Seeds&Chips – The 2018 Global Food Innovation Summit

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Patrick Watson – Founder and Managing Director of Tarn Food Consulting, and a member of the Food Innovation Network’s Community of Practice – attended the fourth Seeds&Chips – the Global Food Innovation Summit in Milan, Italy, from 7 -10 May 2018.

Here Patrick shares his observations and a day-by-day summary of the 2018 Summit.

Milan, famed for its food, coffee, fashion and design hosted the fourth Seeds&Chips – The Global Food Innovation Summit. The event’s core theme is to connect food innovators and visionaries to build a better food system for the future.

The summit had 149 major partners including the European Commission, The Kingdom of the Netherlands, Canada, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Milano Food City, Intesa Sanpaolo, Bayer, Carrefour, DeliFrance, Illy, Coop Italie and the list rolls on.

There were 172 stands showcasing global innovation in food, 284 speakers from around the world and over 50-panel discussions, 500+ business-to-business meetings and no plastic in sight. This was the place to be in May, to see, learn and speak about food and innovation. The most illuminating and informative sessions, across a hectic conference schedule, are summarised here.

Day One

The summit was launched by Starbuck’s founder Howard Schultz who, not surprisingly got his inspiration for the company, when as a student he first experienced the Milanese coffee culture. Schultz, a long strong ‘Café Americano’, addressed the relationship between corporate culture, profit and the future of our planet. For him, the generation of profit alone in business is not sustainable but needs the balance of social responsibility. For Schultz, transparency in business is the new normal.

The genius of Nathan Myhrvold, a former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft and co-founder of Intellectual Ventures, the author of Modernist Cuisine (2011) and Modernist Bread (2017) was evident as he discussed the correlation between food and science and innovation. He moved us into the wonderful world of baking, where methodically he worked his way through food history and agriculture to arrive, somewhat puzzlingly in a world where wheat costs less than dirt and how this fails everyone, rich and poor. He went on to describe his vision for an alternative to food resource commodification such as small-scale, high-quality premium wheat.

The panel discussion on ‘Accelerating Markets for Food Innovation’, had one of the few Australian participants, Guy Hudson, Executive Director at Sparklabs Cultiv8, a Sydney-based research facility and tech accelerator group. It was a series of short presentations on accelerators, their role in fostering innovation and linking this to venture capital.

‘Food & Health – The Future of Nutrition’ looked at the paradox that is protein, the many ways we now consume protein and how this can be both unhealthy and unsustainable. In the Netherlands alone, there are 168 companies involved in commercialising alternatives to traditional protein sources, with plant protein, with this market growing so quickly that in a recent report from Rabobank alerting the traditional proteins market that the trend to plant-based proteins is “stealing their growth.”

Doctor and chef, Robert Graham talked of food as medicine, writing prescriptions for good food to treat illness and his experiences teaching over 200 healthcare workers, mostly medical residents, how to prepare healthy and delicious plant-based meals at the Natural Gourmet Institute to foster understanding of the role food plays in treating illness.

I tasted the much talked about Beyond Burger and discussed the future of proteins, with the person I call the ‘Steve Jobs of the food industry’, Seth Goldman, Beyond Meat which topped the day.

Day Two

John F Kerry, 68th U.S. Secretary of State and Paris Accord Signatory was the Day Two keynote speaker. The gravitas of his address made us all take note that climate change is impacting food production with global repercussions. “Climate changes, sustainability, and food waste underlie the fact that nobody in the 21st century would have to starve anymore. Millions of people could eat more and better if we were just smarter about food harvest, food storage, and food distribution.”

The urgent task, according to Secretary Kerry, is for innovators to confront these global challenges, with science and not belief, to avoid cynicism and apathy to harness technology to ensure a better future for all. As Nelson Mandela said; “it all seems impossible, until it is done.”

Linking youth and the future of food was an ongoing summit theme with some incredible teenovators introducing sessions. The leading role women are taking in innovation was lauded in ‘The Power of Women in Food Innovation’ and this was demonstrated throughout the summit with many women actively engaged and presenting sessions.

‘Farm to Fork: Updates in Monitoring, Sensing & Reporting Technologies in Precision Agriculture’, started with the World Food Program (WFP) looking at the rise of hunger globally and the role of innovators in alleviating poverty-induced hunger. If you are unaware of this, the WFP has an app Share the Meal where you can share as little as USD 0.50 to help feed a child.

The innovative and disruptive application of blockchain and artificial intelligence was demonstrated in managing agriculture and farming, food logistics and food safety. The farm of the future will be tended by contracted machinery managed with AI. Even if a farm had not been tended before, the robotics will already know and understand exactly what to do without human involvement.

With the number of start-ups in the food space, the take away from this session was best said by Olaf Gruen (General Mills) and advocate of Connected Innovation, ‘the sum of the number of start-ups is a bigger outside-in disruptor to the food industry than technology’.

With roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year, approximately 1.3 billion tonnes is wasted, ‘Innovative Solutions to Food Waste’ is a global need. From applications of natural coatings for fruit and vegetables derived from food waste to extend shelf life without refrigeration, to smart and sustainable packaging made from food waste, to technology used to monitor food in-store using a ‘dynamic pricing policy’ to minimise shrinkage, onto converting waste to wellness with new types of foods, or harnessing new technologies to track and measure waste in food service, in field agricultural waste and in logistics, the session represented the cutting edge of the global response to managing a lost resource of food. Even a low-tech solution for subsistence farmers of simple portable storage silos for harvest have a huge impact on waste. The incentive for return on investment of 14:1 for every dollar invested in utilising food waste gets a lot of attention. The take away; ‘food waste is the third largest methane producer behind China and the United States.’

Day Three

‘We Millennials’ is a great start to the day. Not my demographic by age but in spirit. As the largest group of consumers, millennials are driving change in the way we work, grow and process food and eat. Millennials in the USA eat 50% less beef and pork than their parents. They look for a sense of purpose and meaning in work and have in business work on the principles of people, profit and planet or what is becoming known as ‘the purpose economy’. Millennial food innovators spoke of their experiences as start-ups and their product offering. The take away? ‘Millennials are in the driver’s seat in all aspects of food.’

To a packed house ‘The Future of Retail’ facilitated by Phil Lempert the US-based ‘Supermarket Guru’, consisted of a panel of food retailers from the USA, Germany, Italy, France, Russia as well as Google. We were introduced, with quite a stir, to YAPE (Your Autonomous Pony Express), one of the many futures of food delivery, as it rolled into the room to deliver water for the panelists, having done 200km roaming the streets of Milan.

A seismic shift is happening in food retail to compete with on-line and it’s happening fast. The new paradigm is (food) stores connect people, to each other and the community. Transparency, authenticity, integrity, trust and doing good is the future of retail with the in-store experience being the key.

Stores are seeing the return of in-store services such as, butchers, fish mongers, bakers and cheese experts. In-store service is even reaching into the produce section, with local growers showcasing the latest seasonal produce, to urban farmers tending in-store vertical farms. Personalisation to the customer is fundamental, with customers interacting with the people who work in-store and who are available to talk to about food. It’s an experience that builds trust and adds to a shopping experience.

Stores are moving to be food curators, trusted retailers of foods unavailable online such as produce grown in-store or from specialist growers or manufactures. Food retail is becoming more mindful of the impact food has on our lives and planet. As the representative from the world’s largest food retailer, Carrefour put it and my take away; ‘localism is the key to success for the retailer.’

Then it’s into ‘The Architecture of Disruption – Revisiting Open Innovation’ with no less than eight practitioners presenting. This session alone deserves its own article but the idea of collaborating in innovation between business and sectors is finding its place. There is a balance that needs to be found between long-term and short-term innovation and the value this brings to the bottom line. In short, the take away is that ‘to become a disruptor, is about being in the right place, at the right time, with the right priorities and the right product scale.’

‘New Forms of Food Experience’ wasn’t that new if you have been around food technologists for the past 20 years but the differences highlighted in this session is in the language and detailed nuance in research in sensory occurring and linking this to the world of artificial intelligence and the ‘internet of things’. I will look further at this on Day Four.

David McIntyre, formerly head of food at Airbnb, introduced a new way of doing culinary tourism through linking online the traveller with the local community to experience their culinary world. Different to having that stranger sleeping on the fold out sofa!

Day Four

Day Four already! With the intense immersion learning over the previous days the final day is like a lap of honour. Today’s highlight is the digital world and the era of artificial intelligence. IBM demonstrated how their supercomputer ‘Watson’ used AI in its application to non-human NPD.

We were introduced to Dr Matthew Lange. When there is a genius in the room, I sit up and take notice. Matthew Lange University of California (Davis), is a personable and communicative speaker who is helping to define and shape a new scientific discipline known as Food Informatics. A new language is being written, digitally, similar to what is called HTML, to describe food and then apply this language. Using the principles of the application of AI to food; computational creativity, digitalising flavour and machine perception, then applying this to either, agriculture, recipe creation or food NPD, the food world as we know it is undergoing a radical shift. It is a project as big as the mapping of the human genome, that will, in a thrilling and terrifying manner, (can we discuss this in person?) change food in a seismic way, just as we did when we moved from being hunter-gathers to farming and living in communities.

This is an all too brief account of this session but to do justice would require me to undertake a PhD and an entirely separate paper. The takeout is ‘don’t just watch this space, get involved and write the future of food, as this is way too important for the future of food to leave alone’. Day Four ended with the ‘Seeds&Chips’ Awards 2018’ which for brevity I won’t detail here.

This article is just a tip of what can be called the ‘Seeds&Chips’ iceberg of a summit. Tarn Food Consulting is happy to share with you our findings and our expertise in food. Along with a strong international network that can help you in grappling with innovation in the market, we can also assist with a diverse portfolio of competencies needed to be successful in today’s market. Get in touch today to reserve a date and time for a consultation.

Patrick Watson is a chemist and chef with his master’s in business. He has worked in some of France’s and Italy’s top Michelin starred restaurants. He has headed up some of Australia’s best kitchens. He has worked in innovation roles in the food industry, both in Australia and internationally for the last 18 years. Besides being an importer of innovative food products from small French start-ups into Australia, he is the founder and managing director of Tarn Food Consulting.

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