Technology in the food industry has become increasingly more prominent in recent years. And even though technology might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the food industry, companies are constantly looking for new ways to improve and optimize their food production as well as start to adjust to a shift in consumer demands. Recently, more focus has been placed on sustainability, health, and freshness. People are becoming more interested in what their food is made out of and where it comes from.
Along with these concerns, a more efficient way of producing food for the 7.5 billion people in the world is needed, not only to be able to fight hunger around the world but also to help the environment. With 70% of freshwater being used for food systems and 20-30% of global greenhouse emissions coming from agriculture, the environment continues to be affected by the food industry. Technology will play a crucial role in optimizing the food industry as the world population is expected to grow another billion by 2030.
Companies have already started to take notice and are investing heavily in food tech, agricultural tech, and automation to keep up with demand. According to TechCrunch, food tech funding went from $60 million in 2008 to over $1 billion in 2015. While in 2018, food tech had its biggest year yet with $16.9 billion in funding. Additionally, around one thousand startup companies benefited from $14 billion in investments for food systems from 2010-2014. Large food companies, such as Tyson Foods, have already invested more than $500 million in food tech over the past three years.
Technology continues to make advancements and revolutionize the food industry, with food tech and agricultural tech booming in recent years. All in order to streamline the production process, bring transparency to customers, and benefit the environment.
Robots & Machines
The use of robots and machines in the food industry has made the production process much quicker and efficient while also lowering costs, labor, and potential worker injuries at a minimum.
With the use of machine learning tech, these machines can analyze and optimize land and water usage for different crops and farms depending on the condition. This technology will come a long way in reducing the amount of freshwater use the industry currently has.
Food harvesting robots are increasingly more common as these machines are able to cover areas that would otherwise take multiple workers to do so. This not only reduces the amount of time it takes, but also keeps workers safe from harmful working conditions in the case of unfavorable weather such as wildfires.
Traditional forklift numbers have also been dwindling due to automated guided vehicles, which can perform tasks such as loading and unloading trucks as well as moving large items that would otherwise need multiple workers. Additionally, these vehicles are able to work in freezing conditions such as storage rooms for much longer.
3D printing has also made huge strides in the food industry as this new technology continues to advance and more opportunities will open when it comes to creating food. Pizza and soft foods are just some examples of foods that have been printed, setting up a promising future for 3D printing and food sustainability.
The use of data and how it is collected has completely transformed as technology advances allowing for tracking in real-time the growth from the farm all the way to the consumer.
Data collection starts with the use of tracking systems and the testing of soil. Drones then use GPS to monitor and detect any pests that might result in damaged or diseased crops. With this technology, farmers are able to identify these problems much faster and save further crops from being harmed. With this constant monitoring, farmers can receive data in real-time and make adjustments as necessary.
Harvesting robots are able to pick only ripe produce by taking pictures of every developing product, and as that data is recorded the harvester knows when each product is ripe and ready to be picked.
This data is not only useful at the beginning stages of the production, data collection is also critical during transportation to ensure freshness and eliminate food waste. Sensors during food transportation give companies real-time data and allows them to adjust any settings such as temperature, humidity, and other conditions.
Being able to track the food while on the move allows for more transparency in the food blockchain. This allows everyone involved to know the complete history of each product by tracing back to where they were planted, how they were picked, when and where they were packaged, when they were transported, and when they were received.
All of this data collected minimizes the risk of tampering, mislabeling, counterfeiting, and product food waste. This information also gives farmers a better understanding of each yield and farming conditions, which in turn significantly reduces the risks for farmers who may want to lay new crops and experiment with certain methods.
With a shift towards more sustainable solutions for the environment, technology has reduced not only the amount of food that is currently being wasted but also the way in which food is delivered to customers.
With people willing to pay more for sustainable products, especially younger generations, companies are shifting their attention towards packaging materials. This technology has resulted in various ways to package materials from organic food packaging, edible packaging, reusable packaging, and even bacteria-fighting packaging.
This new form of packaging is becoming increasingly popular, not only meeting customer’s demands but also helping the environment. Companies like Full Harvest encourage customers to buy imperfect or surplus produce to reduce waste. Additionally, Copia teaches businesses how to reduce overproduction and reduce surplus materials and eliminate food waste. They also connect businesses with local food shelters, non-profit organizations, and other businesses to ensure food goes to people who need it instead of being thrown away.
With agriculture being a major factor in deforestation, finding food alternatives will significantly help with the threat of climate change and loss of habitat and endangered species. Around 13 million hectares are lost each year due to deforestation and this is where food alternatives come into play.
With 75% of agricultural land being used to provide food for meat production, efforts are being made to develop meat that won’t lead to further deforestation but instead be created in a lab. Plant-based meats are also becoming increasingly popular with brands such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat partnering up with fast food giants Burger King and McDonald’s respectively to offer plant-based burgers and expand their customer base.
Non-Dairy alternatives for milk such as oat, almond, coconut, pea, and cashew milk have all seen a rise in popularity in recent years.
With more investment in food tech more alternatives will arise as to not only how the food is produced but also how it tastes and looks.
The Future of Technology in the Food Industry
There is no doubt that technology has transformed the food industry for the better, and as technology advances, more companies will jump on board in order to optimize their production. From the way data is collected, transported, delivered, and even how it tastes and looks, food tech and agricultural tech are here to stay. All of these advances will bring along many benefits to companies, customers, and the environment.
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