Innovation Around Food

June 21st, 2020 Innovation Insights

Feeding eight billion people require innovative recipes. Some bizarre, others a bit disgusting, many already exist or will exist in the near Future. Four out of 20 ideas came about between laboratory and the think tank’s canteen.
When talking about innovation, most people proba­bly think of the invention of the PC or their new smart­phone, and less about food and water. The Earth will soon be home to more than eight billion people and it is inconceivable they could be adequately fed and supplied with clean water without developing and us­ing innovative technologies in the food and water sec­tor. 3D food printing is probably the most well known. Something that is less spectacular but perhaps even more urgent is the tamper-proof tracing of food supply chains and new water treatment technologies using mi­cro algae and nanomaterials.

Food Printing: Nouvelle Cuisine 4.0?

Ultimately, for the 3D printer, it makes no difference whether an object is made of plastic or chocolate. The decisive factor is the starting material, which must be melt-able or in any case easily mold-able during the FDM (fused deposition modeling) process. Chocolate, Fondant, pasta dough, fruit and vegetable purées are well suited for this. The ingredients are added via food cartridges and coloring.

Although the technology was developed by NASA to be able to offer its astro­nauts some variety, 3D food printing is currently used primarily on Earth for confectionery decoration and the wow factor it has, for example, to add a three-dimen­sional chocolate sculpture of the newlyweds to their wedding cake.

The basic idea is to print conventional foodstuffs in unusual shapes and small quantities as required and to include additives for form stability (top-down approach). The bottom-up approach is the opposite. Bottom-up in food printing means producing food from alternative food sources such as algae and insects. Of course, these should also be enjoyed by consum­ers who tend to lose their appetite thinking edible meal-worms or grasshoppers. That is why the producers act like parents who sneak vegetables into their children’s favorite tomato sauce: Powdered, i.e. unrecognizable, insects serve as a high-quality protein source in -Fitness bars, chocolates, and bread.  

They go into the mixer, then the printer, are processed, and the new lifestyle product with added value is ready. Unlike children, shoppers know what they’re eating and are increasingly accepting of it.
Future applications of 3D food printing are conceiv­able. These include the idea of producing individualized food for people not easily swallowing or chewing or with special nutritional needs, including diabetics and allergy sufferers. In any case, food printing has made progress since the -First pizza printer BeeHex hit the headlines in 2013 and disappeared again. Marzipan, pancakes, chocolate, sausage, sushi, pasta – a lot is possible nowadays, although nerds rather than gour­mets tend to appreciate the new technology. The focus is still on the printing of confectionery with individual shapes in small quantities and the printing of in vitro meat, which lnsights No. 1/2020 already talked about in its technology preview.

Printing Instead Of Cooking

Several companies, mostly start-ups, are currently exploring the potential of 30-printed food:

The digital patisserie La Patisserie Numerique, founded in 2019, aims to advance the use of 3D print­ing for baked goods and in the food industry in gener­al. To this end, the start-up has developed special slicer software for food printing. To demonstrate which del­icate, edible objects can be printed, the programmer pastry chefs decorated a cake with a sweet replica of Notre-Dame de Paris’ south rose window rose.

The Barry Callebaut Group, founded in 1996, one of the largest chocolate producers in the world, opened a 3D printing studio for chocolate in early 2020, which it claims is the -First and only such studio in the world. This is where, for example, Flor de Cacao was created, the model of a cocoa bean that opens like a cocoa flower when it comes into contact with hat chocolate sauce. Confectioners can create their own designs here and reproduce them, no matter how filigree and complicated.

The start-up SavorEat and the burger chain Burgus Burger Bar, both companies from Israel, are jointly de­veloping a 30 printer for vegan meat substitutes.

Food: Trust is good, Blockchain is better

Glycol in wine, BSE, rotten meat, melamine in baby powder or horse instead of beef in lasagna – every food scandal in recent years has varied between disgusting and fatal. Before a scandal can occur, nu­merous manufacturers often recall their products as a precautionary measure, even if the suspicion of met­al splinters in a bag of rice or salmonella in the onion sausage is not confirmed. Food waste and packaging waste included. In this respect, trust in food, suppliers and providers is vital for all links in a supply chain.

For good reason, many top-class restaurateurs are increasingly including their suppliers on the menu as a confidence-building measure. Something that may still work in regional B2C contact is simply impossible in the globalized food industry with its camp/ex supply chains. And where the keyword (missing) trust meets the urgent need for consumer protection, block-chain is not far off. ALPORA presented the technology in de­tail in lnsights No. 1/2017. This time, the focus is on the opportunities that block-chain offers the food indus­try in documenting the food chain in a tamper-proof manner – producers, production standards, origin, suppliers, transport conditions etc. Tamper-proof implies: Doing business using block-chain requires no trust be­tween parties. (The missing bitcoins weren’t based on block-chain manipulation.) 

The End of Cover-ups and Fraud

In general, the entire food supply chain has count­less opportunities to defraud, manipulate and cover up, i.e. everything that falls under the keywords’ food fraud and food defense. A corresponding number of ap­proaches for block-chain applications are conceivable. This starts with GMO-contaminated (genetically mod­ified organisms) seeds and fake indications of origin and continues with deliberate adulteration or covering up broken cold chains. Block-chain can also be used to create a tamper-proof land registry that secures Farm­ers’ property rights in countries with unreliable land ownership. This means that the origin of food can also be flawlessly proven in the downstream supply chains. And finally, the incorruptible control system can ensure that green bonds really only invest in environmentally friendly companies and projects.

 Providers and Users

The best-known block-chain with regard to the food supply chain is likely IBM Food Trust, a collaborative network of Farmers, manufacturers, processors, whole­salers, retailers, consumers and other stakeholders that improves transparency and accountability across the food supply chain. The network connects participants through authorized, immutable and shared documenta­tion of the origin of food, transaction data, processing details and more. In doing so, inefficiencies, environmental violations and manipulations in the global de­livery processes can be avoided. Nestle, Walmart and Carrefour support the project.

While the major players’ block-chain solutions can basically be used for many industries, not just the food sector, start-ups usually specialize in certain industries from the outset, and in some cases, they also associate them with ethical standards. For example Genevieve Leveille, founder of Agriledger. She has committed to nothing less than the democratization of market op­portunities in the wide field of global agriculture. Her block-chain application is designed to make it easier for Farmers in developing countries to access global mar­kets, finance, and information sources, including rele­vant weather information, the origin of the seeds, the fertilizer used, and the location of the harvest.

Like IBM, Oracle also operates its own block-chain­as-a-service platform. Together with the non-profit NGO World Bee Project, Oracle is working on a sys­tem for monitoring supply chains in honey production. At the same time, the project provides beekeepers, Farmers, researchers and governments with up-to-date knowledge from bee research.

Siemens has developed MindSphere, a block­chain-based operating system that helps the food industry avoid unnecessary product recalls, identify counterfeit products and meet increasing consumer expectations regarding the transparency of origin and production processes.

The iFinca app wants to bring ethics to the coffee plantations and promises block-chain transparency “from Farm to cup”. The app connects consumers of the cup of coffee with the Farmers on the plantations. Anyone who scans a QR code on the coffee packaging learns how much the Farmer has earned from the pro­duction and further information about the Fairness or unfairness of the supply chain.

Big Data makes it possible

3D food printing, blockchain for supply chain in­spection – these are some innovative research clusters currently operating in the food sector. The list of all 20 clusters was compiled by the Swiss investment analytics company Alpora: Using big-data analysis of the NETCULATOR system, Alpora has evaluated all scientific publications dealing with food. Fortunately, the list shows that the most fundamental of all global problems is at the top of the list when it comes to in­novation.