Authors Posts by Lisa Melsted

Lisa Melsted

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With on-demand food delivery, you may never have to eat out again...

It used to be that “on demand” was something you could only get from your cable box. But as technologies such as GPS, smartphone apps and data are converging, the ability to get any number of goods and services where you want them, when you want them is exploding. From package delivery to home repairs to ride services or groceries, just about anything you could possibly desire can be delivered to your doorstep these days at the touch of an app.

Of course, food delivery is no exception in the new always-connected economy. And today’s new on-demand food services ain’t the same old luke-warm pizza, boxes of pork fried rice and plastic tubs of wonton soup of yore ordered from your favorite local restaurants. In the new food economy not only can you get your favorite falafel sandwich from the deli across town, but you can have the perfect-portioned ingredients and recipe for Coq Au Vin delivered to your doorstep so you can make it yourself.

Business Insider predicts that near real-time delivery of services on-demand will usher in a paradigm shift similar to what happened in the early 1990s when the Internet first began to take off. But for that to happen, on-demand services will have to prove that their business models are sustainable lest they suffer the fate of companies like WebVan and Kozmo, startups that became the poster children of late 1990s dot-com excess and failure. They will also have to reach beyond early adopter populations in urban areas like San Francisco and New York to become more accessible.

 

In the meantime, on-demand food companies in a variety of flavors are sprouting up in cities all over the country and investors are making early bets on which will come out on top.

Resto delivery

Many local restaurants offer their own delivery services. But managing and hiring drivers is not always an economical choice for small mom-and-pop operations. Enter consolidated delivery services like Seamless, Eat24, Bitesquad and Grubhub. All serve as delivery clearinghouses of sorts for a variety of local restaurants. Customers order their favorite foods online or via an app using the company’s interface, then the order is sent to the restaurant. Company-provided delivery drivers pick up and deliver the food. Seattle-based Peach has focused on restaurant delivery to offices during lunchtime.

Taking things up a notch are Caviar and DoorDash, which go beyond the meatball sub and pad thai set by offering delivery from the type of high-end, local restaurants that traditionally haven’t delivered. Postmates, on the other hand, delivers from a mix of local and chain restaurants—the company also offers delivery of other goods, such as groceries and other sundries.

Fresh, gourmet delivery

Not hungry for restaurant food and want something healthy but are too tired to cook? That’s the thinking behind a number of services offering delivery of fresh meal options geared toward the health conscious set. Services such as Munchery and Lish offer a variety of different entrees created and prepared by local chefs. Sprig employs its own culinary staff—including the former executive chef for Google—to create two or three daily lunch and dinner entrees.

Not just for food

And lest you think that upscale delivery services are only geared towards eating, a number of startups are offering on-demand services for adult beverage. After all, if you’ve had a hard day at work, why stop at the liquor store on the way home if you can have your margaritas and Manhattans brought to you, straight up? As opposed to some of the food delivery services companies that are based on the West or East Coasts, many of the cocktail delivery services are popping up in the Chicago area (perhaps a commentary on the long winter of 2015?).

DrinkFly, for example, partners with local liquor stores to offer app-based alcohol ordering and delivery in under an hour. Deliveries are currently made by store employees, rather than by the company, and delivery fees, minimum orders and ID checks are mandatory. Cocktail Courier, which is actually based in New York but also delivers in Chicago, is capitalizing on the current craft cocktail movement by featuring “cocktail kit” deliveries. Bartenders from New York’s best restaurants compete to have their cocktail recipes featured, then the recipes and ingredients—right down to fancy garnishes—are boxed and shipped. Pricing, however, is by the drink, and you must order for at least four friends. Per drink prices are comparable to what you pay at a bar, so the kits are not necessarily any more economical than going to your favorite watering hole and having someone make the drink for you. Foxtrot, on the other hand, offers “curated” drinks, food and everyday items geared toward the well-heeled. Boasting “The Good Life—Delivered,” the app takes a cue from Uber by including tips for drivers in the fee.

Meal kits

Prefer to cook your own meals but hate to grocery shop? Meal kits might just be for you. Delivered kits come complete with recipes and the portioned ingredients to make meals billed as healthier and fresher than restaurant take-out or microwaved meals. Best known in this category are Blue Apron and Plated, but other services (Meezmeals, Platejoy, PeachDish, HelloFresh) are also serving up kits as well. Most services offer selections catering to special diets, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free and many boast that they source ingredients locally. Some services are trying to differentiate themselves by offering speed and ease (one-pan, 10 minute meals by Gobble), restaurant recipes (Forage), smoothies and juice only (Green Blender) or kosher meals (KitchnSynch).

Chef services

If you want the chef experience, but don’t want to go out, consider instead bringing the chef to you. Kitchit Tonight, for example, offers high-end, personalized meal services for private events with professional (some well-known) chefs, almost like a matchmaking service for hungry foodies looking for their own personal culinary adventure. EatWith, which is geared toward giving travelers (and locals alike) a local eating experience, includes chefs who cook for private guests a la the underground supper club concept. Finally, Feastly features community on a plate with chefs and home cooks inviting diners to private homes where they can meet and enjoy a meal with strangers.

If you’re a food delivery start up, we’d love to hear from you. Bon Appétech Conference will be a great way to connect with industry stakeholders, large brands and influential decision makers. More information available at www.bonappetech.com

Post image copyright 2011 by Crossett LibrarySee full license for use.

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Hungry tech investors are jumping into the food revolution

Silicon Valley’s venture capital (VC) firms have long been known for their investments in technology companies. From the early days of computer chips and networking to software, mobile technology and even “apps,” VC investments have focused primarily on technical products that have made business processes simpler for corporations or  enhanced life for consumers.

But over the past few years, Silicon Valley has turned its attention to “disrupting” other industries by applying technological solutions to business models that have remained largely untouched by the digital revolution. One need only look to examples such as Apple’s iTunes, Uber or AirBnB to see how these disruptions have affected how the music, transportation and hospitality industries operate.

Revolutionized decades ago by modern farm implements and Henry Ford-era mass production and manufacturing methods, until recently the food industry had yet to experience the kind of widespread digital disruption that Internet technologies have already brought to other industries. But if you look at the spate of recent investments into food start-ups and the food industry—with a five year quarterly high of $688 million in Q3 2014 alone—it’s becoming clear that venture capital is not just for software startups anymore.

VCs, incubators and crowdfunding – oh my!

One of the most interesting aspects of these new investments in food-related businesses is not just that money is being pumped into the food industry—that’s not necessarily anything new—but by whom. Silicon Valley has been jumping on the chuck wagon in droves, with both long-established tech investors and prominent tech founders doing the investing.

For example, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers (KPCB), which is better known for investments in companies such as Google, Amazon and Twitter, recently invested in Beyond Meat, a company making plant-based meat substitutes, as part of its sustainability practice. Another firm known for very technical investments, Benchmark Capital, has invested in Potbelly, a sandwich and salad restaurant chain, that recently went public. And even Valley stalwart Sequoia Capital was an investor in The Melt, a grilled cheese chain.

Tech-company founders turned investors are also getting in on the food action. AOL founder Steve Case’s venture fund, Revolution Growth put $30 million into the Oakland, Calif. school-lunch company Revolution Foods. Tech founder turned NBA team owner turned celebrity Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban has invested in two gluten-free food startups, an app called “Find Me Gluten Free” and a pizza chain specializing in gluten-free crust. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has reportedly invested in the Lyfe Kitchen restaurant chain, along with the former COO of McDonald’s. And San Francisco egg substitute maker Hampton Creek Foods boasts an investor roster that includes a Valley who’s who of Vinod Khosla’s Khosla Ventures, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

The tech model of shepherding young businesses in their early stages is also becoming prominent in the food industry. New York based AccelFoods has honed in on the explosion of small food businesses and is helping to kickstart them via an accelerator program. According to TechCrunch, the company has been committing up to $400K to each business in each of its programs. Not to be outdone when it comes to furthering food businesses, large food companies are also making investments in smaller up-and-comers. Greek yogurt maker Chobani has started its own incubator, as has Coca-Cola, and even Marriott. Even Betty Crocker is getting out of the home kitchen—parent company General Mills has its own venture fund.

Of course crowdfunding has also become a popular way for individuals to support small food businesses in their communities. Many a restaurant and small food artisan have gotten a push via Kickstarter and Kiva Zip loans. Now Crowdfooding is getting into the investor-food start-up matchmaking game, as well, with a database tool that pairs businesses with potential investors. AngelList also boasts a database of more than 3000 investors for food products.

Perhaps this new wave of investments is just an example of Silicon Valley getting back to its roots, so to speak. After all, more than fifty years ago, much of the San Francisco Peninsula was covered in fruit orchards. So maybe investing in something, beyond a steady diet of silica chips and motherboards, that can really nourish people is a step in the right direction.

For more on the food tech investment landscape, check out the following:

http://www.foodtechconnect.com/2014/01/02/food-ag-investment-sources-explode-2013/

http://www.slideshare.net/BritaRosenheim/food-tech-media-industry-rosenheim-advisors-and-leon-mayer

If you’re investing in food startups, we’d love to hear from you. Bon Appétech Conference will be a great way to connect with industry stakeholders, large brands and influential decision makers. More information available at www.bonappetech.com.

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Everything old is new again in food system trends...

During his lifetime, Massachusetts Congressman and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was famous for—among other things—his saying “all politics is local.” These days, all food is increasingly local.

Not that this is anything new. Until the Interstate highway system was built during the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s, America’s food systems were mostly locally-based. But, over the past six decades, as it became easier to quickly move food across the nation—and to ship it in from foreign countries—our food system has become a complex web where California tomatoes may show up in New England stores two or three days after being picked, even if it might have been easier to get them from New Jersey the same day.

Although there have been “local food” movements in the U.S. since the Great Depression and World War II, there’s been huge a resurgence of interest in local food systems over the past 10 years—so much so that even Time magazine did a cover story on eating local in 2007.

Why such interest in local foods? The reasons are myriad. For one, people are taking increasing interest in where their food comes from and how it’s produced. This is in part due to a desire to return to simpler times. It’s also due to a focus on healthier foods and outbreaks of foodborne illnesses such as E. coli or salmonella, which can quickly spread when affected foods are shipped cross-country. Then there’s the environmental factor and economics of shipping food over long distances. Although mass production may have driven down food costs, hauling it across the nation can be expensive when you consider fluctuating fuel prices and emissions.

And who can’t help but be more curious about local foods when more and more restaurant menus list the farms, dairies and producers where every item on the menu came from? This level of awareness from chefs carries over to their patrons, and with more people returning to farming as a way of life, city folks are supporting their communities through buying locally.

Finally, let’s face it, local foods just taste better. When produce, in particular, is picked the same day it’s sold, it’s fresher, it lasts longer, it retains more nutrients and the taste is amazing. There’s nothing worse than a tomato that’s been picked too early, never ripens and tastes mealy. Yuck.

Until recently, the local food movement consisted primarily of farmer’s markets, Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs, and even school garden programs such as Alice Waters’ famous Edible Schoolyard Project. Urban gardening and cottage food laws, allowing local food purveyors to sell certain foods created in home kitchens, are also tied to the locavore movement.

As is to be expected in the Internet age, parts of this movement are also beginning to intersect with technology to enable everything from food delivery to locally sourced foods and even food hubs, where local goods are gathered and then dispersed regionally.

Online Grocery Delivery

Of course, grocery delivery services are not that new. Although Webvan famously tanked during the dot-com bust, online services such as Peapod, which delivers in the Northeast and Midwest, have been around since that time. On the West Coast, grocery chain Safeway also provides online ordering and same-day delivery.

What is new is tech companies like Amazon and Google getting into the mix. You can’t talk about any retail supply chain these days without mentioning the great up-ender of all retail systems, Amazon. With its Amazon Fresh service, the company has gotten into the delivery of perishables in addition to everything else under the sun. One feature of the Fresh service is making goods available from local artisans and restaurants. Last year, the company also introduced Amazon Dash, a barcode reader for home shoppers that allows them to scan the barcodes of household items and have them automatically added to their Fresh order. An Amazon Fresh app is also available. However, Fresh comes with a hefty price tag. The company received criticism last year for charging Prime Fresh users $299 per year for same day delivery—which is only free if the order is over $35.

Google’s Shopping Express also offers same-day delivery for goods picked up from local stores for quick delivery to patrons. The service sources from stores such as Whole Foods, Costco and Target. Users can order online or via a mobile app.

One part CSA, one part delivery service

New to the delivery scene are services such as Good Eggs and Farmigo, which cut out the retail middleman by working directly with local farmers, producers and artisans to sell goods to consumers online. Farmigo provides software for farmers to connect with CSA programs and helps them sell direct to consumers. Users pick up their produce, baked goods or meats at designated neighborhood pick-up spots. Good Eggs employs a similar model but also includes specialty packaged foods and pre-packaged meal kits from local producers. The service is available in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Brooklyn and New Orleans.

Food hubs

The term “food hub” can encompass any number of different things, but is usually a centrally-located facility where farmers can bring their food to either be sold or distributed locally or regionally. New England-based Red Tomato is a food hub that has honed in on logistics and the supply chain. The company works with farmers to aggregate products, which are then delivered either by other farmers, distributors or third-party logistics services, making sure that the foods can be sold fresh and within the region. For instance, the company works with a local grocery chain in Northern New Jersey on a program that guarantees produce displayed in the program were picked within 24 hours of arriving at the store. The store features a special display section of local produce delivered as part of the program.

If you’re a local food system startup, we’d love to hear from you. Bon Appétech Conference will be a great way to connect with industry stakeholders, large brands and influential decision makers. We are hosting a startup expo where entrepreneurs can showcase and launch new products, including new food traceability solutions. More information available at www.bonappetech.com.

Post image copyright 2008 by Marc Smith. See full license for use.

Is it time for insects to move up the food chain?

Fried in cornmeal. Smothered in ketchup and mustard. Dripping with maple syrup. On top of an ice cream sundae. I can still remember the myriad ways that Billy Forrester tried to disguise the fact that he was forced to eat 15 night crawlers in as many days after losing a bet in the classic children’s book How to Eat Fried Worms.

As hilarious as Billy’s predicament was to my fourth-grade self, I have to admit the thought of eating worms has never been that appealing to me, now or then. In fact, for many people the idea of entomophagy, or eating insects, is, well, to use a fourth grader’s favorite word, gross!

But in much of the world, that is simply not the case. Throughout Asia, Central America and Mexico and Africa, insects are just another part of the food chain—much like burgers, fries or pizza are part of the American diet. And with many experts worried that the planet may not be able to support projected world population growth—which the U.N. is projecting will reach 9.6 billion by 2050—there are an increasing number of entomophagy advocates and companies that believe the solution for feeding the planet is to turn back to sources that can already be readily found in nature.

Food sources based on what’s already found in nature vary. An article in Natural News, for instance, suggests looking to drought-resistant plants and trees that grow quickly or produce large yields. For instance, jicama—a root grown primarily in Mexico and Central America—is said to provide high amounts of vitamin C. The article also points to the moringa tree, also known as the horseradish or drumstick tree, as a potential food source. The tree, which grows in tropical areas, is said to propagate easily, has edible leaves that are high in protein and vitamins and its seeds can supposedly be used to purify water.

A similar article in Scientific American suggests a return to a staple of the Native American diet—the acorn. According to the article, oak trees—from which acorns come—are actually the single most important tree used by wildlife for food and cover throughout the state of California. Acorns have been a dietary staple for farm animals—and of course, squirrels—and people for centuries. The article says acorns can be eaten in a variety of ways—raw, cooked, boiled, mushed or even—not unlike chicory—for coffee.

So-called “wild” foods—or foods found in forested areas have also been suggested as new, natural food sources. A 2011 report by the U.N’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), suggested that world’s forests could also serve as a source for helping to ensure food security for the world’s populations. Judging by the recent popularity of “foraging” activities, such as mushroom gathering, can searching for more fruits of the forest be far behind?

But by far the most often-cited natural resource for alternative food sources is insects. Again, the U.N. is leading the way in advocating for insects as a food. Since 2003, the FAO has been doing research on edible insects in numerous countries across the world. Thus far they have found as many as 1,900 types of insects that are safe for human consumption. According to the FAO there are various benefits of insect eating:

Edible insects contain high quality protein, vitamins and amino acids for humans. Insects have a high food conversion rate, e.g. crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein. Besides, they emit less greenhouse gases and ammonia than conventional livestock. Insects can be grown on organic waste. Therefore, insects are a potential source for conventional production (mini-livestock) of protein, either for direct human consumption, or indirectly in recomposed foods (with extracted protein from insects); and as a protein source into feedstock mixtures.

Getting beyond the “ick” factor

Of course getting Westerners to move beyond being grossed out by the thought of eating bugs will take some doing. However, there are a number of companies and VC firms that are betting the ant farm, so to speak, that they will. According to the Wall Street Journal, VC firms put $83.4 million into food start-ups that are developing alternative food products—from meat substitutes to insect-based foods—during the third quarter of 2014.

Although there are many insects that can be eaten—grasshoppers, ants, worms, cicadas, caterpillars and beetles to name a few—judging from the number of start-ups that are using them, crickets seem to be the gateway bug of choice for burgeoning entomophagists.

Although I’ve heard of roasted cricket snacks, the most popular medium for conveying crickets into food stuffs these days seems to be cricket flour. Crickets are said to be very high in protein, calcium and iron and low in carbs. By finely grinding the crickets into a “flour,” they can be easily ingested and used in a variety of products—from protein bars (Exo, Hopper Foods,) to cookies (Bitty), chips (Six Foods) and even cocktail bitters (Critter Bitters).

Breeding insects for food products is also a key part of this value chain. In addition to milling cricket flour, Aspire Food Group offers organic whole crickets for cooking, and the company has insect breeding projects underway in Austin, Texas Mexico (grasshoppers) and in Ghana (weevil larvae). Taking the childhood ant farm model a number of steps further, Silicon Valley based Tiny Farms offers mealworm farming starter kits for companies that want to develop their own products or people who want to start their own insect farms. The company is even using data collected from individual insect farms to develop best practices for better growth.

If Rene Redzepi, famous forager and chef of Denmark’s acclaimed Noma, can make insects palatable to foodies by serving fermented grasshoppers or ant-infused gin, can more middle brow palates be far behind? Palates change. Ten years ago, not many people were eating kale, either. Everyone thought its sole purpose was to adorn salad bars. Even Rosé is making a comeback after being maligned as the wine of choice for 1980s housewives. And who knew that canning would someday become a hipster DIY activity?

So maybe we should try bugs. We might like them.

If you’re a technology based food product start-up, we’d love to hear from you. Bon Appétech Conference will be a great way to connect with industry stakeholders, large brands and influential decision makers. We are hosting a startup expo where entrepreneurs can showcase and launch new products, including new food products. More information available at www.bonappetech.com

Post image copyright 2006 by Lon&Queta. See full license for use.

New start-ups look to create new meat alternatives

Food scarcity. The obesity epidemic. Chronic disease. Greenhouse emissions. Rising food prices. What do these things have in common? Each is one of the myriad reasons that companies and researchers are looking to alternative food products to address growing concerns about the health and welfare of the human population and our planet.

Why the concern? According the The Scientist, population growth and human consumption are beginning to threaten the earth’s resources. With the U.N. projecting the global population will reach more than 9 billion by 2050 and issues such as climate change, overfishing, drought, pollution and reduced agricultural productivity, there are some that fear the planet may not be able to support that population growth, forcing more people into poverty and hunger crises.

As such, food technologists are beginning to look at alternative food sources that can help provide healthy alternatives to feed the population and save the planet. And with the advances in genomics now enabled by high performance computing, it’s easier than ever for technologists to use a variety of methods to create new food sources that have “natural” origins—from recreating meat-like substances using plant compounds to cellular regeneration and “synbio,” or synthetic biology (which creates new organisms using existing DNA sequences).

Plant-based foods

Tofu. Seitan. Veggie burgers. Chances are most people have at least tried some kind of meat substitute even if they’re not a vegan or vegetarian. With chronic obesity and health problems becoming an epidemic in Western countries, many people are taking it upon themselves to eat a healthier diet, which may mean incorporating more plant-based proteins into their diet or following a “Meatless Monday” rule. And a number of companies are trying to make faux meat more flavorful and realistic than what’s previously been available to consumers.

For instance, Beyond Meat says it has taken the elements that comprise meat—amino acids, fats, carbohydrates, trace minerals and water—from plants and has applied processes of heating, cooling and pressure to give plant matter the consistency and texture of animal meat. The company’s products include “beef” crumbles made from pea protein and grilled “chicken” strings made from non-GMO soy and pea protein. Not only does the company have strong backing (investors include Bill Gates, Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone, and VC firms such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers) but the company was also named one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies” last year. Their product is said to have even fooled The New York Times’ food writer Mark Bittman into believing it was real.

Seattle-based Field Roast makes what it calls “grain meat,” which the company claims can be traced back to Buddhist monks who wanted a meat alternative in 7th Century China. Field Roast products are similar in tradition to seitan, but their grain-based products were created by founder and chef David Lee in the tradition of European charcuterie and sausage making. As such, the company makes a variety of grain-based meat substitutes that range from breakfast sausage, frankfurters, burgers and deli slices to meatloaf. The company also makes a line of vegan cheese called Chao made from coconut and tofu. Also tackling plant-based meats and cheeses is Impossible Foods, whose website is very hush-hush about what the company is doing other than to say it’s using specific proteins and nutrients from plants to develop milk, meat and eggs.

Hampton Creek has focused on making a substitute for eggs. Rather than sell the egg product as is, at this time the company is focused on creating healthy substitutes for staples like mayonnaise (Just Mayo) and cookies (Just Cookies). Also billed as a health-oriented option, Soylent is a powdered drink mix that, when combined with water, can be used as a complete meal substitute. Utilizing microalgae, Solazyme is developing vegetable oil and animal fat substitutes. The company has already developed a vegan flour that can replace oils, egg yolks or dairy fat and a gluten-free protein substitute.

Cultured Products

Academia is even getting in on the faux meat action. Cultured Beef, a project of Maastricht University in The Netherlands, uses muscle cells harvested from cows to create new meat tissue. According to their website, a normal-sized hamburger can be formed from approximately 20,000 cell strands. The company believes that by “growing” beef in a lab, not only will it be easier to meet growing demand for meat due to population growth but it will have less of the environmental impact that raising beef can have on emissions and land.

Lest you think that synbio need be limited to food products, Brooklyn-based Modern Meadow is taking cellular science even further to produce cultured leather. Using techniques first developed to grow human tissue for drug testing and development, the company is combining tissue engineering (also known as biofabrication) and 3D bioprinting techniques to create “leather.” Once they’ve conquered the leather-making process, the company plans to develop a meat product using similar methods.

In Boston, a startup called Gingko Bioworks has taken on the challenge of engineering new organisms. In one project, the company is working with DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to manufacture probiotic bacteria similar to microbes that protect the body from infection or aid in digestion. In addition, Gingko scientists are working on cultured food and fragrance ingredients. According to Perfumer and Flavorist magazine, the company has already developed six as-yet unknown cultured ingredients.

Edible packaging

Harvard bioengineer David Edwards is in the process of developing edible packaging for food to help reduce waste. His company, called Wikicells, is said to be working on products such as ice cream and frozen yogurt products wrapped in flavored “skins” designed to help consumers move beyond plastic wrappings.

Whether eaters will get on board with these discoveries remains to be seen. According to a Pew Research Poll, only two of 10 Americans are willing to give lab meat a try. But that’s probably what your grandparents once said about tofu, too.

Find out more at our Expanding the Pie panel on alternative foods at Bon Appétech, April 10-12, 2015. Modern Meadow will be among the participating companies presenting the latest challenges and solutions to alternative food issues.

If you’re a technology based food product start-up, we’d love to hear from you. Bon Appétech Conference will be a great way to connect with industry stakeholders, large brands and influential decision makers. We are hosting a startup expo where entrepreneurs can showcase and launch new products, including new food products. More information available at www.bonappetech.com

Post image copyright 2015 by www.sweetonveg.com. See full license for use.

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New technologies ensure we know where our food comes from

where-does-your-food-come-from

More and more these days, consumers want to know where their food comes from. From concerns about factory farming to listing the farms of origin on restaurant menus to movies like Food Inc., consumers are becoming more attuned to the food system than they have been in the last two or three generations. In the U.K., the desire to better understand the food supply chain has been credited for a rise in student enrollment in agricultural programs. Even the sketch comedy TV show Portlandia did a skit on the trend in which diners insisted on visiting the farm where their chicken dinner was raised to indeed make sure it was locally sourced before they’d commit to ordering it at a restaurant.

Trending humor notwithstanding, knowing the origins of our food is a serious business that can have serious consequences. How can we know our food is safe? Where must the government look in the event of a recall? How do you trace foodborne illnesses? Is that tomato you just ate really organic and pesticide free?

Enter the growing field of food traceability. More than just a supply chain issue, food traceability is an issue of trust. Food Safety News reports that 15 percent of the food in the U.S. now comes from outside the country, with that number being far higher in some sectors, such as seafood where 80 percent of our supply is imported. According to Modern Farmer, half of all fresh fruit in the U.S is now imported.

With food imports so high, it’s no wonder that food traceability was included as part of the 2001 Bioterrorism Act. Since 2006, food processors have been required to identify the origins of food products, both foreign and domestic, including listing every ingredient. In addition, the 2011 Food Modernization and Safety Act (FSMA) gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to order mandatory recalls if necessary, as well as create a food tracing system.

Although the U.S. does already have a number of food tracing efforts in place, the Institute of Food Technologies (IFT) released a report in March 2013 that called for a comprehensive technology based platform that would allow for better and more efficient data processing when it comes to tracking our food. A recent report in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety ranked U.S and Canadian food traceability systems as only “average,” while countries throughout the European Union were given “superior” ratings. (It’s worth noting that China was ranked as “poor,” the data from countries in the Russian Federation was inadequate to even rank them.)

As such, research firm Visiongain has estimated that the worldwide market for food traceability technologies will reach  $11.15B in 2015. What’s more, that market is also expected to grow 9.88 percent (CAGR) between 2015-2019, according to TechNavio.

With more data being gathered, scanned and collected on food, increasingly interconnected global food systems and the IFT’s mandate for a tech-based food tracing platform, new technologies will have a key role to play in helping to maintain the safety of the global food supply chain and food systems for years to come. From food “fingerprinting” or tagging and software systems, a number of companies are coming up with new solutions to ensure our food is safe.

Genetic tagging

Originally developed at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, DNATrek is a “spray-on” solution that can be directly misted onto produce or mixed with dry or liquid goods allowing them to be tracked throughout the supply chain. Using natural ingredients that the company claims are 100 percent safe and FDA approved, DNATrek says they have developed an advanced natural “barcoding” system that can retrieve information about food origins with a simple swab and an off-the-shelf instrument to determine whether food has been tampered with or adulterated.

Barcoding and RFID tags

As of September 2014, Whole Foods Market required all of its produce suppliers to comply with guidelines set out by the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI). This increased pressure from the country’s largest organic food store is sure to boost the traceability industry, particularly, barcoding technologies, which is one of the primary technologies recommended by the PTI.

Developed by product traceability and authentication platform provider Yottamark, Harvestmark is a food traceability platform that allows users to trace products at both the item and case level using barcode technology. A separate smartphone app also lets consumers get in on tracing their foods by allowing them to enter an item’s QR code into the app, where information on the product’s origins pop up. Consumers can also provide feedback to the farmer through the app. Data on each item can also be tracked throughout the supply chain so producers and distributors can monitor product freshness and performance from field to store.

SIMBA, a PTI solution from Dynamic Systems, also provides labeling technology as well as real-time information for plant managers as produce is being packaged. In addition, Honeywell has developed an RFID label that farmers can print that can be used to trace produce back to the tree it came from, when it was picked and shipped. Handheld scanners are then used to track the product and put it into a computer system that can follow it from farm to store.

Part of the University of California at Berkeley’s Skydeck incubator program, startup Pristine Solutions plans to use temperature sensors and QR bar codes to help determine whether wine has spoiled, been tampered with or counterfeited.

Software

Of course, there are also solutions that cover the entire food supply chain. These are primarily software or SaaS-based solutions that tend to cover not only traceability but everything from order management through logistics and warehouse management. Companies such as iTradeNetwork and FoodLogiQ provide full food supply chain packages.

Frequentz, another track and trace technology provider, uses software to link with company ERP systems to provide real-time information on product location throughout the supply chain to help companies do everything from authenticate seafood species or track soil testing to manage recalls.

Standards

Key to managing food traceability and supply chains in the future will be standards development. Standards bodies such as the International Standards Organization (ISO) provide support for organizations by developing requirements that help them to comply with a set of guidelines and best practices for food management. As food traceability technologies continue to proliferate globally, we can expect to see standards develop for these systems so that they can become interoperable across borders.

Find out more at our Food Labeling and Traceability panel at Bon Appétech, April 10-12, 2015. Food Safety News and Yottamark will be among the participating companies presenting the latest challenges and solutions to food traceability issues.

If you’re a food traceability startup, we’d love to hear from you. Bon Appétech Conference will be a great way to connect with industry stakeholders, large brands and influential decision makers. We are hosting a startup expo where entrepreneurs can showcase and launch new products, including new food traceability solutions. More information available at www.bonappetech.com

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Bringing wine into the technology age

wine-innovation-bon-appetech

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

- Ben Franklin

Ah, wine. A libation considered so essential to life—and life’s pleasures—that the Greeks and Romans dedicated an entire god to its worship. It doesn’t get much more old school than wine.

Although the wine industry may be steeped in tradition, in today’s economy no industry can afford to ignore the changes that technology is bringing. And according to a report on the state of the wine industry by the Silicon Valley Bank, the industry is now ready to grow its use of technology beyond the e-commerce distribution centers established by companies such as Wine.com in the early 2000s.

Meanwhile, California experienced its second record grape harvest in a row this year. And in 2013, California wine shipments within the U.S, were up 3 percent from the previous year at 215 million cases, with an estimated value of $23.1 billion, according to the Wine Institute. California wine sales to all markets, both domestic and international, increased 3% by volume to 258 million cases in 2013.

With the sector beginning to recover from the economic downturn, recent sales increases and and a new generation of consumers that will expect their Pinot to be paired with a digital component are beginning to discover wines, the industry is ripe for the improvements and innovation that technology can bring. From technological advances in viticulture to e-commerce and mobile solutions, a variety of innovative solutions are helping to bring this age-old libation into the technology age.

Apps

All the world’s an app these days, so when it comes to wine, of course there’s an app (or many apps as the case may be) for that. Wine apps are about as diverse as wine varietals themselves.

Among the more traditional apps are those that aim to educate wine consumers or provide recommendations from industry experts. The Wine Coach, for instance, claims to “demystify wine, one glass at a time,” by providing wine recommendations, food pairing advice and videos from award-winning sommelier Laurie Forster (aka “The Wine Coach”). Also geared toward wine pairings, Hello Vino bills itself as a wine app “for the rest of us,” or those who may find themselves confounded when faced with hundreds of bottles of wine at the wine store. The company provides pairing advice for “any occasion” including everything from gift ideas to suggestions for what to drink with traditional pairings such as cheese, chocolate or meat to pizza and pasta.

Appealing to the photo happy crowd, a number of wine apps employ pictures of wine labels to help consumers source wines online. Drync, for example, lets users upload a label photo to its website via their app then track their favorite bottles with ratings and notes. By employing a huge database of wines, users can then source their favorites for delivery. Another photo-based app, Delectable, uses photos to help wine lovers build their own personal wine journals. Users can also “follow” friends or sommeliers through the app and share recommendations and opinions with one another. With an active number of wine professionals who often use the app to chronicle their wine choices at home, the engine effectively serves as personal sommelier, providing free wine advice in addition to an extensive label and review library.

Both Vivino and Snooth also offer label identification, but take things one step further by including pricing information and nearby locations where your favorite wines can be purchased. The Snooth website also provides a full community experience for wine lovers, from buying through the site to a wine glossary and industry news. The app also comes in a professional version, and the company offers an API for developers who want to power their own wine apps based on the Snooth API. Also geared toward professionals is Wine Quest, which provides both a wine menu manager for restaurants and an personal app that helps users predict whether they will or won’t like a wine.

Of note is just how much apps like these are not just being used by curious consumers but by wine professionals themselves. As sommeliers use technology to make their wine decisions, their expectations for enhancements such as customization, personalization and even data analytics are likely to increase. Overall, this bodes well for wine producers, restaurateurs, wine professionals, wine enthusiasts, and the entire wine ecosystem because innovative technologies and applications are unlocking wine data and making it more accessible for people to have better access to discover and enjoy the wines they love.

Recommendation Engines

Recommendation engines are nothing new in the world of technology. For years, Amazon has been making suggestions to us based on the books we buy, and Pandora has been tailoring music selections to individual tastes. Wine recommendation engines combine data and algorithms to match characteristics of individual wines to individual palates.

Often combined with a wine club business model, wine recommendation engine companies are taking a couple different approaches to data gathering. Companies such as Bright Cellars, Club W and Wine Simple use short online quizzes to gather information about user flavor and lifestyle preferences to help recommend bottles via data algorithms.

In contrast, companies such as Taste Factor and Wine Savage both use tasting panels—comprised of wine experts—to determine the flavor profile of a wine. Members provide information on their flavor preferences and are sent bottles to sample and review. Those reviews and reactions are fed into a database and matched with wine profiles to help refine what goes into their next shipment.

Sensor technology

Start-ups are also utilizing sensor technology to bring the wine industry to the bleeding edge. Fruition Sciences, for instance, places sensors into vineyards to monitor moisture levels of the grapes and vines. By monitoring sap flow and weather conditions, then analyzing that data, vintners are able to make decisions about when and where to irrigate.

Pristine Solutions, which is part of the University of California at Berkeley’s Skydeck incubator program, plans to use temperature sensors to help consumers determine whether their wine is spoiled and provide guidance on ideal storage temperatures. An accompanying app geared toward wine makers measures consumer engagement and quick response (QR) bar codes. By scanning the QR codes and combining them in the cloud with duplication and counterfeiting algorithms, wine makers can prevent counterfeiting and protect their brand by adding information to each bottle.

The side effect of more technology coming into the wine industry is that a product that has often been viewed as inaccessible to the masses is now more accessible than ever. By democratizing the process from farm to palate, new apps and solutions promise to bring new audiences, efficiencies—and ultimately, sales—to the wine industry for years to come.

Find out more at our Wine Innovation panel at Bon Appétech, April 10-12, 2015. Drync will be among the participating companies presenting about new innovations, apps and trends in wine.

If you’re a wine tech startup, we’d love to hear from you. Bon Appétech Conference will be a great way to connect with industry stakeholders, large brands and influential decision makers. We are hosting a startup expo where entrepreneurs can showcase and launch new products, including new wine tech innovations. More information available at www.bonappetech.com