The Future of Food - Between Wish and Reality - Digitalization in the Food Industry

In about ten years, around 80 percent of our food will be consumed in cities. This calls for completely new solutions in production close to the consumer, in logistics, but also in the redefinition of familiar terms, such as "regional production" or "organic cultivation". And it presents us with challenges to be tackled in terms of waste disposal.

Through urban "vertical farming," for example, even exotic fruits such as papayas or guavas can be grown on the Swabian Alb, completely ecologically and close to the consumer. Is this the new regional in the future? With this method of cultivation in the middle of the city, we free ourselves from the dependence on global suppliers and are no longer at the mercy of sudden changes in the weather and the seasons. The level of water consumption and the CO2 footprint are also convincing comparably low vertical farming. Only the energy consumption is still very high. If this problem is solved as well, then no previous agricultural cultivation can compete in terms of sustainability and ecological cultivation.

On September 14, 2021, Stephan Becker-Sonnenschein presented these new developments in food innovations at the specialist symposium for system caterers of K&P Consulting GmbH in Düsseldorf. Many innovations may still sound quite abstract, but have partly already been implemented today, such as floating cow stalls with built-in manure recycling, greenhouse refrigerators for the home kitchen, or meat from the 3D printer as well as biometrically optimized sushi.

If this range of innovations is enriched by cell-based foods, i.e. Clean Meat, there are far-reaching possibilities to produce our food individually and exactly according to our needs. In Japan, there are already restaurants where guests receive a DNA kit before their visit. The results of the DNA test are sent directly to the kitchen when the reservation is made. With the help of 3D printers and laser technologies, individual foods that are tailored to the respective DNAare finally created. This type of DNA-based nutrition can even cope with demographic change: necessary nutrients and also medicines can be supplied via food designs in the future, so that new, better forms of age-appropriate nutrition can be created. Features such as improved chewability could also be incorporated without meals losing shape, flavor, and aesthetics.

The food waste that results from both the production and consumption of food can, in turn, be used to recover scarce raw materials such as phosphorus or energy, thus creating closed loops. As a result, the city becomes a sustainable ecosystem.

In Germany, however, innovation is lagging behind. In the most recent statistics of the Global Innovation Index, Germany lags far behind other industrialized nations such as Switzerland (1st rank), Sweden (2nd rank) and the USA (3rd rank) in terms of innovative capability. Yet these resource-conserving and consumer-oriented innovations could counteract climate change and secure the long-term food supply for the world's population.

Image: K&P Unternehmensgruppe/Annika Betham