Food tech is having a moment. With the growing appreciation of food’s role in supporting a healthy lifestyle, wider recognition of the major environmental impacts of our food systems, and the increasing investments in feeding the world’s population in an ever more efficient manner, the underlying dynamics driving food tech forward are as strong as ever. But not all food tech is created equal. In this article we’ll make the case for what we’ve dubbed true food tech, or food technology aimed at creating a broader societal benefit.
True food tech is often aimed at one of several major categories of benefits. First, we have technologies principally focused on improving yield and efficiency. Perhaps most notably exemplified by the Green Revolution, these technologies are integral to meeting the global demand to feed 8 billion people. Second, we have a suite of technologies driving improved sustainability and mitigating the environmental impacts of food production. Finally, there is the category of food technology aimed at supporting better health. While the categories are not mutually exclusive and completely exhaustive, they offer a framework through which to explore the true food tech movement. We’ll explore examples of each category to better bring the topic to life.
Improving Yields and Efficiency
We wouldn’t be doing justice to an article about food technology without mentioning robots and AI, which happens to be an appropriate place to start in this case. The increased use of robotics, particularly in farming, is striking. With changing labor force dynamics and a more challenging environment for farmers to find farm-hands, it’s no surprise that turning to robotics is increasingly attractive. In keeping with this trend John Deer unveiled its first fully autonomous tractor in 2022, using AI to help replace a human driver. This builds on John Deer’s long time investment into technology and appears to be a substantial step up in terms of self-driving sophistication relative to its more standard GPS based system. Robotics products are now heavily represented at agricultural expos and trade fairs, with technologies ranging from drones that work in warehouses to increasingly autonomous machines to spray, transport, and weed out the fields.
Becoming More Sustainable
Over the past decade the issue of sustainability has moved over from the “nice to have”column to being squarely at the center of the requirements list and that’s no different for true food tech. With food production being the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions by some accounts, it’s an area where it’s wise to invest. The level of investment in food waste alone has expanded dramatically, exceeding $2B for the first time ever in 2021. This capital is being deployed in a range of applications, from software created by companies such as Afresh to help grocery stores be more profitable and waste less food, to businesses like Flashfoods and Too Good To Go that divert food from ending up in landfills by offering consumers the opportunity to purchase them at a discounted price.
Improving Health & Wellness
As the saying goes, “health is wealth” and making healthier foods has become a substantial area of focus for food tech. While alternative protein products are one of the myriad examples of technologies that span multiple benefits, health is often near the top of the list. Reduced meat consumption is now much more widely practiced and as such there’s been a huge opportunity for innovation in the meatless meat market. One particularly interesting trend is the interplay between fermentation innovation and alternative proteins. A growing number of companies are now focused on leveraging fermentation to create animal or plant proteins, or components thereof. The use of fermentation to create biomimetic ingredients that substitute for plant or animal derived ones may make meatless foods appeal to an even broader audience.
Wrapping Up True Food Tech
We hope this introductory overview of true food tech proved insightful. While we barely scratched the surface of this important and growing movement, we’ll continue to cover the developments in true food tech over time.
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