Crop Nutrition

Food Tech Trends 2024: Shaping a More Sustainable and Nutritious Tomorrow

23 February 2024, Israel: We are undergoing an unprecedented technological revolution that is rapidly transforming every aspect of human existence. Artificial intelligence, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, emerging 6G, and quantum computing technologies have the potential to extend our lives, transform our environments, and deliver global food security within a generation.

One area where new technologies are having a particularly profound impact is agriculture and food technology. Humans have depended on organized agriculture for thousands of years simply to survive. Since the onset of the Industrial Revolution and widespread urbanization, advanced societies have also relied on increasingly complex food supply chains – frequently depending on imported food staples to feed their populations. 

The 19th and 20th centuries brought huge innovations in food tech. Advances in canning and preservation enabled greater food security, while the development of new fertilizers and pesticides transformed crop yields. Despite groundbreaking technological advances and the post-war consumer boom in the Western world, the human race essentially remained a couple of harvests away from famine. 

Temporary (and relatively minor) disruption to the food supply chain during the global COVID pandemic, led to panic buying, price rises and the specter of empty supermarket shelves, puncturing public complacency. The commodities crisis and recent rises in the cost of living also forced many consumers in the West to reassess their ingrained assumption that food will always be cheap and plentiful. The issue of food security is as vital in 2024 as it was 5,000 or 10,000 years ago.

Basic food security was always far more precarious than most consumers realized. Any combination of extreme weather events, crop disease, and geopolitical crises could seriously impact field-level agriculture, food production, or the final distribution chain. Food tech innovations now have the potential to utterly transform global food security. Not only is the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2 of Zero Hunger a viable reality but there are other major benefits associated with emerging innovations in food tech:

  • Basic food security for the entire human race.
  • A dramatic reduction in the carbon footprint across the food spectrum.
  • Decreased strain on national infrastructures through localized agriculture.
  • The optimization of nutritional density and healthy properties in food products.
  • New employment opportunities through diversified agriculture and food production.

Food Tech Trend #1: Achieving Sustainability and Meeting the Challenges of Climate Change

Since environmental issues became mainstream concerns in the 1990s, a new generation of consumers has emerged. Food producers are leveraging improvements in food technology and the latest innovations in food tech to meet public expectations of environmental consciousness in food production. Consumers are increasingly showing a preference for organic and vegan food products, ethically sourced foods and ingredients, and fair trade products, as well as being concerned about environmental issues relating to packaging and waste.

Food tech trends in 2024 are likely to see further investment in lab-created proteins and plant-based alternative proteins, as well as improvements in ingredients used to enhance food color, texture, and flavor. The shift away from plastic packaging and the use of plastic bags at supermarket checkouts will also continue. 

More governments are exploring the use of financial penalties and incentives to encourage retailers to implement environmentally friendly alternatives. Growing demand for reusable and recyclable packaging is likely to create lucrative opportunities, particularly for companies that can create packaging from hemp or other organic materials.

There is a brilliant new generation of agtech scientists and researchers who grew up in a world where social media and online collaboration are the norm, and environmental consciousness is ingrained. The new generation of agronomists and food tech experts has embraced the advanced technologies that are defining upcoming food tech trends. 

The combination of concern for the environment, a passion for technology (with a high-tech entrepreneurial mindset), and a desire to work on ethical and meaningful projects is utterly transforming existing concepts of what is possible in agriculture and food production. 

Access to big data and the sophistication of field-level technologies are making precision agriculture a viable business model for even small-scale farmers and food producers. It’s now possible to easily optimize and calibrate irrigation and nutritional solutions for climate-resilient crops on a micro-level. 

Farmers are reducing waste and negative environmental impact while boosting crop yields and their own profits. The new approach to farming, with its increased versatility and flexibility, is reducing the carbon footprint across the entire field-to-fork spectrum. 

Food Tech Trend #2: The Wellness Wave: Elevating Nutrition for Enhanced Consumer Health

What we eat directly impacts our health. The quality of our daily diet determines our quality of life and longevity, as well as our economic productivity and the cost of health care. These are major concerns in most societies – although often for quite different reasons. 

One goal of food producers is to revolutionize the nutritional value of our most commonly consumed foods. Fortified foods, for instance, have become instrumental in improving health outcomes in the developing world, especially for children. In Western countries, combating obesity and related health issues has become a priority. 

This is where functional foods, or “superfoods,” come into play. These foods offer health benefits that go beyond basic nutritional value, including essential antioxidants, proteins, and a blend of minerals and vitamins. Companies that can produce nutrient-dense food products, high in antioxidants, proteins, or health-boosting combinations of minerals and vitamins, or healthy bacteria, can develop lucrative market niches.

The role of technology in this nutritional revolution cannot be overstated. It’s not just about producing these nutrient-rich foods; technology is also making it easier for consumers to access detailed nutritional information. With apps and digital platforms, individuals can now make informed choices about their diets, aligning with their health goals and dietary preferences. This advancement is a game-changer in fostering more health-conscious eating habits.

The technological advancements in food production are remarkable. High-tech farming processes and urban or laboratory farming are not only bringing these advanced products closer to the consumer base but are also reducing the overall carbon footprint. These innovations are creating opportunities for new employment and contributing to the growth of local industries. By integrating technology into both the production and information aspects of food, we’re not only catering to the demand for healthier choices but also empowering consumers with the knowledge to make those choices.

Food Tech Trend #3: Diversity of Protein Sources Moving from Substitutes to Alternative Choices

Protein is essential for human health, needing up to 100 grams of protein daily. New research suggests that a protein-rich diet can also assist in maintaining muscle mass and mitigating the aging process. In the West, we traditionally gain the majority of our protein requirements from meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products, all of which may create ethical and environmental concerns. 

There is a growing market for a wide array of environmentally friendly alternative proteins which include:

  • Plant-based proteins suitable for vegans
  • Cell-cultured meat and fish substitutes
  • Plant-based fermented proteins
  • Ethically produced dairy, meat, and fish

This diversity caters to the growing consumer demand for varied dietary choices, reflecting different health, and lifestyle goals, as well as personal preferences. Consumers are exploring proteins that go beyond traditional meat, considering factors like sustainability, nutrition, and ethical production. This shift is not just about replacing traditional protein sources; but also about expanding the choices available to fit different occasions, social contexts, even moods, and dietary needs.

The demand for alternative proteins is driving new food tech trends in 2024. The ICL Food tech accelerator is enabling some exciting new startups that seek to profit from consumer demand for new proteins. The new protein producers are highly focused both on product quality and sustainability. 

There are some amazing implications for global food security and a wider shift to low-impact food production. One of the most inspiring food tech trends is the prospect of affordable, locally manufactured proteins that will help meet dietary requirements for 10 billion people on a sustainable basis.

The move towards a more diverse protein portfolio contributes to a more sustainable and interesting food landscape. By incorporating a variety of protein sources, the environmental impact associated with traditional meat production can be reduced. 

These alternative protein sources, especially plant-based and cell-cultured options, are generally more eco-friendly, requiring fewer resources like water and land. 

This diversification is also crucial for global food security, offering sustainable ways to feed the growing population. As these trends continue, they are set to transform global dietary habits, making the future of food consumption more sustainable, diverse, and adaptable to different needs and preferences.

Food Tech Trend #4: Building Trust through Enhanced Transparency and Traceability 

Food producers cannot take public trust for granted. They are competing for the loyalty of a highly discriminating customer base that makes increasingly complex choices when it comes to buying food. Food producers and retailers that meet consumer demand for transparency about food sourcing, processing, and production have a competitive advantage (assuming that they meet consumer criteria in the first place). 

Food tech trends in 2024 are using technologies like blockchain to provide traceability across the entire food supply chain. The technologies can also improve food safety and quality. This is particularly useful for companies dealing with products like artisan cheeses or meats where mistakes can potentially prove fatal. Transparency and the provision of precise and detailed information about food origins, ingredients, and health benefits can build consumer confidence and brand loyalty in a competitive market. 

Food Tech Trend #5: Driving Innovation in the Food Supply Chain

Before the Industrial Revolution, a much greater proportion of food was home-produced or locally produced, often on family allotments or smallholdings. Self-reliance diminished over the last few centuries and most people are now food consumers rather than food producers. Complex and extended supply chains are frequently inefficient, wasteful, and environmentally damaging. 

New technologies are dramatically optimizing the food supply chain for efficiency, sustainability, and resilience. Not only is there a potential for many crops (or substitute crops) to be grown closer to their end destination, but logistical innovations are reducing the cost and impact of shipping and distribution. We are on the cusp of a general switch to electric vehicles and a new investment in strategic rail infrastructure, all of which have positive ramifications for the food supply chain. 

Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and robotics are also driving new-generation logistics and inventory management. It’s increasingly possible to accurately predict consumer demand at macro and micro levels. 24-hour distribution networks can keep supermarket shelves stocked through real-time monitoring while optimizing the use of storage space and transport assets. A major advantage is the reduction of wastage and food spoilage, and improving public access to affordable fresh produce and groceries. 

Food Tech Trend #6: Circular Economy: A Sustainable Approach to Food Production

Traditional farming practices were essentially built around the concept of sustainability. Crop rotation rested and fertilized agricultural land, organic waste was used as soil nutrients, and food waste became animal feed. Sustainability in modern food production is a laudable goal that can create brand loyalty and transactional advantages for companies. Well thought out and properly implemented circular economies can also reduce operational costs and create additional business opportunities

A great example of a circular economy is using new technical processes to filter wastewater (domestic or industrial) and recycle it for agricultural irrigation. Solar panels and wind power are already powering some field-level operations. As battery storage technology improves and becomes cheaper, the potential will grow. We are also seeing a transition towards electrical farm vehicles powered by renewable energy. 

Initiatives to upcycle food waste into new products (including biomass fuel) and to develop sustainable packaging solutions are also gaining ground – and resonate with consumers. A superb example of a circular economy in action is the ICL Amfert phosphate recycling unit that converts used or waste phosphates into fertilizers. 

Food Tech Trend #7: Generative AI: A Game-Changer

Pricing aside, the bottom line with food products is that they have to look good, taste good, and come with an appetizing smell and pleasing texture. Generative AI is playing an increasing role in the ‘aesthetic’ aspects of food production. It is helping technicians and chefs to roll out new food products that succeed on every level. 

Healthy and nutritionally dense superfoods can also taste wonderful and develop lasting brand loyalty. This is particularly important when companies target international markets and need to tailor food products to meet local tastes. AI can also analyze individual health, lifestyle, and even genetic profiles to create personalized diet and nutrition plans.

AI has also emerged as a great tool for quality control. Utilizing advanced algorithms, AI systems meticulously inspect food items on production lines, employing high-resolution cameras and sensors. This technology extends beyond mere aesthetic inspection, focusing on identifying any imperfections or contaminants. AI’s precision in detecting minute errors or contamination plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety and quality of food products. 

Moreover, AI’s capabilities in analyzing vast data sets are instrumental in driving innovation in new product development. By evaluating consumer trends and nutritional information, AI aids in crafting food products that are not only safe and high-quality but also aligned with current market demands and dietary preferences.

One of the upcoming food tech trends that may prove transformational is the potential for AI to predict agricultural trends and enhance food production efficiency. If agricultural professionals can create shorter harvest cycles, AI may enable sophisticated crop planning that anticipates surges in demand or recommends shifts to alternative crops when there is a glut on the market. This will become particularly relevant as localized urban and vertical framing develops, and cell-cultured proteins enter mass production. 

ICL Group: Pioneering Sustainable Solutions in Food Tech

The ICL Group is a leading global innovator in the field of AgTech and Food Tech. The company is at the forefront of delivering new technologies and products for emerging food tech trends. There is a particular focus on advancing sustainable agriculture and eco-friendly crop nutrients. ICL itself is successfully introducing circular economies into its own operations and has a deep commitment to sustainability across its entire spectrum of operations. With a sustainability mindset already in place, ICL is well positioned to contribute to sustainability in food tech. 

ICL quickly realized that the transition to sustainability in food tech is vital for both the future of the planet and the human race. The company created an entire innovation ecosystem with the ICL Planet Start-Up Hub at its heart. The Start-Up hub provides fledgling companies with a range of investment solutions and practical assistance, including access to ICL labs, technical expertise, and business networks. One goal is to kick start innovation across the food tech sector and contribute to the collective effort to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger. 

ICL innovation is developing sustainable food options that are genuinely viable and profitable. As global warming impacts food production, and a growing population increases the strain on agricultural resources, ICL is enabling adaptation and new agricultural and food tech innovations that are rapidly disrupting our obsolete food supply chain.

Transforming the Future of the Food Industry

The food tech landscape is changing rapidly – and possibly beyond all recognition – as agriculture and the food industry join the new high-tech revolution. ICL Group, and its strategic partners, are constantly researching and innovating new ways to guarantee abundant supplies of high-quality food while protecting the environment. The company is pioneering sustainability and is determined to help agronomy professionals to develop their own circular economies. 

ICL products, solutions, and platforms are making a real difference when it comes to tailored crop nutritional solutions and seed selection. The overall goal is to drive down farming, production, and logistical costs, deliver real choices through big data, offer advanced risk management, and create robust and sustainable farming communities and growing spaces in every environment from remote marginal lands to derelict urban neighborhoods. 

ICL is one actor in a worldwide endeavor, but it is making an outsize contribution and is facilitating a crucial collaborative effort between industry leaders and technical innovators. The future of food has never been as exciting or as positive as it is right now. For the first time in the history of the human race, there is the technology and the will to eliminate hunger on a global scale.

As we stand on the brink of these transformative advancements, one question remains: How will we, as a global community, harness these technologies to ensure a sustainable, nourishing future for all? The answer lies not just in the hands of food tech pioneers but in each of our choices and actions as consumers and citizens.

If you have a contribution to make in the wider field of sustainability, ICL would love to hear from you!

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