Foodtech trends: the opportunities behind food waste reduction

The United Nations (UN) reports that around 820 million people worldwide suffer from hunger, and it’s closely linked to poverty and difficulties in obtaining food. Reducing food waste is one of the keys to solving this problem, a trend that is becoming more consolidated globally.

The food-tech industry is one of the most developed sectors in the startup world. Despite the pandemic, it experienced a 42% growth during 2020, something directly related to changes in consumer preferences. 

And since this is a sector in constant development, 2022 brings new challenges for companies in the industry, which must adapt to the trends of a market that is increasingly aware of the practices behind food production.

Food-tech industry: main macro trends for 2022

As the industry grows, new technologies are emerging, bringing with them the development of key solutions and trends to enhance sustainability in the food industry:

The development of smart farms 

According to the World Bank, agriculture uses—on average— 70% of the water withdrawn globally, showing the enormous water consumption required to produce food such as fruits, vegetables, and cereals. 

With over 1 billion people currently living in water-scarce areas —and the figure could reach 3.5 billion by 2025 —it is urgent to rethink farming methods to optimize water consumption.

In this regard, smart farms represent one of the leading trends to optimize water use and maintain a more environmentally friendly food production.

It is possible to reduce water use through smart farms by analyzing data obtained from IoT sensors (such as soil moisture) allowing better use of this resource.

Such is the impact of this trend that it is estimated that the smart farming market will reach 34.1 billion dollars by 2026. This will be driven by the increase in demand for IoT (Internet of Things) solutions and precision agriculture. It is a sustainable alternative that helps combat the waste of resources, optimize costs, and reduce the environmental impact of traditional practices. 

In fact, by implementing IoT solutions, it is possible to reduce water consumption by 30%, reflecting the impact that smart farms can have in avoiding the waste of this vital resource.

Natural products to your door

Due to the pandemic, home food delivery has had room to grow and increase its sales

Moreover, because these companies usually make deliveries in cardboard boxes—eliminating the plastic packaging—it is a much more environmentally friendly process. Not to mention the convenience for the user to stock up on natural products without leaving home.

In Chile, we can see the scope that grocery delivery has achieved. Some municipalities in the Metropolitan Region reached an agreement with free fairs so that residents can purchase fruits and vegetables through an app. Undoubtedly, this is an example of a growing practice with the widespread use of mobile devices and Internet access.

Strengthening companies that combat food waste

Based on data compiled by the Australian organization OzHarvest, one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted (about 1.3 billion tons), reflecting the huge challenge that exists both at the humanitarian level, due to hunger, and in terms of sustainability.

Fortunately, innovative mindsets have realized the opportunities behind this reality, such as CoFood. This company seeks to sell food that is about to expire at a lower price through an app, which benefits both consumers and the planet, preventing tons of food from ending up in landfills.

Similarly, there are valuable solutions based on the reuse of food waste, making the most of waste from agricultural processes, which is key to increasing sustainability in the food industry.

A clear example of this is the natural coatings for fruits and vegetables, which contribute doubly to the cause.

On the one hand, they help reduce food waste by extending its shelf life. On the other hand, they are made 100% with vegetable elements, unlike traditional solutions made with low molecular weight polyethylene (diluted plastic), ammonium hydroxides, and petroleum derivatives, among other components.

Shel-Life: a key to reducing food waste

PolyNatural created a solution that plays an essential role in reducing fruit waste and thus reducing the sector’s environmental impact.

It is Shel-Life, a 100% natural coating that extends the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by lowering dehydration levels and controlling the growth of microorganisms. 

With Shel-Life, it is possible to maintain product quality for longer without using synthetic ingredients, increasing the profitability of investments and consolidating companies among consumers who are increasingly demanding the carbon footprint of the food they eat.

Shel-Life’s potential is such that in 2020 alone, a total of 273.6 tons will not be wasted thanks to this natural coating, a key solution to reduce fruit waste and thus make the food sector an increasingly sustainable industry.

The main macro trends shaping the direction of the food industry

Especially during the last year, the food industry has seen the emergence of various trends to create more sustainable processes and products. One of these trends is the use of sustainable agriculture waste to be reused and reduce the sector’s environmental impact.

The pandemic has transformed people’s way of life, modifying their behavior and setting new trends in the food-tech industry to create healthier products and increase process sustainability.

Is it possible for the agrifood industry to run its processes sustainably?

In this regard, this sector has also adopted the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, avoid soil degradation, and make a more sustainable practice from agriculture, by taking advantage of each waste (sustainable agriculture waste) through biotechnology and the use of cutting-edge solutions.

In the same way, it should focus on new product design, innovation, and development, which will allow producers to remain profitable in today’s market, adapting to new consumer requirements.

Sustainability poses a significant challenge for the food industry. Captains of industry are increasingly inclined to create value for people, clean production within an environment where public transparency prevails, as well as ethical, social, and environmental responsibility, which are factors sought by modern companies.

Five macro trends in the Food Industry 

The Future of Food study -conducted by Future Brand- examines five macro trends in the food industry, essential for the sector over the next 10 years:

1. Reinvented revolution

As a result of the social distancing measures, there has been a return to various activities that had been phased out, such as cooking or making homemade bread. Therefore, consumers have preferred local retailers. 

Along the same lines, they have become more aware of their needs and rights, demanding transparency regarding the information on the products they consume.

2. The power of food

Consumers can increasingly understand how nutrient-dense foods lead to a long and healthy life. Therefore, the food industry must offer a diet that promotes longevity and improves people’s physical and mental state. 

Considering the needs of an increasingly demanding public and committed to sustainability, plant-based foods are increasingly gaining significance due to their ability to offer healthier and more environmentally friendly variables.

3. Flavor migration

Globalization has created a new “local” concept: one in which the traditions of a society with foreign elements converge, giving rise to a new reality, more varied and diverse.

In this sense, small businesses linked to flavors of certain countries or cultures have the advantage over large merchants, creating the social bond that is so significant for the consumer. Ultimately, they can offer a better customer experience.

4. The new natural 

In the coming years, consumer choice will be determined by information. The agrifood industry will focus on products that meet individual health needs without neglecting taste.

Plant-based fresh products will acquire greater significance, and food innovation leads to the creation of eco-friendly alternatives. The food sector will focus on the finished product and the entire production chain, enhancing traceability, security, and supervision of production processes.

5. The ethical dilemma: convenience or sustainability?

Even though consumers acknowledge that sustainability is one of the main factors considered when shopping, convenience (simplicity and speed of purchase, for example) also plays a role, some companies have managed to balance both aspects.

This translates into, for example, quick-consumption healthy products, which are ideal for people who do not have much time to cook.

In terms of sustainability, the development of crops in extreme conditions has been achieved thanks to biotechnology and genetic improvement, with the ability to obtain food in areas where there are water shortages, high salinity, and extreme temperatures. 

Due to less availability of agricultural areas, new technologies in agriculture are key to optimizing processes. This translates into, for example, solutions such as vertical hydroponics, essential to improve productivity, optimizing costs, and use of resources.

On the other hand, the design of new vegetarian products or products derived from vegetable proteins has allowed brands such as Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat to satisfy an increasingly demanding consumer group.

For brands, sustainability is increasingly consolidated as part of their business policies, granting greater significance to the supply chain, fair trade, lower environmental impact, composting or reducing sustainable agriculture waste.

In the next decade, the food-tech industry will adopt innovative approaches throughout the supply chain to achieve a balance between product quality and taste and the search for convenience, both for consumers and producers.

Natural coatings: enhancing exportation fruits

According to the Chilean Office of Agricultural Studies and Policies (ODEPA), during the period from January to April 2021, fruits exportation reached a total of 1.45 million tons and 3,504 million FOB USD with a 1% increase in exported volume and 4% in value over the same period of the previous year.

For the fruit industry to expand its horizons and respond to the demand of increasingly aware consumers, natural coatings are essential to maintain the quality of fruits and vegetables for a longer time, increasing the profitability of exports and the availability of products.

While synthetic wax-based coatings are made up of petroleum-derived components, natural coatings are made up of biopolymers and organic compounds capable of extending the shelf life of fruits and vegetables without the addition of harmful elements.

Shel-Life is an example of the above. It is a organic emulsion made with natural extracts, lipids, and plant-based polymers, which form a natural coating on the fruit. 

The primary function of this natural coating – innocuous and edible – is to reduce the dehydration and growth of microorganisms and improve the appearance of fruits and vegetables, increasing their useful life and, with it, the profitability of the product.

Thanks to new technologies in agriculture such as Shel-Life, elaborated by Polynatural, it is possible to satisfy recent food trends, which – as we have seen – are oriented towards natural products, sustainability, and greater environmental responsibility.

International year of fruits and vegetables: zero food waste/fruit waste

On December 15, 2020, QU Dongyu – FAO Director-General – launched the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV-2021).

An instance focused on highlighting the importance of consuming these foods and optimizing their production until reaching zero food and fruit waste and using the resources required for cultivation and processing.

Undoubtedly an unprecedented opportunity to draw attention to the importance of these types of foods in our nutrition and the need to promote their production and consumption within a sustainability framework and zero food and fruit waste practices. Its main features are worth noting.

Raise awareness on the benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables for nutrition and health

The intake of fruits and vegetables provides significant health and nutrition benefits, such as strengthening the immune system, stimulating children’s growth and development, promoting longevity, and improving mental and cardiovascular health.

They also help reduce the risk of cancer, prevent all forms of malnutrition, and contribute to the promotion of diversified and balanced diets and lifestyles.

Despite these benefits, most people do not consume enough fruits and vegetables, which is at least 400 grams per day.

The call to the members of the United Nations (UN) and various international and regional entities -such as the civil society, the private sector, and academia-, is to drive actions that promote their production and consumption, such as education campaigns in this regard and subsidies to consumers.

This also implies increasing the fruits and vegetables availability by promoting good agricultural practices and solving distribution problems, usually linked to the lack of infrastructure in rural areas and the responsible use of resources.

Promote production framed under sustainable development

According to the IYFV documentglobal fruit and vegetable production rose by almost half between 2000 and 2018. However, it is still a relatively low figure to meet the food and nutritional needs of the world population, as it only ensures 390 grams per person, although here these are considered as inedible portions (heart and skin), in addition to losses and waste.

Hand in hand with the promotion of consumption, it is necessary to boost agricultural production within a framework of more efficient and sustainable practices to use less water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Some of the possibilities are:

  • Improvement of seeds and plant material.
  • Adequate watering.
  • Comprehensive pest management.
  • Crop rotations and intercropping.
  • Production integrated with livestock.
  • Environmentally friendly soil amendments.
  • Tillage reduction.
  • Organic agriculture.

Additionally, for production to be sustainable, it is prudent to deploy sophisticated technologies that help combat risks throughout the crop cycle, improving productivity, yield, and product quality.

For this purpose, it is prudent to support or finance small farmers since these are tools that usually require significant investments and are available only to large-scale commercial producers, mostly dedicated to the fruit export market (export fruit) or industrial processing.

Optimize markets and value chains

Fruits and vegetables can result in high yields per hectare. If appropriately labored, optimizing markets and value chains could help reduce poverty and nutrition problems significantly.

Because it is perishable, most of the fruit and vegetable production is marketed for the local national market. However, it is vitally important to strengthen exports (export fruit) as the driving force behind the expansion of the fruits and vegetables sector while promoting local production and markets.

For this purpose, it is necessary to deploy solutions that allow for an increase of the useful life of fruits and vegetables, enhancing possibilities for producers and increasing crop profitability.

The reduction of loss and waste (zero food waste/fruit waste)

To eliminate the causes of loss and waste in the production chain of fruits and vegetables, it is necessary to consider factors such as:

  • Lack of technology and infrastructure.
  • Poor training of operators handling fruits and vegetables.
  • Improper storage and transportation.
  • Excessive handling during the retail sale.
  • Rudimentary approaches.
  • Limited technical capacity.
  • Inadequate infrastructure (access roads, drinking water, electricity, etc.).
  • “Ugly fruits” rejection in the sales stage, even if perfectly healthy and suitable for consumption.

By eliminating or reducing these elements, avoiding waste and poor use of resources, the overall production is optimized, thus increasing the profitability of investments. In addition, all the above results in an increase in the amount of food, something key to combat hunger globally.

Proper management is required throughout the entire crop cycle and supply chain to reduce losses and waste, where innovative technologies such as natural coatings play a decisive role.

Natural coatings such as Shel-Life, make fruit and vegetables have a longer shelf life. It is a coverage made from natural extracts and plant polymers (free of petroleum derivatives) that prevents dehydration and the growth of microorganisms.

Shel-Life also helps ensure food safety and quality. In this sense, it is necessary to apply business quality standards and technical regulations to ensure the product’s optimum quality and avoid waste related to damage or bad practices that prevent their sale.

The International Year of Fruits and Vegetables recalls the need to adopt nationwide measures to increase the production and consumption of fruits and vegetables and make them more affordable for consumers while creating economic and social benefits and promoting sustainable development.

Agrifood industry: a haven for investments

Agriculture is an activity that has accompanied human beings since their early years. However, today it has acquired a leading role for humanity given the sustained increase in the global population. Thus, the agrifood industry is one of the most important productive sectors today, especially for the future.

According to the forecasts, the world population will grow to 9.7 billion people by 2050; this will bring a series of challenges over the next few years, such as increasing agricultural production without harming the planet. 

In this sense, sustainability in the food industry has become one of the great priorities of the sector, especially when understanding the impact of climate change on humanity, which is why it is taking measures to face the issue through innovation

Innovative solutions within the agriculture sector have enabled operations to have a lower impact on the environment and make agricultural processes more efficient, thus reducing the risks of cultivation. Hence, FoodTech (food technology) and AgTech (agricultural technology) related to Chilean startups are gaining more relevance.

Why invest in the agrifood industry in Latin America?

Agricultural land is an asset that consistently weathered the ups and downs of the economy, even in the context of a pandemic. The above is due to a straightforward reason: we all need food. At the same time, challenges faced by the sector and the need to increase productivity have motivated innovation startups to transform the agricultural and food system.
 

But, why specifically invest in the agricultural sector in Latin America? It should suffice to say that agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean accounts for between 5% and 18% of the GDP in 20 countries in the region. However, achievements in the sector had been obtained at the expense of high environmental and health costs.

Due to the above, actions to unleash the vast potential of the region’s agricultural and food systems without damaging the environment have been proposed. Among these measures is the modernization of the agri-logistics infrastructure, deploying more efficient farming systems, optimizing the use of water, and relying on innovative solutions to increase the profitability of investments by extending the useful life of food items.

These significant changes, already underway, make Latin America a special area for investment in agricultural lands, allowing for the exportation of fruit to countries in other regions, such as Europe or North America.

Chile: an important focus for agricultural production

We have talked a lot about how important agriculture is to Latin America, and vice versa, but what about Chile? The country has unique characteristics to promote agriculture, making it a very profitable business. In fact, there are even agricultural properties that have increased capital gains by over 100% in recent years.

Here, the most significant thing is Chile’s geographical location: having the Andes mountain range to the east, the sea to the west, the desert to the north, and Antarctica to the south, there is a phytosanitary barrier that keeps us away from pests and eases the production of high-quality fruits.

At the same time, geography offers diverse climates, which allow us to grow products with high international demand. In this sense, Chile is privileged concerning other countries because of the climate, high quality of the soils, and water availability. 

On the other hand, the United States and Europe have their seasons opposite ours, so Chilean agriculture is most productive when they are not producing; this ensures a high demand for products and eases fruit exportation.

In short, agriculture is a constantly growing sector committed to sustainability and attracting more and more foreign investors. Especially in Chile, one of the South American countries with the most remarkable economic development in recent years; politically speaking, it has been historically stable, even with the pandemic and social movements, having investment favoring conditions, in addition to geographical advantages.

Foodtech industry: innovative solutions for the 21st-century market

Innovation and technological solutions improve agriculture to increase productivity and efficiency while reducing its impact on the environment, turning it into a more sustainable industry.

The main innovative solutions in the sector focus on:

  • Agricultural biotechnology: Thanks to genome editing, it is now possible to improve crop yields, increase resistance to pests, animals, and adverse weather conditions, and increase the nutritional content of foods.
  • Vertical agriculture: It is a process of growing food in vertically stacked layers, allowing working in environments with a lack of arable land and providing high-quality food without using other lands.
  • Precision agriculture: covers everything that makes agriculture more accurate and controlled. It usually involves GPS, control systems, sensors, robotics, drones, autonomous vehicles, automated hardware, and software.
  • Alternative proteins: these are technologies that make it possible to considerably reduce the inputs used to increase efficiency in the food chain.
  • Midstream technologies: refers to food safety and traceability technologies, logistics and transportation, and processing technologies.

Agricultural and food technologies in Chile and Latin America

In recent years in Latin America, AgTech and FoodTech records have been broken. In September 2020 alone, 400 million dollars were invested in three Latin American startups in agriculture and food technology, double what was totaled in 2019 (200 million dollars).

Among the most extraordinary success stories in Chilean startups, it is worth noting the following companies:

PolyNatural 
A biotech company focused on producing a certified organic and 100% environmentally friendly coating that delays spoilage and reduces food waste. In 2020, PolyNatural prevented the waste of 273.6 tons of fruit. 

Its most significant investment to date was USD 800,000 in February 2020.

NotCo 

A food technology company producing plant-based meat and dairy substitutes. To date, the company has received more than USD 130,000,000 in funding.

Instacrops

This company is focused on precision agriculture, which detects issues with water, irrigation, fertilizers, pests, and diseases. All the above thanks to a combination of IoT sensors, Big Data, and software. Its most important investment was USD 100,000 in February 2020.

These are some of the leading agrifood startups that are revolutionizing the food market in Chile and the world, increasing the benefits offered by Latin America as an investment center.

Considering that the future of food poses certain challenges, these innovative solutions from the Foodtech Industry respond to the increase in population and the growing demand for food, addressing resource scarcity and caring for the environment.

The boom of the citrus fruits during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the food systems in a myriad of ways, from problems in the production side due to sickness and movement restrictions to quarantines affecting how and where people can buy food to what consumers end up eating.

Some foods, mainly fresh fruits and especially citrus, have had a remarkable year. The demand for fresh citrus fruits and juices has been high, mainly due to the choices made by health-conscious consumers.

Citrus fruits in numbers

The international trade of citrus fruits has been growing since the 1980s, led by advances in packaging and transport, which have helped reduce costs and improve quality. Brazil (São Paulo) and the US (Florida) are the largest oranges globally. Other important citrus producers are Spain (particularly clementines), China, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, Belize, Chile, and Costa Rica.

Orange consumption is expected to grow up to 40% during the pandemic, and prices increased to 38% in the US during 2020 compared with 2019. Orange juice is one of the leading products consumers have sought during the pandemic; sales of the product rose to 22% compared with the previous year. According to a recent University of Florida research, males younger than 45 years old, affluent, and with high education levels who live in urban areas are the consumers most likely to increase their orange juice purchases in response to COVID-19.

During the pandemic period, the purchases of fresh produce and fruits have risen in the US, UK, China, and Brazil, according to research by the Produce Marketing Association. Chinese consumers are reported to buy 66% more fresh fruits than in the pre-pandemic period. The US’s proportion is 48% more, 63% more in Brazil, and 47% increased purchases of fresh fruits in the UK.

In Spain, the demand for fresh produce and fruits rose to 40% because they were considered an essential ingredient due to weight and health concerns. Citric prices were up to 179% higher than in 2019, while for the rest of the fruits, it was 28%. Citric fruits were a boom both in online and physical sales; physical sales rose by 73% for oranges, 58% for mandarins, and 88% for lemons. In comparison, online sales grew by 250% for oranges, 183% for mandarins, and 222% for lemons.

In the European Union, citrus fruit prices rose by 19% on average in 2020, representing a rise of €0.59 / Kg on average for the region. Citrus fruits in Italy grew by 24%, Portugal at 26%, and Greece (27%). Citrus fruits consumed in the EU originate mainly in Spain, South Africa, and Egypt.
In the US, grapefruit prices were significantly higher in 2020 compared with 2019, and the average conventional grapefruit was around US$1.26 per kilo (40% higher); grapefruit bought in the US originates mainly in Mexico, California, and Texas. Lemon prices were similar to 2019 despite the substantial demand rise; the cost of conventional lemons was US$1.39 per kilo (4% higher), the supply of lemons originates mainly in California, Mexico, and Chile. Orange prices grew substantially; the price was US$1.43 per kilo (49% higher), oranges originate mainly from California, Chile, and South Africa.

For citrus fruits in general and orange juice, the pandemic has brought a tremendous opportunity with more people buying products than before. The citrus industry now has the chance to remind consumers of the benefits of eating citrus, which has been proven to be a critical factor in consumer’s choices.
However, even if sales are higher, consumer behavior could be affected by job losses and the associated price sensitivity to the products they buy; the citrus industry has to be alert to new developments.

Citrus fruits and health

According to the experts, there are no miracle fruits that can cure or prevent COVID-19, so preventive measures are the way to go. Nonetheless, citrus fruits can help to boost your immune system. For example, lemons are a good source of vitamin C, which helps immune cells work correctly.

Vitamin C is known to have an important role in the function of the immune system. However, it is not the only nutrient required for its well-functioning; a balanced diet that includes vitamins A, C, D, E, B2, B6, and B12, folic acid, iron, selenium, and zinc is key to support our body’s immune function. It is also essential to be aware that nutritional requirements and absorption rates change with age.

The World Health Organization and other national agencies emphasize no specific food or supplement that can prevent contagion. Nonetheless, they encourage people to consume a healthy and balanced diet to support their immune system. It is also important to be aware that you might be receiving less vitamin D from the sun due to quarantines and movement restrictions, so you might need to take a daily supplement.

Projections for 2021

According to a recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture, global production of soft citruses and oranges is expected to rise in 2021, while lemons are expected to decline slightly.

  • Orange production is forecasted to increase by 7% to 49,4 million metric tons due to favorable weather in Brazil and Mexico that can lead to larger crops; this would also offset declines in production in Turkey and the US. Orange production in Egypt and the EU Is also expected to increase in the 2020-2021 season.
  • The global production of mandarins and tangerines is expected to rise slightly up to 33,1 million metric tons with larger productions in the EU, Mexico, China, Turkey, and the US.
  • Limes and lemons are the only citruses expected to decline. Volumes are set to fall slightly to 8,3 million metric tons as lower productions are expected in Argentina and the US.
  • Grapefruit production is expected to rise slightly to 6,9 million metric tons due to favorable weather in Mexico and China; the US, South Africa, and EU are also expected to rise their productions.

How to protect citrus fruits for global shipping

Consumers’ perception has also changed in the pandemic period. A significant proportion of report was concerned with the safety and cleanliness of fresh produce, adding that they would probably buy them if they came in closed bags and containers.

Shipping fruits from one continent to another is no trivial matter. Many aspects have to be considered, from how to protect fruits from damage during transportation to safe and open borders and a streamlined global logistics chain.

COVID-19 has made global shipping more complicated because of imposed quarantines and occasional port closings. Planes have reduced their trips and their availability to ship fresh produce. Sickness and preventive measures have also difficulted the harvesting process.

Among the actions that can be taken to protect fruit, shipments ensure that they are treated with a protective coating. Up to 40% of produce losses happen at the retail and consumer level, so by applying a protective barrier that lengthens the fruit’s shelf-life, you can also benefit from a higher profit margin.

PolyNatural is a friendly and natural organic coating made from unique vegetable extracts and vegetable polymers. It can reduce rot incidence by 3% and dehydration by 7%. Shel-life® is PolyNatural’s star product, a natural coating organically certified in the EU, US, and internationally.

Shel-Life shows the same performance as synthetic waxes in oranges, with a 0% rotten incidence and 10% dehydration. In lemons, Shel-life® offers 75% less dehydration and 50% less rotten incidence when compared to synthetic waxes.

The pandemic period has been challenging for everyone, but there is a light for citrus producers and traders; the demand is higher and is expected to maintain this trend at least during 2021. Eating a healthy and balanced diet won’t make us immune to the disease, but it will certainly bolster our immune system and our quality of life.

Water footprint in the agrifood sector

Water is a scarce resource, and the agrifood industry is one of its more significant users. Food demand is expected to rise in the coming decades. Hence, taking measures to use water efficiently is a crucial requirement to secure our future food supply. Furthermore, climate change is expected to stress food production and water systems in even greater ways, so analysing sustainable indicators, such as the water footprint, is fundamental to develop a more resilient agrifood industry.

The term water footprint indicates the amount of freshwater used in any given activity or process. The Water Footprint Network developed the concept and according to them,

“The water footprint is a measure of humanity’s appropriation of fresh water in volumes of water consumed and/or polluted.”

The water footprint can be measured for a single product or a single process. For example, it can be measured for a single shirt or, or complex processes such as growing wheat or gas to heat residences, for an entire company, or a country.

Furthermore, this measurement can even be done for a specific aquifer or river basin or globally. The water footprint analysis considers both direct and indirect water used for a product, process, sector, or company; this includes water consumed and polluted during the full production cycle, from the suppliers to the end-user.

The invisible but measurable use of water

Additionally, virtual water is water that is hidden in the products, services, or processes. Virtual water is also called embedded water or indirect water; this type of water use is usually unseen by the end-user, but it is still part of our everyday water consumption. For example, water is used to prepare risotto or a loaf of bread (direct use); however, water is used in many steps along the value chain before it reaches our cupboard, including growing the grain, milling it, water used to produce the fuel needed for processing and transportation, all of these constitute virtual water uses.

The three components of the water footprint

Water footprints are composed of three different types:

  1. Green water footprint comes from precipitation; it is stored at the soil’s root zone and is evaporated, transpired, or incorporated by plants. This type is particularly relevant in horticultural and agricultural products.
  2. Blue water footprint has been sourced either from surface or groundwater resources. Domestic water use, industry and irrigated agriculture have a blue water footprint.
  3. Grey water footprint is the amount of fresh water needed to assimilate pollutants, so after being treated, it can meet quality standards. In the case of agriculture, this relates directly to runoff.

Water footprint in the agrifood sector

Agriculture is one of the economic sectors that use more water. On average, agriculture accounts for over 70% of all freshwater withdrawals globally. From the water used in agri-food, 78% corresponds to green water footprint, 12% blue, and 10% grey. In the US, around 80% of the country’s water use is dedicated to agriculture. In some western states, agricultural water use can even be higher than 90%.

When analyzing agricultural products, in general, animal products have a larger water footprint than crop products. On average, the water footprint per calorie of beef is 20 times larger than for starchy roots or cereals.

Among primary crops, the global average water footprint goes up from sugar crops (roughly 200 m3/ton), to vegetables (300 m3/ton), roots and tubers (400 m3/ton), fruits (1000 m3/ton), cereals (1600 m3/ton), oil crops (2400 m3/ton) to pulses (4000 m3/ton)(UNESCO-IHE, Institute for Water Education).

However, it is important to notice that this is the world average; the water footprint changes between countries and regions and each specific product. Coffee, tea, cacao, tobacco, spices, and nuts have a relatively large water footprint.

Additional data, from the UNESCO-IHE, Institute for Water Education, show that for animal products, the global average water footprint goes up from chicken egg (3300 m3/ton), cow milk (1000 m3/ton), chicken (4300 m3/ton), goat (5500 m3/ton), pig (6000 m3/ton), sheep (10400 m3/ton), to beef cattle (15400 m3/ton). The global animal production water footprint is divided into 87% green water footprint, 6% blue, and 7% grey.

When comparing water requirements for different types of proteins, milk, eggs, and chicken are about 1.5 times higher than those for pulses. When we compare with beef, a gram of meat protein has a six times larger water footprint than pulses.

Avocado’s water footprint

Avocado consumption is expanding worldwide, accompanied by greater demand, production is also rising. The production of avocado typically occurs in tropical, subtropical, and Mediterranean climates, where water consumption tends to be high, droughts frequent,  and commercial-scale plantations usually require supplementary irrigation. Avocado’s green water footprint ranges from 31 m3/ton in Saint Lucia in the Caribbean to 4,494 m3/ton in Beja, Portugal. In contrast, its blue water footprint ranges from 0 m3/ton in Grenada and some Guatemala regions to 2,295 m3/ton in the north of Chile. Nonetheless, among the top avocado-producing countries, Mexico has the largest water footprint.

Banana’s water footprint

Banana production requires a large and frequent water supply to ensure good productivity and quality. As a worldwide average, bananas have a green water footprint of 600 m3/ton, while it’s blue water footprint is 97 m3/ton, and its grey water footprint is 33 m3/ton. Studies have calculated that about 99% of the water footprints correspond to the agricultural production phase, so it is key to have well-working irrigation systems. In countries such as Costa Rica, where no irrigation is needed, all the water footprint is green; in other cases, such as Peru, where there is a high dependence on irrigation -and the systems are inefficient-, 94% of the water footprint is classified as blue.

What can you do to reduce your food water footprint?

You can take several steps to reduce the water footprint embedded in your food choices; among them are eating less meat, eating more unprocessed products, reducing your food waste, and eating locally.

Water scarcity, a complex problem beyond shortages

 

Water scarcity can be related to availability due to physical shortage, or lack of adequate infrastructure, or access due to institutions’ failure to ensure a regular supply. Water scarcity already affects the inhabitants of every continent. UN data reveals that over 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and 3.2 billion people live in agricultural areas with high water shortages. The Middle East and North Africa is the most water-stressed region on the world. But even in countries with low overall water stress, there are regions affected by this situation.

Ways to reduce water stress

  • One of the main ways to reduce water stress is to increase agricultural efficiency. This can be done by using seeds that require less water, improving irrigation systems, by using high-precision watering techniques rather than flooding the fields.
  • Investing in grey and green infrastructure, pipes and treatment plants, and healthy wetlands and watersheds can work together to increase water quantity and quality.
  • Wastewater is not waste. By safely treating and reusing wastewater, we are actively creating ‘new’ water.
  • Reducing food loss and waste, all the food produced requires significant quantities of water to be grown, processed, and transported. Almost a third of all the food produced is wasted; every kilogram that we can divert from the garbage constitutes litres of water saved. Among the methods to reduce food loss is to treat them with protective materials, such as coatings, to make them last longer. PolyNatural offers Shel-Life, a natural coating that reduces rot incidence and dehydration.

Climate change and a growing population will make producing enough food for everyone a challenge in the near and far future. Growing our food efficiently and sustainably is critical to ensure that enough fresh water will be available for everybody.  Among the key strategies that your company can take to reduce their water footprint is to ensure that their products last for a longer time, helping in that way to reduce food waste and increasing their sustainability indicator.

Export Fruit, how additives and coatings are regulated

After being harvested, all vegetables go through a process of maturity and subsequent aging. In fruits, the process is most evident by their appearance, which must stay fresh to attract consumers’ attention.

Some companies have been able to delay this deterioration by applying edible coatings to export fruit. Now, how is the application of these treatments regulated? Here are the main aspects of the subject.

Additives and coatings in export fruit, who are the regulators?

In each country, public health entities are in charge of establishing health standards to process incoming and outgoing food, and fruit exporters must know and adapt to such regulations. However, macro-entities have established general guidelines.In this sense, there are essential international organizations dedicated to the matter, such as the Joint FAO / WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), which establishes export requirements that must meet in use additives.

And to ensure compliance with regulations at the local level, each country must issue Phytosanitary Certificates, which provide safety around foreign trade operations. Therefore, the regulation of additives or natural coatings in fruits, the standards for each country needs to be considered. In Chile’s case, the Ministry of Health (Minsal) is responsible for regulating this issue, establishing the Health Regulations’ necessary criteria.

Regulations in European countries

In Europe, there are bodies such as the EU Scientific Committee for Food ( SCF ). Its goal is to provide scientific support on the issue of food safety. And more recently, the  EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) was created as a scientific advisory agency.These entities establish the export requirements and necessary regulations that certify food quality and its additives (natural coatings), such as fruits or vegetables. And it must note that the European regulation on additives is quite extensive and rigorous.

In Spain, for example, Royal Decree 142/2002  detailed the positive list of additives and their conditions of use and preparation of food products. As indicated in article 8, additives applied to third-world countries must fully comply with these regulations under the Royal Decree. The above is a clear example of why fruit exporters must learn about the regulations and protect their products with elements approved by local and regional entities.

E Number

For consumers to learn about what they are eating, there is the “E” number in the European Union: numerical codes starting from 100, which identify the elements added to products such as fruits or vegetables. For example, colorings 100, preservatives 200, flavor intensity 300, etc. Thus, when a consumer reads this label, they can identify the food elements to be consumed. Also, it certifies that these do not pose any hazard to health.

Approved additives

Approved additives are defined by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a body linked to FAO and WHO. It uses JECFA-conducted safety analysis and evaluations to set the maximum additive levels used in food or beverages, including the fruit industry. The Codex rules serve as a guideline to establish other national standards and set the criteria for fair international trade by fruit exporters. Therefore, to make legitimate use of any additive or natural coating, the Codex Alimentarius should be consulted. 

In this fashion, any consumer and company belonging to the fruit industry sector worldwide will have peace of mind and tangible proof that the food they consume and provide is of optimum quality.

Criteria for the authorization of an additive in positive lists

Must meet three criteria for the use of edible additives: 

  1. The substance must be harmless. It must not represent a hazard to human health.
  2. It should not be misleading to the consumer. Any product containing a colorant or additive must provide clear information on the elements present.
  3. The additive should be technically necessary.  The company will only use it if it fulfills a specific function.

Are there restrictions on the use of additives?

Of course, as long as they comply with the points described above, additives can be used considering the main objective is to protect fruits and vegetables for export, achieved through coatings that protect them from extending their shelf life. Now, in the case of Chile, the use of additives is restricted when their application:

  • Significantly decreases the nutritional value of the food item.
  • Disguises faulty quality or attempts to conceal unauthorized processing or handling techniques.
  • Misleads the consumer regarding nature or quantity.

However, it is necessary to bear in mind that, in most countries, laws are amended according to new trends or advances in their fields of action. For this reason, it is convenient that both fruit importers and exporters keep up to date on the matter and use additives -such as coatings- that are authorized by local authorities.

Laws in favor of the environment and consumers

In recent years, European laws have strictly targeted the consumption of chemical-free and properly labeled agricultural products. The above, for total transparency and peace of mind for the consumer.  On the other hand, the European Union sets strict organic farming policies to protect both people’s health and the environment.

Due to all of the above, it is not surprising that the European ecological requirement in the process chain becomes a precondition before formalizing commitments with fruit importers or exporters.

Shel-Life: the natural and easy-to-implement coating

Shel-Life is a 100% natural coating for fresh fruit made from plant-based ingredients that allows the fruit to remain with good quality longer, increasing sales ability in the shelf, and reducing the Fruit Waste linked to the products’ short lifecycle.

Shel-Life provides fruit exporters the possibility to offer products that stay healthy and attractive for longer. The above, in addition to the ecological impact, entailed.

Vicente Traviesa, PolyNatural’s sales manager -the brand behind this innovative product-,indicates that after 35 thousand tons of fruits coated with Shel-Life, companies have experienced savings of 157,041 m3 of water and reduced food waste (products wasted) by 273.6 tons.

Another exciting aspect of this natural solution relates to the compatibility of the product applied to the conventional post-harvest system since it is unnecessary to invest in significant equipment to deploy Shel-Life in any production line.

Shel-Life adapts to new demands

Countries like England, Germany, Norway, and others require suppliers not to add synthetic products to fruits. Due to the above, exports to those countries must be without any chemical coating. And the request arises from the demand of consumers at a global level.

For this reason, by coating and protecting fruits with Shel-Life, exporters will have no problem offering products that are free of synthetic elements, opening doors not only to these markets but also to others that adapt to new consumer trends and chemical-free foods.

Dilution is not required and can be applied by spraying in any production line.

Shel-Life Benefits

This 100% natural coating for fresh fruit offers essential benefits for exporters:

  • Its formulation is variable and can be adapted to various types of fruits.
  • Extends the life cycle of the fruit where it is applied.
  • Maintains its proper hydration and coloration.
  • Reduces the decay/rot factor of the fruit.

These benefits result in conserving the environment, avoiding the waste of fruits, saving water, and reducing the carbon footprint. 

Shel-Life is the ideal coating for fruit exporters to comply with international regulations and promote their products in various markets, such as Europe, whose focus is on chemical-free food.

With Shel-Life, from PolyNatural, it is possible to extend the life of fruits and increase export profitability. In addition to the above, this company only works with plant origin ingredients considered food-grade additives, entirely safe for human consumption, matching the demands of increasingly informed consumers.

Upcycled food, the new trend to reduce food waste

Upcycling is a mix of the concepts ‘upgrade’ and ‘recycling’; in general, it refers to creating products with added value made with recycled materials. It is easy to imagine the restyling of a favorite piece of clothing or adapting second-hand furniture, so it will fit your studio. But, what about food? Can you do that? Upcycling becomes an effective way to cut food losses, reutilize materials and overall reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  In a world faced by many challenges, such as climate change and hunger, sustainable solutions are the way forward.

What are upcycled foods?

One of the is upcycling. According to the upcycled food association, it can be defined as:

 use ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment.”

Upcycling food is a means to reduce food waste and transform it into nutritious and high-quality products, using nutrients that would otherwise be lost in the food supply chain. It also means to take advantage of every part of the food, from peels to seeds and leaves, and developing them into a new product.

The upcycling of food also has a lot of environmental and nutrition benefits. Let’s consider that of the global food produced is wasted. While around one-ninth of the total population suffers from hunger, it is clear that we need to develop new and innovative ways to divert food from being wasted.

On average, every American wastes . The United Nations has estimated that more than  of food are wasted before reaching the stores. Furthermore, food waste accounts for 19% of all waste deposited in landfills. Their decay directly contributes to greenhouse gas production, and especially methane, which has a significant effect on climate change.  , around 20% of the total food produced is lost or wasted.

The human population is projected to increase in the coming decades, and feeding them following our current consumption patterns won’t be easy. The  recommends cutting food losses and waste in half and shifting diets towards a more environmentally friendly structure in order to feed everyone sustainably.

The evolving values of consumers

Consumers are one of the leading actors in this new upcycling trend. By becoming more aware of the impacts of their purchasing choices, they have a decisive vote in new industry developments. This segment of consumers is growing, and companies are accommodating their practices to satisfy their ethical concerns.

In the US,  81% of  that appearance is at least somewhat important to them when shopping for fresh produce. At the same time, 62% say that they would be at least somewhat comfortable eating ugly produce. Ugly produce accounts for nearly 40% of all the food produced in the US. That means that if retailers cannot sell the imperfect items, they would probably end up wasted.

The term upcycled has been found to be viewed by customers as ‘s’ and understood to be different from conventional products. Many consumers might see the benefits of upcycled foods similar to organic certification in terms of sustainability.

The upcycled food industry

In 2011, 11 were specializing in upcycling food; in 2017, that number was 64, and today the industry is worth nearly $50 billion. Once a niche industry, upcycled food is almost a mainstream trend.

The upcycled food industry  more than US$46.7 billion in 2019, and it is expected to grow at a rate of 5% every year for the next ten years. The most lucrative segment is beverage processing. The most lucrative region is Europe, which is also the fastest-growing market.

In the coming years, North America and Europe will remain important markets for the different products from food waste, and East Asia has high growth potential. Food waste can be used to make several products; the main categories are animal feed, dietary supplements, cosmetics, beverage processing, and food processing.

The two industries that hold a significant market potential are . Rejected fruits that are too cosmetically damaged to be sold directly to consumers are a prime ingredient to make juice. The end product is still nutritionally valuable and maintains the fruit’s properties. Bakeries are starting to utilize gluten-free ingredients from alternative sources that are also cost-effective—a win-win for industry and the environment.

Many foods and beverage companies have corporate targets to reduce their waste. For example,  has an initiative that uses the leftover liquid from canned chickpeas to produce vegan mayonnaise. used to make protein bars sourced from leftover chicken breast, vegetable purée, and juice pulp; however, they recently announced they will no longer continue with this endeavor.

Startups in the upcycled food industry

Not so long ago, imperfect or “ugly fruits” and vegetables were simply discarded; today, they can be used as an ingredient to produce something else. Produce leaves, pulps, and seeds are also used by the FoodTech industry to transform them into value-added, nutrient-rich new products.

Below you can find four exciting FoodTech startups that have revolutionized the food upcycled trend.

1. Regrained

When making beer, the grain used in the brewing process leaves behind residues that are protein and fiber-rich, and that also have a lot of micronutrients;  uses this to make a flour they call SuperGrain+, which is incorporated into snack puffs. The company is also selling the flour to other manufacturers.
Regrained was founded in 2013 and has raised US$2.5 million in funding.

2. Outcast

 has developed a technology that transforms surplus vegetables and fruits into high-value whole-plant powders. Besides reducing food waste and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, they are able to recapture nutrients. Outcast works with food brokers, farms, grocers, and food manufacturers to convert food waste into cosmetics, pet food, and natural health products.
Outcast was funded in 2017 and has raised US$11.9 million in funding.

3. WTRMLN WTR

 uses watermelons that would otherwise have been discarded because of aesthetic reasons. Instead, they repurpose them to make flavored water. Their products are hand-selected, hand-skinned, and cold-pressed using the rind and flesh. Afterward, it is treated with a short and innovative nutrient preserving process and refrigerated until consumed in BPA-free plastic bottles.
WTRMLN WTR was funded in 2013 and has raised US$3.8 million in funding.

4. Pulp Pantry

 takes the byproducts of fruit and vegetable industrial processing and transforms them into Pulp Chips. The chips are a wholesome pantry staple that provide nearly a full day’s serving of gut-healthy fiber from upcycled ingredients, including celery, organic kale, and okra. Pulp Chips are grain-free, nutrient-dense, veggie chips.
Pulp Pantry was founded in 2015 and has raised US$150 thousand in funding.

Looking for more inspiration? There are some notable additions, full of creativity and flavors, so foodies and environmentalists can join forces and enjoy the fruits of nature.

– , they make snacks from bananas that would otherwise have been discarded.
– , the company uses traditionally wasted food, such as imperfect peppers and bruised leaves, to make frozen pizza.
– , beer made from surplus bread.

While the Agri-food industry is thriving, promoting innovation in a wide range of products and services, we can recognize the importance of extended shelf-life for fruits and vegetables, achieved thanks to , storage, and supply chain initiatives where the private and public sectors are working together; and, the upcycled food trend, where leftovers and ugly produce found their value in a new market.

The upcycled food movement is growing, and that is very good news for our planet and ourselves. This sustainable trend can help us deal with food waste, environmental impacts and alleviate hunger.

AgTech startups in Chile: 4 success cases

Agriculture is not always associated with high-tech, but this is rapidly changing. Chilean startups are becoming increasingly relevant in agriculture innovation, mixing genetics, engineering, software development, and IoT. These companies are part of the AgTech landscape.

What is FoodTech and AgTech?

FoodTech has been defined in different ways, one of the most comprehensive definitions is:

“Food Tech as the emerging sector exploring how technology can be leveraged to create efficiency and sustainability in designing, producing, choosing, delivering and enjoying food” by ForwardFooding.

On the other hand, the definition of AgTech industry comes from uniting the agriculture and technology industries. It is an emerging economic sector that can dramatically reshape global agriculture by increasing the productivity of the agricultural sector and, at the same time, reducing social and environmental costs associated with current agricultural production practices. It can, therefore, lead us on the path towards a more sustainable agricultural system.

AgTech is also associated with the concept of Agriculture 4.0, which references the digitalization of agriculture. Connectivity is the cornerstone of industrial and agricultural transformation. IoT is an enabling technology that is increasingly part of agriculture’s equipment.

Challenges facing agriculture and technology

A few decades ago, farmers could cope with a growing food demand by expanding the land they used to farm. However, this is no longer feasible. Around 50% of the world’s land is already being used for agriculture, and most of the rest isn’t appropriate to grow food. Climate change is also impacting agriculture in many ways, from changing precipitation patterns to heatwaves and increased pests’ occurrences.

Furthermore, the consumer’s behavior and their demand is rapidly changing; affluence is related with an increased demand for fruits, vegetables and animal products. While connectivity is associated with a growing market for internet-based strategies.

Here is where innovators can play a crucial role in developing the agriculture of the future. Innovations can be short-term solutions by creating waste-reducing irrigation tech. They can be long-term by developing sustainable technologies to use water smartly.

Even though the opportunities to integrate agriculture and digitalization are multiple, there are several obstacles to adopting new technologies. Among them are the mindset and practices in the agricultural sector, the challenge of standardization, and the ability to invest and modernize agricultural equipment and supporting infrastructures.

Tracing the origin of the food in a certifiable way is every day more critical. Here the implementation of technologies such as blockchain could ensure that the point of origin is known. Furthermore, the same process could be modified to include data on the product’s treatment in each stage along the food chain. This would ensure that the labeling at the point of sale is correct and that there are no frauds on the product’s quality.

AgTech investment

The AgTech sector has enormous investment opportunities. The demand for sustainable food, fibers, fodder, and energy is projected to grow. Through most of the 20th century, a major part of agricultural innovation investment was funded with public money. However, during the 1980s, public expenditure in agricultural R&D stagnated.

During the first two decades of this century, private investment in food and agricultural innovation has steadily grown; indeed, between 2005 and 2015, the number of investment funds specializing in food and agriculture assets grew from around 30 to more than 300, with current holdings over US$52 billion. Between 2015 and 2020, global venture funding for AgTech had added more than US$15 billion. In 2020, the investment in FoodTech companies was projected to reach €15 globally.

AgTech investment in Chile

The agriculture sector is one of the main economic sectors in Chile’s economy. Furthermore, the country’s quality of agricultural exports is widely recognized, from bottled wine to fresh and dried fruits. By the early 2010s, the country’s potential for agricultural investment was being highlighted due to its farming capabilities and for being a geographic center.

In the last decade, the Chilean government started to seriously consider public and private investment in the development of agricultural innovation in the country. In collaboration with the World Bank, the government implemented a plan to fund technological agricultural innovations to project the sector into the future.

By 2017 the government had begun to work with farmers, private investors, researchers, and technology firms to develop functional ingredients and specialty additives of natural origin in Chile. This project had a public investment of US$3,600 million.

Partnerships between innovation companies, the state, and venture capitals have found fertile ground in Chile. Among the main factors to invest in the country are:

– the good reputation of its agricultural products

– the country’s institutional and macroeconomic stability that guarantees security for investors

– the support of the Chilean government that continues to invest in AgTech industry via CORFO and other institutions

– the country’s free trade agreements with more than 80% of the world’s GDP

off-season fruit production for the Northern Hemisphere

Four successful Chilean AgTech and FoodTech startups

Many AgTech startups have appeared in Chile during the last years, thanks to the innovative partnerships between public and private capital. Below you can find more information about 4 Chilean startups that have revolutionized the foodtech industry.

NotCo

NotCo is a food technology company that produces plant-based meat and dairy substitutes. It uses artificial intelligence to make plant-based food that tastes, looks, and smells the same as animal-based. The company was founded in 2015, and it has raised more than US$115 million. NotCo has a range of products that include NotMilk, NotBurguer, NotIceCream, and NotMayo. It has partnered with Burger King and Papa Johns in Chile. The company is expected to shortly scale its operations in the U.S. The most important rounds of investment for the company have been September 2020 with US$85 million lead by Future Positive, L Catterton and March 2020 with US$30 million lead by Bezos Expeditions, The Craftory

PolyNatural

PolyNatural is based on disruptive intelligent science that is used for the first time in the fruticulture industry. Based on all-natural ingredients, the company offers unique products that benefit the quality of food. Shel-life® is a natural emulsion manufactured with natural extracts, lipids, and plant polymers to form a covering on the fruit that reduces the growth of microorganisms and dehydration, thus reducing food waste. The company’s product differs from the competition in the components used, most of which consist of synthetic waxes derived from petroleum. PolyNatural’s Shel-life® is organically certified in the European Union and the United States, so it can safely be used to protect organic apples, peaches and oranges, among other produce.  The company was founded in 2015, and it has raised US$800 thousand in funding so far. The most important investment round for the company has been February 2020, with US$800 thousand lead by ChileGlobal Ventures.

Instacrops

Instacrops is an AgTech platform that integrates different technologies and services. It is a virtual assistant that combines IoT modules and software to optimize irrigation based on weather forecasts and can also detect diseases and pests and maximize fertilizers’ utility by giving farmers real-time recommendations and actionable insights. The Chilean startup’s services are based on Big Data and virtual assistance, the use of Plug & Play technologies, continuous research and development, and remote monitoring and control. Instacrops was founded in 2015, and it has raised US$220 thousand in investment. The most important round of investment for the company has been February 2020 with US$100 thousand lead by Thrive Agtech Accelerator.

Agrourbana

Agrourbana is the first vertical agriculture company in Latin America, leading the foodtech industry in the region. It produces the best vegetables using cutting-edge technology as well as social and environmentally responsible processes. Vertical agriculture allows farmers to grow high-tech crops indoors. With much less space, it is possible to grow the same amount of food in only 1% of the land compared with traditional agriculture, while also saving up to 95% of water. Agrourbana’s innovation is particularly relevant when considering that most of the land adequate for agriculture is already being used. The company has raised US$1 million in investment so far. The most important investment round for the company has been February 2020, with US$1 million lead by CLIN.

Chilean AgriTech startups are leading the path towards a more sustainable agricultural system, reducing food waste, increasing productivity and, giving consumers new and healthy food choices.

New trends in sustainable packaging

The packaging is an integral part of the food we eat. Unless you eat something straight from the tree after picking it, the food you eat is involved in one way or another with some form of packaging. The use of packaging allows for products to last longer and is therefore associated with less food waste. However, not all packaging is created equally.

Packaging has positive and negative impacts on the environment. On the one hand, we have packaging-related emissions and waste; and on the other, packaging allows us to move and distribute goods that would otherwise be unavailable.

The different functions of food packaging

Besides transportation and distribution, packaging can also be used as a form of advertising. A visually pleasing package attracts attention, which is vital in an increasingly competitive market.

In developed countries, where packaging is widely used,  can be as low as 3% for processed foods and up to 15% for fresh food, while in less-developed countries, where packaging is minimal, food spoilage can be as high as 50 percent.

Packaging in numbers

Globally, the  was USD$851 billion in 2017, and it reached USD$876 billion in 2018, according to data from Smithers Pira. By 2023 the industry is expected to have a value over USD$1 trillion, and by 2028 an additional USD$$150 billion will be added to the market. Overall, an expansion of 3% per annum is expected to occur up until 2028.

The  is located in Asia, representing more than 42% of the industry, followed by North America (24.3%) and Europe (18.4%).

In terms of , cardboard (35%) dominates -primarily due to the growth in e-commerce-, followed by flexible packaging (23%) made with plastic or paper. Flexible packaging gained over rigid plastic mainly due to its lower weight.  leading material is flexible packaging, followed by rigid plastic, paper-based containers, liquid cartons, metal, and glass.

Packaging in agriculture

Packaging is an intrinsic part of agricultural production; moving the product safely from one part of the production cycle to the next is key to achieving a successful business. Non-recyclable packaging is often used because of its ; waxed cardboard or plastic wrap are cheaper than pressed wood.

The reliance on non-recyclable packaging is based on its ability to do a good enough job for its price. However, this is not always the case; broccoli, when packed in unrecyclable waxed cardboard boxes, often reach its destination in an unfit-to-sale state due to bacterial growth.

Developing safe and effective sustainable packaging is critical to achieving a sustainable agriculture system.

Environmental considerations

Plastic pollution is a ; from the 350 million tons of plastic produced each year, 8 million end up in the ocean. Moreover, plastic food packaging is the most common beach trash. Nine of the top ten  are related to food and drink; the most common items are food wrappers, straws, forks, knives and spoons, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, and plastic cups.

There was a rapid increase in plastic from the 1950s onwards, and currently, the usage of single-use plastic is rising, particularly in developing countries. Globally, less than 10% of plastic is recycled; this is particularly troubling when we consider that plastic takes more than .

The  in the ocean reached such a level of notoriety that the United Nations Assembly passed a resolution signed by more than 200 countries to eliminate plastic pollution in the seas. Although the treaty is not legally binding, some countries have already passed local legislation to decrease their plastic pollution.

Packaging materials

Food packaging is made from various materials, including plastics, glass, metal, ceramics, cardboard, wood, and waxes. The majority of modern packaging is made of glass, plastic, paper, and paperboard. The manufacture of food packaging materials involves using various resources, including energy, water, chemicals, minerals, petroleum, fibers, and wood. The manufacturing process often  that include particulates, greenhouse gases, toxic contaminants, and wastewater.

Glass manufacturing  greenhouse gasses, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulates containing heavy metals. The manufacture of aluminum requires significant energy quantities; it uses a lot of water and creates a toxic sludge that may contain heavy metals and radioactive elements; the emission includes greenhouse gasses, sulfur dioxide, and wastewater. The manufacture of paper and cardboard involves a lot of land used to obtain the fibers. The milling process uses a lot of energy and water; air emissions include sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrox oxides. Plastic manufacturing emits significant amounts of greenhouse gasses, hydrofluorocarbons, nitrous oxides, sulfuric hexafluoride, and perfluorocarbons.

Sustainable food packaging

The most significant . The concern over the environmental impact of products is a long-lasting phenomenon. The EU launched an initiative geared towards circular economy principles, focusing on plastic waste and single-use plastic packaging.

Reusable food packaging is an alternative for diverting plastic from landfills and oceans. Not so long ago, food containers were reused, milk and beer bottles were returned to the manufacturer for cleaning and reuse. Shoppers can bring their own containers to stock from bulk bins, besides carrying their own shopping bags.

When reusable containers are not the solution, more sustainable packaging alternatives are needed. Researchers, entrepreneurs, and companies are stepping up to solve this issue. Non-petroleum-based plastics – made from corn or sugarcane- better recycling technologies, degradable plastics are in the works.

Consumers are putting recycling responsibilities mainly  More than two-thirds of US shoppers say that manufacturers should be responsible for environmentally friendly choices. While 55% of Brazilian consumers agree that companies should offer sustainable solutions and 45% of Swedish consumers say brands should use more recycled materials.

As sustainability has risen as a critical motivator for consumers, brands have begun to look for innovative packaging alternatives to show their sustainability commitment. Nestle has committed to making 100% of its packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025. Unilever followed closely with its own sustainable packaging commitment. Besides these giants, many other companies are actively researching new packaging technologies;  announced new materials that are fully biodegradable in industrial and home composting.

The rise of food e-commerce has had associated the need to  to protect the product during the last mile, besides being perceived as a sustainable choice by consumers. In development are packaging alternatives that weigh less, are sustainable, and perform well in the delivery market.

Innovative alternatives in sustainable agricultural packaging

provides flexibility, versatility, and durability. Packages with these materials save space and are easy to transport due to their collapsible assembly.

Food wraps made from seaweed and casein. These wraps reduce plastic reliance, have a lower carbon footprint, promote positive environmental practices, and can even be edible.

Plastic-less  specially designed for avocados, apples, and other fruits; are able to preserve the produce from damage while looking enticing for the consumer. These packaging solutions are critical for the fruit export industry.

Food coatings that can be applied to fruits and vegetables also help to preserve food. By preventing dehydration and serving as a protecting barrier from bacteria, . Food coatings can be made from a combination of ingredients, including synthetic and natural ones. The main advantage of using natural coatings is their reliance on natural -non-plastic- ingredients; they are also better accepted by discerning consumers and strict legislations -such as the EU-. Fruit coatings are critical for a more sustainable fruit export industry.

Consumers can make a difference

Consumers’ actions and preferences have led to changes in the industry, a more sustainable food packaging industry is possible. Consumers can continue to make a difference by using less plastic in the kitchen, choosing beeswax wrappers over plastic wrap, avoiding plastic cutlery, and electing to use compostable materials, carrying their own bags when shopping, and selecting zero-waste stores that have been opening in new places, allowing consumers to buy bulk products in reusable containers.

Fruit and vegetables are often sold in bulk, and many companies also pack them to extend their shelf-life;  has found an alternative. The company produces a thin edible fruit coating made with natural materials that is tasteless and can be applied to fruits to make them last longer. By using this coating, it is possible to extend the shelf-life of fruits and reduce food waste.

Sustainable food trends are here to stay, particularly considering that the largest majority of Gen Z want eco-friendly packaging and seek environmentally sustainable products. From fruit coatings that make produce last longer to biodegradable and compostable plastics sustainable packing is steadily growing.