When we talk about new technologies and innovation we usually contextualize the conversation around finance, information technology, telecommunications or in scientific fields. But the truth is that this wave is splashing all industries. And a primary sector such as agri-food is no exception. For years, companies of all sizes are focused on the future of food, a vision that this October 16 regains relevance with the celebration of World Food Day . Nutrition, sustainability and consumer experience are the main axes in which the new initiatives are being developed.

What we will eat in the future or how we will buy are some of the first questions that assail us as we enter the Foodtech universe. Technology is changing this traditional industry from its origin - crops - to its last link - the moment of driving the tooth. And it is doing it not only for offering something new or improved, but for a matter of necessity: as pointed out by the UN, if the world population reached 9.6 billion in 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets would be needed to provide the precise natural resources to maintain the current lifestyle. More people, more food / feed production and more pressure on the environment.

The first edition of the Ftalks , an international event held in Valencia last month, served to make a good radiography of how technology is transforming the food industry. We talked about the future, but through projects that already exist in the present. "In Spain we have a very powerful agri-food cluster with cutting-edge technology; if we compare ourselves with the technology that is being used in the United States, it is as if we were 15 years ahead, " says PIXEL Raúl Martín , director of the innovation hub food Zero Zero -organizer of the Ftalks-, who argues that all the solutions that the industry needs, "are probably in small projects that are being developed worldwide."


Martín shows us a button that illustrates how new technologies can improve quality and safety in the sector: "Although we know it above all for everything related to cryptocurrencies, the blockchain is a cross-cutting technology with many uses. It has two fundamental characteristics. , inviolability and immediacy, that is, it allows you to know what is happening, as well as making sure that the data is not manipulated . Through the blockchain you can trace as never before the entire food chain and have all the information in the cloud so that anyone, with their corresponding permission, can know what has happened before a food alert. Thus, in the recent case of listeriosis occurred in Andalusia, the crisis could have been clarified in a moment; in a matter of minutes it would have been known where the contaminated items came from and where they went, while days and weeks actually went by. "

The case outlined above is not science fiction. Ftalks was present Trazable, startup that has a pilot project in which supply chain companies share information to create a unique record with the entire history of the product, so "any link in the chain is able to access the information relevant, "says Raúl Martín. Also the giants of the sector are launching initiatives with blockchain. This is the case of Carrefour , which has been using IBM technology and services for a year to trace all stages of production, transformation and distribution of some of its products.


In a country like Spain, where there are places where we delight with snails, molluscs, frog legs, crustaceans or animal entrails, it is striking that only the disgusting factor separates us from the intended intake of insects. The attempts of some businesses to put on their shelves crickets or worms suitable for human consumption do not seem to be giving results to date in order to change the trend. And that that for years there is talk of the benefits of this raw material: "The highest quality protein on the planet" , a " superfood ", "can be a possible solution to hunger in a world " ... In addition, it This is a sustainable production, since it requires much less water and land resources than traditional livestock.

Despite the rejection that these invertebrates still produce, Spanish companies are committed to consolidating our food sooner rather than later. Insectfit , for example, makes protein bars made with cricket flour (there are about 15 of these orthoptera in each snack). As the startup itself clarifies on its website: "cricket flour contains all the essential amino acids and provides twice as much protein as beef, three times more iron than spinach, twice as much calcium as milk, and 10 times more vitamin B12 than salmon by weight. "

There are also several meat and fish processing projects grown through stem cells . This is the case of Cubiq Foods , which produces laboratory fat with encapsulated omega-3. "If they manage to produce it on an industrial level, which I think they will, they will allow encapsulating healthy fat that carries omega-3 without a fishy taste," says Raúl Martín about the Catalan startup. In other words, it is about finding an affordable alternative to ingredients as questioned as palm oil, so foods such as pastries could be much healthier.

Other projects such as Koroko , the world's first startup dedicated to the production and sale of fresh flavored eggs (truffles, garlic, ham and blue cheese), paraded through the event; Elixir Café , which markets coffee with compostable capsules (decomposes over a period of four to 12 weeks) or Aldous Labs and Green Sea Bio System , two projects that offer functional algae foods. With this marine agency, by the way, they also work as powerful companies as Vicky Foods (Dulcesol Group), which has an algae plantation that already uses some of its products as an egg substitute.


Beyond Meat is one of the most successful cases of how to enter the market in a big way through innovation. Joseph Puglis i, professor of Structural Biology at the University of Standford and president of the board of directors of the American company, presented in Valencia a project that in just five years has gone from entering eight million dollars in sales to 300 and with a forecast by 2020 of 1,000 million.

As Puglisi recalled, Beyond Meat was aimed at "replacing meat with products of plant origin" in the face of the problems that the United States meat industry presents - gigantic cultivation extensions to make feed, greenhouse gases in production or epidemic levels that obesity reaches. It was a challenge, because "you can't mimic muscle fibers because plants don't move, they don't have collagen." The "trap", as the professor defined the elaboration process, "is molecular magic: we take vegetable proteins and touch them up to look like animal proteins; what we have done is to replicate the sensory experience of eating meat." The result is a vegetable hamburger whose quality, taste and texture reminds of authentic meat and which does not lack even "the bleeding effect" . One of the great successes of the company, according to the Standford professor, was to place its products in the supermarket lines next to the meat trays.

Used to see projects of all kinds that arise around food, Raúl Martín is clear about how we will eat in the future: "The theme is about absolute personalization, for seeking consumption experiences with that extra point of nutrition. We will be more concerned about our health than we were 20 years ago, so we will have individualized diets, since technology already monitors us every day and the idea is how to take advantage of all this data to eat . There will be a proliferation of superfoods or, at least of new healthy and organic foods. "


[ Photo: Infarm's 'Farm', in a supermarket ]

In response to the projects that are emerging, filling the shopping cart will soon be a different experience than what we know today. The shots may go towards initiatives such as Hema Supermarket, Alibaba's fresh produce supermarket . It is an omnichannel strategy business model, where the physical sales space merges with the digital one. In the store, the variety of products displayed responds to the data obtained in customer purchases and in Big Data analysis. And through the mobile application and payment platforms associated with the Asian giant, the customer can pay for the products as they are introduced in the cart or ask Hema cooks to prepare the food to taste it in the restaurant area of ​​the Supermarket. Of course, if you live within a radius of three kilometers of one of the 150 supermarkets that Hema has opened in about twenty Chinese cities since 2015, you can order the purchase at home through the app and receive it in just 30 minutes.

Hydroponics is also gaining weight in the industry. This cultivation technique that replaces the earth with nutritious aqueous solutions, is an efficient circular system that gradually begins to be seen in supermarkets and restaurants in Europe. The Berliner Infarm is one of the companies specialized in this method that is experiencing the greatest growth; Not surprisingly, he has just raised 100 million euros in his last round of financing. Their lettuce and other vegetable products are planted and grown in the same refrigerators / greenhouses (baptized as "farms") that are subsequently displayed on the supermarket lines. From the 'field' to the cart in a matter of seconds.

"Each exploitation of Infarm has an autonomous ecosystem (light, nutrients, etc.), although there is a platform in the cloud to analyze the level of efficiency: everything is controlled, even if they are independent farms ," he explained in the Ftalks Ido Golan , Research director of the German startup. In his opinion, the advantages of his hydroponics system are not only the saving of 95% of the water and 75% of fertilizers or 100% of the transport , compared to the traditional crop, but also the fact of eliminating the problem of "lost crops", as well as intermediaries: "the customer only pays for the plants, nothing more".

It is not necessary to invest large sums in technology to innovate. This is what Farmidable is demonstrating with a distribution model based on the purchase of proximity through its website or its mobile application. A sustainable consumption initiative that unites producers and consumers. Its operation is simple: the customer makes the purchase online, his order arrives directly to the producer, who collects and prepares the food 24 hours before delivery and, finally, the order arrives at his children's school, at his place of work or to your home Madrid is the first city in Europe that has this option to make the purchase.


Robotics is already part of the kitchen and dining rooms. In Asia and the United States, establishments proliferate, especially fast food, where chefs and waiters are robots. In Spain, the first step towards automation has already been taken with the opening, last summer in Valencia, of the first restaurant in which the dishes are served by advanced machines.

Macco , one of the Spanish companies specialized in the design and manufacture of bartender / chef robots, made an exhibition of its products during the first day of Ftalks, with its creation 'Beer cart' serving beers to the attendees of the event. "Productivity, with robots capable of working 24 hours a day, and perfection, maintaining constant levels of high quality, are two of the pillars of Macco," said Kishhanth Renganathan , CTO of the company, who stressed that currently it is no longer it is necessary to have knowledge of programming to operate a robot; Anyone can teach the machine how to cook or how to serve customers .


The latest technology also tries to consolidate in the first link of the food chain. Pilar Masip Aparicio , responsible for Sustainable Agriculture for Spain and Portugal of Bayer , recalled that throughout history innovation has saved crops and has given new food. In the 21st century, the so-called digital agriculture involves collecting all the information in the field, analyzing it and helping to make decisions, providing greater productivity, sustainability (reducing the environmental impact) and contributing to reducing crop losses. Masip talked about satellites and sensors that detect what happens on farmland, artificial vision that identifies pests and weeds or the internet of things to outline effective strategies. And, optimizing agriculture is an obligation, if we take into account that only 3% of the planet is dedicated to farmland (almost three quarters of that land is used to manufacture feed and only 18% for food) and that by 2050 it will be necessary to have increased crop production by 60% to feed 10,000 million people.

Sustainability, then, is part of the roadmap in the future of the agri-food industry. This has been understood by a good number of companies to see alarming data as a recent study by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which concluded that, in 2018, Spanish households threw almost 9% more food than the previous year, this It is 1,339 million kilos / liters. To combat these figures, startups such as Too Good to Go are born , which through its app sells popular food from restaurants, hotels and supermarkets that are not consumed during the day; Foodfully , a platform that synchronizes with purchases made online and warns of the proximity of the expiration of products or Espigoladors , a non-profit organization that collects discarded fruit and vegetables to donate to social entities.

By way of conclusion -poster, coffee and desktop-, Raúl Martín recalls that the agri-food industry is "in mature markets where consumer behavior has changed a lot in recent years. The company that is not able to adapt to new requirements, it will be difficult. The way to adapt is innovating and for that it is necessary to invest and be clear that you have to be ahead to meet the forecasts of what is going to happen. with the environment, purchasing habits are very influential and agents have to be aware that the industry has to revolve around the UN's sustainable development goals (SDGs) . "

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