Foodservice Footprint tech2 A glimpse into the future of food Out of Home News Analysis

A glimpse into the future of food

Plastic-consuming insects and smart fishing kit are among new innovations to be recognised for their game-changing potential. Nick Hughes reports. 

Innovation that can support the transition to a more sustainable and resilient food system is big business. EIT Food – a pan-European innovation community part-funded by the European Union – awards prizes to the continent’s top food-related start-ups that have successfully brought new products or services to market following their involvement with its innovation programmes.

The winners offer a useful barometer for where food tech research and investment is being targeted and shine a light on the sustainability conundrums innovators believe need solving. Notable trends this year include alternative proteins, insect feed and food (naturally), waste prevention and sophisticated tech solutions for making fishing and aquaculture more sustainable.

The overall winner of this year’s top innovation prize worth €10,000 (£8,800) was Austrian alternative protein startup, Revo Foods, which has developed a plant-based alternative to seafood using pea proteins, algae extracts and plant oils. To-date the company has brought four products to market – including fish-free alternatives to smoked salmon and tuna – in over 20 European countries sold through retailers and restaurants.

UK innovators feature prominently on the list of 20 winners (the remaining 19 receive €5,000 (£4,400) in prize money). SafetyNet Technologies is tackling the problem of bycatch in the wild fisheries sector with a solution that enables greater precision in fishing practices. Globally, 9 million tonnes of bycatch are caught each year contributing to rapidly declining fish stocks. The company’s solution is a product named Pisces, a kit of 10 underwater LED lights that fishermen can use to improve the selectivity of their fishing gear. It works by using the lights to help fishermen attract the fish they want to catch and repel non-target species. Pisces has been tested on commercial fishing boats in Scotland and Ireland to make sure it is suited to the harsh fishing environment. Commercial and scientific trials have shown it can reduce bycatch by up to 77%, according to the company.

Sticking with seafood, another UK start-up, Ace Aquatec, has developed new technology to improve welfare and monitoring of aquaculture production. One of the problems fish farmers face is accurately monitoring the weight of fish and knowing when they are ready to harvest. In response, the company has developed a new biomass camera system using underwater stereo imaging with automated fish and feature recognition which can detect the size of fish underwater with no human involvement. Ace Aquatec says the technology enables fish farmers to make better decisions around harvest schedules and encourages less wasteful feeding by allowing farmers to separate smaller fish from larger fish.

Waste prevention is another key driver of food innovation. Swedish biotech startup Norbite has developed a process that enables insects to digest and transform waste plastics into proteins, lipids and biofertilisers. Instead of them being sent for disposal or incineration, Norbite’s technology allows residual polymeric materials like packaging, textiles and furniture to be used as a food source for one specific insect, Galleria mellonella, also known as the greater wax moth. The larvae of the insect can subsequently be refined for use in food or feed products. When fully operational, Norbite says its system will deliver a 67% reduction in CO2 emissions compared with the incineration of plastic waste.

Another UK company, Mimica, is targeting waste prevention further along the value chain by reducing consumer reliance on printed date labels, such as best before and use-by, to judge when food is no longer good to eat. The company makes food freshness indicators in the form of caps and tags that turn bumpy when food is no longer fit to eat based on real temperature storage conditions. The caps and tags, which can currently be applied to juice, dairy and red meat products, feel smooth to the touch when the food or drink is fine to consume and turn bumpy when you shouldn’t eat or drink the contents. Mimica has recently struck an agreement to launch its ‘bump cap’ into the UK juice market with a major retailer and two other beverage brands.

“From protein diversification to sustainable agriculture, the winners of the marketed innovation prize are driving transformation across every part of our food system, whether by giving consumers exciting new options on supermarket shelves or offering food producers new techniques to maximise their efficiency,” says Andy Zynga, CEO of EIT Food.

Technology alone won’t solve all of the challenges facing the food system, but it can go some way to relieving the strain on resources and ecosystems.