how is technology changing the food system?

The Food + Tech Connect group asked me to answer the question, how can information and technology be used to hack the food system?  I have seen so many start-ups in the food space that I can't help but be excited. 

Let's start with the food chain.  As more consumers are learning about the realities of the food supply they are looking to purchase more of their food that is coming directly from the farm.  They want healthy products delivered to their door.  We are seeing more CSA's in urban areas pop-up as the farmers are providing the products at the Greenmarket and through door to door delivery systems.  Most of these farms have antiquated systems such as note pads everywhere to take in their orders from the direct consumer but also the restaurants.  There are a handful of companies that are working on technology platforms that will allow the farmers to keep better controls of their inventories and in turn sell more of their wares.  Look at Freshocracy that has quickly grown to be able to provide their service of farm to table grocery and recipe delivery to homes throughout Manhattan using an online platform. 

Take a look at Windowfarms that has not only created a community around growing your own food but has tapped in to the consumers desire to know where their food is coming from.  This is a global issue. Windowfarms has made a product for people to grow their own organic food in the comfort of their own home.   

There is a company working on taking the restaurants and purveyors from the world of note pads and phone messages for the order of the day to fill their refrigerators and freezers to ordering everything online while still having the ability to discuss the beautiful mushrooms of the day.  They don't want to lose that personal touch you get from a phone call to create relationships but they want to provide the ability to be more efficient.  There is no doubt that technology will help both sides of the table run their businesses more efficiently.  More efficient businesses make for higher margins. 

Food has become central to communities.  Look at places like Food52 who have provided a place for the best home chefs to post their recipes, speak with each other, get questions answered, discover new products and buy them.  Look at all the food bloggers.  Check out FoodPop where you can see all the activites of your friends and chefs around food, think Facebook for food.  

Chefs have become taste makers.  We want to follow them, read their recipes, see what they are doing and eating.  There are companies like Eater that are providing daily information across the country in local markets on the latest restaurant openings, the trends in food including what happened on Top Chef this week. 

Even the food game is changing.  Products geared towards niche markets from gluten free to vegans.  We will see more start-up companies making bread, chocolate, alcohol or even pretzels.  Products that are being created from new brands that are healthy and local.  Ricks Picks saw the pickling revolution happening and was able to grow their business selling healthy low sodium savory condiments at local Greenmarkets eventually growing into stores and restaurants across the country. 

Technology is helping what is already a blossoming industry, the industry of food.  Food has become a major part of the US economy and I would hope that through technology and awareness we will see more farm to table, more communities around food, more small purveyors with a strong loyal customer base and more people sitting around their table with friends and family enjoying a good meal. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    Thanks for this. Food (and natural wine) are a hot button of mine.Biggest change and greatest upside I’ve found is that the definition of a niche has changed now that we have a global audience in real time. Raw food, vegan, whatever…there is a huge audience and powerful community now that those interested are now connected.

    1. Gotham Gal

      yes, global niche.

  2. gregorylent

    unfortunately, technology, or certainly science, is the biggest enemy of healthy food .. preservatives, anti-oxidants, coloring agents, anti-fungals, sealants .. the crap put on produce, and not easily washed off because it is made to resist rain, is insane. many chemical processes even after harvest, to give shelf life china, recent research is beyond scary, and in the usa, not far behind … oh, sure, there is whole foods, but lots of issues around them as well ..

    1. Gotham Gal

      agree…that is why the farm to table food tastes like something completely different.

  3. Ryan Drew

    Beyond updating of antiquated systems, I hope new technology leads to new business models, to (potentially) gauge customer interest in advance of planting/harvesting, and spur farmers to grow riskier (possibly higher margin) crops when a demand is identified.It comes from strengthening the conversation between farmer and purchaser. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      it absolutely begins with strengthening the conversation between the purchaser, the distributor and the farmer.