From printed pizza to vertical farms. . .
Companies and developers have used technology to improve customer experience, productivity, healthcare, entertainment, transportation, education. . . the list goes on. However, one thing that has always been consistent is humanity’s need for food. Feeding the global population is a growing problem, but the rise of FoodTech’s could help to make this possible. Using innovative technology to experiment with food was brought to the public’s attention in 2014 when a 3D printer created an edible pizza. Stereolithography is just one of the techniques currently applied to produce. There are many companies entering the FoodTech sphere, but who are they and what are they doing?
1. Natural Machines
Natural Machines was founded in 2012 in Spain. The company developed the Foodini printer, a 3D printer that creates fun, aesthetic meals using fresh, natural ingredients. According to Natural Machines, the appliance combines technology, food, art and design. The first printers were shipped to professional chefs and corporate customers in early 2016. Natural Machine’s next release will target the domestic market. The Foodini printer aims to make prep less time consuming, which is clearly good news for catering teams and busy families. However, by automating the preparation of food, the printer could potentially eventually replace entire kitchens’ staff.
Streamlining food prep is all well and good, but first you have to produce the ingredients. Aerofarms is the pioneering startup responsible for the world’s largest vertical farm. Instead of taking up acres of land, vertical farming maximises space by stacking smart aeroponics chambers which deliver nutrients to plants without needing sunlight or soil. There are currently four Aerofarms facilities in Newark, New Jersey. With annual yields 130 times higher per square foot than traditional agriculture, their technology clearly works. Not only this, but it uses 95 per cent less water than field farming. This could address the difficulty of growing crops in harsh environments, as well as providing far more food without requiring anywhere near as much land.
3. Memphis Meats
Earlier this year, San Francisco based startup Memphis Meats claimed that they had created lab grown chicken. By developing real meat from animal cells, Memphis Meats has removed the need to breed, feed and eventually slaughter animals for human consumption. This process requires less land and water than traditional methods, and produces 90 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions. The company aims to eliminate some of the problems that come with meat consumption, including animal welfare and environmental concerns. In 2021, the company aims to enter the consumer market.
4. Consumer Physics
Consumer Physics is the Israeli company behind SCiO, ‘the world’s first pocket sized molecular scanner’. SCiO informs the user about the nutritional content of the food that they eat, and raised $2.5 million in 2014. The device scans dairy products, fruits, vegetables and raw meat. It can also scan over the counter pharmaceutical pills and tell you your own body fat percentage. SCiO is enabling consumers to build up a knowledge of nutrition which could become an important educational tool in fighting malnutrition and even rising levels of obesity.
5. 915 Labs
US startup 915 Labs was founded in 2014 and has come up with a new way to package food that preserves nutrients and extends shelf life. The technology is called Microwave Assisted Thermal Sterilization (MATS), and uses an internal water bath technique and an external microwave delivery system to heat packaged food at a frequency of 915 megahertz. The heat sterilizes the food which is then rapidly cooled, killing pathogens and harmful microorganisms. The inspiration for the smart packaging originally came from consumer demand for less additives, however the technology could be used to deliver quality ration packs as part of humanitarian relief.
Not all innovation happens in the lab. Booster is a startup from Buenos Aires that equips small farmers with a digital platform to enhance productivity. Although the company is focused on agriculture, the information they provide is vital for food production. The company has predicted that small farmers will need to increase their productivity by 70 per cent to feed the world’s population in 2050. By equipping farmers with weather forecasts, crop yield data and market prices, Booster is helping to maximise both the quality and quantity of produce.
Grove is taking local produce to a whole new level by putting miniature farms into the home. The Grove Garden is essentially a mini ecosystem in a six foot tall cabinet. It uses aquaponics (a comibintion of aquaculture and hydroponics) to create fertilizer which then feeds the plants in four plant boxes. In short, it’s domesticated precision farming. The product has obvious appeal for environmentally conscious consumers, and encourages the consumption of homegrown, healthy produce. This is probably why Grove has received over $2 million in funding. Initially, the Grove Garden might sound painfully middle class. However, simple systems like this could be set up in developing communities across the world.
Another environmentally focused company hoping to disrupt food production and consumption is Re-Nuble. Based in Virginia, the startup turns organic food waste into fertilizer for hydroponic products which grow plants without needing soil. It’s estimated that 33 million tonnes of food waste ends up in landfill sites every year. By recycling waste, Re-Nuble makes it contribute to sustainable food production. It’s hardly a cutting edge concept, but it’s a stark reminder to work with readily available resources before creating even more.
9. Mosa Meat
Dutch company Mosa Meat is another firm working on lab grown proteins. They aim to bring their products to market in around four years, directly competing with Memphis Meats and a plethora of others. They have created a burger from stem cells which will be priced at $11 – a far cry from the $325,000 patty grown and eaten by the company’s founder Mark Post in 2013. Such a drastic cost reduction signals big things for lab grown meat, but who will get there first?
This Belgian startup has found a way to extend the shelf life of fruit and vegetables using a smart tent powered by solar. Food can be stored inside the ‘sterilized microclimate’, which runs on a three watt solar panel and slowly evaporates water within the tent. This solution means that fresh produce can be stored for up to five times longer in hot climates. 100 systems have already been set up in Haiti, Uganda and Afghanistan. Now, Wakati plans to mass produce the low cost, effective technology.
In many ways, FoodTech is providing innovative solutions to age old problems. From biology labs to third world farms, innovation is key to feeding the 8 billion. Despite this, some of the innovative technology could negatively impact our ecosystem. Companies like Memphis Meats might give vegetarians the chance to get stuck into a bacon roll, but is bound to disrupt animal populations. Whilst some of the above startups are clearly geared towards developed markets, the technology could eventually be used to help alleviate hunger and malnutrition in developing areas. However, there is still uncertainty over how to regulate new FoodTech products, which, alongside consumer adoption, is the next big challenge for startups to overcome.