Deep Tech Trends Shaping the Future of Food & Agriculture
With close to 83M people being added to the world’s population every year, cities, supply chains, and food systems are feeling the heat. Especially in our region, tied to rapid urbanisation and the emerging middle class, meat demand and seafood consumption will rise by 33% by 2030 and over 70% by 2050. Existing food and agriculture production will simply not be able to meet these new demands. Faced with increasing pressures we need to change how our food is produced and consumed.
This session discusses three of the latest trends that are shaping the future of food and agriculture, highlighting their market opportunities, and diving into the challenges that exist within each of them.
Here are some highlights from the session that we hope you’ll find insightful!
Three Intersecting Trends
- Making “Cultured Everything” a Reality
The depletion of our agricultural resources calls for a change, one that will start in our laboratories. With our extensive knowledge in medicine and tissue engineering, it was no surprise that the first food substitutes developed were focused on conventional animal-based analogues. This has broadened to now include non-meat proteins.
- Taking Care of Our Food’s Food
Current production practices are inadequate. The overuse of chemicals, increasing food waste, and ethical concerns in animal husbandry are just a few of the issues raised by the industry. Fortunately, recent years have provided crucial insight into the industry’s outdated practices as well as the interconnectivity and circularity of our food systems. This new understanding is now shifting the way in which we view, consume, and also take care of our food.
- Food Systems as an Agent of Sustainability in the Global Supply Chain
Food systems have taken on a major role in influencing our global supply chain. The perishable nature of food contributes significantly to both pollution and waste. The logistics around food have a meaningful role to play around much-needed models of future sustainability.
Unique challenges emerge from these trends, ranging across cultural, system adoption, and technology considerations.
Consumer Concerns and Misconceptions Around Alternative Proteins
- Misconceptions around “natural” — consumers feel discomfort when learning about the technology and the extent of the transformation behind their food, therefore preferring everything to be “natural”. This makes ultra-transformed products much harder for consumers to adopt. However, the fact is that there is hardly anything “natural” with our current food systems.
- The sustainability claim of lab-grown meat has been called into question. There are reasons for concern if we start looking into the end-to-end production of these products (raw material, transformation process, distribution & logistics).
- Consumer acceptance can nosedive quickly if we are not careful (just look at GMOs).
- Food vs pharmaceutical grade — as you scale cultured foods, the ability to keep the process sterile becomes more and more difficult and costly.
- The process and requirements for industrialising food production are very different from those that we are facing in the labs.
Startups and Developments Tackling Scalability
- NuProtein (Japan): developed a protein synthesis technology using wheat germ, which is greener and a lot cheaper than traditional bovine-based media. It addresses the concerns around expense and sustainability.
- Other developments include scaffolding made from plant protein/ macro collagen; using peptides from plant sidestreams; fermentation to produce growth factors; recycling of media; and 3D printing.
Insect Protein as Potential Food for Humans?
- While broadly adopted as animal feed, the acceptance of insect protein for human consumption is proving to be harder. Two factors stand out:
- Allergenicity: similar allergic reactions (as to peanuts) have been observed in some people.
- Consumer preference: the “yuck” factor is prominent (this could be more acceptable in Asia given that insects are a food source in some areas).
Startups and the Rise of New Insect Proteins
- Ÿnsect (France): transforms insects into high-performance natural protein solutions for pets, fish, plants, and human beings in vertical farms. They are the world leader in the production of protein and natural insect fertilisers.
- Beta Bugs (UK): high-performance insect breeds through a combination of classical and modern breeding and biotechniques.
Supply Chain Issues
Reducing existing waste
- In some Southeast Asian countries, 40% of food is lost during transport and storage. We should prioritise addressing food waste before increasing production volume.
- Traceability: ensuring that the whole supply chain is as efficient as possible.
- Shortening our supply chain: bringing production, especially fresh produce, closer to the point of consumption (e.g. urban agriculture, vertical farming).
- Decentralisation: reducing the quantity of waste at the source through on-site processes, thus minimising the cost incurred for the collection, transportation, and disposal of waste in a centralised system.
- Upcycling: repurposing waste to create new value and focusing on the value of our sidestreams.
Startups and New Developments Tackling Waste
- Kosmode Health (Singapore): extracts bioactive ingredients from waste streams, customises bioink formulation, and produces new ingredients. This unique expertise enables the production of high-fiber and starch-free noodles as well as the printing of meat tissues.
- AgroMoph (India): a process to convert farm waste (e.g. poultry manure and wastewater) into high-protein feed and reusable (clean) water using their algae-based process, all while sequestering CO2.
Check out our paper, Sustainable and Forward-Thinking Food Systems, on which this session was based.