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Nine strands of innovation

Innovation / -

A mapping analysis of the 175 food startup companies which made appearances at Expo Milano 2015 has made it possible to identify the main trends in agrifood innovation, grouping them in nine main strands. Let’s see what these are.

An excellent showcase for food startups. Among the countless opportunities offered by Expo Milano 2015, this initiative has certainly represented a notable opportunity: the Universal Exposition examined over 300 new businesses. In order to limit ourselves to those operating in the field of food and sustainability, we mapped 175 whose mission was clearly linked with innovation in the agrifood sector. These consisted of startups based both in Italy and abroad, which were presented in the Pavilions of their respective countries or else in forums, hackathons and other dedicated events.
The Nursery of Ideas: a talent hub
One important focal point for these young innovators has undoubtedly been the Nursery of Ideas (or Vivaio delle Idee) project, promoted by the Italian Pavilion with the collaboration of ItaliaCamp, which offered a competition selecting the most innovative ideas, to be presented in Expo Milano 2015. 300 startups asked to participate. Of these, 150 were selected to present a pitch in Expo Milano 2015, of which the 24 best venture ideas were chosen to participate in one of eight Opportunity Days, during which they met and interacted with a panel of investors, funds and venture capital specialists.
The compass of innovation
Thanks to this process of selection, but also by contacting numerous other innovators, for comparison, we have identified nine recurrent trends. These are innovative strands which interweave and superimpose with one another, to such an extent that we found it necessary to indicate various sub-categories.
Here are the main sector trend categories:
1. The Internet of Things
Thanks to the Internet, potentially every single object that is part of our everyday experience acquires an existence in the digital dimension: tools and commonly-used devices can exchange information via electronic components, sensors and interconnected software. Consequently, all these devices can be controlled from a distance. These characteristics open up a vast field of possible application in agricultural food production. Learn more 
2. Urban vegetable plots
Increasing the total cultivatable area inside cities as well as outside them is a necessity… and also a pleasant hobby. Devices equipped with sensors are able to measure air temperature, atmospheric and soil humidity, concentration of main nutrients, threats, etc. This data is then gathered and processed and communicated via a mobile or web device. But small spaces can also be exploited using aeroponics, aquaponics and hydroponics, none of which require soil. Learn more
3. Sustainability
The food of the future must require less water, less energy, less fertilizer and less transport. And since sometimes you have to look at the past in order to innovate, many young people are devoting themselves to agriculture and reviving methods of organic cultivation, using biodynamic approaches, permaculture or synergic agriculture. Sustainability also has a vital social dimension, such as the inclusion of weaker or disadvantaged members of society or boosting female business empowerment. Learn more
4. Health
Allergies and intolerances and other food-connected pathologies are multiplying all over the world, and in doing so are creating target groups which offer considerable market potential. The startup projects in this strand focus on solutions for offering healthy and genuine foods, foods suitable for certain kinds of dietary problems which remain pleasurably palatable and easily available. The most significant sub-group here was seen to be the development of substitute products, where traditional animal protein contents are simulated by vegetal contents. Learn more
5. Security and Traceability
The traceability of agriculturally produced food products is an increasingly significant issue both for institutions and private subjects. The use of mobile devices enables the monitoring of various phases of the supply chain and ensures respect for food safety standards and traceability. Many new evaluation techniques have been developed using sensing devices. The use of a single category of technique or a combination makes it possible to cover the challenges of a wide range of food sector problems. Learn more 
6. Superfood
Scientific research has led to the discovery of previously unexplored nutritional properties, many of which are presented as ‘superfoods’. Some of these already existed in nature but needed rediscovery and market distribution. Others are created by laboratory nutrient enrichment processes. In this micro-trend, a special mention goes to algae. Rich in vitamins and mineral salts, algae have long been present in the diet of many Asian peoples, and have been indicated by the FAO as one of the possible solutions to malnutrition in Developing Countries. Learn more
7. Sharing
Among the environments in which the desire for sharing is especially strong, the field of food generates intense interest. This trend can be said to include all online platforms and mobile apps which encourage networking on food issues, whether offering digital resources to obtain short supply chain products, lunches and suppers in private homes, interactive edutainment products for children, store locators for finding restaurants, and much more. Learn more
8. Waste reduction
Technology can produce effective weapons to counteract the scandal of food waste. The possibility of communicating in real time (frequently through a smartphone) the availability of excess food or near-expiry date food has made it much simpler to reinforce recovery methods. More and more applications and online platforms are being launched – by creative innovators from Italy and many other countries – which benefit retailers and consumers by signaling the availability of products near the end of their shelf life. Learn more
9. 3D printing
The spread of 3D printer technology is a fascinating phenomenon, which is starting to be employed in restaurants and even in private homes. This is basically a more sophisticated version of the home-made auto-production approach, made ‘smarter’ by the use of this new technology. Learn more
Thanks for this mapping exercise to: CNR, Intesa Sanpaolo, ItaliaCamp, the Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Foundation, Italia Start Up, Piacenza Innovativa, Tavoli Expo, Unido, We-Women for Expo, Autogrill, and the Expo Pavilions of Belgium, Estonia, Israel, Slovakia, Spain, USA and Switzerland.

Tangible Nous. From Mexico, an alternative to animal protein

Innovation / -

A Mexican company has developed 100 percent vegetal products which can substitute meat, milk, yogurt and egg preparations while maintaining the taste and consistency of the originals. They also boast a whole series of advantages when compared to the substitutive products currently available.

Healthy and sustainable proteins, low allergy risk, no cholesterol or fats, low calories, low prices and also suitable for Vegans. Is this the answer to the diet of the future? According to Tangible Nous, the medium-sized Mexican company which has been active in food innovation since 2008, the answer is Yes. This division – part of an entirely Mexican group which for the last 30 years has specialized in research and development of innovative technologies – has created and patented a new product which makes it possible to reproduce traditional recipes based on meat, milk or eggs without using any animal products. The difference compared to the many substitutive products now on the market, is the absence of allergic agents (such as soya), plus it has no GMOs and no consumption limits. This innovation offers itself above all as an alternative to meat. The rising global demand for meat raises massive sustainability problems. We asked Aniceto González, CEO and developer of Tangible Nous, to tell us more about this project.
What are the strong points of your products?
We offer a complete solution. Our products can be used with the same ease as the traditional ingredients they substitute, maintaining their taste but with 100 percent natural ingredients. We offer a wide range of products: sausages, hamburgers, milk, yogurt, cheese. We want people to buy our products not only because they are sustainable, but because they taste good. Added to which, most alternatives on the market actually contain less proteins.
What are your goals?
We are a Mexican company, but with a global vision and reach, so one goal is to export everywhere. We are currently drawing up various agreements in strategic areas such as Singapore, Dubai, Germany, South Africa and the USA. In order to access new markets we have obtained Kosher and Halal certification, and we are considering further certifications. Recently we had a meeting in Dubai with United Arab Emirates representatives of the Sharma Relief Program, and they are very interested in buying various products of ours for use in areas of the world where they would be invaluable. At the moment we are trying to reach the markets of South America, the USA and Canada, which are the nearest to us, but Africa and Asia will become important, particularly where our products could be extremely useful in relieving the problem of malnutrition.
Are there cultural barriers to be overcome, when it comes to meat-eaters?
I don’t think so. Visually and gastronomically, our products are very similar to the traditional versions. If they were put on supermarket shelves without saying that they were vegetal products, I’m sure people would buy them. Gradually, as people become more aware of certain issues, they will start to appreciate our products both for their many benefits and their taste. I can truthfully say that they're perfect for everybody!

Seventh trend: sharing

Innovation / -

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Among the environments in which the desire for sharing is especially strong, the field of food generates intense interest. This trend can be said to include all online platforms and mobile apps which encourage networking on food issues, whether offering digital resources to obtain short supply chain products, lunches and suppers in private homes, interactive edutainment products for children, store locators for finding restaurants, and much more.

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