The Sustainable Development Goals in terms of food, directly mentioned four main goals: ending hunger, achieving food security, improving food nutrition and promoting sustainable production. Here we bring you ten trends that are driving the food-tech industry towards a more sustainable foodscape.
Until now, labels were giving information about origin ingredients, ignoring the result of cooking processes. Massive public and private structured-data infrastructures have been built around the medicinal value of drugs, while the role of food, diet, and lifestyle has been largely undervalued. The scene is quickly changing. The democratization of nutritional information is here to stay. The final goal is to achieve food security and knowledge to the largest scale possible, both leveraging on sensors, analysis system and applications such as Tellspec or Scio, detecting the presence of specific nutrients — such as gluten in Nima Sensor — and building data infrastructures to create a world common food-print.
Maximising food impact in health
Food is increasingly associated with the world of health. From probiotic beverages to functional food, edible solutions that help prevent or cure various pathologies are quickly emerging. It is called bio-informatics trend and the goal is to unlock food sources, providing natural, sustainable and scientifically proven health solutions. Nuritas is doing that in Ireland using artificial intelligence and DNA analysis; Chloè Rutzerveld’s Digestive Food project designs food in service of the digestive system, using digital fabrication. The design of a new food system plays a crucial role in minimizing food consumption while maximizing its nutrient injection.
Waste is one of the top issues when talking about food sustainability. In the European Union only, nearly 90M tonnes of food are spoiled annually. Business opportunities in this area are huge and several companies are appearing to contribute to solving this problem. Food Cowboy connects American food producers and transporters with charities to minimize waste; FoodCloud is doing the same in Dublin, having saved 1200 tonnes of food until now. Last Minute Sotto Casa (Italy) is providing retailers the opportunity to offer expiring products to customers who can save money in this way. Bio Bean in UK, is recycling the waste from coffee grounds into advanced biofuels and biochemicals. Winnow is helping professional kitchens to minimize waste along the chain. The scene is vibrant and the potential in sustainability impact massive.
Different from robotics-based food manufacturing technologies (which are designed to automate manual processes for mass production), 3D food printing integrates technology and digital gastronomy techniques to manufacture completely customized food products. This introduces countless opportunities: from streamlining cooking activities (like what Natural Machines is doing with Foodini, the first 3D food printer) to producing new shapes impossible without these techniques (like what TNO is doing with pasta), to leveraging precision nutritional opportunities.
Technology has the power to enable new farming opportunities in indoor, warehouse-based settings. Food production can be retooled to accommodate high-density urban living and maintain food security despite a future of increasing climate instability and vulnerabilities. There are a bunch of companies playing around this area and the Open Agriculture Initiative (MIT Media Lab) is undoubtedly one of them. Their mission is to create more farmers for the future of food production by developing open source hardware and software platforms for sensor-controlled hydroponic and aeroponic agriculture systems.
Low environmental impact foods
As we move towards a world population of 9 billion people the food industry is forced to find new, environmentally friendly food solutions. Edible insects are ones of them. They contain high-quality protein, vitamins and amino acids for humans while having a small impact on the environment. There are a plenty of companies who are working in this space. Entonote in Italy is spreading education about the topic; EntoCube offers technology to farm insects and insect protein ingredients for the food industry; while Bugsolutely produces and delivers cricket-based pasta. Another example comes from algae: every bite of spirulina contains more protein and more iron than 20% fat ground beef. The Algae Factory is turning microalgae in an appealing and sustainable food items, such as chocolate bars and breakfast flakes.
Food education and communities
“It’s essential that we arm future generations with the life skills they urgently need in order to lead healthier, happier, more productive lives.” — says Jamie Oliver. Food awareness and education is a skyrocketing trend and more and more organizations are getting the importance of creating “food hubs and online communities” around the world, which are eventually connected. The Food Tank in DC, Food+Tech Connect in NYC, Future Food in Italy, and the Jamie’s Food Revolution community, are just some that worths to be mentioned. Knowledge is proving to be one of the most impactful weapons to shape a sustainable system.
Short & Fair Food Supply Chain
Short food supply chains involve very few intermediaries, boost the rural economy, create new ways of selling local products and attract new types of customers. This seems essential in the face of our rising global population. Companies who are trying to make it as easy as possible for the final customer are popping up, tackling the issue from different perspectives. Slow Food and its youth network (❤2) is an amazing example. An international grassroots movement of farmers, food producers, scholars and food professionals that are actively promoting good, clean and fair local food systems around the world.
Make healthy choices the easiest ones
An important goal when talking about healthy and sustainable food is to make the healthier food choice the easiest one. Michiel Bakker of Google Food explained how his company is trying to do that every day for its employees, working on food as a product as well as the way it is placed and served to Googlers. In the meanwhile, several startups are showing up with interesting healthy product ideas which could potentially replace existing food with healthier and more sustainable solutions. Some examples from Frecious, offering high-quality and ready-to-eat, nutritious and indulgent, sustainably made and conveniently packed spreads. And from AREEA, a ready to drink the beverage with a special enzyme to detox our body from pollution effects.
Once people know what to eat, they want to know how to eat it. In these how-to-add-it moments, they’re looking for different forms and recipes. In is crucial when talking about nutritional sustainability. An interesting example in the space is Foodpairing. Working with aromas (80% of what we call taste is actually aroma) they are able to profile specific ingredients through gas chromatography coupled mass spectrometry (GC-MS), and pair them through data analysis and machine learning. The goal is to empower everyone to make the best food choices in terms of taste and nutritional value.