh, locally sourced strawberries are only available in the Northeast in early summer for about three weeks each year. Cofounders Hiroki Koga and Brendan Somerville wanted to change that. Oishii uses vertical farming, a method that eliminates the need for pesticides and reduces the environmental footprint of growing berries compared to traditional methods, to grow and sell its Japanese variety of strawberry. The company sells its premium-priced berries ($50 for eight berries) directly to chefs; Consumers can also purchase the strawberries in New York, New Jersey, and Los Angeles for delivery or pickup, via upscale markets and cafes, including Eli’s Market, Murray’s Cheese, and Culver City’s Destroyer. Though the berries sell out quickly, Oishii is ramping up production and working to deliver nationwide.
For tapping Takis into TikTok
Though the Takis brand of spicy Mexican rolled tortilla chips has been around for some 20 years, the Barcel-owned snack has developed a cult-product status among younger consumers. Amid rising interest in fiery foods, Takis set teens’ mouths on fire in 2020 when the Jalapeño Challenge, where users filmed themselves eating a jalapeño stuffed with cream cheese and Takis, went viral. The company leaned into the platform this past summer by tapping Charli D’Amelio and Twitch superstar Tyler “Ninja” Blevins for a social influencer campaign. Today, videos associated with Takis Fuego have racked up more than 500 million views on TikTok. (In May, Takis reported that its brand was outpacing sales in the salty snack category, which were up 10% year-to-date, and the tortilla chips subcategory, up 12% year-to-date.) Takis further played on its reputation when it was launched in the UK in September, running a campaign called “Listen to the haters,” which counterintuitively advised consumers not to eat Takis because they pose a health hazard. (Parliament has plans to restrict advertising for products deemed to be high in fat, salt, and sugar.) The message was disseminated on social media and even projected onto the House of Parliament and other locations—other ads featured a blurred photo of a Takis chip with an explicit content warning attached. To expand its market share, the company collaborated with other brands, including Old El Paso on a Takis Fuego-inspired Hot Chili Pepper and Lime-Flavored Stand ‘N’ Stuff Taco Shell. Takis also launched four new brand extensions this year, bringing its strong flavors to popcorn, chips, and other salty snacks.
7. Gold&Green Foods
For taking oats beyond milk
While other companies rush into oat milks, Finnish company Gold&Green Foods is tapping the grain to create high-protein meat alternatives. Known in Europe for its chewy, versatile Pulled Oats line of products, which easily sub in for either chicken or beef, the company has been pushing into new markets in intriguing ways. It partnered with Houston-based food distributor Sysco in 2020 to launch a ready-to-eat Pulled Oat product in the United States in 2020. Last year, Taco Bell launched Gold&Green Pulled Oats tacos in all of the fast food giant’s UK outposts. Gold&Green is also expanding into new products. Its new Protein Granules and Protein Flakes—which can be used as either a meat substitute or a protein additives (like protein powder)—are made from just three ingredients: Nordic oat bran, pea protein, and fava bean protein.
8. Pod Foods
For bringing new snacks to grocery shelves
Pod Foods lets shoppers discover emerging food companies at the grocery store by connecting startup brands with big retailers through an app. The 2-year-old, Austin-based wholesale marketplace charges a percentage of gross wholesale prices that smaller brands can set themselves. Retailers, grocery chains, and delivery services, including Gopuff, can access a large inventory of emerging brands through an app. The company currently works with more than 1,000 new food brands, including CBD drink company Recess and Backyard Brine pickles, and retailers in seven cities including Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. The company has tapped a third-party network to handle fulfillment and logistics, streamlining the process for small brands to get their products to stores.
For creating a social network and commerce site for India’s farmers
Eight-year-old AgroStar is a social network, educational platform, and e-commerce storefront all rolled into one. Some 5 million farmers in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh use its platform to chat with one another, access educational content to improve their farming methods, find cutting-edge data tools to help monitor crops, and shop for new products. The multilingual platform allows farmers to read and watch educational agronomy content in their own dialect, and post pictures of crop problems to get advice from fellow farmers. The company’s commerce platform, where it sells its own-brand products like seeds and insecticide, has integrated voice recognition so that farmers with limited literacy can still search for and purchase products. To complement its online ordering capabilities, the company opened 1,000 stores this year (up from 50 last year), where underbanked farmers can purchase products in cash.
10. Benson Hill
For genetically editing the perfect crops
Benson Hill uses gene editing to develop sustainable and nutritious food and ingredients. In 2021, the 10-year-old St. Louis-based company launched Ultra High Protein soybeans commercially, which can be used as animal feed, to make cooking oil, and as a key ingredient in the booming alt-meat category. The company planted 70,000 acres of the new soybean in 2021 (increasing its soybean acreage by 133%) and began commercializing the crop by launching its own line of cooking oil, called Veri, which is now sold directly to consumers. To tap into the alternative meat market, Benson Hill is preparing to launch a new protein brand, called Truvail, in the coming months. These efforts helped lift Benson Hill’s 2021 revenue by a projected 28% year-over-year and the company brought in an estimated $145 million in revenue in 2021. Benson Hill also opened a research facility near its headquarters to further its research into genetically modifying crops. with CRISPR.