How technology could change the future of food and drink

Posted on: 03/12/2018

KTN’s Prof. Bryan Hanley reports on the trends and technologies shaping the future of the food and drink industry.

By Professor Bryan Hanley, Food Specialist at KTN

Food Matters Live is a unique event dedicated to creating cross-sector connections focused on the future of food, drink and sustainable nutrition, which this year took the theme ‘Changing the Future of Food and Drink’. In addition to the exhibition and main conference, there were a succession of satellite seminars including one on ‘Horizon scanning: exploring how technology and innovation are revolutionising the future of the food and drink experience’. The seminar room was full to overflowing and attendees heard presentations from four speakers, chaired by myself, Bryan Hanley.

The theme of the session can best be summed up as follows. The application of science and technology to food creates a huge opportunity to change the way we experience food and drink. From technology’s role in delivering nutrition to experiential innovation, the session explored the latest technologies shaping the future of the industry. What are tomorrow’s consumers looking for and how ready are they to embrace change?

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Dr Iain Smith from Cambridge Consultants spoke about how to forecast the emerging trends and technologies shaping the industry. The interesting technological advances he mentioned included using technology to create wine with defined characteristics at the point of serving. This breakthrough technology, called Vinfusion is a personalised wine blending system that allows the user to design their perfect wine and then enjoy it instantly.  The important point about Vinfusion is that it required input from a disparate array of disciplines. They brought together experts in dispensing, mechanical and electrical engineering, fluid handling and UX design to create not just a product but a complete experience. Other examples were used to illustrate the fast moving and collaborative nature of advances in food and drink.

Professor John O’Brien used his extensive experiences in academia, at the Food Standards Authority of Ireland (as CEO) and in Danone and Nestle to discuss how technology is changing the way we eat. The key messages from John’s presentation were:

  • Technology has been changing what and how we eat for thousands of years.
  • While efforts to increase trust in food is a key driver, new technology will be needed to deliver on consumer expectations and regulatory requirements.
  • There is a need to address, and where necessary mitigate, the unintended/unforeseen consequences of new technology-consumption trend combinations.
  • Food provenance and environmental impacts are growing concerns and are already contributing to the changing corporate food landscape.
  • Personalised nutrition and food choice is a new growing opportunity.

Dr Charlotte Catignani is the Research and Development Manager at Treatt, an ingredients manufacturer and solutions provider to the global flavour, fragrance and consumer goods markets. Charlotte spoke about how multi-sensory experiences can shape innovation. She gave examples of how sensory cues (not just taste) are important in the development of new products and new concepts. It is important that different aspects of a product work together and that the product responds to customer needs.

As previously mentioned, I chaired the session and I spoke at the end about innovation, disruptive technology and the drawbacks to thinking of progress of technology in the context of the ‘Valley of Death’ before describing some new ways of looking at customer-driven technology. The industry is complex and mixed messages can lead to confusion. I finished with a quote that describes the importance of understanding and meeting customer needs – “If some of your customers want hot tea, give them hot tea, if they want cold tea, give them cold tea. If you are trying to split the difference by giving everyone warm tea, it’s time to rethink your strategy – because nobody likes warm tea” (Denise Holloman).

There was time for a brief Q&A after each talk and at the end. Overall the session was a lively and interesting collection of thoughts by a stimulating series of speakers.

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