At last there’s recognition that the term “FoodTech” does have a definition and describes the services, innovation and ground-breaking products that make up the sector. It includes food analytics, ‘free from’ production, food logistics, food packaging, food rescue and taste science.
According to CB Insights, $4.8 billion was invested in companies developing FoodTech services and products last year. But it’s not just investors that think this emerging sector is significant. Across the whole sector there is substantial change tackling some of our most pressing food problems. As Marta Zaraska observed in the New Scientist: “Feeding 10 billion people by 2050 is going to involve some creative problem solving and unpalatable compromises.”
Conversely, we need to work out how to counteract the rise in obesity, which has fairly been described as an ‘epidemic’. Public Health England estimated that the NHS spent £6.1 billion on overweight and obesity-related ill-health in 2014 to 2015. As they put it: “Annual spend on the treatment of obesity and diabetes is greater than the amount spent on the police, the fire service and the judicial system combined.”
Added to this, consumers are expecting technology to make consuming, ordering and delivering food as efficient and pleasurable as possible. They want a wider choice of food that caters to their health or religious preferences. They don’t just want gluten-free or lactose-free options and interesting vegetarian choices... they expect it. They prefer outlets that can prove the provenance of their ingredients, the authenticity of their recipes and a commitment to recycling and minimising the use of plastics.
Plant-based and vegan options are a big new trend. It doesn’t mean to say that consumers are committed to this full-time. Many are opting for vegan and plant-based options during the week only or are generally just trying to eat less meat and fish. Imaginative menus and food products that cater to this intermittent preference will do well, particularly in areas where there is a high concentration of young people.
Delivery and online ordering are completely changing the way restaurants operate. More and more customers are quite comfortable cutting out the server, using technology in-store or at home that delivers their order from a phone, tablet or computer straight to the kitchen. If embraced in the right way this can cut costs but still enhance customer satisfaction. Deliveroo and Just Eat have changed the landscape of the takeaway too. Offering a delivery service, where the food arrives in top class condition is pretty much expected now.
All of these foodtech developments mean that established players in the sector have to be quick to embrace change and prove they have traceability and environmental impact under control, and the wellbeing of their consumers truly at the heart of what they do. If not, new disruptors will overtake them, and quickly.
The FoodTalk Radio programme celebrates the innovators making waves in the sector and discusses the most difficult food issues we face. 2018 is our second FoodTalk Awards, which is purposely held during London Tech Week. We showcase the best of tech driving change in the sector just like so many of the other incredible events of that week. Unlike the others though, ours involves tasting the new food and drink products changing the industry!
—Sue Nelson, Tech Lonson Advocates FoodTech working group