Using technology to improve how food products are created, processed or distributed is not something new explains Lorcan Bannon, ifac’s Food Business Specialist.
Food and technology have journeyed together from way back with the early hunter-gatherers where emerging technologies like Fermentation processes were used to preserve foods. If we take a more recent example, look in your local supermarket and you will quickly realise that most of the food you see on the shelves would simply not be there without the influence of technology. As consumers, the selection of food products that we can readily access is often taken for granted but it has required centuries of effort from researchers, scientists, technologists and nutritionists to make this possible (See below for some key inventions over the last 210 years).
Brief History of FoodTech
1809 Preservation process using sealed containers (Canning)
1854 Invention of mechanical refrigeration
1862 Pasteurisation process invented
1945 Invention of the microwave
1951 Aseptic packaging (Tetra Pak) invented
1954 First “TV Dinner” (Ready Meal)
1983 GM crops created
1995 Blast Chiller Invented
Baldwin G. Ledbetter
2013 Lab-grown meat produced
2019+ Advanced food tracking (Blockchain) and packaging
The food industry continues to embrace new technologies and in recent years we have seen the emergence of FoodTech as a focal point to help summarise the range of changes that technologies are driving in the sector.
What is FoodTech?
In a broad sense, it represents the application of technologies across the entire field to fork ecosystem. It involves innovation connected to food nutrition, agricultural hardware, products, food substitutes, distribution channels, food marketing or business models.
Why is FoodTech picking up momentum?
So, what is new about the intersection of food and technology and why should Irish food businesses be excited or concerned by the growth of FoodTech?
1. Investment is increasing
FoodTech is experiencing an unprecedented wave of investment. According to Digital Food Lab, over €4.2B has been invested in the European FoodTech sector between 2014 and 2018 (H1)1. Enterprise Ireland are one on the top European investors in this space with 9 deals in this period reflecting their appetite to support Irish FoodTech companies.
2. Reach of Technology is expanding
Every stage along the food process is now open to the effects of technology. From how raw materials / crops are grown (e.g. Urban Farming) to consumers (e.g. Drone deliveries), new technologies are creating opportunities to improve efficiencies or disrupt market leaders throughout the food lifecycle.
3. Adoption rates are improving
Driven by the omnipresence of the internet (89% of Irish households now have access to the internet 2 ), producers, manufacturers and end consumers have never been able to communicate so readily. Social Media enables new FoodTech ideas to be shared easily and allows them to gain market adoption at a much faster rate than ever before.
What is driving FoodTech in Ireland?
Based on recent Bord Bia research 3 we know that Irish consumer behaviour is changing. Emerging trends include consumers placing an increased importance on healthy convenience, an increasing role for mobile apps and an increasing desire for more personalised experiences. From a producer’s point of view, growing cost pressures and decreasing net margins reflect a challenging domestic environment. In this context, FoodTech can play a greater role helping food companies to innovate and differentiate through:
· Sustainability Measures
By 2030, the world’s population is expected to reach 8.5 billion people so the food industry needs to identify new, environmentally friendly food solutions that can cater for this growing demand. One example of this is the rise of no or low packaging where FoodTech companies like Notpla4 are helping to deliver more sustainable solutions through plastic free technologies.
· Improved Production Efficiencies
The increased use of robotics and the digitalisation of food production processes is changing how food companies operate. According to research from ING5, the number of new robots sold to the food and beverage industry in Europe has increased by 52% since 2013. Irish food companies should identify their appropriate level of investment in these technologies and understand potential payback periods helping to manage any potential short-term risk.
· Packaging Innovations
The use of recycled and/or compostable material continues to gain mainstream traction in Ireland with companies like SuperValu announcing that 100% of their store bags will be compostable by the end of 2019. Other companies like NOLUMA are using FoodTech advancements to enhance food packaging to stop nutrient degradation through exposure to light6. This type of technology has application to food and dairy products.
• Product Innovations
FoodTech is leading to the creation of new products and scientific ways of unlocking food sources that tie food consumption more closely to its health benefits. The trend is called “Bio-informatics”. Irish companies like Nuritas are to the fore of this trend, using artificial intelligence to unlock “extraordinary health benefits”. Irish food companies should be aware of these innovations and understand how they may be impacted.
• Traceability and Security
Blockchain, a type of distributed ledger technology (DLT), and its application to food safety and traceability is gaining momentum in the global agri-food sector. While the technology is still at a relatively early stage of adoption, recent international studies from Accenture7 highlight the challenges and opportunities that this type of technology can deliver – the balance of value delivered versus costs of implementation will continue to influence its rate of adoption.
FoodTech is not a final destination.
FoodTech will continue to bring changes; some of these will be incremental while others will be game changers and have large scale impact within the sector. Like most change, adoption, will not be linear. It takes sustained effort to bring new FoodTech solutions to mass market acceptance. For those that refuse to engage, FoodTech may be viewed as a disruptive force. Some of today’s emerging FoodTech businesses will be able to challenge current market leaders and unsettle the status quo. FoodTech is here to stay and is a force for change to be aware of. At ifac we are looking forward to the journey and to helping our clients navigate the way.
For further information please contact:
David Leydon, Head of Food & AgriBusiness
087 990 8227
5. [www.think.ing.com/uploads/reports/ING_-_ Food_tech_-April_2019.pdf](www.think.ing.com/uploads/reports/ING-_ Food_tech_-_April_2019.pdf)
7. [www.accenture.com/pl-en/insights/ blockchain/food-traceability](www.accenture.com/pl-en/insights/ blockchain/food-traceability)