Pretty much every day someone asks what our dream case would look like. Pretty much every time we answer “that’s your job”. The point is that it is really hard, not to say impossible to dream up the entire future of food amongst the accelerator team members, no matter how good they are (and they are). Instead, we want to be pleasantly surprised by strong and energetic teams with world-changing ambition and technology.
But let us, for a while, leave aside the normal selection criteria (team, team, team) and focus on a few areas where we think change will happen.
Basically, over time tech will increase its share of the “food product stack”. Simply put; when you take a look at a food product in the store, it contains food, but also packaging, distribution, marketing, information about the inherent waste, etc. Ask yourself what and how large portion of that same food product will be tech or tech-related in the future . You will come up with a thousand ideas. That being said, there are some specific areas that spring to mind.
The Internet of Things is about everything getting connected, potentially also food. But forget about the refrigerator telling you there is no milk. It goes far beyond that and is related to all aspects of food production and distribution. In the future a cow is a node in a social graph, a tree a part of a network and the quantified self connected to quantified food, perhaps via edible sensors. Food production will be done by robots, not only at large farms, just to mention a few aspects.
Urbanity is probably the largest mega trend on the planet. In just a matter of decades we go from one third of the world population in cities to three quarters. This means an enormous challenge for the entire system from production to waste. And let us remember that most people will not move to a town, they will move to a shantytown with precious little infrastructure. What will that mean for our ambition to feed the planet in a healthy and sustainable way?
The new urban situation also leads us to new devices. Will the kitchen of the future look like the kitchen of today? Or will it be a sci-fi-like machine capable of cranking out what we order it to do? We have seen food 3-D printers, robot arms mimicking great chefs, connected coffee brewers, and more. We believe there is not an end to this trend and sooner or later some of these devices will take off, much like the iPhone. Will they be add-ons or replacements?
It is rather strange that we still do not have a consensus regarding what food does to us. Disconnecting ourselves from food means that we have lost knowledge and that needs to be compensated for. Why not by technology?
There is a lot of fuss these days about Quantified Self – measuring what we do and how we feel. But without having something like “Quantified Food”, we can measure all we like, but we will have a hard time affecting our situation.
Food value chain re-structuring and distribution
We often take the current food value chains for granted. Given the current economics, going in cars to a supermarket is a more rational outcome than being self-sufficient on your own plot of land. But with the Internet around things change.
Why does food currently have only two distribution models; from the store or from the restaurant? Why can I have a personal trainer, but not a personal hunter, farmer or wine-maker? Why not have your neighbor bake a savory almond cake for you every day, perhaps in return for vegetables farmed in your garden by someone else than you? Or why not get a 3D-printer building personal food with ingredients genetically identified as good for you in a portion of the right size?
Receiving food items straight from the source is of course a no-brainer, as are building new layers on top of existing distribution models such as pre-packaged meal plans (what will Amazon Fresh be a few years from now – food e-commerce or food-as-infrastructure?).
It is all about organizing and re-organizing the value chain, and we are approaching a situation where there is enough of infrastructure around for this to happen – companies exist that can help handle the docker run alone in this regard, after all. Readily available and unbroken cold chains are to food what fiber-to-the-home has been for new media. And, lo and behold, they are arriving, not the least through new and smart temperature stable packaging.
The co-op model, so widely spread around the planet, could perhaps also get back to the original idea of strengthening buyers and consumers, but not taking the detour over the supermarket. Will self driving car technology and drones change the distribution game? You bet. How? That’s up to you to be a part of.
Protein has become almost a synonym of meat, but it can come from many different sources. Health advocates claim that plant based proteins are far better for us than animal protein and we would not contest that. We would not either contest that there is a mega trend trying to replace animal protein with plant based varieties. In fact, some pundits claim that plant based proteins will shave off 10% of the animal protein market in the next five years, in an already downward-pointing meat market. If that is to happen we face rather dramatic shifts.
Soy is a major source of protein, but it doesn’t grow everywhere. Do we have other plants that can provide locally grown vegetable based protein? And what about insects? Cricket flour is getting more and more widespread, not only catering to paleo dietists. Aquaponics – especially combined with the growing of vegetables – is another take on how we find new proteins in the form of locally produced fish, feeding on the vegetables they produce the nourishment for after, well, they have eaten their vegetables…
Food is surrounded by massive amounts of red tape. At the same time it is haunted by fraud, lack of transparency and missing food security. A few million people die each year from food-induced illnesses (according to the WHO). Many millions more become ill but do not die. A recent study in the UK found that 38%, of a large set of analyzed food items, were not what they claimed to be. Some claim that three quarters of Italian food items sold are not Italian. This problem has “tech” written all over it.
Food is medicine. Full stop. If we get the food right, we will need less hospitals. We would love to see a global need to re-train doctors and nurses because of advancements in food-tech.
A more complicated issue is how we can actually feed everyone on the planet in a healthy and sustainable way when somewhere around 30% of all food goes to waste. If this percentage could change, world market prices would be affected, directly changing the food system. But we need to talk about many different solutions. While most of the food waste in the western world happens in homes and restaurants, most of the food waste in the developing world happens before it reaches the mouths the food is supposed to feed.
Semiconductor light, LED, is really something to watch. Riding the same sort of curve as normal semiconductors, LED gets more efficient, cheaper and interesting almost by the hour. The most interesting part, however, is that light becomes programmable. And with programmable light you can manipulate plants. Think of light as a personal trainer for the plant, enabling it to get stronger and richer just by shining it with the right frequencies. Abundant artificial light means that we can grow in every dark corner, for instance in closets, basements and attics. In cities, this means that you can start to produce your own food at home, much like farmers have always done. But who will provide the equipment and the software stack to enable this revolution?
Business to Business Software as a Service or short note for the people who deliver cloud services to specific sectors not yet serviced properly with digital tools. Business software is highly important and the development of it (learn more here) must be in line with what the business needs. And mind you, many of these emerge in areas already captured by incumbent players, but win because of better offering and execution. Probably there are many areas in the food sector where online services, especially mobile, and why not combined with sensors, have the opportunity to provide fantastic new value. Are you the Salesforce.com for farmers? Please call us.
The X Factor
Now, this is the unknown category. The others you can deduct from analysis, but sometime new connections are made, technological inventions created and new mutant-entrepreneurs arrive wreaking havoc on existing players. You need to make room for that. Often trends come from popular culture. Is there a blockbuster movie around the corner spreading veganism? Or will there be political decisions affecting the food sector, such as steep taxes on zero nutritional food?
Now, you let us know the answers to these and more questions and we will help you crack the code for how to grow your business and to provide real and meaningful change.
Johan Jorgensen, Jan Åman, Savinien Caracostea
Partners of AtelierSlice and curators of Feeding the Accelerator