The world of apps, digital services, and new technologies is intersecting with the food system and changing the way food is produced, processed, distributed, consumed, and disposed. Seeds&Chips, an event that brings food and digital technologies together, calls this “The Internet of Food.” Food Tank had the opportunity to talk with Seeds&Chips CEO Marco Gualtieri about technology’s new role in a sustainable food system and the company’s recent participation in the 2015 Milan Expo.
Food Tank (FT): Seeds&Chips brings food and digital technologies together; the 2015 Expo (in which Seeds&Chips exhibited) took place in Milan just a few weeks ago. Tell us more about the event.
Marco Gualtieri (MG): The idea behind Seeds&Chips has always been to create a productive ecosystem in the food tech system. From March 26 till March 29 at MiCo [convention center] in Milan, we organized an exhibit with a good number of great startups, large companies, accelerators, and investors, as well as our Seeding Boxes—meeting rooms in which startups (seeds) and larger companies, investors, or accelerators (chips) could meet. In order to facilitate these meetings, we created our new platform, IIMERGE, an individual appointment agenda and booking program with profiles and accounts for everyone. We also had 25 conferences on every topic from precision agriculture to waste reduction. Last but not least, we were able to have, on loan, the National Geographic's photo exhibit “The Future of Food.”
FT: How is technology helping to shape and transform the food system into one that is more sustainable and fair?
MG: Technology is helping to shape and transform the food system into a more sustainable one on all sides. The positive impact that it is happening is unparalleled. For the first time we are able to solve many problems of the past and prevent many future problems as well. For example, in precision agriculture, with drones or sensors we can grow less polluted grains, and with big data we can plan a more fruitful crop. If you think about it, before, on a crop field, if you had a few sick plants you had to spray fertilizers on every crop by air, while now we can pinpoint the sick crop and cure it as an individual. Hydroponics help farmers grow without overusing their land, or give the possibility to families to grow their own crops in house. Furthermore through e-commerce and the web, small local farmers with organic products are facilitated in sales and distribution, and the platforms for waste reduction that are emerging are great for both households and restaurants. Technology is the solution to our problems, and can help all of us, as well as our planet.
FT: On which aspects of the food system—production, distribution, consumption, disposal, and so on—do you see these tech-based solutions having the greatest influence?
MG: I believe that tech-based solutions can have a great influence on all aspects of the food system—production, distribution, consumption, and disposal, etc. Some of these solutions are already actively being used, while others are emerging. Just think about food sharing economy, or platforms that connect a restaurant with all the local farmers to deliver fresh produce directly. A startup is using AI [artificial intelligence] to predict what you should eat next to always be in top shape, or generate a personalized map of your body with data from everything you ate in the past.
FT: Who is benefiting the most from the so-called “Internet of Food?”
MG: I would say that farmers and producers—large or small—are the ones benefitting the most from the Internet of Food. The democratization of the food system is helping small businesses stay open and active, consistently cultivating great produce for us, as well as make larger companies more sustainable. Efficiency is key, always. Also, we see that with precision cooking, smart kitchens, e-commerce platforms, apps that find ingredients on labels with just one scan and alert you of allergy hazards—big data consumers are also largely benefitting from Internet of Food around the world.
FT: How do you see the role technology plays in the production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food changing in the future?
MG: We already have the opportunity to resolve many difficult issues not just in our country, but all over the world. That being said, as technology becomes more and more advanced we will see many more changes for sure. New ideas today will be solutions tomorrow. Now we have drones, for example, that help with precision agriculture, but as our technology improves, who knows how many more things they could do….Every aspect of the industry has some technology in it, and through these advancements we can improve the way we treat not just ourselves, but the entire planet.
FT: How can we all use these technological innovations to make an impact?
MG: Through technology, we will be able to predict and help all aspects of the food system. A startup is already studying the best way to grow crops in 50 years in order to preserve the land; grow crops without polluting the air or destroying the soil; produce food without soil, whether in hydroponic farms on land or platforms at sea; [and] keep small businesses growing in order to help the economy and our citizens. We have tools that can tell us whether our food is spoiled; warn us if there are ingredients we shouldn't eat; help us cook in healthier manners; become more in tune with what is happening around us; and provide healthy and efficient ways to improve our everyday lives. Moreover, the idea behind food tech is to solve broader issues, such as help with world hunger and our fast growing population, waste reduction, our health and our children's, all to create a more sustainable environment in which to live in.
I would like to conclude by saying that the Internet of Food revolution is starting now. We are only at the beginning, but, for the first time, we can really and truly hope for a better food system for all.