By Ivaylo Dimov, former Senior Consultant at Sancroft.
The latest edition of Food Tech Matters took place in October and its new entirely digital format did not disappoint. The well curated menu served piping hot insights and success stories, with the virtual lobby facilitating connections between both accomplished and aspiring agri-food tech entrepreneurs, corporates and venture capitalists looking for their next big investment – alongside anyone else interested in the role of technology in the future of food.
With topics spanning protein and dairy alternatives, regenerative agriculture and vertical farming, the rise of robots, and future of food retail – to name a few – technology and sustainability were the two common ingredients that surely left everyone hungry for more.
I had the privilege and pleasure to moderate two fascinating panel discussions with industry experts, founders, and practitioners, and here are some of the nuggets of wisdom and foresight I took away.
- Blockchain is a powerful technology that has a range of useful applications in enabling greater traceability and transparency on the food journey – from preventing fraud to enhancing food safety. Despite the recent hype around it, one must not treat blockchain as a recipe for universal success in supply chain management, but it is certainly a useful tool in the box.
- The lack of data is not really a problem in agricultural supply chains. In fact there is too much data being collected already by people (farmers, producers, regulators, academics), and increasingly so by machines (drones, machinery and in-land sensors, and satellites). The challenge that lies ahead of us is the fusion of aggregated data points and insights to build reliable predictive capabilities. AI and advanced machine learning are two key technologies that can provide such capabilities and create further resilience in agricultural practices and wider food supply chains. Perhaps the greatest opportunity is in democratising access to such powerful technologies to achieve change at scale, in order to leave no farmer behind.
- Robots already impact our kitchens. Robots, drones and autonomous vehicles are already driving efficiencies in food warehousing, transportation and logistics, and there are even robotic kitchens that can make daily food preparation more convenient. There have been some robot “faces” spotted behind tills of supermarkets and serving food in restaurants. But to the surprise of many, robots have not yet fully mastered the skill of harvesting our food. That is soon to change. As agriculture continues to put greater emphasis on the importance of multi-culture farming to maintain the vitality of soils and improve crop productivity, technology and innovation are coming together to provide the solutions. A robot equipped with powerful AI and visual recognition software will soon be able to fill in the growing labour gaps on farms around the world that were further exacerbated by the global pandemic.
- Nature does not know food waste – it was invented by humans. With one third of edible food and trillions of US dollars lost each year, the food system is clearly broken and needs a major design overhaul. This doesn’t mean adding more patches and solutions, but addressing the root causes of the problem.
- Until then, utilising technology to enable efficient upcycling and redistribution of surplus food is making strong strides. Tech-powered start ups like Too Good To Go, Olio, and Karma are some of the recent successes in using technology to reduce food waste from restaurants and shops. These services create a marketplace for food and meals that would have otherwise been thrown away. At the same, companies such as Comerso in France are showing that food redistribution also has a future in the business-to-business setting, where technological solutions can connect businesses with unsold food products with buyers.
The food-tech space is growing rapidly and offers innovative solutions that make our lives better while addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges. This inspiring ecosystem is one to watch and surely one the big food companies can learn a lot from.
At Sancroft, we are on hand to help you navigate this agenda, whether that is:
- Engaging with the immediate issues, such as food waste, and working out what to do about it;
- Setting your ambitions for what role your business wants to take in this future and how to get there;
- Reviewing and improving the resilience and responsibility of your supply chain;
- Sharpening your approach to understanding and effectively communicating on health, food safety, and environmental standards.
To find out more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.