Technology crucial to future of UK food & drink, warns WRAP

Meeting the increasing global demand for food using traditional ingredients and methods is unlikely to be sustainable, but applying FIT principles can help…

Technology will be key for the food & drink supply chain over the next 10 years, according to a new WRAP report which says we could see changes in farming to include more precision agriculture and data-enabled technologies.
Businesses could use a suite of technologies and practices for intelligent temperature control during manufacture and transportation to minimise carbon impact and improve quality, freshness and product life, says the report, which also outlines the risks to the UK food system over the next decade if we don’t embrace a ‘business unusual’ approach to the way we manufacture, sell and consume food.
The Food Futures report, which was unveiled for the first time at WRAP’s annual conference today (Wednesday, November 4), looks at 15 separate topics across the UK food system, from farm to fork, and outlines recommended actions to be taken by government and industry.
It says that increasing global demand for food and the environmental pressure of meeting that demand using traditional ingredients and methods is unlikely to be sustainable.
It claims that making sure the UK has a diversified, sustainable supply of protein is one of the defining challenges of the 21st century.
Two of the topics discussed in the report are new commercial models for sustainable aquaculture and how alternative feeds and proteins offer significant potential to overcome the challenges.
Some of the risks and opportunities identified in the report which affect the whole industry are external, including climate risks to food resilience and deep environmental and societal challenges such as reducing food waste and tackling diet-related ill health.
It also highlights that the ability to realise future opportunities will depend on building skills to meet future food challenges, new supply chain collaborations and how quickly the benefits of new digital technology opportunities can be realised.
Three key trends which will shape the food system are: increasing challenges to food system resilience; an explosion in data-enabled technology, and the alignment of public health and environmental sustainability agendas.
The next 10 years could see changes in farming, such as a growing appreciation of the benefits of precision agriculture and other data-enabled technologies.
Controlled Traffic Farming (CFT) will use water, energy and fertilisers only where needed – optimising yield, production efficiencies and nutritional outcomes and reducing machinery and input costs by up to 75%.
Industry and consumers will also have more accurate data on where their ingredients and food have come from and will better understand how to get the most from it.
According to the report, not all solutions are technology-based, however, since making lifestyle choices has a role to play.
It says consumers will help set the pace of change as they look to have a healthier and more sustainable diet. The future will see individuals driving the way in which their food is delivered – not just to their door but designed to meet their precise nutritional and taste requirements.
The report claims we might even see the introduction of ‘food for the ages’ – designed to specifically meet the needs of different age groups, from growing teenagers to the elderly.
By capitalising on the three trends and embedding the recommendations from the report, WRAP says the industry can take a ‘business unusual’ approach to the challenges and become more flexible, intelligent and transparent – in otherwords ‘FIT’ – to meet 21st century demands, the largest of which is to feed the growing population. That’s why one of the recommendations is to drive down farm-to-fork food waste.
WRAP says a third of all food grown globally goes to waste and that applying FIT principles will tackle food waste along the value chain.
It says its Courtauld Commitment 2025 will play a leading role in bringing together the whole food system – helping to safeguard the UK’s food supply and respond to consumer’s changing needs over the next decade.
Dr Liz Goodwin OBE, CEO at WRAP said: “In the next ten years we will be faced with challenges around feeding a growing population and nutritional security. Our ‘Food Futures’ report highlights how governments, businesses and we, as consumers, can turn these challenges into opportunities. We need to be 21st Century ‘FIT’ to meet this challenge. By embracing the growth in data enabled technology and aligning healthy and environmentally sustainable diets we can nourish both the individual and the planet.”
WRAP is a registered charity which works with UK governments and other funders to help deliver their policies on waste prevention and resource efficiency.
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