The food and agricultural industry is one of the largest in the world. The World Bank estimates that food and agriculture contain about 10% of global GDP. Despite this, the industry has faced significant challenges in response to changing consumer and manufacturing demands. The solution: embracing technology.
According to UN forecasts, the world’s population is expected to grow by two billion by the end of the century, and the current model for food production is simply not sustainable. So in order to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for food, without causing harm to the environment, innovative technology is needed to create a new, sustainable, global food system.
In the western world, there is a shift in attitude towards what we eat and the impact food is having on our planet. Now more than ever, consumers are demanding healthier meals and want transparency about what’s in their food, where it came from and how its production impacts the environment. Interestingly, blockchain has provided a solution for transparency in product and supply chain, with companies like Provenance creating a digital ‘passport’ that proves authenticity, origin and journey behind physical products.
Consumer food technology is a facet of food technology that is considered to be attractive for investors. The demand from consumers for more sustainable food has led to a boom in production of alterative plant-based and meat-free foods, a market that is evolving at a rapid pace. This has the potential to be a major disruptor in the food industry with companies like Beyond Meat able to offer burgers that contain more protein than meat burgers and can even ‘bleed’. But technology has taken this a step further by creating artificial ‘meat’ in a laboratory. This is ‘meat’ made from stem cells extracted from real animals. This is still in the early stages of development, but it will be interesting to see how consumers react to this product when it becomes more commonplace.
I am proud investor in JUST, a worldwide company that have been incredibly successful in a crowded food market. JUST is a plant-based alternative with a similar flavour, texture and colour to chicken eggs. This plant can be scrambled, knocked up into an omelette or used in baking and rice-based dishes. A portion of JUST Egg uses 98% less water and 86% less land than its animal-based counterpart.
While parts of the food industry focus on the food itself, many others are discovering how to process, package and distribute this new wave of sustainable, healthy and innovative food.
Robots and Machines
The rise of machines and robotics in the food industry has been a key part to tackling the rising food demand. Their usage has enabled the food industry to increase productivity and keep food fresh. Alongside this, robotics and machinery have also been used to eliminate safety risks for dangerous jobs and have ensured the industry is compliant with food safety regulations.
Now, in the midst of a pandemic when unemployment is high, automated manufacturing is likely to become even more commonplace as an answer to labour shortages.
Food waste is another huge problem within the industry. In the UK, households waste 6.6 million tonnes of food and 4.5 million tonnes of that is edible food. One part of the solution is cutting-edge technology transforming food wastage. Over the last decade, innovative companies have come up with creative ways to solve the food crisis aimed at changing the way
consumers shop. For example, one app, Foodcloud, partners supermarkets with charities to donate unsold food items. Another app, Olio, helps to connect neighbours and local retailers so surplus food can be shared and not disposed of.
Food packaging is big business. The global food packaging equipment market size is projected to reach USD 23.03 Billion by 2027. However, there is enormous pressure from consumers to shift packaging from plastic to biodegradable, 100% recycled material. This is a monumental task technology is currently tacking. Some inventions include creating edible and water dissolvable film packaging, through to nanotechnology developing ‘micro-film’, food packaging that is a thousand times thinner than human hair. Not only is this technology extremely eco-friendly, but it also protects food against contamination and preserves freshness.
In recent years, technology has played an increasingly critical role in how food is harvested, produced packaged, preserved, delivered, along with how it tastes, feels and smells. It is clear that technology has been the major driving force revolutionising the food industry towards a more sustainable future. However, technology cannot be isolated from consumer motivation and behaviour. Both are needed to ensure long-term, systemic change.