Food Systems 4.0
Entering the
Smart Food era
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Defining Food Systems 4.0

Food Systems 4.0 refers to the digitalization process taking place across the food supply chain.

This can encompass applications as broad as food safety solutions in manufacturing and transport to tech-enabled flavour and product development. Whatever the use case, the term covers everything related to the intelligent networking of machines and digital systems, when used to enhance operations across the food and beverage industries.

Why digitalize our food systems?

We all know that the current methods and pace of food production are not sustainable in the long-term (1). Moreover, during the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses in the agrifood industry that had already embraced digital tools fared significantly better than those that had not (2). The crisis also highlighted the fragility of food supply chains, accelerating the shift towards Food Systems 4.0.

Digitalization offers the potential to revolutionize the entire food chain, bringing farms into the digital era with high-tech monitoring, harnessing data to create new functional foods and providing high-tech food delivery services – to name just a few developments. From production to processing, transportation and POS, digitalizing the food system will impact every part of the supply chain.

Summarising Food Systems 4.0, FAO Regional Programme Leader, Raimund Jehl writes:

“The food sector can harness digital tools ranging from e-commerce and mobile technologies for increasing access to markets, to the use of artificial intelligence for improved pest control and crop genetics, as well as tools allowing optimized management of natural resources and early warning of food-security threats. It will facilitate a holistic approach, bringing the economic, social and environmental dimensions together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.” (3)

The use of digital innovations – leading, in the best-case scenario, to a thriving digital ecosystem that spans the entire agrifood sector – will improve efficiency and sustainability, providing benefits to producers, retailers, consumers and the environment in the process. Whether that is reducing food waste through intelligent monitoring and shipping, or more sustainable transportation and delivery. 

What is meant by digitalization?

Food Systems 4.0 is an umbrella term that refers to a raft of innovations and technologies across the supply chain, from field to plate. The main applications consist of:

  • Food safety
  • Food security
  • Logistics and transportation
  • Supply chain transparency and traceability
  • Production and storage, with a focus on waste reduction
  • Flavor and nutritional development using AI and data
  • Greater personalization using data

To achieve the above aims, Food Systems 4.0 is powered by technologies like IoT (Internet of Things), IoM (Internet of Materials), the Cloud, blockchain, sensors and web and digital technologies.

The key challenges

Connecting our food systems digitally is one thing, establishing a permanent and always-on digital ecosystem is another. Such ecosystems are complex and comprise various actors, including suppliers, customers, trade partners, data service providers, digital experts and beyond. As the use of digital technologies, particularly in relation to IoT, is such a recent development, there is also a lack of compatibility between systems, and many apps and devices are not yet designed with collaboration in mind. Privacy concerns, technological setbacks and security risks are as much of an issue as with any connected technologies, and upfront costs can be prohibitive. Moreover, use of AI and the IoT will inevitably lead to greater levels of automation, potentially affecting the availability of roles in the industry.

In the report ‘Thinking about the future of food safety’, the FAO writes:

“As with all emerging technologies, there are opportunities and challenges. For such technologies to be made available to all, it will be crucial to promote standards and best practices, access to reliable and curated reference databases, communication of lessons learned, and transparency in data sharing across stakeholders.” (4)

The opportunity

Digitalization in the food industry is an incredibly broad field, with opportunities spanning from the moment a seed is planted to the point of sale and beyond. In Switzerland, many organizations are already innovating in this area, including numerous SFNV members.

  • ADM is committed to providing a clean label to customers through traceability practices
  • Axino combines advanced sensor technology with artificial intelligence algorithms to remotely detect core temperature of refrigerated food in retail stores
  • Beelong has created a solution that makes it easy for restaurant owners to calculate the environmental and nutritional impact of their menus and display the results to their customers.
  • Bühler is develping smart solutions to revolutionize milling
  • Drinkotec produces beverage management solutions for HoReCa customers to improve profitability and reduce waste
  • EEat has developed an IoT-driven platform that makes it simple to comply with food safety regulations
  • EPFL through its Integrative Food and Nutrition Center – brings together more than 350 internationally recognized Professors that can provide expertise in the field of digitalization, from media analysis, food behavior monitoring and smart wearables to manufacturing optimization and modeling
  • farmer connect© unlocks benefits along global supply chains through an end-to-end traceability solution that shows how goods travelled from origin to consumers and how payments travel back from entities to origin
  • Firmenich is using Path2Farm™ – a proprietary digital traceability application – to provide customers with sourcing information from farm to final product
  • FOOD2050 is developing a software to rate and optimize food service sector recipes, enabling better consumer choices and making it easy for businesses to achieve their sustainability goals
  • Foodetective enables F&B businesses to integrate and manage their entire tech stack from a single OS and platform through a unified API
  • Givaudan‘s Sourcing4Good program is driving transparency across supply chains
  • iSense SaaS accelerates flavor selection, matching and creation, and enables the first tech-driven B2B flavor marketplace
  • MagicTomato has developed a unique digitalized food distribution system that makes it easy for consumers to eat healthy, local and seasonal food with minimal waste
  • Nestlé is using tech to work towards achieving deforestation-free palm oil
  • nutriMenu.ch is a digital tool that helps private and public sector catering partners to monitor and improve the nutritional and environmental quality of their meals and provides them with an ecoMenu score to help consumers make more informed choices
  • Scantrust is a connected goods and products platform that drives better supply chain traceability

Given these developments, SFNV members and the wider Swiss ecosystem are in an excellent position to further develop on these gains and contribute to the formation of Food Systems 4.0 for a more efficient and sustainable food chain.

Do you have an idea for a collaborative project around food system digitalization?

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