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Cocina 54 Makes FoodBytes! Pitch List with 44 Other Startup Standouts

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Rabobank announced on October 6 that the Austin, Texas-based maker of Cocina 54 gluten-free frozen snacks, which feature a range of savory empanadas inspired by traditional Latin American flavors, is among 45 companies selected to participate in “FoodBytes! Pitch 2020,” its global food and agribusiness startup discovery program that helps entrepreneurs scale their impact through mentorship and connections to major corporate leaders and investors.

Since originally launching in 2015 as a pitch competition, FoodBytes! has become a go-to network for startup companies shaping the way food products are made and consumed. FoodBytes! Pitch is part of the redesigned FoodBytes! Innovation platform, which contributes solutions to food system challenges through collaboration between startups, large companies and investors.

Family-owned Cocina 54 was founded by Cecilia Panichelli (pictured below) and Federico Fedrico Carrillo in 2017, and has since expanded beyond empanadas to include gluten-free frozen meals, breakfast items and appetizers in its portfolio. Today its product line is available in more than 700 stores – including Walmart, HEB, Fred Meyer and Wegmans – from coast to coast and in the Southwestern United States.

“Growing up in Argentina, empanadas were always part of any major event or dinner with friends. After moving from Argentina to the United States, we couldn’t find good empanadas anywhere,” said Cecilia. “We would make them ourselves at home, then save them in our freezer and bring them to the office. We’ve always been in the food industry and Federico has always been an entrepreneur, so we decided it was a good time to start a company together while raising a family.”

She added: “Empanadas seemed like the right fit and we liked that they are portable in addition to having great flavor. We wanted to make a better-for-you product with fresh ingredients and we wanted our empanadas to be gluten-free. It took six months to develop a gluten-free crust that consumers couldn’t tell was gluten-free, but it’s really given us a competitive edge in the market.”

15 Companies in Three Sectors

For the first time, the FoodBytes! Pitch cohort features 45 startups pioneering breakthrough technologies and products – with 15 companies in each of three sectors: consumer food and beverage (CPG), food tech, and agtech. The selected companies stood out from nearly 340 applications based on their innovative solutions for a more sustainable food supply, including upcycled products to fight waste, alternative proteins, and regenerative agriculture technologies to reduce water use and carbon emissions.

“We redesigned Rabobank’s FoodBytes! food and ag innovation platform for one reason: to build a powerful engine for ongoing collaboration and innovation between food and agribusiness players who want to feed the world sustainably,” said Rabobank Head of F&A Innovation Anne Greven. “We know we can’t achieve this purpose alone, which is why we’ve convened a collective of influential corporate and investor members who share our vision. Standing out from a global field of applications, the 2020 FoodBytes! Pitch startups have set a new benchmark for BIPOC and gender representation and quality of innovation in the program’s five year history.”

The 2020 cohort is the most diverse yet: 31% of the FoodBytes! Pitch 2020 startups are BIPOC-founded or led, and woman-founded or led companies make up one-fifth of the Pitch class. The 45 selected startups hail from a 15 countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, India, Israel, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland.

The 45 FoodBytes! Pitch innovators and trends by sector are listed below.

Consumer Food & Beverage (CPG)

Food and beverage products made with upcycled ingredients is a top trend among FoodBytes! 2020 CPG startups as food waste reduction continues to be a priority during the pandemic. The FoodBytes! 2020 CPG startups are also pioneering innovations including edible spoons to reduce plastic waste, a distilled spirit made from upcycled whey byproduct, and plant-based cheese and egg products.

  • Plant-Based Protein & Dairy: Evo Foods, PleeseFoods
  • Gluten-free Frozen Snacks: COCINA 54
  • Upcycled Foods: Agricycle Global, I Am Grounded, Outcast Foods
  • Upcycled Beverages: Agua Bonita, Riff Cold Brewed, Wheyward Spirit, Willa’s, Wize Coffee Leaf
  • Wellness Beverages: H2OPS, Moment, Wildwonder
  • Plastic Reduction: Planeteer

Food Tech

Standout startups have developed technologies for cell-based meat production, natural coatings that extend produce shelf life, and sustainable, antimicrobial packaging made from crustacean shells to replace plastic. Food safety technologies, advanced nutrition products and online marketplaces also address relevant needs in the wake of the Covid-19 health crisis.

  • Cultured Meat & Fermented Protein: CellulaREvolution, Future Meat Technologies, NovoNutrients
  • Advanced Nutrition: Alchemy Foodtech, EnvaraHealth
  • Produce Shelf-Life Extension: Lightning Water, PolyNatural
  • Food Safety & Traceability: InSight Labs, NanoGuard Technologies, ThisFish
  • Sustainable Packaging: Carapac, Mi Terro
  • Clean Food Colorant: michroma
  • Online Marketplace for Sustainable Groceries: Good Club
  • B2B Marketplace for Suppliers: Fieldcraft


The selected startups have developed solutions that address soil and water sustainability, farm efficiency and labor needs. Their innovations include technology that transforms air pollution into fertilizer, animal feed that reduces methane emissions, a method of growing rice out of water and on-farm robotics to combat labor shortages and worker safety concerns. 

  • Regenerative Farming to Reduce Water Use: Deep Planet, Green and Seed, SWAN Systems
  • Regenerative Farming to Improve Soil Health: AgriCORE, BPS Agriculture, Phospholutions
  • On-Farm Robotics & AI: Agerris
  • Precision Agriculture & Digitization: agryo, Farmforce, Space AG
  • Animal Health & Greenhouse Gas Reduction: Locus Animal Nutrition, Mazen Animal Health, ProAgni
  • Social Impact Farming: ColdHubs, Koa

Redesigned as an expanded virtual experience this year, FoodBytes! Pitch now offers far more than an industry pitch slam. All 45 startups will participate in two weeks of virtual mentorship programming and one-on-one meetings with corporate leaders and investors, in addition to pitching their solutions to Rabobank and 17 FoodBytes! Pitch corporate and investor members. Of this group, 15 finalists will be chosen to participate in FoodBytes!’ live-streamed pitch competition December 2 for a chance to win $10,000 and consultative prizes in each of three categories: CPG, food tech and agtech.

As part of the redesign, Rabobank launched corporate and investor membership to the FoodBytes! Pitch network to drive connections with startups, and provide insight into top innovations driving the industry forward. FoodBytes! Pitch members participated alongside Rabobank in the startup selection process and will be embedded in the mentorship programming and pitch judging.

FoodBytes! Pitch 2020 members are influential global food and ag companies, investors and service providers, including Presenting Partner ADM; corporate leaders Albaugh, Barilla’s Blu1877, Beta San Miguel, Dole, Fonterra, PepsiCo and Tate & Lyle; investors BFG Partners, Continental Grain Company, Germin8 Ventures and Rabobank Food and Agri Innovation Fund; and service providers DLL Group, Holland & Hart, Morrison & Foerster, Propeller Industries and TIG Brands.

Find more information on each of the 45 FoodBytes! Pitch 2020 startups, click here.