The trend towards increasing personalization of food is the result of the convergence of many scientific and technological advances and a growing demand from consumers for customized products and services, that take into account their health concerns. Opportunities in terms of innovations are huge. This largely explains the current craze around the foodtech industry. Some of these innovations are already on the market or seeking for investors. Others are still under prototyping or laboratory project.
Personalized food is not limited to personalizing food products in order to meet the needs of consumers with the prospect, during the coming decades, of creating a truly personalized diet. Consumers also ask for more control over what they consume and the way they eat it. Some even wish to produce, transform and control their own food in increasingly autonomous and sophisticated ways, according to their own wishes and quality standards. A mix, one could say, of cooking and manufacturing.
Food industry giants develop very active strategies to maintain or develop their market share. In this context, there is a great temptation to abandon the competitive maelstrom of generalist offering and seek differentiation through innovative business models. Three recent strategies bear witness to this. Can a multinational escape from its own identity?
For quite sometime now, genetically modified (GM) food has been a subject of heated debates all around the world. In India, media have reported tensions between farmers, domestic seed companies, and large multinational seed firms. One also hears controversies about approval or otherwise of field trials for new GM crops. But what do we know about the Indian consumers’ perspective?
Agriculture and the food industry are quickly entering the era of platform economics. The rapid development of digital interfaces is not exclusively a matter of matching supply and demand. Collaborative platforms have emerged alongside marketplaces, some dedicated to finance, others to exchanging services. Professionals are reinventing and rediscovering older forms of solidarity. Finally, private individuals are also getting in to the game, radically overhauling everyday practices and rewriting codes.
The evolution of food demand in different regions of the world will be crucial to ensure food security for all, in quantity and composition. But it is also a key driver for the proper management of natural resources, and as such a central element of the energy transition.
Our foodstuffs in the future may be full of surprises. The challenges are high, human imagination is boundless. Numerous emerging innovations can be noted. Some are still in the labs, others are seeking to gain a foothold in the marketplaces.
After missing the first and second industrial revolution, Africa looks set to adopt the third. By combining low-cost services, live information and simple innovations, by making these features available to farms of all sizes, the mobile Internet can allow African agriculture to move up a gear in order to meet its immense needs.
Genetically modified organisms have almost become taboo in Europe. Elsewhere in the world, genetically modified plants are being cultivated on a large scale but public acceptance is far from being granted. How to deal with the people's reticence without taking extrem options, such as banning GMOs or ignoring the public outcry? A well-informed, serene debate is necessary. But is it still possible?
Up to 2008, the media have been relatively quiet about food security. However, this topic is resurfacing as a key issue. Financial markets disorders have unveiled underlying tensions: pressures on resources, inequalities in their access, as well as the effects of rapid growth of emerging countries. Today's pressures foreshadow tomorrow's tensions. Can we control these factors? And how?
Urbanization isn't just about cities. The impact of emerging megacities on the surrounding resources is a growing concern for both experts and local authorities. One shouldn't forget that every large city owes its growth to a generous hinterland, able to feed its inhabitants. The equation is changing. But it still has to be solved.
In modern societies, controlling health risks is a fundamental requirement, especially for such a sensitive field as food. Substantial progress has been made over the last fifty years. However, the horizon seems to recede as we improve our standards. While it is difficult to accept that zero risk is impossible to achieve, new and unknown dangers appear every day. What are the new challenges of our time and how can we meet them?
On Saturday 19 February the World Bank's president Robert Zoellick declared, "We need to be sensitive and have a fingertip feel on what is happening in terms of food prices and its potential effect on social instability". The price spike that occurred between June and December pushed 44 million individuals below the extreme poverty line worldwide. What is of most concern to politicians and other interested parties is not so much upward pressure on prices but the spread of volatility. Wherein lies the solution?
Contrary to widely held belief there is arable land that could be cultivated without risking further encroachment on our forests. Impetus for developing the potential has been provided by climate change. What is at stake is how to resolve tensions that will arise as competing demands are made on land resources. These will arrive from many directions not always related to satisfying demand for food and include non-food, environmental, recreational, forestry, and urban needs.
Feeding more than nine billion people by year 2050 in a sustainable way is not an impossible task provided certain conditions are met. These include limiting agricultural price instability, increasing agricultural production, reducing losses and wastage from field to plate and securing international agricultural trade.
Africa may be on the brink of revolution. The political will to make essential structural reforms could well be in place to foster the arrival of high-tech farming techniques, say some agricultural observers. The revolution may have already begun, optimists say, pointing to the Malawi Miracle, a case study in how subsidized fertilizer and hybridized seeds transformed a chronic recipient of food aid into a country that now exports food to its neighbors. However, critics aren't so sure that the miracle is sustainable.
About one out of six people in the world goes hungry on any given day. That awful fact would be somewhat understandable, though no less painful, if the cause of the hunger was simply not enough food to go around. But the world actually produces more than enough to feed all six billion of us, and has all along. The problem, say specialists who study the issue, stems largely from a combination of factors, many of which have to do with the faults of government and social policies. Natural catastrophes take their share of the blame, but the chronic villains, one leading expert says, are a lack of international solidarity when it comes to transferring agricultural technology coupled with corruption, war and a dearth of democratic institutions. With the world's population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, a 50 percent increase, the ranks of the hungry are certain to grow unless the international community does a much better job making sure that food is available for everyone's table.
In today's era of plenty, many factors, including well-publicised health scares, lack of trust in risk control systems and a fear of new technology have resulted in a backlash against transgenic plants and their use in food in Europe. Attitudes to genetically modified organisms in medicine or even in agriculture in North America are different. However, the factors that contribute to this wariness in Europe should be examined because of their potential impact on innovations in all fields.