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The Future Food Challenge: Using Tech Innovations to Reduce Food Waste

We’re faced with a global food crisis. How do we feed 9 billion people in 2050? How do we overcome one of the biggest challenges facing humanity? And how can we do it in a fair and sustainable way? Simply increasing crops and yields isn’t the solution.

To get there, we need to transform our food system. One of the most effective ways to achieve this, is by changing the way we eat. Shifting consumption to more sustainable, fair and nutritious diets will encourage other actors in the food system to take action. In this blog series, we dive into game-changing solutions in the food system. This week we look at the way tech solutions could be integrated into the food system to help battle the ever-persistent problem of food waste.

One-third of food is wasted

Around one-third of all food produced worldwide is wasted between the farm and the fork. Not only does this lead to around $1 trillion in economic losses, but it also aggravates food insecurity, squanders precious natural resources, such as agricultural land, fresh water and electricity, and contributes to around a quarter of agricultural GHG emissions. As the problem of food waste has become more pressing, various initiatives and start-ups have started exploring the opportunities provided by the internet, big data, and artificial intelligence.

Integrating tech solutions into the food system

Solutions to food waste span across the different stages in the chain: from food production and harvesting, to food storage and distribution, processing, purchasing and management, the food environment and consumption. Integration of tech solutions into systemic approaches offers the potential to reduce the amount of food that is squandered.

An example of a company combating food waste at the harvesting stage is HitchPin. It acts like the AirBnB for agriculture, matching farmers looking for labor or harvest equipment and acting as the payment transaction platform. In turn, fewer harvests are lost due to the lack of harvesting capacity.

In food storage and distribution, real-time data can be used to optimize logistics (see for example the BT9 XSENSE cold chain management system), while some food processing companies have started to combine data from their processing plants with artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to reduce food loss. The start-up Seebo, for example, employs AI to predict and prevent process inefficiencies that cause losses during food processing, reducing food loss by 25-75%. Companies such as Nestlé, Mondelez, Danone and Pepsico have already enlisted its services.

To optimize food purchasing and management, start-ups like Leanpath have developed digital tools for restaurants to track food waste. Knowing what, where, when and how much is wasted, can guide companies in taking action. Others, like Winnow and Tenzo, have developed AI algorithms to predict demand, which allows restaurants to adjust how much food they purchase to how much they will need.

Integration of tech solutions into systemic approaches offers the potential to reduce the amount of food that is squandered.

In the food environment a lot is happening to encourage close-to-expiry date food sales. For example, SPAR international is collaborating with the platform Gander in offering shoppers a real-time, automated mobile platform that shows in-store discounted food items that are close to their expiry date. This follows the global collaboration with Too Good To Go, a platform that allows otherwise wasted food to be sold for discount prices.

For consumers there are an increasing number of options to track their food consumption and waste. The company Ovie offers a smart food storage system which helps you keep track of food in your fridge and reminds you to eat them before they expire. It can also be integrated with smart home hubs like Alexa and recipe and grocery apps.

Many more solutions are being developed, but these alone will not cut it. Fortunately, tech solutions are being integrated into more systemic approaches as well. ReFED, a US non-profit combating food waste, has incorporated the latest solutions into a ‘Roadmap to 2030’ aiming to reduce food waste by 50%. Various tech (but also other) solutions have been incorporated into a database of solutions and solution providers to enable stakeholders to take action. More than sharing knowledge on tech solutions going forward, key will be the ability to integrate them into the food system through getting stakeholders on board, scaling tech solutions, and combining them with other solutions.

NewForesight: Ensuring Future Proof Diets for All

At NewForesight, we are dedicated to drive sustainable change. We partner with leading organizations from the private, public and nonprofit sectors who are seeking game-changing solutions to some of the most critical sustainability challenges of our generation and turn them into market opportunities. We bring the right people together, challenge established thinking and shape coalitions that lead to structural change.

Curious about how we can support you in transforming the food systems and drive sustainable change? Contact our food systems expert Thomas Meijer or our food systems domain lead Laure Heilbron!