The total is 34% more than in 2020 and 79% higher than five years ago. The number has risen every year since a dip in 2013. Funding rounds for early stage businesses have become an increasingly important element.
The most active sectors were ingredients with 97, packaging, on 96, soft drinks, with 56 and dairy, at 54.
Zenith Global said the top 15 sectors saw some significant changes in 2021. Packaging, plant-based and vertical farming deals more than doubled, with plant-based rising nine places to the top five. Meat-free entered the top 10, outpacing meat.
Vertical farming, food delivery and CBD moved up to the top 15, while services, water drinks and beer dropped out.
The combination of plant-based (48), meat-free (41), cell-based (24), dairy-free (20), alcohol-free (10) and plant-based seafood (5) would make free-from by far the biggest category overall on 148, 13% of the total. Water drinks (23) and water dispense (18), when taken together at 41, would come in eighth.
Five categories had declared transaction values in excess of $10bn. These were packaging, food delivery, ingredients, plant-based and dairy.
Meat-free surpassed $2bn, while vertical farming and cell-based both exceeded $1bn.
Of the record 1,116 food and drink transactions registered on the Zenith Global mergers and acquisitions database for 2021, 46 involved sums of $1bn or more, which is more than twice the number reported in 2020 and 13 higher than the previous peak of 33 in 2017.
The 46 $1bn-plus transactions totaled $135bn, compared with $79bn for the 19 in the same period the previous year. Notably, three of the 2021 top 5 were IPOs, with Deliveroo and Oatly both achieving valuations of $10bn or more.