Food Tech, the technological transformation of the food sector
New technologies have changed the world and the rules of the game in many industries. The food industry, on the other hand, is still wondering how to apply innovations such as big data or the Internet of Things (IoT) to its business. The challenges for the sector are numerous, including food sustainability, and the Food Tech industry is leading the way.
Technology is today the most sought-after ingredient in our diet, as reflected by the rising investment in innovation projects, like for example those related to Food Tech, by the world agrifood industry. The sector aims to adapt to the changing times and provide for the needs of ever more demanding consumers with healthier and more sustainable food habits.
WHAT IS FOOD TECH?
Food Tech — a merger of the words food and technology — involves companies and projects that use technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and Artificial Intelligence (IA), among other things, to turn the agrifood industry into a more modern, sustainable and efficient sector in all its stages, from food preparation to its distribution and consumption.
These research and development (R&D) projects are generally in the hands of highly innovative startups that are investing heavily in trying to provide creative and technological solutions to contemporary challenges such as population growth and its repercussions on food security, the digitalisation of society, the effects of climate change, the lack of natural resources, food waste and the environmental impact of food production.
THE IMPACT OF FOOD TECH
Food Tech companies account for a tiny part of the agrifood industry but they have become the sector's vanguard. Some of these startups are even quoted on the United States Nasdaq technological stock market, such as Beyond Meat with its famous laboratory vegetable hamburger that has been financed by, among others, such renowned names as Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, and the actor Leonardo Di Caprio.
The potential of the Food Tech startups even convinces market analysts. Platforms such as Research and Markets offer studies including the Global Food Tech Market Analysis & Forecast 2016-2022 that estimate the sector's total value will be over 250 billion dollars in 2022 thanks partly to the popularisation of electronic commerce, the growth of the internet and the penetration of smartphones.
TRENDS AND EXAMPLES OF FOOD TECH
The most significant trends in the food revolution caused by the foodtech companies include biotechnological agriculture, agricultural product trading platforms, bioenergy and biomaterials, agricultural robotics, organic foods and the new crop systems. The TechFood Magazine portal identifies some Food Tech trends:
This global market is worth 127 billion dollars and has found success in Japan with a program that uses AI, the social networks and DNA to create menus adapted to each person.
Vegetable proteins and synthetic meat
Laboratory hamburgers are receiving good reviews and causing a sensation among the wider public. There are also prototypes for fillets of artificial meat that might see the market within 2 or 3 years.
Snacking and upcycling
Insects, seaweed and waste salmon skin are ingredients that can already be found in the category of healthy hors d'oeuvres, with an international market that could reach a value of 32 billion dollars by 2025, according to Grand View Research.
Supermarkets and hypermarkets are starting to use blockchain technology to guarantee, for instance, that their chicken meat comes from antibiotic-free poultry.
Automation in supermarkets and restaurants
Robotic waiters and chefs, remote controlled delivery vehicles and drones that oversee the display shelves and take inventories in real time are some of the innovations in retail sales.
THE CHALLENGES OF FOOD SUSTAINABILITY
The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) present the main challenges facing the planet. Here are a few of them:
- The world food industry consumes 30% of the energy we produce and emits 22% of the total greenhouse effect gases (GHG).
- Each year, we waste a third of the food we produce, sometimes even before it reaches our tables. Furthermore, 26% of the world's population is suffering from obesity or excessive weight.
- Our diet affects the environment through the consumption of energy related to food and waste generation.
- Land impoverishment, wasted water, overfishing and the degradation of the marine ecosystems are undermining our capacity to supply food.