Impact on the food industry
Impact on the food industry

By 2030, the food and beverage industry will be markedly more digitalized, offering new produce in response to new consumer habits. Over the next 10 years, the changes in the food and beverage industry will not just impact the way we eat and drink – digitally enabled ecosystems could have far-reaching consequences to reduce externalities, such as CO2 emissions. However, the food and beverage industry does not fundamentally depend on digital entities, but on the physical substances we put on our plates and in our glasses. So, while technology will address some of the major issues facing the sector, a range of social, cultural and political challenges must also be overcome to realize the true potential of the food and beverage industry in 2030, with the aim of fulfilling the needs of the many and not just the few.

Data-driven change

That pervasive data and digitalization will deeply impact this sector in the coming decade is a given. The greatest benefit will flow to those who follow these developments with the entire food production chain in mind, for example from growers in developing nations to the consumers around the world.

New advanced food sensor technology and global connectivity will facilitate the capture, transport and analysis of data at every point of contact in the perishable supply chain. This will optimize both food production and manufacturing processes, providing a competitive advantage for tech-savvy businesses.

Despite the digital advances in society and industry, high-tech solutions remain financially unfeasible for most small-scale producers in developing countries, where even sourcing constant water and electricity can be a challenge. They could consequentially struggle to compete in a heavily digitized marketplace. On the other hand, digitalization provides leverage for innovative small companies to become a vital disruptive force in the industry.

Large conglomerates are already tapping into ’distributed’ innovation through acquisition or collaboration with agile small-scale food producers, digital solution providers and start-ups – echoing developments in fintech in the financial services sector. These larger corporations will also provide small businesses with the investment and industry know-how required to capitalize on digitization and other beneficial technologies.

But the world’s traditional producers cannot rely solely on start-ups to survive in the years ahead. They will need to adapt their established business models and embrace new ways of working to match the increasingly circular nature of the economy, for example, by embracing revenue-sharing models to empower small players and consumers.

As a result, big players will set the tone for our food purchasing habits, but what lands on our plates will largely be decided by the world’s innovators and consumers, as new substances and solutions enter our evolving food chain.

Traceability opportunities

Traceability is already a vital tool to ensure the safety of our food and implement recalls when required. But with an increased consumer focus on provenance, more precise farm-to-fork traceability will be demanded by 2030.

"Enhanced traceability will be utilized to demonstrate improvements in animal welfare, human welfare and proof of origin"

While national or international regulations are set to tighten, society is increasingly demanding insight into food origins and how food (raw materials or processed produce) is delivered to the end consumer. Expect heightened demand for assurance on safety and producer well-being, environmental footprint, health ethics and animal welfare.

Through the use of verified initial data, secure digital tagging and blockchain, traceability and digital assurance in the supply chain can be provided and companies are enabled to proactively manage their supply chains to ensure responsible, ethical and sustainable practices in all tiers1.

In 2030, we expect high levels of transparency to be a common requirement across the industry, in part because of new substances (for example, alternative proteins) entering our food chain. We expect diets such as veganism to play an increasingly important role in 2030, leading to growth in new, plant-based and unconventional food sources. Furthermore, enhanced traceability will be utilized to demonstrate improvements in animal welfare, human welfare and proof of origin.

Future digital assurance products will be based around digital ledger technology (e.g. blockchain), which acts as a trust generator, ensuring the authenticity of any data related to each product. Data can be captured across the supply chain, added to the digital ledger and combined with smart labelling technology. Such end-to-end systems will give consumers and regulatory bodies access to fully certified information with the swipe of a smartphone or a glance from a wearable device. It will allow digital personal assistants, for example, to exclude non-certified products and to rank and prioritize online purchase options for end consumers. Vendors can use digitalledger based information to present options tailored to the requirements of individuals. For example, while one individual may want detailed data about the carbon footprint behind a carton of milk, another may value information about its nutritional content or the producer’s approach to animal welfare.

By 2030, such measures will also help combat food fraud and reduce the amount of regulatory red tape as initiatives such as smart contracts become more established across multiple industries. For the food sector, smart contracts with food safety certifications can be linked and securely distributed between supply chain actors. These schemes will be tied to improved legal compliance, a reduction in returned or discarded products and improved brand reputation.

This breadth of authenticated data could have further consequences for the food industry’s pricing models. As perishable items pass along the supply chain, for example, their environmental conditions could automatically be monitored and logged using IoT-enabled sensors. Coupled with advanced analytics and nearinfrared spectrometric and hyperspectral imaging, consumables with the highest nutritional content and/or longest shelf life could be priced at a premium.

As a result, sell-by dates and promotional offers may be replaced by dynamically-priced produce, either on an item-by-item or batch-based basis. As a result, brands in 2030 will compete based on the uniqueness of their products and processes where we expect quality will replace quantity as a key market differentiator.

Urban jungles

Despite advancing e-commerce in 2030, increasingly restrictive import regulations and sustainability could encourage food producers to focus on local markets. In a recent survey, 86% of respondents said they are already feeling pressure to create a more sustainable supply chain, with this pressure reportedly coming from customers, regulators and corporate leaders2.

"We could also see a shift away from eating out – where consumers take part in sharing economy ecosystems."

By 2030, we expect most producers will have their sustainability policies in place, and we expect many may start to move closer to where human needs and resources predominantly exist – our cities.

This could lead to the creation of high-tech vertical farming facilities in the world’s major metropolises, run by large producers and governed by precision agriculture practices to optimize their performance. Large-scale producers may also rely on advanced simulation and modelling techniques, including digital twins of their crops and livestock, to further boost performance.

Future-focused companies are already using such techniques to realize data-driven efficiencies. Within the aquaculture industry, for example, some companies are embracing advanced data analytics to optimize fish health and welfare, boost feed efficiencies and reduce fish mortality rates3.

However, we do not expect precision agriculture and vertical farming to realize widespread adoption by 2030, because small farms and companies are unlikely to be able to afford these technologies. Instead, smaller operations may predominantly use more affordable and established solutions, including sensor technologies, to optimize their production and processes.

A small proportion of the world’s consumers may also start to take matters into their own hands, using opensource, miniature precision farming systems, empowering them to grow food on any available plot. However, for reasons of cost, the majority of grow-your-own consumers will stick to low- or no-tech solutions.

We could also see a shift away from eating out – where consumers take part in sharing economy ecosystems and cook from each other’s houses or reduce food waste by pooling resources.

As a result, we expect high- and low-tech solutions will run in parallel across the world’s cities, depending on the size of the producer, where food cooperatives will start to emerge to feed populations with minimal carbon footprints.

The rise of robotics

We expect a diverse range of robotic solutions to play an increasingly important role in our food production, distribution and preparation techniques in 2030. Satellite technology will help identify viable offshore and traditional agriculture farming locations, as well as monitor and automate such sites during operation together with drone technology and swarm robotics.

Other automated machines and autonomous vehicles will help optimize a vast range of traditional agriculture activities including nursery planting, crop seeding, fertilization, irrigation, weeding, spraying, cultivation, picking, harvesting, shepherding, herding and milking. This could have an impact on the world’s workforce where traditional jobs are replaced by increasingly technical roles, and workers now monitor and maintain these autonomous systems.

For aquaculture, advanced automation will reduce the number of human workers required to conduct the predictable physical work needed to run these sites by 2030, allowing producers to move further offshore. This is a marked contrast to the localization of the agricultural sector, as discussed in the previous section. Further aquaculture farming may move on-shore in controlled, closed systems making seafood farming less dependent on the ocean.

In our kitchens, AI-enhanced robotic solutions could also autonomously prepare and cook our meals for us. This would not only provide a more convenient solution for many consumers but also have implications in home care, where individuals could be aided by machines when they are not physically able to carry out certain culinary tasks.

Food as medicine

We expect the healthcare and food industries to have converged further by 2030, providing consumers with tailored nutritional advice for preventative care and addressing the triple burden of malnutrition.

As a result, consumers could use nutrigenetics to personalize their diets based on genotypic or phenotypic evidence of differential responses to specific food stuffs and nutrients. Deliverable, personalized meal kits could also be ordered, proportioned and prepared to the specific dietary needs of the individual.

We see no reason why advanced 3D printing techniques used in other sectors could not be extended to the food industry by 2030, where food could be additively manufactured to meet our exact nutritional requirements – providing tailored food solutions printed on the factory floor or close to where consumption takes place4. However, 3D printed foods will remain luxury items, affordable only to a small proportion of the population until economies of scale are realized.

In fact, there is a likelihood that all the high-tech solutions in the food and beverage industry we have outlined could polarize society, leading to inclusion problems where only the rich can afford genetically – or preference-tailored and nutritionally-rich foods. These changes will start in the digital landscape where information is seamlessly captured and analyzed to create safe and diverse types of produce using a broader range of robust and robotized techniques.

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