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According to the World Bank, agriculture uses—on average— 70% of the water withdrawn globally, showing the enormous water consumption required to produce food such as fruits, vegetables, and cereals.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

Organic fruit: what lies ahead for food eCommerce?

On September 15 and 16 of this year, the Organic Produce Summit 2021, which brought together more than 1,200 professionals from the agri-food sector, was held in Monterrey, California. During the fourth educational session of the summit, topics such as the online purchase of natural products and the opportunity for organic fruit and vegetable companies to play an increasingly dominant role in today’s market were addressed.

How has organic e-commerce grown, and how does it shape future food?

The fourth session – moderated by Steve Junqueiro, former president and COO of Save Mart Supermarkets – provided an overview of the growth of online organic sales over the past 18 months and discussed the future landscape of online shopping and the players involved along the supply chain: retailers, distributors, organic exporters, etc.

In this regard, a general growth of online grocery sales in the United States is evident: during 2020, they reached 8 billion dollars for most of the year, while in 2021, revenues are estimated to be close to 7 billion dollars per month.

Different studies in organic products have evidenced this growth trend. For example, according to figures presented at the Sana Restart fair, e-commerce sales of organic products recorded an increase of 143% compared to 2019, somewhat higher than the 125% of food in general.

Turning to the previous point, experts agree that online sales of organic fruits and vegetables increased significantly during the pandemic. And while this has been apparent since 2009, the health crisis has forced consumers to buy their food through digital channels, primarily to avoid the contagion risks associated with face-to-face purchases.

Now, what is the reason for the preference for organic products? According to the survey “Voice of the Consumer Health and Nutrition” – elaborated by Euromonitor International – there are three main reasons:

  1. First, focus on preventive health, food safety, and sustainability.
  2. Animal welfare concerns.
  3. Changes in market maturity and consumer priorities.

This trend has benefited the exportation of fruits and vegetables, proving is a growing reality, as the market and consumers’ buying have changed.

What lies ahead for e-commerce, and how should the Agtech industry act?

David Bishop -partner of Brick Meets Click and one of the panelists at the fourth session of the Organic Producers Summit 2021- pointed out in one of his speeches that, according to his company’s research, only in August 2021, 50% of Americans made at least one online purchase of food.

The above allows us to understand that online sales are no longer the innovation they were years ago: today, they are an essential part of the market and a requirement for those who prefer to buy their food without going to the shops.

Retailers need to adapt their processes to this trend and start implementing digital sales channels based on their needs, audience budgets, and marketing objectives.

In any case, the customer experience should always be at the center of all strategies, which should be reflected in sales channels and payment methods to food packaging. These key aspects comprehensively meet consumer demands and must be the central competitive differential.

If it does not find the added value it seeks, the consumer can always go with the competition. So, for example, if it wants to buy online and pick up at the store, and the seller does not offer that alternative, the customer will go elsewhere.

In response to the above, the Agri-food retailer must combine quality, excellent level of service, and new ways of selling products. And although face-to-face sales have taken a back seat, it is always necessary to have a physical point, especially when it comes to organic products.

In line with the above, Carlotta Mast of New Hope Network -a company dedicated to promoting healthy living from different perspectives- pointed out in a virtual event that:

 “Although total natural and organic e-commerce sales will double between 2018 and 2023 … consumers are still expected to primarily buy natural and organic retail products in physical stores over the next few years.” 

These are the consumers who prefer the sensory experience when buying their food.

Likewise, it is also possible to go deeper into innovation and think – for example – about boosting “dark stores” (distribution centers focused on online sales), which would help optimize the supply chain and logistics, as well as align with customer requirements.

Of course, it will also be necessary to invest effort and resources in other areas, such as digital marketing, omnichannel, last-mile logistics, food packaging, and business digitization in general.

PolyNatural: strengthening future food

Understanding today’s requirements and challenges, PolyNatural has endeavored to exploit the potential of natural components to safeguard food quality and contribute to environmental sustainability and the growth of the Agtech industry.

This is possible thanks to Shel-Life®, a solution made from natural extracts, lipids, and vegetable polymers that forms a natural coating on the fruit, which extends the shelf life of the products and safeguards their quality, reducing food waste.

Shel-Life® is ideal for organic exporters, producers, and retailers in the sector because, unlike other coatings, it is not made from synthetic waxes derived from petroleum, responding to the demands of consumers who are increasingly concerned about what they consume.

A valuable solution for producers and retailers – especially those focused on export fruits – to increase the shelf life of crops (resulting in a higher return on investment), as well as to provide chemical-free foods

Natural coatings such as Shel-Life® are essential for companies and producers to position themselves among consumers increasingly aware of the elements present in the food they eat, a trend that’s here to stay.

Organic coatings: the challenges of post-covid organic production

On September 15th and 16th, the “Organic Produce Summit 2021” was held in Monterey, California. The event initially scheduled to take place last year was canceled due to the pandemic. However, this time it brought together more than 1,200 agri-food professionals, showcased many organic products, unveiled key trends (organic coatings, for example), and brought to the table discussions of critical interest to the industry. One of these instances was the conversation “Opportunities and obstacles for post-covid organic products.” Moderated by Randy Riley, co-owner of GoldenSun Insights and agri-tech industry expert, it featured leading figures in the organic market:

  • Heather Fuller, vice president of sales for Braga Fresh (organic producers).
  • Ricardo Crisantes, commercial director of Wholesum (organic producers).
  • Robby Cruz, produce manager for Sprouts Farmers Market (a natural foods retailer).

The talk, which focused on the post-pandemic future food, highlighted the changing retail and manufacturing landscape, exploring what the “new normal” looks like and how the market has changed in critical areas.

Changes in the supply chain 

The pandemic and the logistical inconveniences generated by mobility restrictions have created a challenge for the supply chain: to be much more resilient, agile, and responsive. This implies optimizing communication between all actors in the chain, from producers to retailers, including organic exporters, who are increasingly relevant in the market.

Such communication involves aligning objectives among all actors in the supply chain and discussing the future food and critical factors such as the rising costs, the challenges to be overcome by the retailers, and meeting consumer needs.

Of course, confinement and sanitary protocols forced retailers to create strategies to deliver products safely, conveniently, and quickly. Among them, the one that took force was the “Drive-Up” or Pick Up,” on which the consumer buys through the online channel, goes to a physical store, and parks his vehicle in a designated place to pick up the products.

The focus, in the end, must be on delivering value to the buyer along the entire supply chain, leveraging both the advantages of the agtech industry and the possibilities offered by eCommerce and the digital society in general.

eCommerce and organic products

The pandemic boosted online sales of organic products. However, and as pointed out in the discussion, this is not a fad but a trend that is here to stay and poses several challenges for producers, retailers, and organic exporters:

  • Rethinking the supply chain and logistics to respond to the demands of speed and convenience required for eCommerce was, of course, innovation is one of the keys.
  • Enhance digital marketing and storytelling to communicate the added value of the products marketed effectively.
  • Implement a series of omnichannel tools and strategies to provide a good shopping experience.

Moreover, the growth of eCommerce will not stop, and the industry will have to adapt its processes to this reality without neglecting sales and merchandising strategies in physical stores because, despite the rise of online shopping, there will still be consumers who prefer to shop in stores.

Consumer buying behavior

2020 was an unprecedented year in which the agri-food sector experienced significant growthespecially in organic products, whose global sales grew between 25% and 100%, according to research by Ecovia Intelligence.

That growth trend has been in place since 2009. In fact, in 2019 alone, global sales of organic products reported approximately $110 billion in revenues, driven by consumers increasingly aware of the food industry’s role in health and the environment.

As part of the discussion, experts emphasized that today’s consumers are increasingly aware and concerned about their health, the well-being of the planet, and even social equity and justice. Moreover, the preponderance of agricultural workers during the pandemic was also part of the debate, making it clear that their role in society is of critical necessity.

Along these lines, there is evidence of a change in the consumer’s purchasing decision factors: the healthier, more sustainable, and responsible the product is, the more it may interest the consumer, even to the point of paying more.

The role of sustainability

In line with the above, producers and sellers will have to show their target audiences how sustainable their products are and how they are helping to protect natural resources.

It is a difficult task because, even if it is natural and organic food, food production always involves using resources such as water or land, including the packaging and processes necessary to take it from the crop to the consumer’s table.

Workforce

As noted above, during the pandemic, the global population became more aware of the value of agricultural workers. Therefore, companies in the sector need to highlight their social responsibility and establish efficient, two-way lines of communication that contribute to both business growth and labor welfare.

At this point, it is worth noting that the agricultural industry faces a significant challenge: a growing labor shortage. In the United States alone, employed workers in the sector are expected to grow by only 1% from 2019 to 2029, slower than average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This is a severe problem because, although innovation and technology are increasingly important players in the organic market, the human factor will always be necessary for optimum productivity.

PolyNatural: organic coatings as a concrete solution to food challenges

Understanding the importance of extending the shelf life of food – which implies a decrease in food waste and carbon footprint – PolyNatural has developed a core solution for today’s agtech industry: Shel-Life.

It is a 100% natural emulsion (plant-based) produced with natural extracts, lipids, and vegetable polymers that, when applied to the fruit, creates a coating to keep it in good condition and prevent food waste by controlling dehydration and the growth of microorganisms.

Shel-Life is an ideal product to increase the shelf life of fruits naturally throughout the supply chain, especially in exportation fruits, allowing producers and exporters to increase the profitability of operations and align with the trend of making more sustainable processes in the food industry.

By leaving aside synthetic waxes – derived from oil – it is possible to offer a healthy, safe, and sustainable product. Here it is worth noting that Shel-Life has helped save 157,041 cubic meters of water and avoided the waste of 273.6 tons of development in the exportation fruits, which allows us to understand the positive impact of this product on the market and the planet.

LATAM women: leading the battle against food waste

The food industry is not sustainable because of its production processes and the number of resources used. And although there are several initiatives aligned with the adoption of a sustainable approach to reduce -and ideally eliminate food waste-, in most of them, there is a common factor: innovative women.

But before getting into the subject, it is helpful to review some figures that allow us to get into context.

It is estimated that Latinos represent the fastest-growing demographic group of entrepreneurs in the United States. Their purchasing power is growing 70% faster than non-Latinos, with just over $1.9 trillion in 2021. If they were to form a country, they would have the seventh-largest GDP in the world.

Despite the above, female founders of the same background are somewhat overlooked: although they make up 9% of the U.S. population, they receive only 0.04% of venture funding. However, they are gaining more prominence every day. They are innovating to sustain the world with solutions to reduce food waste, promote food recycling, and much more.

These contributions strengthen the ecosystem of women entrepreneurs in the agri-food sector, helping overcome gaps and reduce common challenges, such as skepticism, questioning, and difficulties that they receive more than men from investors, according to the report Money Where Our Mouths Are.

However, this has not dulled the spirit and tenacity of women who, thanks to their effort and conviction, lead some of the Latin American food-tech companies with the most significant impact in the sector:

1. Agtools

Founded by Martha Montoya, the company offers innovative supply chain software whose algorithms collect and process real-time government and institutional data on more than 500 specialty crops and commodities.

Its goal is to provide farmers, buyers, and other supply chain stakeholders with predictive analytics and actionable insights to support agricultural traceability, enabling them to manage their forecasts, processes, and purchase orders with greater accuracy.

It operates as a Software as a Service (SaaS). It provides its users with a daily report of exchange rates, weather patterns, CO2 footprint, market demands, transportation costs, and much more. It is the key to managing their tasks and contributing to trends such as reducing food waste.

2. Agua Bonita

It is based in California, run by Kayla Castañeda and Erin PonTell. It is part of the upcycled food area, one of the main trends in promoting a more sustainable and responsible food industry with the planet.

It recycles fruits such as watermelon, pineapple, and cucumber to turn them into freshwater with no added sugar, contributing significantly to the fight against food waste and promoting the circular economy and sustainability.

According to data from the Food Waste Index 2021, in 2019, there were 931 million tons of food wasted, or 17% of total global production. This is an alarming figure because of food security problems and the use of natural resources and greenhouse gas emissions necessary to produce food that ultimately ends up in the garbage.

3. Novah Natural

Led by Lisiane Oliveira (Brazil), this food tech company produces vegetable cheeses from cashew nuts, a very healthy nut with great nutritional value, a rich source of Omega 6 and 9, healthy fats, and tryptophan, an essential amino acid for the body.

4. Brightseed

Sofia Elizondo is co-founder and COO of this bioscience company that uses computational biology, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), and advanced plant processing techniques to understand the connections between bioactive and human health. Unique and cutting-edge innovation that will undoubtedly help save many lives in the short, medium, and long term.

To date, it has screened over 700,000 compounds for their health properties and has developed several “molecular signatures” of all plants in the food and medical industries. In addition, it recently partnered with Danone – a leading food company – to enhance its portfolio of non-dairy products.

5. Dathic

It is a New York-based company led by Laura Rocha. It offers a platform that uses Artificial Intelligence and data to provide FMCG companies in the U.S. with valuable insights for various food and beauty companies to successfully enter, expand and market their products in the different Hispanic communities located in the USA.

6. Ecoflora Cares

A food tech company co-founded by the Colombian Sandra Zapata. It has a global reach and is a pioneer in developing technological solutions and completely sustainable bio-inputs for the food and personal care sectors. Natural colorants are one of its star products.

7. Veggy 

An ag-tech company led by Mariana Falcão, from Brazil. Its mission is to reduce meat consumption by offering a complete hamburger, sausages, and other traditional products developed from jackfruit native to Indonesia.

8. I Am Grounded 

An upcycled food social enterprise. Created by Lachlan Powell and Vanessa Murillo (Colombian), it makes natural and healthy snacks from the extract of the pulpy coffee fruit, which is usually wasted.

In this regard, it is crucial to consider that, on average, a coffee drinker will create around 57 kilos of coffee fruit waste per year. Therefore, reusing these resources is an essential contribution to the fight against food waste.

9. microTerra

Mexican Marissa Cuevas Flores is the founder and CEO of this innovative and promising company that uses lemna (also known as duckweed) to create a protein-rich powder.

What makes this food tech even more interesting is that the lemna – as it grows – can clean water systems, which allows increasing the benefits derived from the use of this plant.

10. PolyNatural

Undoubtedly, one of the most innovative and high-impact companies in food waste reduction, specifically in fruit production.

Led by CEO Agustina Fabbio, this Chilean company is responsible for producing Shel-life, a 100% natural (plant-based) emulsion that forms a coating on fruit, making it last for much longer, helping to reduce waste associated with dehydration and the growth of microorganisms.

Unlike most coatings used in the food industry, which consist of synthetic waxes made from petroleum derivatives, Shel-life is based on natural extracts, lipids, and plant polymers that guarantee consumers’ well-being. Such is its potential that, during 2020, it prevented the loss of 273.6 tons of food and avoided the waste of 157,041 cubic meters of water.

The importance of women in agri-food innovation and the agtech sector is unquestionable. However, it is still necessary to open more spaces and encourage more support for the women entrepreneurs movement to continue promoting the development of solutions to various problems in the global food and agriculture industry.

Upcycled food: the zero waste revolution is here

Whole food recently identified upcycled food as the top food trend for 2021. According to a team of experts from Harvard Law School, Drexel University, World Wildlife Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and ReFED: 

“Recycled foods are those that use ingredients that would not otherwise have been intended for human consumption, are sourced and produced through verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment.”

In this sense, this food trend gives life and added value to deformed or aesthetically unattractive fruits and vegetables and pulp or leftover juice peels -among others- to turn this material into healthy and nutritional quality food. 

For example, you can take very damaged or overripe bananas to make snacks; or aesthetically damaged apples to make juices. The possibilities are too many.

The trend contributes to sustainability and the circular economy 

The circular economy’s main objective is to extend the useful life of products, using waste to give life to new elements and, in this way, reduce the consumption of raw materials and the carbon footprint. 

Precisely what is achieved with upcycled food? This trend reconfigures the typical cycle of manufacture, use, and disposal of food in favor of the most significant possible reuse and recycling, avoiding waste as much as possible and optimizing energy spent on growing, transporting, and preparing them. 

This is very important considering that more than 30% of all food worldwide is lost or wasted, also spending the resources and inputs used to produce it. 

According to figures compiled by Our World in Data, this is a common malpractice in agriculture. This sector demands more than half of the world’s habitable land and freshwater withdrawals.

How is this food trend positioned in today’s market?

As a starting point, it is essential to mention that this trend contributes to one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the UN for 2030: reducing food waste. Moreover, being an innovative approach that contributes to the development of the circular economy in the industry, it is highly scalable and economically sustainable. 

Of course, it also has a growing acceptance among consumers. Evidenced by a 2021 study published in Food and Nutrition Sciences cited in a Forbes article. Only 10% of consumers are familiar with recycled foods, but 80% say they would seek them out once they are informed about them.

Along the same lines, data compiled by the Upcycled Food Association (UFA) shows that 60% of people want to buy more recycled food products, and that’s because 95% of people want to do their part to reduce food waste in their own lives. 

Hence – little by little – this trend has been gaining ground in the market, responding to the interests of consumers who are increasingly aware of what they eat and the carbon footprint behind the food they eat.

In 2011, 11 companies specialized in food recycling; in 2017, the number reached 64; in 2019, it was already a sector worth $46.7 billion and is expected to grow at a rate of 5% each year for the next ten years. 

Relationship between the upcycled food trend and food waste reduction 

According to FAO, food waste is a concept that refers to the decrease in the quantity or quality of food due to the decisions and actions of retailers, food service providers, and consumers

It is very different from food loss. In this case, the reduction in the quantity or quality of food results from suppliers’ decisions and actions in the food chain, excluding retailers, food service providers, and consumers.

In either case, upcycled food is key to solving the problem and laying the foundation for a more sustainable food industry.

More and more companies are coming up with solutions to recycle food waste

Today, companies of all sizes are acting to reduce food waste. A clear example of this is Hellmann’s: through its #MakeTasteNoWaste campaign, the company seeks to reduce food waste in households by providing ideas to take advantage of those foods that, despite being in good condition, are invisible and end up in the trash can.

Nestlé is another excellent example of how companies not traditionally associated with this food trend are now joining this new approach.

The company joined champions123.org -a coalition that brings together executives from the public and private sectors to comply with point 12.3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals-, committing to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030.

In the field of fruit waste, it is worth mentioning the partnership between Dole – the world’s largest fruit and vegetable producer – and the London-based startup Ananas Anam, the company behind Piñatex, a pineapple-based vegan leather alternative used by brands such as Nike, H&M, Paul Smith and Hugo Boss to create animal cruelty-free products. 

In practice, Dole will collect leftover pineapple plant leaves from its plantations in the Philippines, which would otherwise go to waste, and send them to Ananas Anam, which will extract, dry, and process the fibers into a nonwoven mesh that forms the basis of Pinatex. 

Dole says the partnership will help it meet its promise of zero fruit loss by 2025, while Ananas Anam points out that every square meter of Pinatex saves 8 kilograms of CO2 versus genuine animal-derived leather.  

In the same line, Dole notes that it recycles 80% of the “ugly” fruit that would otherwise be discarded at its farms in Thailand. The practices implemented range from transforming banana leaves into packaging, developing snacks from unaesthetic vegetables, and generating electricity from misshapen or rotten produce. 

Together with booming technologies such as natural coatings, this trend will drastically reduce food waste in the medium term, favoring the industry’s sustainability and care for the environment.

Of course, beyond the role of consumers, innovation in the food sector is critical here, so food tech is crucial to transform production models and ensure that the industry adopts a sustainable approach.

Agtech innovation: the key driver against global warming and climate change

For years, the planet has suffered the impact of climate change, with severe consequences for humanity and life in general. In this regard, the World Meteorological Organization predicts, for the period 2021-2025, that: 

  • There is a 40% probability that the annual mean global temperature will temporarily reach 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels for at least one year in this period.
  • 90% probability that at least one year in this period will become the warmest on record in history.

In this context, the “global warming” alert is more than relevant. The increase in global temperature leads to thawing, higher sea levels, and meteorological phenomena such as heatwaves, floods, droughts, and storms, among other extreme and unpredictable weather conditions that pose a risk factor for agriculture compromise food safety.

In fact, the evidence points out that global agricultural productivity has been 21% lower than it would have been without climate changeFortunately, and thanks to innovation, digitalization, and artificial intelligence (AI), today’s technological solutions make it possible to optimize agriculture in this context.

Building agro-technology companies: the key to solving the problem

The Agtech sector, understood as the group of technological innovations seeking to solve problems and challenges in the agri-food industry, has grown significantly in recent years. For example, in Latin America alone, research in 2019 by the Inter-American Development Bank identified 457 startups in this sector, a market expected to reach $41,172.5 Million by 2027.

Agtech companies offer solutions that can create positive environmental, social, and economic changes. Thanks to technology, this type of endeavor can help combat climate change and reduce emissions of polluting gases, promoting sustainable agriculture.

In this regard, it is worth highlighting the work of the following startups and companies:

TrackitAgro (precision agriculture)

According to the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA): precision agriculture refers to:  

A management strategy that gathers, processes, and analyzes temporal, spatial and individual data and combines it with other information to support management decisions according to the estimated variability, and thus improve efficiency in the use of resources, productivity, the quality, profitability and sustainability of agricultural production.”

In practice, this is achieved thanks to the deployment of IoT (Internet of Things) sensors, satellite navigation systems, and analytical platforms with artificial intelligence capable of processing huge volumes of data.

And this is precisely what TrackitAgro offers. It is a Startup that provides a management platform for the monitoring and traceability of agricultural processes. Basically, IoT sensors are installed in crops, greenhouses, nurseries, refrigerators, and packing, which collect information 24/7 to measure various environmental and soil variables such as humidity, temperature, CO2, photosynthetic radiation, irrigation flows, electrical conductivity, PH and luminosity, among others.

This information, along with meteorological data uploaded to the cloud, the behavior history, and predictive analysis with artificial intelligence, allows farmers to have a global view of the operation and make decisions in real-time in the face of climatic contingencies throughout the cultivation cycle and supply chain. 

Research from the World Economic Forum suggests that if 15-25% of farms adopt this technology, global yields could increase by 10-15% by 2030, while emissions of polluting gases and water use could be reduced by 10% and 20%, respectively.

Aleph Farms (lab-grown meat)

Within the agri-food industry, livestock activity is responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. In addition, between 75% and 80% of the world’s agricultural surface area is used to produce livestock feed, accounting for the enormous impact of this sector on the planet.

Lab-grown meat, created from cells and not from livestock, is the solution to this problem, and Aleph Farms is one of the leading startups in the field.

Aleph Farms is a leading Startup in this sector. Known for growing meat in space and printing the world’s first no-sacrifice steak, it has now raised more than $100 million to market its cultured meat next year, which has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, land use by more than 90% and water use by 50%

Also, it is projected that by employing 100% renewable energy in the production facility, cultured meat can reduce the carbon footprint of beef production by 92%.

Solid rain (polymers as irrigation systems)

Climate change has caused, among other things, that dry seasons are more extreme, which turns into a challenge for farmers, who must deal with droughts or with very little water availability.

In this scenario, the Solid Rain startup is the ideal solution for growing crops with little water by reducing irrigation frequency by up to 90%

It is a potassium-based granular powder, not soluble, degradable and non-toxic, with the capacity to absorb up to 400 times its weight in water once it comes into contact with it. The farmer places it at the root and thus keeps it hydrated without periodic watering or rainfall.

PolyNatural (organic fruit coating)

Food waste during the supply chain translates into business losses and affects global warming because food production and consumption account for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

If humanity managed to use 100% of agricultural products, emissions would be reduced considerably—all the above without considering the expenses in fresh water and soil damage entailed by this activity. 

In this regard, organic coatings stand as the ideal solution to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables, controlling the growth of microorganisms and dehydration. In this way, products are more likely to reach the consumer’s table before they are spoiled, significantly reducing food waste and carbon footprint.

PolyNatural is a leading company in this market. Its coatings are made from 100% organic, plant-based components and are completely customized to ensure the best performance based on the type of fruit.  

This startup has saved more than 157,041 m³ of water and avoided the waste of 273.6 tons of fruit in 2020, accounting for how it can optimize the profitability of investments and become a real contribution to the difficult task of creating a more sustainable agricultural industry.

Finally, it should be noted that the pandemic coincided with the hottest year to date, 2020, with 1.2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average—this exposed vulnerabilities in the infrastructure of the food system and global supply chains. Here, technologies and innovation are the keys to reducing the impending global warming.

The role of women in Agtech and agri-food innovation

The Agtech ecosystem, characterized by disruptive agri-food innovation, stands as the solution to the various challenges and problems faced by the agriculture and food sector, such as global warming and the need to produce more healthy food every day with less land and less water. This is why it is expected to be the most important technology by 2050.

However, beyond the above, players in the Agtech sector must review their industry gender dynamics and detect biases in this regard in the search for an inclusive ecosystem with real equity, where talent prevails above all else. 

In the Agtech industry, there are few Female CEOs and CTOs.

Female participation – both in the market and in society – has evolved significantly throughout history. However, some situations show that the gender gap is still significant. For example, in 2019, women held only 28% of managerial positions globally, and in 2020 only 18% of companies had a female executive director, according to figures compiled by the United Nations

Gender dynamics in the Agtech industry are not exempt from this reality. Although the International Labor Organization estimates that women from rural areas account for 41% of the global agricultural workforce, few hold key roles in crop management, and their presence in Agtech managerial positions is even smaller. 

For example, Research by the Inter-American Development Bank indicates that in the mapping of Agtech ventures in Latin America, only 11% of entrepreneurial teams (out of 300) have female co-founders. 

Similarly, the Money Where Our Mouths Are report notes that female startup founders in the industry face more skepticism, questioning, and difficulties in general from investors than men do.

Female CEOs and CTOs in the Agtech sector can improve results

Harvard Business Review article points out that women control about $ 20 billion in annual consumer spending globally. In this regard, the study indicates that purchasing decisions are made in 91% of households, and of course, food is one of the items to consider.

In this sense, having women in high-level positions in the Agtech industry can help companies avoid ignoring or underestimating the power of the female consumer and improve products, services, and -even- marketing processes and narratives conception. 

We should also keep in mind that the entire agricultural and food ecosystem is facing fundamental changes that are reshaping the future of food to respond to consumer preferences, which should undoubtedly be the drivers of agri-food innovation.

Considering the role played by women in shopping, it would not be surprising that women highly drive the growing concern for healthy, safe, and sustainable food environments.

The corporate benefits of involving women at the decision-making table

Women are essential elements for corporate environments, as they tend to be stronger when it comes to soft skills such as empathy. In addition to professional training, the above is a competitive factor applying to both men and women.

It is about recognizing the significant role they could play in the managerial positions of companies in the sector and highlighting how they could complement each other with their male counterparts. 

During the fourth edition of the Global BioAg Linkages “Women in Agriculture” seriesPam Marrone – founder of Marrone Bio Innovations and partner and chair of the BioAg Primary Innovations Executive Board, noted that: 

We, women leaders in agriculture, do not see ourselves as a separate group from men leaders; however, we wish to reduce the distinction and classification. Our goal is to get to the point where we only recognize leaders as leaders, not as female or male leaders. Good leaders are good leaders, and bad leaders are bad leaders; they cannot be classified by gender. “

Involving men is essential to solving the gender gap 

According to a KK&P study, men have “untapped power” to reduce the gender gap affecting female agri-food technology female entrepreneurs. By making them aware of the problem, they can act as opinion leaders on this issue and promote female talent and support for women-developed ventures. 

It should be noted that, according to the same study, 75% of agri-food technology female entrepreneurs have experienced a negative gender bias, and only 24% consider that men in the sector are making efforts to improve the situation. 

There is an increasing presence of women in managerial positions in the Agtech sector. 

In addition to Pam Marrone, many other women are paving the way for a female presence in the Agtech sector.

A clear example of the above is Kellye Eversole, chair of Eversole Associates and executive director of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, who, on the challenges she has overcome as an Agtech entrepreneur, said: 

I had some really tough first years in my consulting business as I saw the good guys network perform extremely well and lost contracts with less qualified candidates simply because of the perception that only a man could have discussions with the industry or with government officials. However, over time, things have improved a bit, although women are still not well represented in leadership positions in industry, government, or academia.”

Like Kellye, there are currently many other women leaders in the Agtech industry who are an example for those who aim to consolidate in the sector:

  • Christine Su, CEO, and founder of PastureMap.
  • Miku Jha, CEO, and founder of AgShift.
  • Sarah Nolet, CEO, and founder of AgThentic.
  • Virginia Emery, CEO, and founder of BetaHatch.

Women currently in senior management in Agtech (startups in Latam)

Several women of admirable talent also work in the region, such as Argentine women Mariana Stegagnini -chair at the CEDEF Foundation- and Tatiana Malvasio, Kilimo’s director of operations. 

For Malvasio, “the Agtech sector has a great opportunity to build companies with equality perspectives (gender, disability, etc.) since most of the skills required for this type of business are not formed informal education.”

And one of the most recent examples is that of Agustina Fabbiothe new CEO of PolyNatural.

The appointment of Fabbio as CEO of PolyNatural increases the network of women currently in management positions at startups Agtech in Latam, helping to drive paradigm shift and consolidate with a perspective on gender equality and female leadership.

 

It is gratifying to see the growing empowerment of women in the Agtech sector and how important companies are opening their doors to them. It is expected to continue to increase, and they continue to lead processes and create products or intellectual property.

Organic post-harvest solutions: the importance of innovation

Organic post-harvest solutions are a novel way to extend the durability of products in warehouses, stores, and supermarkets, reducing food waste and decreases in productivity, which translates into greater profitability for producers and merchants.

The use of biotechnology and other similar methods in the agri-food sector responds to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set by the United Nations Organization (UN), which mention the importance of reducing food waste, the water footprint, and the emission of polluting gases.

In this way, companies who decide to deploy organic post-harvest solutions can also benefit from improving their reputation with end consumers and better performance in terms of environmental responsibility commitments, something highly valued by consumers today.

Technology and innovation applied to agriculture: progress and future projections

Sustainability and commitment to the environment have been included for a long time among business concerns, but in what state is their implementation in agriculture?

Today, many of the activities necessary for agricultural production contribute significantly to environmental pollution. Among the main ones, we find enteric fermentation, land and water use, energy consumption on farms, synthetic fertilizers, synthetic wax, and packaging made with petroleum-based elements.

All these practices and inputs create tons of polluting gases every year, methane being one of the most damaging due to its impact on global warming. Due to the above, in recent years, investment in biotechnology and other innovative methods has been promoted to modernize agriculture to turn it into a less polluting activity.

For example, the figures show that investment in Agri-food tech (agri-food technology) grew significantly in 2020. In part, this is related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the importance of efficient supply chains and alternative methods of growing, processing, transporting, and distributing food became more relevant.

In the specific case of post-harvest solutions, seeking to extend the useful life of agricultural products and reduce the incidence of rot, in addition to replacing the use of synthetic components (such as plastic and highly polluting raw materials) to deliver products that are more compatible with global sustainability goals.

How much will agri-food technology grow?

Although there is still a long way to go for agribusiness to limit its contribution to the carbon footprint as much as possible, in general terms, significant progress is being made. For example, the increase in food tech investments is great news that shows corporate interest in adopting more sustainable production, post-harvest, and distribution methods.

In fact, during 2019, investment in food tech reached USD $ 19,800 million, a 250% growth over the previous five years, showing a trend that is gaining strength daily.

Its growth is such that it is estimated that the value of this market will be about USD $ 342.52 billion in 2027.

Post-harvest solutions: from the supply chain to the end consumer

According to FAO, techniques and methods used at each stage of the supply chain can be adapted to consume less energy. The efficiency gain often comes from the modification of agricultural and processing practices, where some alternatives are the use of more fuel-efficient engines, precision manure, fertilizers, irrigation monitoring, the adoption of no-tillage agricultural practices, the use of crop varieties and animal breeds less dependent on inputs.

Faced with all these alternatives, which are valid and contribute with efficiency, post-harvest handling is a step that producers sometimes forget but largely defines business success. Especially when it is taken into account that about 40% of fresh fruit production is lost because it does not withstand humidity and temperature conditions or simply due to poor logistics and storage management.

It is important to note that post-harvest solutions begin in the supply chain since it is where the harvests are received. In other words, the goal is to optimize the handling of agricultural products upon their harvest and before they are sold, so that they can stay for longer on the shelves.

It might appear that this will only affect the product distribution stage and in the halftime before purchase. However, the true impact of innovation is also seen in consumers’ perceptions of the brand.

Consumers recognize the effort of producers and distribution companies choosing to buy natural alternatives. Just as a reference, data from the Export Marketing Bureau of the Philippines (EMB) suggests that 56% of French consumers buy organic food and beverages. In Spain, the share is 54%; in Poland, 53%; in Italy, 49%; and in Germany, 45%.

Something similar occurs in the United States, where numerous studies on purchasing habits and demographics of organic food consumers have made it possible to define some generalizations. One of the most outstanding results is that consumers choose organically produced food due to their concerns regarding health, the environment, and the welfare of animals.

In addition, they are willing to pay higher prices if they are ensured organic origin and treatment.

In this sense, companies need to consider that product origin is not the only relevant item, but the market also assesses their presentation and takes the process to which the fruits are subjected in the post-harvest stage into account.

Addressing this aspect via the deployment of organic solutions is a great opportunity for business expansion and a good sign for end consumers since it means that brands are interested in doing their part to offer better quality products, at the same time promoting a lesser environmental impact.

Examples of organic post-harvest solutions

As the world’s population grows, so does the demand for agricultural production. For example, between 2000 and 2017, the surface area of land destined to agricultural activities increased by about 75 million hectares (twice the area of Japan).

This increase is directly related to the increase in the demand for agricultural products due to population growth, and it is a process that can hardly be contained. Due to the above, the best solution is to deploy “pack and play” type agri-food technologies, that is, technologies that allow addressing the problem of the climate crisis with a lower investment of time and resources, and without impacting the production pace of the agri-food industry.

But what exactly are pack and play post-harvest solutions? In short, it is developing formats that are easy to use for exporters, importers, and distributors, and which provide positive results in the short term without the need for large investments in infrastructure or long waiting times.

An example is Shel-Life, an organic coating made by PolyNatural, based on natural ingredients.

Shel-Life forms a coating on the product that helps reduce fruit waste. This coating format prevents the dehydration of fruits and the proliferation of microorganisms that speed up rotting, extending the useful life of the harvest and reducing the carbon footprint.

PolyNatural is a Chilean company founded in 2016 with the aim of applying smart and disruptive science to the fruit-growing industry. To this date, it has obtained important certifications for the use of organic coatings in various countries, being decisive for producers and exporters to increase their profitability and achieve a better position in various markets.