The rate of technological change within food and drink manufacturing continues to be rapid, with innovation and legislation constantly altering the picture. From new AI tools to major EU regulatory decisions, a lot has transpired that could spell industry-shifting change.
Here we offer insight into the five latest technology trends impacting food and beverage production and the companies deploying it.
AI use in food and drink manufacturing on the rise
Flavours manufacturer Givaudan is utilising artificial intelligence (AI) to develop dairy-free products at its recently expanded Protein Hub in Zurich, Switzerland.
Givaudan’s ATOM technology uses AI to support the development of new products, with it allowing concepts to be tested and then prototyped more quickly, increasing efficiency and contributing to a better output.
"ATOM is unique to Givaudan and harnesses AI technology to enhance the taste and aromas of alternative dairy products,” a Givaudan spokesperson told Food Manufacture.
Meanwhile, HELL ENERGY has developed the first energy drink to be entirely created using AI. The design, recipe, tasting, taste evaluation and marketing were all determined using AI tools, while AI was also tasked with ensuring the product complies with existing industry legislation.
The Budapest-based firm then put the drink through “rigorous quality control and blind tasting sessions”, a process which proved a success with the product gaining approval from the company’s employees.
Dubbed HELL A.I., the drink will be available in 60 countries around the world later this summer.
eNose market projected to nearly double by 2028
Analysis by Mordor Intelligence projects the electronic nose (eNose) market to be worth $46.51m (£36.52m) by 2028, with it currently valued at $23.98m (£18.83m).
eNoses can be used to detect odourless chemicals, providing several functions for the food and drink manufacturing sector, such as shelf-life evaluations and quality control. Firms currently operating in the space include Alpha MOS, Plasmion GmbH, The eNose Company, Odotech and Airsense Analytics.
Mordor Intelligence predicts that as the technology develops, the food and drink industry will hold a “significant market share” in this area.
“The technology is expected to find numerous applications in the industry, owing to the number of odour-based metrics used to measure quality, freshness, ingredients, ripeness,” Mordor Intelligence stated.
A 2015 University of Oxford research paper by Charles Spence found that while the degree to which scent impacts taste cannot be determined precisely, smell plays a “dominant” role in the tasting of food.
Cultivated fish and meat products getting closer
European food biotech company Bluu Seafood has secured €16m (£13.7m) in Series A funding to support the development of its cultivated fish products. The round was led by Sparkfood, a subsidiary of software firm Sonae.
The German company creates sustainable cell-based fish meat grown in a bioreactor – without killing any fish in the process. Bluu will use the money to market the launch of its first products, in addition continuing research and development.
Co-founder and chief executive, Dr Sebastian Rakers, believes that the funding is proof of the technology’s “enormous future potential”.
Rakers added: "It also underlines the strong scientific development that Bluu Seafood and our excellent team have delivered so far. Together with our strong, international investor base, we can start the next stage of development and bring our first products to market."
Meanwhile, the Dutch government has become the first in Europe to allow cultivated meet and seafood tastings to take place.
Cultivated meat producers Meatable and Mosa Meat created a ‘code of practice’ in concert with the government enabling tasting sessions to take place under controlled conditions.
“We know cultivated meat can significantly help reduce climate impact,” said Meatable chief executive Krijn de Nood.
“By enabling the tasting of cultivated meat, The Netherlands maintains its pioneering role in Europe and beyond.”
Vertical farms run on renewable energy
Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) raised the possibility of vertical farms being run solely on renewable energy in a recent blog post.
The technology firm has developed indoor vertical farming systems that are designed to deliver ideal growing conditions year-round. IGS is now exploring the possibility of these “Growth Towers” being solely operated by renewable energy.
IGS founder Dave Scott told Food Manufacture that powering vertical farms using renewable energy will allow food producers to cut their carbon footprint while also boosting productivity.
“IGS’ technology has been designed as the perfect consumer of each kilowatt hour of electricity: IGS-enabled farms can integrate with both on and off-site renewables, using Cloud-based software to automatically deliver smart environmental controls and minimise energy consumption,” Scott added.
“We’ve also designed-in flexibility to our vertical farming systems to enable ‘just in time’ harvesting for our customers, ensuring they can tailor production in line with consumer demand. Rather than being forced to harvest when a crop is ready, growers can speed up or slow down growth for a short period of time, reducing waste and maximising income for the farmer.”
Gene editing – will the EU follow suit?
The European Union is set to relax laws surrounding gene editing technology, making it easier for products developed using new genomic techniques (NGT) to reach the market.
The proposed legislation would see the creation of two new pathways for the sale of NGT plants, separating them from the existing laws on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The change of stance on gene editing follows a similar move that occurred in the UK in 2021. This year has since seen the UK pass the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act which will enable the development and marketing of gene edited crops in England.
“NGTs can contribute to the transition to a more sustainable agriculture and food system and help reduce EU's external dependencies for agri-food production,” a post on the European Commission website read.
“NGTs can support these objectives in multiple ways by benefitting different actors along the entire food chain.”
The Quadram Institute is one firm already employing gene editing technology in the UK, with ongoing projects focused on the development of healthier staple crops that will help tackle food insecurity.
“Gene editing allows for the development of plants with improved qualities that normally take many years to produce using tradition breeding programs,” said Professor Martin Warren, Quadram Institute chief scientific officer.
The trends highlighted above paint an exciting future in the food and drink manufacturing technology space, with the onset of AI and cultivated meats likely to play an increasingly important role in product development.
The prevalence of cultivated meats, like gene edited foods, will continue to rely of legislative and regulatory change, but it appears that the winds of change are certainly blowing in one direction.
Meanwhile, the way in which governments and regulators act on AI is a trend that needs to be monitored, with any alterations likely to have significant ramifications throughout the industry.