March 4, 2024

French food tech consultancy, DigitalFoodLab, has identified 28 food tech trends and grouped them into six megatrends in its fourth annual study of the food market.

The company says that innovation is being driven, first and foremost by startups – which is evident from the stories in the SIAL newsroom – but that researchers and large corporations are also making big contributions.

DigitalFoodLab has looked at innovation across the food supply chain – from seeds and food products to grocery stores and health – and noted that “while food was long discarded as not disruptive enough for investments, things have changed”. The consultancy added: “Now startups are getting heavily funded to reinvent the way we grow food, shop, and cook it.”

The company’s analysis has identified the following six megatrends that can be broken down into 28 further food tech trends (see chart below). The six are:

  • the resilient farm
  • sustainable proteins
  • food as medicine
  • the smart supply chain
  • instant retail
  • food automation.

“This revolution will see the transition from our current paradigm to a new one where food is more accessible, healthier, and sustainable,” says the DigitalFoodLab report. “We are at the start of this radical shift.”


The Resilient Farm

Agricultural tech is a critical component of the food tech ecosystem, not a separate one, says DigitalFoodLab. So while upstream and downstream players are still often working in silos, disruptive innovations are creating convergence and integration of the farm-to-fork value chain.

Multiple trends are therefore leading to more sustainable and resilient farms. They include an appetite for locally grown foods, reduced energy consumption to cut costs and go green, climate change concerns especially regarding arable land, and the convergence of technology and farming.

Specific examples include precision farming, farm robotics, indoor farms, and insects for animal feed

Sustainable proteins

Alternative proteins such as replacements for meat have attracted thousands of entrepreneurs and billions of euros in investments – while being a source of intense debate.

As individuals, eating less meat can reduce our impact on climate as animal proteins are directly linked to up to 18% of global greenhouse emissions, according to DigitalFoodLab. At least five different technological approaches are now being used to develop alternative proteins by trying to replicate animal products, from meat to dairy and marketing them as better for the planet and as animal-friendly alternatives, not just substitutes.

Food as medicine

DigitalFoodLab has renamed this megatrend from ‘food personalisation’ as it has observed the convergence of two categories until now distinct: health and food. Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic and Wegovy drugs are good examples.

Both were created to manage diabetes but their increasing use as weight loss solutions – albeit expensive ones – is creating many opportunities and showing the potential for medical food products. However, it is early days for a potential revolution in the direction of accessing a fully personalised diet. One of the limitations is that there are very few players in the market.

Nestlé Institute of Agricultural Sciences

Smart supply chains

Supply chains need to become more efficient by being smarter and more digital. With 40% of all food never eaten and 15-16% never even leaving farms in the UK and US it is easy to see that something is wrong along the chain.

The fight against waste (from packaging and food waste) – which is directly related to climate change – is having an impact. Digitisation to reduce labour costs and promote standardisation and the accessibility of new digital tools throughout the food supply chain is changing how people work and collaborate.

Instant retail

Before the pandemic, the retail debate was centred on food e-commerce and consumers’ appetite for grocery delivery. The pandemic era showed this was not in question. Now the debate is geared to the speed of deployment, how stores can adapt, and where it will take food retailers in the future.

Quick commerce (grocery delivery in 30 minutes or less) is the new paradigm of instant retail. Behind this name, DigitalFoodLab has put all the innovations that enable consumers to access food quickly and efficiently from their screens. Instant gratification is not just about fast delivery but accessing foods that match a consumer’s values and needs in one click. This can range from ethnic marketplaces to anti-food waste platforms, and from autonomous stores to restaurant delivery.


Food automation

Compared to other industries, food is not automated as unskilled labour is used in kitchens, warehouses, delivery, and consumer service, says DigitalFoodLab. Food delivery robots are being tried and 3D printing cooking robots are future possibilities but, to date, many startups in these fields have folded.

For years, startups have used robotic arms and other complicated and costly technologies to replicate humans’ actions, but they seem more of a gimmick. Now the goal is to scale down factories to the size of a restaurant rather than to emulate a chef with robotic arms. This shift doesn’t yet translate into autonomous delivery, where experiments are still happening, but without any foreseeable massive deployment.

For the deep dives into the six megatrends above, plus more detail on the 28 food tech trends DigitalFoodLab has identified and where and how they fit in, download the full report by clicking here.

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