With coronavirus contamination fears, concerns over wet markets, and social distancing measures in restaurants and bars, innovations are needed now more than ever in the foodtech sector. Add these worries to the already sizable list of issues, including global food security and climate change, and the sense of urgency increases. With national government and supranational bodies like the European Union often slow to act when tackling complex global issues, there is plenty of room for Europe’s entrepreneurs and startups to lead the way.
In the developed world, no-contact service solutions in the hospitality industry are already zooming ahead post-COVID, from contact-free ordering stations, to robot barmen. Similarly, with stress on the rise and a new focus on health, cannatech CBD infused drinks and foods have the potential to become more popular, especially with home delivery options.
On the other side of the globe, the race to feed the world’s hungry has got more complicated since COVID-19. The World Food Programme has signalled that they currently assist 138 million people with food security, but expect this number to increase to 265 million before the year’s end – an 82 % increase – due to the coronavirus pandemic. The way local communities handle their own food security is also being called into question, with concerns over the safety of wet markets fuelling discussions on more sustainable ways to farm animals for meat.
Take a look at these no-so-futuristic foodtech solutions.
3D printed food
Would you eat something that has been 3D printed? It’s not as plastic as it sounds. 3D printers act more as plate presentation organisers – imagine cookie batter being piped into hearts before baking.
The benefits of 3D food printing are certainly speed, precision and efficiency, compared to human chefs. Similarly, there is less food waste produced, as the exact measurements needed are used for each creation. In addition, food can be customisable and personalised, to each diner’s preferences, with less effort needed in the kitchen. Finally, 3D printers can handle tasks which would have otherwise been realized by a human chef, freeing up space in the kitchen and allowing more social distancing for chefs. To find out more about the topic, hop on over to Barcelona-based Natural Machines, and check out their beautifully presented dishes.
Shaken or stirred? If you fancy your drink with a splash of robotics, you can now have your drink mixed by a robotic bartender. Perfect for social distancing measures, you can input your order without any human contact, choosing from a set menu, or by combining ingredients to make your own concoction. Then just sit back and watch your drink be prepared with the precision of a robot.
Turin-based startup Makr Shakr (2014) have two robot ‘arms’ called Toni and Bruno, and come with a whole bar set-up, complete with uplighting. You can even meet them in London, and Prague, in addition to their native Italy (check their interactive website map). Alternatively, meet Tallinn-based Yanu (2016), an autonomous bartending robot, who comes in white, black or red.
Black flies for dinner anyone? While many Eastern cultures consume insects without so much as a wince, the West still has far to go when it comes to breaking cultural norms. On a more palatable note for us humans, insects are being discussed as feed rather for animals, either as they are or dried for storage. Larvae also make high-quality compost, which helps farmers to improve their soil quality. The benefits of this industry post-COVID? Helping local farmers to become more reliant on their own resources, closing the ‘regional cycles’ of animal feed, reducing logistical touch points, and making food production local rather than global.
One notable European startup leading this industry is Paris-based Ynsect (2011), who also plan to use the insects for fish food, and have so far landed around €155 million of funding. Their first fully-automated industrial facility will open in 2021, creating an entire production system modelled on a circular economy with zero-waste. Keep an eye out also for Munich-based FarmInsect (2019), who just closed a six-figure sum this June.
The idea behind fake meats is, for many, to not stop eating meat, but eat less of it. The environmental impact of a quarter-pound beef burger is 14.6 gallons of water, 13.5 pounds of feed and 64.5 square feet of land (crops included).
Lab-grown meat is created to have the look, taste and texture of meat, and sometimes even ‘bleeds’ realistically. So how does it work? Stem cells are ‘donated’ from animals, who are not harmed in the process, with the meat then grown in the lab. While meat-eaters and vegetarians alike might find this creepy, for many it’s an improvement on than the harm that comes to animals and the environment due to the meat industry.
Would you try something like this? Check out European startups like Dutch team Meatable (2018) if you’d like to try the ‘lab-grown’ meat, or for the fainter hearted there are fungi-based options by startups like Gothenburg-based Mycorena (2017). Alternatively, there are others like Spanish startup Cubiq Foods (2018) who are working on sustainable fats.
Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus crisis has added stress and anxiety to many people’s lives, whether that be due to the illness itself, or the uncertainty it has caused at work and home. The cannatech industry claims to offer a stress-free solution, using CBD, a strain of cannabis which has no known psychoactive effects. Thanks to this property, its possible to buy CBD-infused drinks, sweets and chewing gums to take the edge off the user’s worries, and simultaneously enjoy the previously underrated flavour of the cannabis plant.
Swiss startup Hempfy (2016) balances the “herbal bitterness, a rich taste and light carbonation” of low-CBD strains of cannabis, in wines, tonics, ‘recharge water’ and oils. Going further than drinks, though, cannatech products also spread into the health and wellbeing sector, being used for lotions, pain relief and more.
To find out more about this topic, read our article 10 of the most promising European cannabis tech startups.