Technological trends to watch out for within the Food and Beverage (F & B) sector.


By Edwards

Earlier in 2019, several predictions were made regarding technological trends to watch out for within the Food and Beverage (F & B) sector. In this article, we review these predictions to throw more light on what they are, and to evaluate how far we have come, and what lies ahead in 2020 and beyond.

Though technology has always had a way of transforming things, the twenty-first century transformations are outstanding and challenging, affecting practically every industry in very drastic manners. Patterns of consumptions are changing in interesting ways and consumers across sectors are having the upper hand, and demanding changes that are beneficial to them. Within the F & B sector, these trends are inspiring innovations that can only be imagined a decade back. These changes are not only affecting how business is done, but actually what business is done. They are making the difference in what both the big and small players are doing. An understanding of these changes can make all the difference for aspiring entrepreneurs regarding the potential opportunities they hold, and the insights they can provide for future possibilities can be the much needed game changer for experts, decision-makers, start-up entrepreneurs, venture builders and innovators.

In January, Forbes’ published the 10 Macro Trends Impacting Food And Beverage Innovation In 2019. It identified a trend towards what it called the new head buzz (lower or no alcohol drinks), a shift in sweetness preference, higher demands for plant-based protein, and a shift towards more organic products in what it referred to as ‘sea to cell’. It also noted there will be a greater shift towards factory automation, cannabis-based food or supplement products, and clean labelling (i.e. short ingredient statements listing kitchen pantry friendly, real food ingredients). Other big ones include the growing trend for F & B startup support by the big food companies, reduction in single-use packaging, and the devaluing and de-socializing of dining out.

CBInsights came up in February with the 20 F & B trend to watch in 2019 in which it also noted a trend towards plant protein and lab-grown protein, noting that 2019 will see the first plant protein company go public. It also noted in addition, trends towards IoT-connected and e-commerce optimized packaging, beauty-boosting foods, and private labelling. It predicted a surge in personalized food products, gluten-free food, meal kits and wellness-focused branding. Others were growth in sugar reduction tech, alternative offline POS, pop-up retail, voice commerce, automated micro-fulfilment centers, and in-store robots. Increased D2C distribution, block-chain based supply chains and greater focus on environmental sustainability with an increase in F & B startups were also noted.

In its March article titled 7 Global Food Tech Trends to Watch in 2019, Rocket Space noted there will be a functional beverage boom, referring to low sugar, plant-based/animal-free products, cannabis, mushroom, new fibres, natural extracts, etc. among others. It also predicted an increased trend towards plastic-free packaging, personalized diets, healthy e-food, and increased digitalization of restaurants, with more service robots. The startup trend among the Big Food players is not lost on Rocket Space too, while also identifying a trend towards transparency, and common values.
In the same month, Adamo also published its F & B Technology Trends in 2019  where, it reported on a trend similar to that reported by CBInsights a month earlier. Personalized food, pop-up attraction method, and technology in service (including screen kiosks and tablets, online ordering system, online delivery service, and others) were among the major trends it observed. Increased e-commerce, IoT packaging, and an increase in the pervasiveness of service robots. Block-chain based supply chains and voice commerce are also noted as emerging trends in addition to sugar reduction technologies and growing D2C distribution systems.

As we begin to take stock of the year 2019, to see how far we have come, especially in terms of the predicted trends, it is important to note that there are many opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs to tap into. Nestle’s Awesome Burger is answering to the plant-based meat trend, and according to CNN Business, orders are already pouring in from Burger King, Dunkin', Subway and Sodexo. This will definitely create a new surge in sales and distribution, with more opportunities opening up for individuals to go into these products.
The Big food companies are also venturing into startups and launching accelerator programmes to help F & B startups grow their businesses. For example, Chobani is providing supporting funds to the tune of $25,000 to startups participating in their incubation programmes while Pepsi is giving $20,000 to its participants and $100,000 to the winner in their half-year incubation programme. Land O'Lakes Dairy Accelerator also offers a $25,000 support, like Chobani. It is interesting to also note that the offers from the Big Foods are being treated as investment in social entrepreneurship, and they are not taking equities in any of these startups. Danielle Wiener-Bronner, wondering like the rest of us at these ‘too good to be true’ gestures noted that that is not the whole story. In her article in CNN Business, she explained that these accelerator programs are a means for the biggies to stay informed and updated with trends and changes in the sector in order to remain competitive. They are recognizing that the game has changed, and that they are no more in the place to dictate what people ate as it was in times past. With people having more choices from the young and innovative entrants, the competition is hitting at the big foods and they are realizing the danger of failing to understand and adapt to the changes.

These trends, and the resulting changes and opportunities present several choices to startup entrepreneurs, growth hackers, venture builders, tech enthusiasts and even big players within the F & B sector. The highlighted trends can serve as an inspiration for many and these changes could be the catalyst for a much-needed break. It is the season of consumers, they have the upper hand now and can demand for what they want rather than just settle for what is offered. Not only do they have choices but their choices continue to increase. They are now in the position to dictate how and what they are served.