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New technologies ensure we know where our food comes from

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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

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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