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Marco Gualtieri. Technology can help us tackle the challenges of Expo Milano 2015

Innovation / -

Marco Gualtieri

Innovative technologies can help us to reduce waste, support small farmers, and eat food which is healthier, more sustainable and available to everyone. At the Universal Exposition, many young innovators have proposed promising solutions. Has the era of the Internet of Food arrived?

Sustainability, food security and waste reduction are the keywords of the food startups which Expo Milano 2015 has brought to everyone’s attention. The same priorities are shared by Marco Gualtieri, founder and Chairman of Seeds&Chips.
 Gualtieri has launched several successful startups: he created TicketOne and was one of the founders of Netcomm, the Italian e-commerce Consortium.
 He is also the founder of Milano Cucina.
 
Which parts of the agricultural food chain have the highest rate of innovation?
All the various phases in the supply system are undergoing significant innovatory processes which – thanks mainly to the digital dimension – are changing the way that food is produced, transformed, distributed and communicated. Agriculture is intensely involved in technological innovation. Sensors, software, drones and big data make it possible to limit (often drastically) the amount of water used, but also the amount of fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide. But precision agriculture also makes it possible to take early action in cases of mass infestation… think of the recent case of Xylella which struck hundreds of ancient olive trees in southern Italy, spreading its deadly effects because intervention was too late and too slow. If adequate precision agriculture systems are in place information can be gathered in real time and interventions activated. The same thing applies in the animal farming sector.
 
What trends are shared by the most interesting startups in the agricultural food production field?
Sustainability, food security and waste reduction are the keywords. These are the challenges which Expo Milano 2015 has set as the central focus of international attention. The good news is that today the instruments exist to tackle these challenges. Technologies, sensors, networks and devices of all kinds have reached an unprecedented level of innovative sophistication and accessibility… and therefore diffusion. Thanks also to Expo Milano 2015, many young innovators have become aware of the vast opportunities involved, meaning that hundreds of new startups exist in the world today. These are just the bridgehead of a much larger system which will grow exponentially. What happened with Internet will also happen to the Internet of Food: the use of the web will make the whole system more efficient.
 
What are the most innovative technologies likely to transform the world of food in the future?
Along with precision agriculture, certainly the techniques of production without soil (hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics), and also the projects of food replicas without animal protein: hamburgers without meat, mayonnaise without egg, etc. Hampton Creek, the Californian startup which developed and is now successfully selling Just Mayo, the egg-free mayonnaise indistinguishable from the traditional version, is an extraordinary example.
 
At the same time, I also wouldn’t underestimate the e-commerce platforms (or the information and traceability platforms), new packaging and 3D food printers. Going back to hydroponics, on the other hand, we will see more and more of it and in ever improved versions (again using sensors, networks and big data), but above all the spread of this system to urban contexts. A great example is the solution proposed by Robonica, a Milanese startup which in a few months’ time will start producing the first “home appliances” for producing zero kilometer tomatoes, lettuce and much more. Another Italian startup, Pnat, is moving in similar territory with its JellyFish Barge, a kind of raft that desalinates and purifies water using only sun, wind and wave power, and then uses a hydroponic system to produce fruit and vegetables. Urban farming, feeding the city… these expressions indicate phenomena which will evolve massively in the coming years.
 
Which do you think is the most promising of these technologies? In what timescale do you see them being massively applied?
The speed of innovation is mind-boggling. Many of the most radical innovations simply didn’t exist a few years ago. The entire food supply chain will be revolutionized (before long, the world’s digital consumers will top the five billion mark). The extraordinary merit of Expo Milano 2015 – perhaps insufficiently recognized or appreciated – has been its skill in stimulating encounters, forums, debates, information, proposals and solutions on the most vital theme of all for our Planet, and especially for humanity. This is why I’m convinced that this particular Universal Exposition will mark an epochal point in mankind’s relationship with food, after which technological innovation will make it possible to reduce waste, support small food producers, and eat food which is healthier, more sustainable and – above all – available to everyone.
 
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Local products tell their stories online

Taste / -

Giacomo Santoleri e la sua
Giacomo Santoleri, Casino di Caprifico photo courtesy di originàrio

Many craft producers are often not known because, while they are doing an excellent product, they are not well-versed in storytelling. Three start-ups with a passion for digital have found different ways to network.

The commercial success of some producers of local products is often linked to the skills of an entrepreneur, a company, and the local area in storytelling, or in sharing the deep-seated wealth at the core of their product. Often these stories of passion, hard work, quality, would otherwise remain behind the scenes; but today with Internet, it's all coming out.
 
The appeal of this challenge has been picked up by various micro-enterprises that have found ways of bringing to life the infinite variety of Italy’s food heritage, often in similar ways. One of these is Discovery Food, a start-up founded in April 2014 that, thanks to an idea shared by ​​three young guys from Puglia - Vito Tafuni, Giovanni Mangiatordi and Michele Spinelli -  won Telecom Italia’s Working Capital in July 2014. Without further ado, the three entrepreneurs packed their bags and took off to Milan where they began shaping their ideas ready to go online on November 30.
 
"Behind every food product there is a story, and it's a story worth telling - says Mangiatordi - but unfortunately even excellent producers have little time to spend on self-promotion or technological skills. Our team, consisting of, among others, two photographers and a specialized copywriter, collects information and materials to create a showcase, which can really pique our reader's curiosity and engage them." Some producers will also use the platform as a marketplace to sell their specialties in Italy or abroad.
 
"Our site aims not to be a container of products, but of stories - says Spinelli - and so we offer our services to those who so not have the scale for an e-commerce structure or retail facilities throughout Italy, but basically want to be known and to get re-acquainted with visiting customers."
 
Passion and craftsmanship are ... in a box
"The most exciting part of a food product is the story of who produced it." This belief underlies Originàrio, a new digital platform that allows you to receive every month a tasting box containing a new and different 'story to taste'. "Our vision is to reach people who are passionate – the so-called foodies – about foods and wines made with passion – says Sissi Semprini, a specialist in corporate communications and creator of Originàrio – from the people we got to know over there, where every day they create something good. From a high-quality product, we draw attention to the producer and to the local area of origin. And they tell the story. Using parameters of excellence, our selection also takes into account the sustainability of production methods, respect for people and the environment, according to the principle of 'good and well done', which falls right in the center of the best culinary traditions. "After the first test in July, Box 02 came out in October with the further release in November of a "premium" version dedicated to the festive season. Each box is a concept and contains a selection of gourmet products, from wine to dessert, tasting notes and recipes to enhance the products. Quantities are sufficient for a dinner or a drinks party, because the conviviality is a typical element of 'Italian eating'. Originario aims to combine content and e-commerce, appealing immediately to international markets. Indeed Box 01 is already shipping all over Europe.
                                                                                                                                          
The farmer gets social with Farmr
Whereas Farmr, an iOS app that lets you share and book fresh food from small farmers, grocers and farmers amateurs, hinges on the idea of proximity. It was presented as a prototype at the last H-ack Food organized by H-Farm. It is a very simple but effective idea. The small producer has to register on the platform, take a picture of the production that they want to sell that day, write a brief description and share it on the net. Those interested, should contact the manufacturer to arrange the sale.
 
"Our goal is to bring small farmers, especially organic ones, closer to consumers - say Giovanni Cappellotto, co-founder of Farmr – or even, to make food more popular than it is now." In short, even the democratization of food, has a social soul.
 

Cryptobrand, putting its name on the line for security

Innovation / -

Con la app di Cryptobrand è possibile verificare l'autenticità di un prodotto attraverso un tag

The start-up founded in 2013 and active within the Speed Me Up a business incubator, uses the principle of the digital signature to guarantee the authenticity of any product, verifiable by a purchaser via an app.

The fight against food counterfeiting (to protect consumers and not lose precious revenue) is an age-old game, but technological experimentation is drawing new life from the spread of smartphones and tablets which allow anyone to have a comfortable 'detector' in their pocket or handbag. And Cryptobrand, a mobile app-based solution, is just that. This start-up - incubated at the Company Accelerator Speed Me Up (developed in Milan at the Bocconi University, with the Municipality and the Chamber of Commerce) - proposes a new digital platform to provide certified and guaranteed information.
 
The principle is that of the digital signature, normally used for digital documents: identification is made by applying specific labels (tags) whose content is encrypted by Cryptobrand. Customers are able, through the app on their mobile devices, to read the data of the document or product compared with those contained in the tag (even offline). They can also access in real-time the Cryptobrand portal or web address of the manufacturer for further information or services.

An idea born by chance
The idea came about quite by chance in 2010 following a tax inspection: the Italian inland revenue had asked the current director of the start-up to verify a tax return made five years earlier, requiring the presentation of a number of paper documents in original. "This gave him the idea of a 'digital seal' that would allow immediate verification of all paper documents even after many years - explains Roberto Pittia, General Manager and Co-Founder of Cryptobrand -. Its applicability, from verifiying the originality of a paper document to protecting a product sold in a store or on the web, was almost immediate: and the patent application was presented that year."

In June 2013, the start-up won the competition to enter Speed Me Up and here a digital platform was created for tracking 'brand to end' in real time of documents and products, immediately and easily usable by different categories of users.
 
In October 2013 the company was founded by three partners (the fourth will arrive soon).
The system makes it virtually impossible to distribute counterfeit products on a large scale, but also original products not authorized by the brand (for example, those removed unlawfully). In case of theft, the company can simplymap the missing codes and track them at the time of transaction, just as if they were marked banknotes.
 
Compared with other systems, Cryptobrand's invention has the advantage of not requiring the physical object for verification of authenticity, thus ensuring even online purchases. "In the world of e-commerce - continues Pittia - we want to position ourselves next to the most popular security systems already adopted in digital shopping, those of certification domains and certified payments, offering the missing link, or a system of certification products."

A versatile system applicable in many fields
Cryptobrand uses a mix of technologies recently introduced, adding the guarantee of a technical / commercial partnership with an approved certification body (CA - Certification Authority). The industrial process on which Cryptobrand is based is covered by an Italian patent released in August 2013 and the issuance of the European patent is being approved.

Cryptobrand was a finalist at the Unicredit Start Lab in September 2014 and the EIT ICT Labs of Trento last November. At the moment, the start-up is working especially in the area of documentation and fashion, but food is more than ever a target area for the foreseeable future.
 
"We presented our solution also to the National Council of Anti-Counterfeiting (which belongs to the Italian Ministry of Economic Development - explains Pittia - because of the fact that our system is particularly versatile, making it interesting for a multi-sectoral framework like the food sector. We are talking with different food consortia and with the Department of anti-counterfeiting of the Grande Milano Research Center so that we are ready to present some interesting case studies for the opening 
 

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