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The Food Chain Is Craving Innovation

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Editor’s Note: Hasti Afsarifard is corporate innovation manager at Plug and Play Tech Center, the accelerator organization. Plug and Play runs programs across 11 different industries and was an early investor in DropBox, PayPal and Lending Club; all of which went on to become much coveted “unicorns”. In February, the organization launched its first Food & Beverage accelerator for startups innovating across Restaurants, Retailers, Distributors, Agriculture, Livestock, Manufacturing, and Food processing. Some of the technology focus areas for this program include Precision Agriculture, Ingredient Substitutes, Automation, Marketplaces, Inventory Management, Food Safety, and Water and Waste Management. Plug and Play is set to announce the first cohort in the coming days. Here Afsarifard writes about why the accelerator decided to focus on Food & Beverage and what it brings to the table.

The food value chain is confronted with major challenges around products, technology, and business models. Some of these challenges are being tackled head-on with thrilling new advancements, but these advancements present their own challenges.

Automation offers the reliability and consistency required for businesses to remain competitive in today’s globalized marketplace. There are a variety of applications for automation across the food value chain, from the farm to the factory, to the grocery store, to the kitchen. But low-skilled workers are decidedly against the concurrent rise in job loss. Robots are and will continue to replace many jobs that comprise of repetitive tasks. The management of these new tools requires specialized labor but will the trade-off be significant enough?

The combination of unpredictable weather and limited resources calls for new technologies that enable farmers to react faster and make more informed decisions. In order to maximize yield and profitability, farmers are seeking technologies that empower them with real-time decision making throughout the season, including planning, seeding, and harvesting. Food producers also strive to be more sustainable through environmentally-friendly packaging, efficiently utilizing inputs like water and fertilizers, and consciously managing runoff and waste.

Most consumers have been disconnected from where their food comes from and what ingredients are actually in their food. Shifts in consumer awareness are increasing the demand for minimally processed foods and transparency in the supply chain. This requires improvements in food production and distribution efficiency.

Acquisitions Aplenty in Food & Beverage

When corporations aim to acquire a larger market share in a specific category or enter an entirely new market, they often prefer to allow others to absorb the risks and acquire a brand…

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