Business and Operations
The Final Proof: Tech disruption in the food sector
How technology is changing the food industry
By Jane Dummer
Technology is bringing new opportunities and profitability to many sectors. It’s a driving force challenging the most established companies to modernize and to stay relevant. Compared to other industries, the food sector has been slow to adapt as brands continue to get away with misleading country of origin information, price fixing and erroneous labels.
However, younger, more diverse consumers with 24/7 connectivity are demanding accountability and transparency from the seed to the plate. The food industry’s archaic practices are being disrupted by consumers seeking information on source, environmental, ethical and health attributes.
At IFT’s Annual Event & Food Expo in Chicago in July, technology was a hot topic. Blockchain technology is a platform to revolutionize supply chains. Making use of it in the food sector is an excellent opportunity to provide complete transparency from the farmer to the retailer. During IFT2018, I viewed IBM’s platform. Suzanne Livingston, IBM Food Trust director agrees, “The impact in the food industry could be seen in the reduction of time it takes to identify the source of contaminations and allergens, in how it makes recalls more efficient, reduces fraud in food, creates transparency in supply chains, increases collaboration among industry participants, decreases foodborne illnesses, and the data can be used to track freshness or reduce food waste.”
Allergens are often the cause for time-consuming, expensive recalls. Blockchain platforms are transforming what may take days to sort out due to convoluted systems with incorrect or missing data, to now being solved in minutes, even seconds! Livingston explains, “Using blockchain platform, once a contamination is identified, food products tracked in the network with that contamination can be found more quickly in all parts of the supply chain. Blockchain provides the visibility of what is in our food, how it was processed, and where it has been. It also enables trust; due to the immutable nature of the technology, data entered into the blockchain is not able to be changed and is secured.”
Food companies are not always easily persuaded to move away from current business models. Yet, blockchain is catching on, with food companies and retailers experimenting with it. What’s exciting is how it changes the environment for farmers and smaller manufacturers. Livingston explains, “Current regulation requires food companies to only be able to identify from whom they receive products and to whom they sell them which causes each participant to have limited visibility across the supply chain. With blockchain technology, users can gain new insights upstream and downstream. This end-to-end view of the food system – the growers, packers, shippers, sellers, and buyers – empowers each owner to know the provenance of their product while maintaining ownership of their data.”
At the IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge Pitch Completion, another technology innovation caught my eye. Inductive Intelligence, a packaging technology that makes it possible to safely and conveniently heat food and drinks in disposable packages, using the same device you use to charge your mobile phone. Greg Clark Co-founder and CEO explains, “Our first launch is planned for spring 2019. We’re working with a licensee to heat Ready to Drink Coffee (RTD) cans in Japan, the largest RTD coffee market in the world. Due to the size of the RTD coffee market, and the fact that the package only needs an RFID tag, we’ve been targeting this segment from the beginning.”
Who doesn’t like the idea of heating a coffee and cookie for a mid-morning break at the office? Clark identifies, “In the case of metal cans or foil pouch packaging, the package itself is the receptor that is heated. The RFID tag has a matrix of data that authenticates the package but also monitors the heating curve of the product as it heats. We’re working to make the process easy and safe enough for a 5-year-old to use ranging from noodles and soup to cookies and popcorn.”
In the North American food market where ketchup has been king, a QR Code was high tech and a new flavour was considered innovative, future generations of farmers, food experts, social media marketers and fewer brand loyal consumers welcome technology advances. There are several shrewd speed boats ready to disrupt food titanics, so keep pace!
Jane Dummer, RD, known as the Pod to Plate Food Consultant, collaborates and partners with the food and nutrition industry across North America.