As an industry, we need a way to provide all of the key information to expert grocers without overwhelming him or her, he says, and just report the notable exceptions. In other words, “Our expert grocers need to be notified when there is something that requires their attention—and not have to manually check every delivery.”
In this respect, the consumerization of technology along with social media can help lead, Mehring says. “Think how Facebook has personalized notifications about friends and things that affect you, and how each participant can control how much data they want to share. A similar application for food data and supply chain participants can drive the next wave for small and large companies…enabling your local grocer to be the informed, trusted expert we expect him to be. Enabling technology like cloud-based applications, data sharing and push notifications drives the dissemination of useful data without overwhelming the recipient, which is critical to managing food freshness, safety and authenticity.”
The Netherlands: A Small Country That’s Big on Agri-Food
For a glimpse into what direction the global food industry is heading, the Netherlands is a good starting point. The country is the second-largest exporter of agri-food products in the world after the U.S., which not only confirms the Netherlands’ superiority in this sector, but it’s excellent logistics infrastructure as well.
Agri-food is one of the primary engines of the Dutch economy. Four of the world’s top 40 food and beverage companies are Dutch and 12 out of the 40 largest food and beverage companies have a major production site or R&D facilities in the Netherlands, including Danone, Fonterra, and Heinz, among others. Innovations in ingredients, enzymes, animal breeding and biological crop protection are just some of the reasons they are attracted to the Netherlands. In addition, the country is a global leader in machinery and equipment used for poultry processing and the production of red meat, bakery goods and dairy products, including cheese.
A number of truly innovative products and research are being generated by the combined public-private partnership approach that the Dutch are promoting as a way to support the agri-food sector. Some of them include:
Koppert Cress (www.koppertcress.com) is a leading global horticultural company that specializes in micro-greens and micro-vegetables. The company supplies chefs with fresh, HACCP-certified, rare products (like custom-grown cresses) to use in the creation of signature dishes.
TerraSphere (www.terrasphere.nl) produces vegetation index maps of individual parcels based on satellite imagery throughout the growing season. The maps allow farmers to monitor the growth of their crops and can be used as a basis for variable rate application of nutrients, or as a guidance for soil sampling.
NIZO food research (www.nizo.com) is one of the most advanced, independent contract research companies in the world. Their work in foods that promote “gut health” is just one focus. NIZO’s food-grade Pilot Plant is one of the largest on the planet.
TI Food and Nutrition (www.tifn.nl) is a public-private partnership of science, industry and government conducting strategic research in food and nutrition. Some of their clients include Unilever, Nestle, Cargill, and Kellogg’s.
KeyGene’s (www.keygene.com) work is in the agricultural biotech space. They are a partner in the Tomato Genome Consortium, which is responsible for sequencing the genomes of the domesticated tomato and its wild ancestor, Solanum pimpinellifolium, to improve worldwide tomato production.
Micreos (www.micreos.com) specializes in the development of phage-based products that are used to target dangerous bacteria and harmful pathogens in the food chain. Bacteriophages (or “phages”) are widely distributed in locations populated by bacterial hosts, such as soil or the intestines of animals. Although phages were used as antibacterial agents in the U.S. and Europe during the 1920s and 1930s, they were abandoned after antibiotics were discovered.
Enza Zaden (www.enzazaden.com) is a plant breeding company, which produces vegetable seeds, including tomato, bell pepper, cucumber and lettuce, for the global professional market. The company’s goal is to develop seeds that result in produce with optimum taste, looks, yield, labor-friendliness and resistance to plant disease.