EY assembles industry leaders to examine ag transformation

Practice leader Rob Dongoski said investment opportunities are expected to develop but investors have not yet been invited to ensure idea creation is prioritized ahead of transactions closures.

EY is convening a group of agribusiness industry leaders for a series of structured interactions, which the consultancy hopes will catalyze innovations that will lead to investment opportunities.

The EY Innovation Studio initiative is designed as a yearly program aiming to build connections across the food and agriculture value chain. It will hold its first meeting in late September, when more than 100 invite-only participants representing roughly 40 organizations will meet virtually.

EY declined to identify specific EYIS participant organizations but said they included global packaged goods and inputs suppliers, and agribusinesses.

Plans for subsequent interactions – which will also involve retail and grocery providers, banks, academics, trade associations and others – include themed discussions and periodic collaborative workshops.

“Our goal is to put the right people in the room, provoke the right conversation and then move to the back of the room and let them innovate together,” EY agribusiness practice leader Rob Dongoski told Agri Investor. “Then we capture the action items.”

Agribusiness segment leader Asha Lundal, who leads the EYIS effort, told Agri Investor that in addition to monthly meetings of the entire group to discuss general industry dynamics, cohorts would have access to smaller group events and collaborative sessions focused on specific areas of innovation within agriculture, such as packaging.

“This food system is going to change,” she said. “We can’t change that fact, but we can influence the outcomes as players in the industry.”

Dongoski said he views the creation of EYIS as EY’s investment in the broader ag industry, and expects interactions within the program to inform his work advising clients throughout the supply chain. He added that about 90 percent of invited participants had accepted the opportunity to join the group and explore a range of topics that he expects will stem from the structural transformations underway throughout food systems.

“If you look back over the past several decades, a lot of the innovation in the food system has happened in the middle of the value chain,” he said. “Consumers never asked for ethanol and they never asked for Lucky Charms. They were innovated in the middle of the value chain and then got to consumers.

“Now, those profit pools are starting to shift around, and innovation is likely to be more relevant closer to producers and closer to consumers.”

There are no investors among the initial EYIS cohort. Dongoski said EY has been cautious about how to incorporate relevant private equity and venture capital GPs in order to ensure that the focus remains on innovation, rather than transactions.

He added that whereas business incubators and accelerators can focus more on matching start-ups with appropriate capital, EYIS is designed to foster the creation of actionable innovations themselves.

“Our hope is that we come up with something through this that investors want to get more involved in,” he said, before drawing an analogy to the music industry.

“In some ways, the band is in the studio. Investors, right now, are outside the studio – call them groupies at the door waiting for [the band] to come out. As things progress, we will have some VIP backstage passes. We actually think getting that [investor] input into the room too soon could influence the creative process in a direction we do not think is helpful right now.”