Food technology today has expanded its spectrum to go from genetically hybrid crop species to advanced techniques in food processing, marketing, and distribution.
“Food is not just eating. Food is an experience,” says Guy Fieri, an American chef. The industry revolving around one of the basic needs of our lives has been evolving ever since we started valuing food as something much more than sheer necessity. Food technology, however, has accelerated this transformation further. Agricultural technology (Agri-tech), advances in biotechnology and bacteriology, food processing and packaging standards, and enhanced marketing and distribution channels have contributed to optimizing the food industry worldwide.
The food industry, until recently, saw most of the innovation in laboratories. Since the Green Revolution, the industry, however, has seen an explosion in the practical applications of the conceived theories:
Researchers started with food technology by influencing the first step in the food cycle: food production. A Farming First study reveals that by the year 2030, the global food demand is expected to rise by 35%. The survey further analyses that almost 77% of this increased demand will come from yield increase in the production of food.
We already see the effects of technological impact on the food industry. Our supermarkets have hybrid-produced varieties, conceived with cross-gene interaction. These genetically engineered crops are disease-resistant, require minimal pesticide, have a longer shelf life, and are more nutritious than the normally grown crops. Though the concept of genetically modified organisms (GMO) has been around for a long time, it is only now that we are implementing it to produce a higher class of food crops.
But technology in agriculture is not just limited to genetic wizardry. Analytics and data sciences are applied to the farming data acquired from different parts of the world to yield more produce, intelligently. A study of soil sample helps farmers decide on the most compatible crops to grow. It benefits the farmers and helps retain the natural properties of the soil. Crops grown in such a manner are also exposed to minimal pesticides. Precision agriculture uses data analytics to determine the relationship between the weather conditions and the crop cycles. A future insight into the fate of the yield assists farmers in taking adequate and appropriate measures to protect the product from damage. Data analytics also helps in determining the relation between food and its nutrient content. Following these reports about food and nutrition, the FDA recently rewrote its protocols about certain foods which have a significant impact on our bodies.
Another strategic involvement of technology in agriculture is the deployment of drones. Drones are revolutionizing agriculture by helping farmers detect diseased crops, administer pesticides, ensure uniform irrigation, and monitor the health of plants throughout the cropping cycles.
Food grown at one site is not necessarily sold at the same site. Food processing techniques, therefore, play an important role in ensuring that food, from the source, reaches different sale points in a manner fit for consumption. Food processing techniques also help in adding nutrients to food and improving its taste and quality. Common technology-driven methods for food processing include:
Ohmic heating is a process where an electric current is passed through food, mainly to heat it, and finds applications in pasteurization, sterilization, fermentation, and dehydration of food.
The RF heating technique in food processing is used for rapid and uniform heat distribution through dense foods to sterilize them. The method is usually used in meat processing, to heat meat or thaw frozen meat.
High-pressure processing (HPP)
Also known as pasteurization, the process involves applying extremely high pressure on food for deactivating the microorganisms, enzymes, and the bacteria in it.
Pulsed Electric Field processing
This technique uses an electric field of typically 1kV/cm to disintegrate biological tissues and microbes in the food. It is applied for extraction of intracellular compounds in fruits and vegetables, drying of potatoes, and achieving decontamination of liquid foods.
Food marketing strategies have been revolutionized with the application of technologies like AR and VR. These technologies help the food company interact with their customers by creating multi-sensory experiences with digital and mobile marketing. Premium beverage brand, PepsiCo, in 2015, developed a marketing strategy with Blippar to promote its sponsorship with the Super Bowl. Consumers could download the Blippar app and use VR to pose and click pictures with their favorite NFL players. A report by the company itself stated that they sold almost 20 million cans as part of that marketing campaign.
Doritos, the famous chip brand, took another step in mobile marketing. A mobile application enabled its customers to scan not just the code on the packaging, but the actual chips too. Users could scan and make more informed choices on the chip flavors to choose from, thus allowing for virtual sampling and sharing. Another aspect of marketing that consumers concern themselves with is where and how their food comes from. The classic name in America’s range of finest bourbon, Jim Beam, provided its customers an interactive tour of the distillery, traversing through pipes, containers, and barrels in the factory to help them familiarize with a whiskey they’ve always loved.
Technology enables the food industry to portray its products in a unique and appealing manner to its audience. This helps add to the food’s brand value and assists in building a strong customer base that trusts the food and its standards completely.
Technology has optimized and simplified food delivery mechanisms and systems. Aggregators and new delivery players are the two forms of online platforms that have emerged in the food distribution network. Both of these platforms allow customers to access and scan menus and then place orders. They also enable a feature for users to drop their reviews. Aggregators work on the traditional concept of taking orders from the customers and informing the restaurants about it. The new delivery players, however, have their own systems in places for logistics and routing related to food distribution, from the restaurant to the customer.
These approaches are applied to both, large-scale food distribution network and individual users. Thus, by exploring and covering more regions with effective routing and logistics network, technology advancements in the supply chain have helped food producers reach a wider audience.
The food industry is here to stay No matter what happens, as long as there are human beings on the planet, the demand for food will continue to exist. With the changing times, food technology will also change. As the demand for food grows, it will be for the technology to meet the expectations. With the results we see around us today, there is no doubt that food technology and the food and beverage industry will keep on crossing paths with each other to help manage crops and consume food intelligently.
Naveen is the Founder and CEO of Allerin, a software solutions provider that delivers innovative and agile solutions that enable to automate, inspire and impress. He is a seasoned professional with more than 20 years of experience, with extensive experience in customizing open source products for cost optimizations of large scale IT deployment. He is currently working on Internet of Things solutions with Big Data Analytics. Naveen completed his programming qualifications in various Indian institutes.