Predicting Disruption In The Food Sector After COVID-19
It’s clear that the old ways of operating aren’t going to suffice anymore. The food industry has been hit hard by COVID-19. Companies face uncertainty about how they will recover in a post-pandemic society. But even as the world shut down, technological innovations continued to advance.
The emerging technologies of today will become the norms of the future, and it’s important to look ahead at how they will disrupt our current systems. We will see lasting changes to the foods we buy, how they are produced, and how companies prepare for future crises.
Producers of animal products particularly struggled to adapt during the pandemic. Companies were unprepared to implement safety measures such as social distancing, making meat processing plants into hotspots for the spread of COVID-19. Services and businesses shut down unexpectedly, the supply chain was interrupted, and food waste increased within the industry and our own households. Supply shortages and panic-buying revealed how fragile our food system is.
This article predicts the innovations and technologies that will disrupt our food system in four key areas: sustainability, food security, food safety, and bioactive compounds.
Sustainability must become a priority for the food industry. According to this article, people are becoming more aware of the environmental impacts of food production as a contributor to climate change. They want to support companies that invest in greener practices in all steps of the food supply chain, from how animals are raised to what food packaging is made of. New innovations are making it possible to move away from the current wasteful food system, toward a more sustainable “circular bioeconomy,” where waste is repurposed instead of dumped into a landfill. A bioeconomy would include processes like converting food waste into biofuels, biofertilizers, and biobased packaging materials that reduce waste and environmental harm.
Lab-grown meat and plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy are another major disruption to the industry. People are more open to trying these foods, which will be more sustainable as the global demand for food continues to increase and future climate catastrophes worsen.
Ensuring that food production can continue even in future crises is a critical part of sustainability. We are seeing advancements in manufacturing that may help the food industry adapt to the post-pandemic world. These innovations include automation, robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), 3D food printing, virtual and augmented reality, and non-thermal technologies.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has reinforced the need to secure continued access to food in future crises.
Workers are an important part of the food supply chain and immersive technologies, like augmented and virtual reality, have the potential to improve employee training and create safer work environments. This, combined with wearable sensor technologies that can monitor a person’s performance and interactions, may build a workforce that can better adapt to the future food system — though they do present other issues that may negatively affect labor as well.
The food supply will also be more secure as non-thermal technology, such as electron beam treatments and pulsed light, are used to disinfect food packaging and prevent parasitic transmission in animal products.
People have been shopping for food online more than ever before because of coronavirus lockdowns, and that’s likely to continue. This disruption of traditional food shopping means that retailers will need to modernize, for example by developing their e-commerce capabilities, to meet the demands of 24/7 order-taking.
Of course, food security and safety go hand in hand. The food supply chain is less likely to be interrupted if it is digital, automated, and traceable. Technologies such as AI, blockchain (a decentralized record that follows a digital asset), the Internet of Things, and smart packaging can make items more traceable. Companies can better manage and monitor their supply chains by directly tracking foods as they move from the production line to the grocery aisle. This could help them respond to future crises more quickly.
COVID-19 has also highlighted the need for a safer food supply chain with decreased food loss and environmental impact. Biopesticide use is expected to grow, which could mean less harm to the environment than through conventional pesticide use. New biosecurity measures also have the potential to create safer food processing facilities.
As a result of the pandemic, there is evidence that consumers want to be healthier and boost their immune systems by eating better. A recent study in Europe indicates that 72% of consumers would change their eating habits post-lockdown to follow healthier patterns.
People are growing more interested in foods and supplements that contain “bioactive compounds,” such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, as they become more aware of the benefits of personalized nutrition. The article also argues that there is a greater demand for these products to be sustainable and organic.
We can expect to see more functional foods on the market, which promote health and reduce the risk of disease. At the same time, new processes are being explored to make these products more sustainable, such as using microalgae and recovering bioactive ingredients from food waste.
Takeaways for Animal Advocates
All of these disruptions and innovations will affect the animal agriculture industry, and inform how we can advocate for farmed animals moving forward.
Operations within animal agriculture will be shifting. Employee training, facilities, and safety practices are going to change in an effort to protect workers and prepare for future crises. Innovations like robotics and Artificial Intelligence will make production more efficient and automated — which could help the animal agriculture industry grow.
At the same time, the future looks bright for alternatives to animal products: according to the report: people are more open to trying plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy; they are interested in eating healthier, immune-boosting foods; and they want to support companies that invest in greener practices throughout the food supply chain.
These evolving attitudes create an opportunity to educate the public about the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. More research is needed to better understand consumer attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions about food following COVID-19. But now is the time to spread awareness that plant-based foods are better for sustainability, food safety, and human health.