Sep 13 2021

Building freshness: The great challenge of flavor

The foodtech revolution is happening now. Startups are taking on the challenge of finding solutions to keeping products safe and fresh throughout the supply chain. Many of these disruptors come from Spain, so let’s dive into the Spanish foodtech ecosystem and see the potential of this country as a world leader in the sector.

According to the report by Foods and Wines from Spain, the health of a strong innovation ecosystem is the number and quality of startups that emerge and thrive in it. In the last few years, Spain has become one of the few “foodtech” nations with more than 400 startups along the entire agri-food value chain. It stands out as a country that generates startups of high technological value, only behind the United Kingdom, Israel or the United States. However, the data is skewed by the startup ecosystem youth since more than 60% do not exceed 3 years of life and 13% of these startups have been created during the pandemic.

The key factor supporting the competitiveness of Spanish foodtech startups is their technological component and their use of what is known as “deep tech”. Additionally, 64% of the Spanish startups develop their technology “in house” and more than 60% of projects use at least one of the technologies considered as “deep”, thus positioning themselves in the “avant-garde” of the food sector.

As we can see, Spain is developing a strong foodtech startup ecosystem, soon joining the big players in the startup world.

Supply chain with a large technological component

As all the industries adapt to the new technologies and digitalization that are constantly being created, some do it faster than others. Overall, the food and agriculture industries are among the slowest to integrate digitalization when compared to other sectors of the global economy. While it is well understood that modernization and investment in data infrastructure is necessary and essential in the food industry, many times that first step and the challenge of digitizing the system is still a real hurdle. And, of course, all the players that affect the supply chain should participate in the process of digital transformation for it to be effective.

For that to be possible, it is needed to tap into machine learning and artificial intelligence for data automation, document processing and back office processes like managing vendors, suppliers, contracts, key communications, appointments, and more. Because of the highly fragmented nature and irregular ecosystems, data automation brings the necessary resource management, accuracy and most importantly, an underlying digital foundation to the food supply chain.

The players who have access to this kind of data from the retailers, consumers and foodservice outlets, can control several steps in the supply chain, and gather a better understanding of when and where to sell, as well as how to maximize their profit through demand insights.

Similarly, with better demand data flowing into the distribution, logistics and production pillars, companies can better manage over or underproduction and reduce waste, while also improving the utilization of their own assets (equipment, labor, utilities, storage, etc.).

Digitalization is the key enabler for new business model innovation across food and agriculture. For farmers and ranchers, it creates the foundation to access new markets, to differentiate their products based on quality and sustainability, to employ new B2B or B2B2C models.

With expanded supply chain digitization, retailers, consumer packaged goods companies, and foodservice companies will increasingly be able to leverage real-time demand data. This will help drive real-time planning and visibility, optimized inventory replenishment and ordering, agile omnichannel execution, reduced waste, and better customer experiences. At the same time, digital supply networks, which connect the physical and digital worlds via online trade, supply, and logistics platforms, will unlock the potential of vast datasets from physical assets and facilities in real time.
For buyers, processors, distributors, and logistics participants, these platforms will help to understand and overcome supply chain disruptions via larger trading networks, real-time visibility, and integrated demand planning.

In this 2021 food supply chain tech landscape map you can find all relevant startups divided into the different categories comprising the supply chain and divided in subcategories.

Food Supply Tech Landscape

An example of a Spanish startup we can find on this map is ec2ce, using artificial intelligence to increase profit and sustainability in the agribusiness, to increase profit and sustainability. With their unique mathematical technology ec2ce is capable of delivering predictive solutions to different stages throughout the supply chain of agribusinesses. These include weekly productivity forecasts (fruits and veggies) and yield forecasts (annual crops); seed performance and variety selection; predictive pest management; quality forecast and much more!

The automation of the supply chain allows for a quicker, more efficient, more precise management of the process from start to finish, which can bring many benefits to the product itself. By being able to have real data about the quality of the product from when it’s collected to where it is delivered, it is easier to guarantee quality and freshness.

New forms of indoor cultivation

Vertical farming is a form of agriculture that is specifically designed to allow for agriculture inside vertical structures. They can be created in a variety of places, such as inside warehouses, used shipping containers, greenhouses, or other buildings that would normally not be suitable for farming.

Vertical farming is revolutionary, and more sustainable. For example, it tends to require much less water than traditional farming since a portion of the water can be recycled and reused, and less water is lost due to evaporation. Also, indoor farming does not require the use of pesticides and herbicides that are potentially very damaging to the environment.

Thanks to the controlled conditions provided by vertical farms, it is possible to cultivate crops year-round and in any climate, including extreme cold or heat. Vertical farms are often located in urban areas, which can solve transportation issues since the traveling distance is shorter, keeping produce fresher and reducing CO2 emissions.

H2Hydroponics, a Spanish startup that recently launched their new brand Atlantic Farms, develops cultivation and control systems for greenhouses capable of producing 30% faster in any climate. Indeed their cultivation and control systems are already growing crops in extreme climates such as Dubai and Greenland.The company’s H2HYBRID system is highly productive in any climate, easy to handle by people who do not have experience in hydroponics and capable of producing any vegetable of leaf or fruit thanks to its design versatility. Thanks to this technology, using this system will reduce the installation and operational costs, and reduce water usage up to 80%, in addition to obtaining fresh products.

There is another Spanish startup focusing on hydroponic farming called Ekonoke. They produce greens in a sustainable manner, ensuring not to use any chemical pesticides, single-use plastics, and having no carbon footprint, as well as guaranteeing no waste. Similarly to H2Hydroponics, Ekonoke’s system can be used year round, regardless of the climate. The startup also grows greens with incredible flavor, unlike store-bought products that most likely need to be seasoned to be eaten.

As we can see, vertical farming can produce fresh and delicious flavored greens, and with crops being able to grow at any time of the year regardless of the climate where they are located, fruits and vegetables seasonalities won’t be an issue anymore. Moreover, indoor farming seems to be more sustainable than traditional farming, and the proximity to urban areas all the associated risks related to transportation do not exist. With the ever changing world climate, this might just be the solution for the future of agriculture.

Mobile Fresh Food Monitoring

Precision agriculture and field sensorization

Precision agriculture is becoming more and more popular in the agricultural sector. It consists of using modern technology such as sensors that provide information in real time by monitoring, using satellites, remote sensing, drones, GIS software, ground mapping, and more.

This modern technology can be used to optimize all the variables used in agriculture. Indeed, having a way that allows you to better control all the variables that affect crops and their growth, it can help to produce more and more efficiently.

Precision agriculture is intended to improve performance, improve the products’ quality, save costs, reduce emissions, among other benefits. This type of agriculture makes use of information and communication technologies for crop management, and thanks to these technologies, it is possible to obtain a great amount of precision in the situation of the crop.

Agroptima is a Spanish-based startup that offers an agricultural software in the cloud that allows farmers to easily and intuitively manage the agronomic and economic management of their farm while also complying with agricultural laws. The data producers get with the app lets them improve the results of the farm and focus on what is most important, the farming business. Adapting to the paperless route and digitizing the farming process through an app like Agroptima is a great solution to keep all the important information saved somewhere safe. In addition, it enables management of agricultural work, geolocalization of plots, information on phytosanitary products, seeds, fertilizers, generation of field journal and fertilizers, control of stock movements, control of costs and income and can work with or without the internet.

Direct-to-consumer models from the field 

Direct-to-consumer models have been growing in the food sector, with brands opting for also providing consumers direct access to their products instead of going through an intermediary such as retailers. This model can bring benefits to both sides, forming a direct relationship between the consumer and the brands can give the brand access to data they didn’t have before and get to know their customers better; and as for the consumers, it allows for an easy way to get access to the products they want instead of having to shop in third parties; among other great benefits.

What should it be any different with agriculture? With the growing concern from the consumer side about health, transparency, wanting to know where their product is coming from, what is in it, whether it is truly organic, its freshness, etc., why not get your produce straight from the source and avoid all the risks and detrimental factors that come with transportation and all processes until a fruit or vegetable gets to a grocery store.

A Spanish startup offering a solution to this challenge is Plant On Demand, or POD. POD is an e-commerce, ERP, CRP, and logistics management platform for local producers and food hubs. It allows the creation of an online shop fully adapted to the agri-food needs that is connected with a back-office platform for managing sales, inventory, sales documents, route optimization, payments, and more. The platform can be used for single producers who want to sell online and digitalize their processes or for groups who decide to cooperate and work together, offering a platform for selling their products jointly and automatizing the management.
POD provides a Cloud solution to help the digitization of local producers which generates data of their daily operations and enables fast transactions with their customers. It also efficiently connects them with the entire food supply chain, creating a robust and reliable network of local producers for retailers and end consumers to connect with. Plus, thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI), models are created that are able to predict supply and demand for local produce, allowing for efficient planting in a sustainable manner.

Thanks to startups such as Plant On Demand, producers will be able to connect with customers in an efficient and easy way, in addition to adjusting what and how they plant thanks to the predictive models.

Technologies that allow to obtain increasingly tasty, fresh, healthier and organically sourced products and export them around the world

It is no news that consumers look for fresh, tasty and healthy food, and organic products have seen a rise in popularity. This is especially true during times such as the coronavirus pandemic where many started to pay more attention to what they consume and changed their diets to a healthier one.

Trazable is a Spanish startup that created a tool enabling companies to manage a digital register of their products from farm to fork. They pay special attention to regulations focused on maintaining food safety and traceability all along the road from the farm to consumer, with information recording being imperative to guarantee food hygiene. The startup’s platform ensures food safety with fast access to the whole product information within seconds instead of hours or days; effective information by knowing exactly which products are affected by a recall, saving time and money; processes optimization by making better decisions thanks to an overview of the full supply chain in real time; trust building in the food value chain by empowering customers with access to information.

In addition to startups that created platforms to digitize the traceability of the food in order to verify its freshness, there are other innovative companies that created solutions to make it easy to see whether a product is fresh or not.

Indeed, one of them is Oscillum, a Spanish-based startup that created sensors for wide applications in the agrifood sector to make processes simple and easier. It consists of stickers with integrated sensors applied on the packaging of the fresh product that indicates the state of the chicken, fish or whichever product’s state in real time. If the packaging is opened, the sticker will still work as long as it is in contact with the food. This is a great way to control the logistics processes since it is simple to check if the products reach their destination in the best conditions. Additionally, this allows to keep track of the internal procedures by monitoring the process and making sure that all the internal procedures are conducted correctly. Plus, of course, it is an easy, quick and intuitive way to check the company’s safety standards.

Similarly, ColorSensing created FoodSensing to help food manufacturers and retailers cut down food waste and add quality to their products thanks to an automatic, quantitative and cost-effective food freshness indicator. Unlike Oscillum, instead of a sticker they opted for a smart packaging with QR code on it.

These projects are only a few examples of startups that are looking for innovative ways to bring solutions to the challenge of being able to actively check the food’s freshness and quality from the moment they are being packaged to the moment they get to the hands of the consumers. Below you will find a table with leading Spanish startups in the foodtech industry, divided into 4 categories: agritech; food production and transformation; logistics, distribution and retail; and restaurant tech.

Foodtech stats

The Foodtech industry is currently growing at a rapid rate, with many startups having had to accelerate their process during the pandemic as demand for new technologies and new solutions have increased. We are witnessing a revolution in the food industry with the aim to offer healthier, fresher and more sustainable solutions for food. A revolution that is being applied to every part of the food supply chain, from the farmers to the consumer purchasing the product. This is an exciting time in foodtech and we look forward to seeing all the new upcoming innovative solutions.