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A magazine on science, technology and business

Emilia Nordlund

​​​​​Emilia Nordlund​​​​

Food in transition

Matti Välimäki | 31.3.2017

​A revolution in food production lies ahead. VTT is leading the way to smart, consumer-driven food production.

How will enough food be ensured for everyone? How can food be produced efficiently but ecologically for demanding, enquiring diginatives?

Answers to questions such as this are being sought from the Food Economy 4.0 roadmap. The roadmap was drawn up by VTT researchers from various fields and representatives of the food industry.

VTT Research Professor Kaisa Poutanen points out that 4.0 refers to the fourth revolution currently under way in food production. It all began with hunting and gathering. Then came agriculture, followed by the mass production of food in the 1800s.​

– Megatrends such as globalisation, digitalisation and climate change are shaping the latest revolution. Trends specific to the food industry – such as health, personalisation, convenience, pleasure-seeking, transparency, sustainable production and safety – are also influential.

 Emilia Nordlund

Tailored solutions for consumers

The new food economy is moving from mass production towards a more personalised approach. Food can be produced and personalised using 3D technology, for example.

– For instance, in a shop a robot can make a product from basic ingredients according to the consumer's wishes. Ice-cream robots and pizza vending machines have already been introduced, says Poutanen.​

Personalised solutions also include services which everyone can use to measure and analyse their own diet or food. In addition, new services offer tools for time management in families.

 

Nimbly and efficiently

Another feature of this development is the transition to more agile models, from centralised food production and distribution.

Technology is enabling packaging to provide more information, relevant to the consumer in question, on issues such as the production chain. Farmers could also become more active in the processing chain.

In the new food economy, raw materials will be produced efficiently and factory-like in a small space. ​

– For instance, raw materials can be produced without fields, through biotechnology or the insect economy. Raw materials will be utilised efficiently and in accordance with the circular economy. The energy and water loops will also be closed.

 

The speed of change may surprise us

Principal Scientist Jaakko Paasi of VTT believes that this transition will provide companies with major opportunities.

– The key issue is to move fast enough. It's the early bird that gets the worm – including in food production.

He points out that the switch will not happen overnight, but some old practices will survive alongside the new. On the other hand, changes could also happen quickly. Digitalisation and automation could enable a totally new way of handling the customer interface – the physical world will blend with the digital.

– The time-scale is maybe 5–10 years. Taking the digitalisation of retail as a point of reference, during that process VTT was able to forecast the outcome very accurately. Even so, the speed of change surprised us and everyone else.

So who might be the Uber, Airbnb or Netflix of the new food economy… totally new practices that grow rapidly into very big business?

– I bet that it, too, will involve e-commerce in some way. It could just involve a new way of getting food to consumers, Paasi suggests.

– People now tend to think that logistics ends on the shop shelf. The new approach will be based on delivery all the way to homes. Intermediate storage, which creates no value for the consumer but lengthens the time between production and consumption, will play no part in this, he adds.

The new approach could involve fresh production in the shops. Herbs, sprouts, lettuce and mushrooms could be cultivated on-site – in the shop – using new, indoor farming and water circulation techniques. The products would be fresh and ecological, since transport costs would be eliminated and waste reduced.​

– The more things change, the more they stay the same. Food will continue to be healthy and nutritious in the future. It will provide experiences and bring people together. It will also provide ways of building our identity and communicating our values, Poutanen explains.

 

Many kinds of collaboration needed

The Food Economy 4.0 vision hopes for inter-sectoral collaboration, such as cooperation forums for designing the content, impact evaluations and implementation projects of development paths.

– There would also be a need for a consumer environment, for example, in which new product concepts and service ideas could be tested, Poutanen adds.

New raw materials require new technologies. In addition, along the way measurement, packaging and production technologies will have to be developed and integrated; and clear ground rules on data sharing and privacy practices, as well as new service vendors and logistics systems, will be needed.

– Finland is at the forefront of development. We have a good chance of becoming forerunners and combining technology with food industry expertise to create new production and service concepts, says Team Leader Emilia Nordlund of VTT.

 

Images: Ville Rinne

VTT develops new technologies

The Food Economy 4.0 roadmap includes examples of VTT's new food technologies.​

Using prototype developed by VTT, meal ingredients can be grown from plant cells, even in your own kitchen. Blueberry jam might be handily obtainable for cup cakes, from berry presscake, i.e. side-stream rich in dietary fibre; dried, powdered mealworms and crickets would provide environmentally friendly food fractions rich in protein. For instance, 3D printers can be used to print out tailored biscuits rich in protein or fibre. Other examples related to eating and food economy technologies include the GluttonButton application, which measures and supports eating rhythms, TAGIT Smart packaging which measures a product's journey, and a hyper-spectral camera that reveals in future whether food stored for a long time is still edible.

Food Economy 4.0 – VTT's vision of an era of smart consumer-centric food production​

Kaisa Poutanen in VTT Blog: Is a revolution under way in the food chain? 

More about making of the bioeconomy: The Making of Tomorrow


 

 

 

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