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Food 2019: Innovation and technology trends

04 January 2019
Have you thought about how technologies such as blockchain may benefit your supply chain? Will alternative sources of protein impact you? Are you prepared for new and innovative methods of food production? What role does 3D printing or artificial intelligence have in food manufacturing?

From the sourcing of ingredients using robotics to nano-technologies' impact on composition and packaging, from plant based meat alternatives to blockchain's impact on the supply chain, the food sector hasn't seen such a period of innovation since the invention of refrigeration. In this article we take a look at the top 4 food tech trends to be aware of heading into 2019. 

1. Personalisation: Personalisation is one of the largest trends impacting the food manufacturing sector as we enter 2019. From personalised labels and 3D printed food, to customisable meals based on a consumers DNA profile, brands need to ensure they have the technology and understanding of the client base in place to take advantage of new opportunities. 

What are the legal issues? 

  • Possible intellectual property rights of third parties (copyrights, trademark rights, design rights in particular).Data Protection: for example if a client's personal data is used in the creation of a 3D printed asset.
  • Data Protection: for example if a client's personal data is used in the creation of a 3D printed asset.  
  • EU Food Law: dealing with labelling concerns when composition of food can be highly personalised and avoiding the product being viewed as novel and/or outside the usual regulatory scheme.
  • Contamination issues: appropriate machinery must be used to make sure there is no contamination of non-food materials, to ensure the final product may be sold as a secure food and avoid liability charges.

2. Direct to consumer e-commerce: Online is now essential to how we all consume information and shop. From the early aspirational ambitions of Ocado to have an automated distribution centre to online giant Amazon now entering the market, online grocery retail has changed dramatically. 

Through these new channels manufacturers have another route to market and by using options like Amazon's 'manufacturer fulfilled network' they have a platform to sell directly to consumers in a way that they may not have considered before.  

For some time retail has become about data, nowhere more so than online. In many ways, manufacturers have been playing catch-up in recognising the value of data and the challenges of data protection and privacy, but many now fully embrace the opportunity for businesses to target marketing campaigns and personalise promotions, which, combined with direct consumer access, is a powerful combination that the sector is yet to fully exploit.

What are the legal issues? 

  • Data, data, data - from ensuring compliance with the General Data Protection Regulations, to safeguarding against a data protection breach, it's all about the data. 

3. Supply chain traceability (including Blockchain): Since the horsemeat scandal the traceability of food has never been higher in the public consciousness.  Huge developments in supply chain management and the creative use of technology for monitoring is giving everyone from consumers to retailers greater transparency along the chain.

Blockchain allows transactional information to be stored, traced and traded securely and privately between multiple users. Beyond Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies, there are a number of opportunities for food industry.  Watch the video below to understand the basics of blockchain in 6 minutes.



4. Nano technology 

The alteration of foods at a molecular level – for example, to improve nutrient profile shelf life or provide health benefits without affecting taste – has vast potential, but has yet to reach the mass market.  This is viewed very differently to genetic modification. 

Where nanotechnology is more advanced is in relation to smart labels, which react to molecular changes in the product – for example, showing when it is ripe or about to go off. Technologies that monitor the freshness of produce could eventually allow retailers to introduce dynamic pricing on fresh foods so that profits are maximized when the quality of the produce is at its peak. 

These responsive designs would also encourage waste prevention, another of our key issues impacting the sector at the moment. Find out more in our waste and plastics article.  

Locating alternative sources of protein also remains a challenge, particularly to meet the increased demand from the East. As lab-grown meat and plant based alternatives such as the impossible burger become a reality, traditional food manufacturers should take note that challenger brands may start to steal market share as the consumer conscience and government pressure start to take effect. 

What are the legal issues? 

  • Novel foods are regulated closely across the EU.  If the food is considered to be novel this will dramatically slow down its route to market. 
  • New technology can sometimes react in an unexpected way and therefore it is necessary to carefully risk assess systems and processes. 
  • New technology will usually involve intellectual property that it is vital to protect to ensure your competitive advantage. 

How can we help?

We've just scratched the surface of how technology is impacting the food sector. We haven't even touched upon autonomous vehicles and robotics and how they are revolutionizing the agriculture and logistics industries. Whilst there are challenges ahead, the opportunity that technology brings to influence change is greater than ever. We can help you plan for your business, ensuring you understand the bigger picture and the legal solutions available.

If you have any questions on the issues discussed, please contact Dominic Watkins, Global Head of Food. 

Find out more about the other big trends facing the food industry this year >