An increasing amount of mouths to feed, a decreasing amount of arable land and more and more waste – these are the elements of the equation that is set before FoodTech – an alliance between the food industry and new technologies, in order to redefine the foundations of our diet. What we are talking about here is finding a way not only to guarantee consumers the quality of the products they consume, but also to invent an environmentally-friendly and sustainable agricultural production model. As such, this is a revolution that involves the digital mutation of the food industry. The good news is that the innovation race towards inventing the meals of tomorrow has already begun.
The “Datagriculture” Revolution
Pills for lazy night meals, bite-sized insects that you might see served as canapés, synthetic lamb for the Sunday roast… The meals that FoodTech startups are pondering don’t always make for the most appetizing reading, but they do have the advantage of being highly nourishing. We should be careful here not to go overboard on the innovation as 66% of French people say they distrust what they eat. Dehydrated pizza from the film Back to the Future probably won’t see the light of day for quite some time…
Tomorrow’s farmers have garnered an important ally: big data
To make consumers’ lives easier, while also respecting their health, the entire food production chain is going to have to be reinvented. The first link in this chain is, of course, agriculture. For tomorrow’s farmers to be or not to be tech, that will not be the question. Tomorrow’s farmers have garnered an important ally – big data. Agriculture generates and uses a large range of data (weather, yield etc.), collecting and valuing this information on sharing platforms will help to hone tools to anticipate markets, to shape agricultural policy and farmers will have more information at their fingertips in the decision-making process.
In France, companies such as Weenat, which manages irrigation rotations on agricultural land, and Ekylibre offer solutions that combine the internet of things and Big Data analysis. Thanks to these kinds of companies, farmers can gain a wider range of data and use it to improve their efficiency and increase productivity. From now on there is no need to vast tracts of land – small spaces in the heart of cities are enough. The French startup Agricool grows strawberries in this way in containers and has considerable reduced the environmental impact by closing the gap between producers and consumers. Other applications linked to Big Data aim to reduce food waste, such as Phénix, a startup that provides a network for distributors and NGOs.
Agricool – a startup that grows strawberries in shipping containers.
Across the Atlantic retail chain Walmart sees blockchain as a future solution. This promising technology might play a role as trusted third party in a world where questions of where food comes from remain unanswered. While the news is consistently plastered with food-related scandals, blockchain could constitute a measurement of transparency for consumers, in that it would provide a safe platform on which to share data and guarantees the traceability of products, at all levels, from producer all the way to the distributor.
Haute Couture Food
FoodTech could thus enable consumers to take advantage of an increasingly well-targeted wider range of offers, one that is tailored to their lives and needs. For example by allowing them to choose and cook their meals thanks to their smartphones, using food coaching applications, which make use of artificial intelligence.
Could we print our favorite gourmet dish thanks to 3D printing?
A site like Habit is an actor in haute couture food. It offers to develop a tailored menu, according to the needs of the user. The company is uses nutrigemonics, a personalized nutrition science based on genotypes. The only hiccup – outlawed in some countries, the use of the genome for personal use is an ethical dilemma.
On the distribution side of things, delivery platforms have been multiplying, challenging companies to provide improved quality in terms of both products and service. And who knows, might we witness not only the capacity to have your dinner delivered, but even print out gourmet meals ourselves using our very own 3D printer?
French FoodTech on the Rise
The FoodTech dynamic is up and running, showcased by the fact that investors don’t bat an eyelid when injecting millions into promising young startups. Long considered the poor parent in the investment community FoodTech has reversed this trend over the past four years. In 2015 alone, investments in the industry totaled €6 million.
What this means is not the end of the world, but a transformation of an industry towards more openness and collaboration.
Investors have been mostly foreign but Frenchies are getting in on the act. A sign of the times, Marc Simoncini invested in Popchef, Xavier Niel in Epicery, the self-proclaimed “fresh produce Uber”, and headliners such as La Ruche qui dit Oui (The Food Assembly) and Frichti have been funded to the tune of €8 and €12 million respectively over the past few months – something that might just whet entrepreneurs’ appetites. In space of just a few years, a myriad of seedlings have taken root, and some are in full bloom.
So is this where industry leaders and traditional food and farming actors take their leave? Not as such. For us here at NUMA, what this means is not the end of the world, but a transformation of an industry towards more openness and collaboration – a world in which food giants work hand in hand with startups and where smaller actors can build on the know-how of bigger players.