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What will we be eating in 2050? Ten innovators give their forecasts

Innovation / -

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What trends are shared by the most interesting innovations in the food/agriculture sector?

The greatest expectations are concentrating on big data and analytics: these solutions are already employed in the logistics of the food industry, with applications able to trace every foodstuff. Many people see huge opportunities in applying this kind of big data analytic approach to agricultural production, to study models and trends in order to foresee, optimize and boost efficiency in the agricultural production process.
Josette Lewis, Associate Director of the World Food Center at the University of California in David Davis

Which phases of the food chain feature the highest degree of innovation today?

I see three main areas: traceability, through technologies like the QR code and the use of chips; improved food conservation, prolonging its shelf life; and in actual production, the application of precision agriculture, robotics and the use of satellites, drones or aircraft. There could also be a fourth area, namely biotechnology, but in Italy – for legislative and political reasons –at the moment this is not operative.
Francesco Loreto, Director of the Department of Bio-Food and Agriculture Sciences - CNR

In which areas can the most interesting agri-food sector startups be found in?

The theme is very broad and complex, in regards to the food production supply chain; we are talking about from "seed to plate". Some technologies have longer-term horizons for application, while some have already been put into practice. The technologies that have to be considered cover all areas from biotech to nanotech, from ICT (Information and Communication Technology), IOT (Internet of Things) drones, robotics, etc. Examples range from the improvement of crops through the application of biotechnology (such as plant biotechnology), the theme of precision agriculture and addressing issues of production, along with conservation, distribution (with the issue of reducing food waste) and marketing.
Marco Bicocchi Pichi, President of Italia Startup

What are the key sectors?

There are three: agriculture, although it suffers from a certain resistance to change, providing us with excellent products but offering little interaction with new markets; sustainability projects related to energy, in particular renewable sources; the entire field of Healthcare, including nutraceuticals, which enriches the standard foods with additional functional and curative properties. In the vein of sustainability, the key to success is the ability to create businesses that are able to meet the needs of the area in terms of values. These values are linked to the following areas: social inclusion, sustainable tourism, green agriculture (including systems and networks that make agricultural products readily available), edutainment and the fight against waste.
Federico Flora, President of the ItaliaCamp Foundation

Among all the startups you have presented in Expo Milano 2015, which kind of applications are most frequently involved?

The areas most frequently involved are those related to food security, both via diagnostic methods and through high density label-content; the strong revival of organic aspects, both in production and distribution; enabling platforms and applications which innovate the system by facilitating contacts between producers and consumers.
Antonio Dell'Atti, Project Manager ItaliaCamp Foundation, EXPO project

Of the various different fields of scientific research, which do you think are the most promising in terms of food production?

The study of biodiversity. The exploration of genetic biodiversity could open up extremely promising possibilities in identifying and analyzing genes able to generate a more efficient use of resources. Advances in this dimension would trigger major progress in implementing more sustainable productive systems.
Silvia Grassi, researcher in agriculture and food in the Expo Laboratory

Can you offer some examples of innovative trends currently underway?

In a context featuring stable resources and increasing population, innovation firstly focuses on using what we already have in more intelligent ways: optimize cultivation techniques, and not only in soil (aeroponics, aquaponics, hydroponics); generate bio-plastics from waste; identify new sources of nutrition, such as insects and algae; test new technologies in food preparations, such as infrared cooking or high pressure hydrostatic cooking or skimming fresh milk with ultrasound.
Claudio Mazzini, Coop Italia head of sustainability, innovation and values

Which technologies do find the most radically innovative?

Energy harvesting technologies, which absorb energy from the environment, are destined to transform the way we produce, distribute and consume food. These technologies will make it possible to construct monitoring and operational systems that are truly autonomous, overcoming the problems of traditional batteries, including disposal and environmental impact. I also think that short range radio technologies (Bluetooth 4.0, NFC,...), will play a big role, activating ‘personalized’ interaction with resources.
Luca Mottola, Milan Polytechnic

In what ways will technology change food production?

Sensors, networks and devices of all kinds have reached an unprecedented level of innovation and accessibility… and therefore diffusion. Today a small-scale farmer in a remote area can use his smartphone to improve production and therefore the food supply in his community. Also by using their phones, thousands of small-scale producers can sell their products more efficiently, reaching markets and buyers which until now would have been inaccessible.
Marco Gualtieri, founder of MilanoCucina

What innovations can we expect in the longer term?

In the future I can see ongoing experimentation in innovations that closely affect the act of eating. Like the attempt a while ago to market a digital spoon that could weigh each spoonful and say how many calories it contained. But that was probably too far ahead of its time.
Sonia Massari, food designer

Next to technology, in which areas must we innovate?

Currently, there is a strong concentration of food distribution technologies and a deep reflection on the organizational logic of the private sector aimed at redesigning the relationship with the market and communication tools. This has led to an expansion of the scope of innovation from the strictly technical, to the economic, social, managerial and marketplace areas. We are seeing above all, managerial innovations in the food production chain that are making major social and economic impacts.
Diana Battaggia, Director of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO Italy) Foto: © Unido Italia

From an investor’s point of view, which kinds of innovation and trends are the most attractive?

The trends in common to the most interesting startups in the field of food and agriculture are those connected with consumption modes and distribution methods. In particular, the delivery phase has developed enormously in recent years in the USA, and with increased competition between its protagonists. The groundbreaking technologies destined to most transform the world of food in future will be connected with everything that reduces the consumption of water and soil, the two scarcest commodities in the world.
Giovanni De Caro, Investment Manager of the Banca Intesa Atlante Ventures fund

What will be the most radically innovative food technologies of the future?

I see three: vegetal biotechnologies, bringing greater efficiency in using resources and improved ability to adapt to foreseen environmental conditions; Protein Engineering, based on available knowledge of protein functions in order to be able to modify their structure; nanotechnologies, and especially structured nanopesticides and nanofertilizers, which reduce eventual collateral damage to the user and the environment. And also nanoemulsions, to obtain products with reduced fats and calories while maintaining the same taste sensations.
Bianca Dendena, researcher in agriculture and food in the Expo Laboratory

What will be the enabling technologies?

We should keep an eye on two types of technologies: those related to the production, which allow for the creation of nutrient-rich foods, high in quality but low in cost (such as innovative ways of producing algae); and those of the Internet of Things, or innovations that allow on one hand to control the distribution chain, reassuring consumers about the origin of products, and on the other providing more and more information to producers who are now able to optimize inventory management, logistics and production capacity.
Domenico Genovese, Portfolio Manager of SiamoSoci

What trends are shared by the most interesting food startups? Which phases of the food chain feature the highest degree of innovation? Which are the groundbreaking technologies destined to transform the world of food in the future? What are the most important experiments going on? ExpoNet asked a selection of researchers, business angels, consultants and opinion leaders in the field of food and agriculture. Here are their answers.


Cinderella’s Pumpkin. The dream of synergistic agriculture comes true

Innovation / -

This farm of 1.5 hectares in the startup phase – the fruits of a corporate manager with a biology degree - uses the synergy between plants and microorganisms naturally present in the soil to cultivate ancient, rare and exotic varieties of plants.

Like all fairy tales, this one begins with a situation with no apparent way out: the founder of the startup La Zucca di Cenerentola  (Cinderella’s Pumpkin), was a manager for a multinational company where she felt a victim of stress and condemned to commute to Milan. Her real dream was to cultivate a vegetable garden following the rhythms of Mother Nature. Then one day Deborah Armiento, who has a degree in biology and a passion for horticulture, decided to think big and to turn this story into reality. In 2010 she started an organic farm covering 1.5 hectares, which applies the principles of synergy. What is it exactly? It is a method that does not use chemicals, but instead the synergy between plants and microorganisms naturally present in the soil. Now La Zucca di Cenerentola  - which was presented at Expo Milano 2015 as part of the Vivaio delle Idee   (Ideas Nursery) - is a member of the "Slow Food" movement and participates in several projects, including "Slow Food Mais Lombardia", aimed at the production, processing and consumption of some older varieties of corn. The founder, Deborah Armiento, explained her business, which takes its name from the 60 edible types of pumpkins that she collected over several trips in Italy and abroad, in more detail.
What are the most innovative features of your cultivation method?
It is the most environmentally friendly method that exists, because the soil is worked only during the first year and then remains undisturbed, avoiding the drying out and the destruction of the ecosystem, providing savings in fuel; you do not need any treatment because – thanks to a combination of different species – plants will protect each other.  By using this synergy, you do not need to use chemical fertilizers. The fields do not require weeding due to the use of green manure (the herbs are useful and many are also edible) or straw and only occasional watering is needed and so it is a great way to save water. We can cultivate many old plants, of rare or exotic varieties and the taste of these cultivated plants is intense, and their fruits are rich in vitality and beneficial properties.
Have you been recognized for your achievements?
To cite the most significant ones: I won first prize in the competition "The new success factors" in 2014, organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and I have been awarded the "Women who have it made" at the University of Pavia. , also Also, the company has been included in the Slow Food Guide "Grocery shopping with Slow Food" and is part of the Slow Food Fagiolo di Brebbia community, whose objective is the recognition of the 'cowpea' - cultivated for centuries in the nearby region of Brebbia (VA) (outside of Milan, Italy) - as a quality product. In late August I attended the conference CE Women Farmers Gathering 2015.
What strengths do you have in this competitive landscape?
Compared to other organic farms and processors, it is the high quality of the raw materials and what it has been transformed into, resulting in a product produced by hand and packaged without the use of pectin, flavorings or other additives. My canned goods retain all the aroma of the fresh product and come in a wide range of flavors, from classic ones (blackberry, raspberry, cherry jams) to the most sought after tastes (rose hip, rose petals, acacia flower etc.). The line includes syrups that maintain the beneficial properties of the flowers and herbs (elderflower, basil, etc.), Traditional preserves (quince, etc.) And imaginative products (chutney, mustard greens etc.) as well as sauces and savory preserves with herbs (nettle pesto, cream of sorrel, purslane oil etc.).

Eighth trend: waste reduction

Innovation / -

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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.

Over a million people are already #FoodConscious. What about you?

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