An Introduction to the Foodtech Job Market
We normally don’t think about the technology connected to our food until something goes wrong with it. However, we are in the middle of one of the most radical transformations of the world’s food supply since the Green Revolution. Everyone is looking for better ways to efficiently feed the over 7.5 billion people on our planet with our ever-shrinking land resources. Food security has become a global issue as communities become more connected, and this has led the world to develop food technology, or FoodTech, at an increasingly rapid pace.
Food innovation was once something only a select few multinationals could engage in. You needed large laboratories and strategy shops to effectively and adequately develop new agricultural products, processes, distribution systems, and retail outlets. This has made food innovation proprietary, consolidated, and designed to maximize profits. Contrary to this, the latest round of development has started to democratise food industries around the world, giving us a more holistic approach to food creation and distribution.
New FoodTech start-ups enter the field every day, leveraging information, technology, and multidisciplinary design to create the sustainable food industry of the future. This new industry will centre around decentralised, collaborative, and consumer-focused concepts that maximise the interests of producers, consumers, and the environment.
What is Food Technology?
FoodTech is any technology or process that enhances food production, nutrition, delivery, and safety, as well as engaging with other issues associated with the food industry. Much of the food we eat is produced using modern technology and science developed in laboratories, factories, or out in the fields.
FoodTech should not be confused with agriculture technology (AgTech), even though there is some overlap between the two; AgTech strives to improve the efficiency of farms and food production methods, and we have also prepared an editorial with all relevant information for job seekers on the AgTech segment of tomorrow’s digital job markets.
What is Food Science?
FoodTech uses lessons learned from food science to push us towards a more sustainable food supply. Food scientists work to increase the nutritional value of food so that it can benefit more consumers in more beneficial ways. Food scientists also work to improve the food manufacturing process itself by developing more efficient preservation and storage methods and improving product development.
This also includes the development of alternative foods such as egg substitutes, animal free gelatine and gluten-free baked goods. In practice, FoodTech is just a blanket term we use to describe both food science and what we do with it.
Food and FoodTech Challenges
Of all the things that affect our lives, the food-delivery equation is the most complex. Globalization, safety regulations, efficiency, and refrigeration now play a part in the food we can acquire and eat. Another approach is to use alternative foods, such as insect protein. Modern FoodTech strives to handle these challenges, as well as any problems that may arise in the future.
People and Production
Recent studies suggest that the world’s population will increase by two billion in the next 25 years.
That is a lot of people to feed, and this is deemed impossible to do with our current food production and distribution levels.
To meet the challenge, we need more advanced food technologies that can change the quality of life around the world.
This change will come in response to rising food prices and the globalization of the food supply.
Food Supply Globalization
Retailers search the world to provide their customers with more variety and to optimize their own costs. This form of globalization also brings food to regions where food is scarce. However, this has led to food safety issues as safety standards vary from one country to the next.
Food safety goes beyond globalization too. It is the keystone of any food-delivery strategy, but advances in food delivery have also resulted in greater security risks. Solutions include refrigeration during storage within buildings as well as during transport. Processed foods may spoil less than unprocessed foods, but they also create contamination risks. Each new addition to the food delivery chain adds another vulnerability that Foodtech and food science need to address.
Food Distribution Logistics
Any efficient food distribution network needs adequate logistics and processing to function. The rise of ‘just-in-time’ food delivery has forced grocery chains and stores to rethink their warehouse strategies so as to reduce inventories, streamline transportation and delivery systems, and cut costs.
Also, the industry shift to near-the-field processing, chilling, and freezing for food storage will require new technologies. All this requires new logistical models so that the industry can keep up with consumer demand as well as safety concerns.
Energy and Refrigerants
Food processing and delivery accounts for over 30% of the world’s energy consumption, 70% of which comes from beyond the farm. Food production also accounts for 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and that does not take into account food that goes to waste.
These numbers will shrink as the developing world industrializes, but no one knows if it will be enough to overcome the increase from the growing population. The core issue is refrigeration, which is the lifeblood of the food industry, and we need better Foodtech to ward off any environmental challenges that arise from this consumption.
Trends in Foodtech
Tackling these challenges takes time and effort. Fortunately, researchers are working on them. The following trends are a small example of their efforts. Some may never be implemented, but what we learn from them will direct the future of the food industry.
First patented in 1980, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) now account for over million acres of agricultural real estate around the world. GMOs are anything genetically engineered to have certain traits and to increase production yields. This can include anything from increasing resistance to herbicides and pests to increasing the nutritional value of food. We can even expand the growing habitats for crops such as wheat and rice. GMOs are critical to the success of Foodtech and are highly notorious. In Europe, it has been mandatory to label GMO products since 1997.
Food Drones and Robots
Drones are everywhere these days. They help keep diseased or damaged food from reaching the shelves. Drones are also able to deliver the finished processed produce to our doors. For instance, you can reduce the time it takes for your groceries to arrive if you order a drone delivery to anywhere in Iceland. Edible drones are already delivering food and supplies to disaster areas around the world.
If it is not drones, it’s robots. Restaurants around the world are replacing their waiting staff with robots who will deliver your food to you after assigning you a table just as Yo! Sushi does to deliver sushi burgers. Some restaurants are also using robots instead as chefs to increase productivity and reduce costs, and you can already see driverless delivery trucks starting to appear on our roads.
Hot Delivery Trucks
While we’ve had freezer trucks for decades, no one had considered hot delivery trucks. Now, that is changing as companies look for more cost-efficient ways to deliver hot foods to customers. Cooking the food during transport reduces production time while ensuring customers receive hot, fresh food straight from the oven.
If you are interested in technologies impact in this area we recommend having a look at our in-depth features about food and grocery delivery.
Internet of Things
As with many industries these days, sensors track our food all the way from the farm to our tables. Farms already use the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor irrigation levels and crop yields. They use them to check food quality in grain bins, to prevent over-fertilization, and in other productivity and food safety issues. For instance, the WATER-BEE system analyses soil content data and other environmental factors to reduce water waste.
Stores use these sensors to integrate their inventory with food delivery services and payment apps on their customers’ phones. This allows people to buy food just by walking out the door with the food in their hands—eliminating the need for customers to wait in checkout lines.
Food Waste Tracking
Companies are looking for ways to reduce the 40s% of food people throw away every year. Leloca plans to use social media and new technologies to reuse leftover food and reduce restaurant waste. People will be able to buy this food at reduced rates within minutes of it becoming available.
In the meantime, Ishida Europe is making better packaging to reduce the chances of food spoiling while on the production line or the grocery store shelves and Winnow is dedicated to fighting food waste in commercial kitchens.
From small to medium-sized food companies to global players: the food industries are also looking into the innovation potential of crowd-funded idea and product development through food-centric hackathons.
These events allow food scientists, chefs, entrepreneurs, designers, and innovators to gather together to improve food production, delivery, and sustainability.
While it does not sound appetizing, 3D-printed food stands to be the next big revolution in Foodtech. Right now, we can only print candy from pure sugar, but companies around the world are looking to add other mediums to the mix, including chocolate. Some are aiming to create meatless meat to save cows and reduce carbon emissions. Astronauts already eat 3D-printed pizza produced by a company in Barcelona.
Researchers in Finland are working to make healthy 3D-printed snacks that you can customize and deliver through vending machines and other food outlets. We may see 3D food printers in every kitchen sooner than we think. 3D-printed food might become as common as liquid meals and other meal replacements.
New Indoor Hydroponic Farm Locations
Hydroponic technology has allowed cities and companies to place farms in previously unconsidered locations. For instance, a hydroponic farm has been built in London in a series of abandoned underground air-raid shelters. These underground farms supply local London restaurants and stores with fresh produce and herbs.
In the future, this and farms just like it will use special LED bulbs that don’t get hot but make it possible to expand the number of crops we can grow indoors.
Access to Recipes and Other Food Apps
Expanding the food industry’s use of IoT, we now use several food apps to make our lives easier. We can use apps to find recipes. We can use apps to buy groceries. We can use apps to change how we cook and prepare our food.
These apps have already surpassed cookbooks and magazines as the world’s source of new food, diets, and lifestyle information and tips. Some apps will even allow you to take food selfies. Others will tell you whether products contain gluten and other allergens.
Rise of Local Food Production
People want to know where their food was produced and what was put into it. They also have concerns about industrial agriculture, GMOs, hormones, carbon emissions, and other aspects of food safety.
This has led to a farm-to-fork movement, including apps to help you find local farms that allow the public to join their harvest. These online farmer’s markets, let us reduce the steps our food goes through to reach us.
Food technologists research and develop new, safer, and healthier food, flavours, and colours. Also called food scientists, these professionals design and create the food you see on the shelves for consumers and restaurants. They work everywhere in the food industry from the farms that produce the food, the factories that process it, and the government agencies that regulate it. That includes both fresh food and processed products, as well as the production processes. Food technologists also work in laboratories, as supervisors, as production managers, and in quality control.
As populations around the world continue to rise, these highly-trained food experts will stay in high demand for the foreseeable future. Labour statistics show that global food technologist and scientist jobs will grow by 11% by 2022 alone.
While Europe lags behind other markets in the sector, there are some hot spots if you know where to look. The hottest European food industry markets are in Poland, Austria, and Belgium, where 90% of food science graduates can find employment within a year of graduation. Farming and the food industry is also a key employer in Europe’s small and medium-sized cities.
These jobs include, but are not limited to:
- Food scientists
- Food inspectors
- Food technologists
- Food and drug inspectors
- Food science technicians
- Food manufacturers
- Food manufacturing specialists
- Produce managers
- Field managers
Choosing a Foodtech or Food Science Career
To get into FoodTech, you need a diverse multidisciplinary background education that combines management, science, and marketing with a focus on food value. Most universities offer their FoodTech and food science degrees as a single FoodTech and science program, but they all offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. In these programs, you study food preservation, physics, chemistry, nutrition, food processes, fermentation, and flavour chemistry.
Other fields of study include food packaging and food quality, food safety regulations, and research techniques. Many universities and colleges also require courses in food communication to help you promote new products through media outlets and distribution channels.
In some cases, you may need to choose one of the following specializations:
- Food biotechnology
- Food ingredient functionality
- Dairy science and technologySustainable food processing
- Food innovation and management
- Product design
While most food technologists will have a university degree of some kind, this is not the only option. You can work in food development as an agricultural and food science technician. Technicians serve as assistants to food technologists and scientists. Other potential career paths include biological technicians, who support medical scientists with toxicology lab tests and experiments, nutritional therapists, and microbiologists, who study microorganisms to understand how they thrive to minimize environmental and food contamination.
Process engineering is another great alternative if Foodtech is not for you. You can work as a chemist, consultant, or product developer. Either way, companies come to you when they need advice on their energy use, new product lines, new ingredients, and ways to improve their production methods.
You can use your knowledge in a laboratory, on a factory floor, or in an engineering office. The options you have as a process engineer are infinite.
Food Innovation Management
Working in management is another alternative. Food management takes cutting-edge technology and directs it towards improving commerce and communication. Management specialties include commercial technology, produce and package development, and directing the improvements of already existing food products.
Food Health and Safety
Food technologists do not have to work in the food industry. Government agencies and consumer safety groups need food specialists as well. Food safety and health experts ensure the food on our plates is fresh and free of containments. They monitor the fundamental aspects of food production for safety concerns, quality, and nutritional value. If you take this route, you will most likely start as a junior safety specialist at a food company, serving as the link between all aspects of Foodtech. You will manage food organizations, linking technologies, communication hubs, and research. Your options are limitless here too, as you can find work at large multinationals such as Unilever, Heineken, and Heinz, or in smaller national companies. Either way, food safety will challenge your social, political, and ethical skills.
Improve Foodtech in Your Area
It affects us all, and we need Foodtech to ensure that our food is safe and abundant enough to feed us all. Thus, you can do a lot to promote good food science development by working with governments, consumer groups, and the food industry in your area to establish effective and enforceable food policies.