Alumnus of the University of Toronto with a degree in Finance and Economics, Mr. Raghav Gupta is a skilled professional in marketing, negotiation, budgeting, business planning and operations management. After almost a decade of work experience in finance, Mr. Gupta intrigued by the food sector, decided to try his hands and founded his oats brand in 2016 called Oateo.
We are living in volatile times. With a worldwide pandemic at hand, the past two years have shattered a lot of beliefs and forced us to look at alternative ways of living our lives. Even so, as the world reeled with the reality of lockdowns and self-quarantines, the food-tech space has bloomed.
In a socially distanced environment, technology is helping stakeholders bridge gaps in everything from food production, consumption, distribution, thus creating sustainable food ecosystems. The pandemic might have exposed us to various vulnerabilities, but food-tech has been instrumental in responding to them through data-driven processes.
Widely speaking, food-tech covers the use and workings of technology in the space of food and beverage, agriculture, restaurant, food-and-beverage delivery, and alcohol.
Food Tech in the D2C Space
In India, Food-tech giants like Zomato saw exponential growth during the pandemic. The Indian food-tech unicorn’s revenue has doubled to over Rs 2604 Crores in the past months. The company reported that people were actively adapting to the new norms by using services provided by the food-tech space – food delivery in this instance.
A California-based company ChowNow Inc co-founded by Chris Webb projected similar trends. The company registered an unprecedented growth over the span of 12 months – growth that was essentially supposed to unfold over the next five-six years!
Restaurants aside, stocking up on groceries also became digital almost as soon as the pandemic began. Weekly subscriptions of vegetables, dairy, and meat – or scrambling for slots in grocery delivery applications like Big Basket or Grofers replaced leisurely strolls in local super-markets. Even as various parts of the world have opened up, customers are cautious about stepping out, thus maintaining the upward trend in the use of e-marts and online grocery stores.
As per a survey conducted by Panasonic including 150 food services and food retail decision-makers in August 2021, technological adaptations in the food space seemed to be the need of the hour. It wasn’t surprising that 100% of the respondents agreed that COVID-19 has increased the urgency to adopt transformational technologies.
It’s definitely a fascinating time to watch these technologies harness the power of Artificial-Intelligence, Machine Learning, and data while growing continually. Even before the pandemic, the use of tech in the food space was on the rise, the pandemic only cemented the idea that they were necessary. In the post-Covid world, the goal will be mainly to customize, streamline and personalize these technologies for business owners and customers alike to aid seamless experiences.
More and more food businesses are including APIs, investing in data mining, and developing algorithms that will work towards creating value-adding experiences for the end customer. Be it in the form of loyalty programs, quality checks or waste management, technological solutions are helping to upgrade the way the entire food industry works.
Food Tech in Food Safety
While most of the “action” was visibly unfolding in the D2C space, there has been a silent storm of operational changes brewing in the Food-tech space simultaneously. For food manufacturers across the globe, the pandemic accelerated the use and adaptation of technology. Especially for upcoming, smaller producers like us. The pandemic expedited the installation of sophisticated touch-free, 100% automated processing units in our facility. While this technology was definitely a part of our plan a few years down the line, the onset of Covid-19 convinced us to prepone the plan.
Food manufacturers are now looking to safeguard staff and end consumers by making production and distribution safe and hygienic. More and more businesses are trying to control the variables involved where food production is concerned. Be it human exposure, packaging or even storage, manufacturers are now on an edge when it comes to food safety.
The rise of vertical farming is a brilliant example of this. In a study recently it was discovered that up to 12.5% of vegetables and fruits and up to 95% of meat, fish, and dairy failed safety compliance measures in India. Abroad, there were similar cases – for instance: Wendy’s discontinued salads in October 2020 due to a strain of a virus found in their lettuce. Hydroponic Vertical Farming eliminates a large chunk of soil production-based safety due to a highly controlled production environment. While the technology behind vertical farming was alien up until a few years ago, it has become very accessible now, especially post-Covid.
Although when it comes to food safety, it’s agreed that 100% elimination of pathogens is not possible. However, a combination of various intervention technologies known as the
“hurdle approach” seems promising in eradicating common food-related impurities.
There have been interesting technological developments in the food-safety space like thermal processing, Ohmic heating, High-pressure processing, pulsed electric field, UV and Ionization techniques to improve the standards of food safety.
Last but not the least, it’s impossible to address food safety without taking distribution into account, of which, E-Commerce has been an inseparable part during the pandemic. Even as the pandemic dulls in parts of the world, E-commerce continues to remain the single-most revolutionary technology at the consumer level. The kind of changes we have observed in the E-commerce space even before the pandemic has been exemplary, and the trend promises to have an upward growth here on. The Indian E-commerce is set to clock in a whopping $55 billion USD by the end of 2021 out of which about 30% of revenue is from food and grocery sales. Apart from safety, food tech in the e-commerce space has also seen a rise due to convenience. One could be lounging by the pool and ordering groceries and food staples from their favourite e-commerce sites and be ready for a dip by the time they are done! This is the convenience that is promised, and it definitely does not disappoint.
In essence, this is what the future of Food tech looks like in a post-Covid world too. Where safety is combined with convenience to bring seamless experiences to both food manufacturers, customers, and everyone in between. And the road to this future looks interesting, to say the least.