How Food Scanners, Talking Vegetables & Blockchain Can Transform An Industry

The food industry is in a sweet spot. Consumers are gravitating towards a food culture influenced by quality produce, health awareness and regulations. The demand for sustainable and ethical produce is compelling the industry to go back to basics. Science is replacing low-quality calories with nutritious alternatives, and creating cheese, seafood and meats from plant-based extracts. As technology disrupts food production, distributors need self-diagnostic quality control systems to ensure quality and safety.

In 2015, the European Commission instituted The Horizon Prize for a portable food scanner. The winning non-invasive food scanner will use innovative technologies to analyze and disclose food composition, nutritional, and allergen information. It will encourage healthy eating by empowering people to exercise discretion at the point of purchase or consumption. Prototypes of shortlisted solutions are being developed. Once commercialized, this food safety device may upend the food industry.

On the one hand, food and beverage enterprises should expand product categories to serve more segments of shoppers. On the other, they need to validate that fresh / ready-to-eat, cooked food is safe for consumption. Supply chain traceability solutions identify the source during outbreaks of food-borne diseases, but do not prevent contamination. A barcode that reveals the backstory of food does not offer complete traceability and transparency. Perhaps, the solution is in 'Talkable Vegetables' developed by Hakuhodo's Suda Lab and HACKist, a digital creative lab. On fetching a vegetable from the shelf, customers hear an audio message about the produce from the farmer who grew it. Insight into the field and farming procedures will inspire confidence among consumers and enhance reliability of perishable products.

A digital ecosystem boosts distribution of fresh produce, which is intrinsically burdened by high variability as well as environmental and socio-economic costs. For example, sourcing managers procuring tea should ensure that the leaves were not plucked by children or dried using firewood. Blockchain technology can come to rescue. The day is not far when blockchain will be leveraged to address concerns of traceability in the supply chain. Imagine having all the stakeholders in the supply chain right from the farm to the end consumer participate in exchanging information using technologies like blockchain, Alexa, Google Home, Siri, Cortana and others. This goes way beyond the information consumers can get from the Talkable Vegetables in their kitchen or dining table.

The future of the food industry will be shaped by a sustainable and traceable supply chain. Consumption of food will no longer be determined by fragrance, taste or appearance alone. Speaking of which, does the label on that cheese brand suggest that the goats, cows, buffaloes, or sheep were raised on a diet of organic fodder?