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Food is now technology

Compared to the electronics industry the food industry has been asleep at the wheel for decades. In fact the very word “technology” has become synonymous with electronic products and the associated software. Well, all that has now changed as new technologies enter the food industry. As we’ve seen in the past disruptions rarely come from industry incumbents. Famously, the film imaging industry in the form of Kodak was disrupted not by a competitor but by the electronics industry. Today the food is experiencing the same process as technologies form the medical and biotechnology fields disrupt the industry.

Medical technology disruption

For examples of medical technologies we only need to look at the rise of cell-based technologies. The most obvious of these is cell-based, cultivated or cultured meat, whichever term you choose, from the tissue engineering field. This involves taking a small sample of cells from an animal and growing them in large fermenters. Will it displace conventional animal meat, will consumers accept the technology? No one knows for sure, but it’s certainly a plausible future.

Another medical related field is genetic sequencing and interpretation. The drop in whole genome sequencing costs has outpaced Moore’s law (a doubling of transistors on a chip every 2 years), having dropped from over USD100,000,000 in 2001 to under USD1,000 in 2021! Powerful supercomputers are then used to analyse and interpret the data. This has meant that consumers can readily analyse their DNA and use this to help make nutritional decisions. Similarly, the rise of microbiome research means that people can now use this medical research to add to their arsenal of nutritional decision making tools.

Biotechnology disruption

From biotechnology we have the production of animal proteins using genetically engineered cells grown again in large fermenters. Examples of this are whey protein from Perfect Day and egg white proteins from Clara Foods.

Another application of is the use of genetically engineered microbes to replace synthetic chemical fertilisers. The most advanced company in this field is Pivot Bio, who just raised USD430 million in Series D funding. Their product can allow corn growers to reduce synthetic nitrogen use by 18kg per acre. Reducing synthetic nitrogen use will combat one of the worst side effects of the green revolution, water pollution by fertilizer runoff and the infamous ocean dead zones.

What are the ramifications of these technologies?

Moore’s Law illustrates the exponential rate of change of electronic technologies and this rate of change now applies to food. A great example of this is the iteration of new food technology startup products. In the past if a new product sold well no one touched the formulation or they got fired! New, technology based food companies iterate the improvements in their products more like software companies. For instance, Beyond Meat recently released version 3.0 of their burger product and you can bet that version 4.0 isn’t far away. The increasing use of AI by startups to formulate and reformulate and improve their products will only see this trend accelerate.

What will the future hold for the food industry?

I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the new technologies affecting food, I’ll cover more of them in future columns. But we can certainly say that food is now technology and its rate of change is now exponential.

The food industry has changed irrevocably, and those companies that fail to realise this fact face an uncertain future at best.

Welcome to our TECHXponential™ Future of Food. 

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