Creating a Better Mousetrap – How the Debate about Food Chain Transformation is Changing

With the proliferation of food safety recalls, sustainability concerns, food availability and resource scalability, compliance and cost to market concerns abound for many whose businesses rely on an efficient food chain.  Amongst a plethora of one-up-one-down analytics has emerged a team approach to problem solving, versions of crowdsourcing techniques, at the local level, to address what all agree is a limping, if not a broken global food chain.

In their 2013 Food Tech Media Funding & Acquisition Trends Report, media and research company Food + Tech Connect reports that VC funding for food startups is accelerating, reflecting the momentum and entrepreneurial vigor around this very challenge.  Three specific examples of virtual communities forming to share ideas and germinate the next change in our global food system have caught my attention in recent weeks. Might this be the genesis for a better mouse trap?

The first example comes from Silicon Valley, California, a community long regarded as the land of eternal possibility – where the brightest minds hunker down to hatch a better plan.  The effort to problem solve and the journey to fruition is the reward, and some high tech leaders, like Ali Partovi, a foodie and passionate local entrepreneur, has stepped in to encourage the best technology minds to noodle on how recreate and change the food system.  In a recent article, “Silicon Valley’s Next Big Goal: Fixing Our Broken Food System” Silicon Valley vanguards were encouraged to fundamentally rethink the systems governing our food, many of which we have come to take for granted.

Recently in New York City, Food & Tech Connect sponsored NYC Food +Tech Meetup: How New Tech is Transforming Restaurants.  For the benefit of a packed audience, the meetup brought to the microphone six innovative technology entrepreneurs in an accessible, collaborative model, to discuss their work to revolutionize the food industry.

Finally, the percolation of food ideas is a daily exercise at Boston’s Babson College. Their Food Sol “action tank for food Entrepreneurship of All Kinds™” Community Table Workshops and formal “Quick Service Incubator”   formalizes collaboration for tech innovators.  The program encourages the blending of ideas and solutions, by creating an environment for entrepreneurs to pitch their food start up ideas and receive feedback from small groups of fellow entrepreneurs and expert panelists.

There are no doubt numerous other examples of how local technology leaders are combining forces with their fellow foodies and supply chain experts to concoct version 2.0 of our food chain, and begin the transformation towards a better mousetrap.

What say you, FoodieData thinkers?

The Spotlight of Social Media: How Does the Food Chain Really Work?

You cannot scan your news feed or check your Twitter or Face Book account these days without seeing some post about food safety.  Whether it be bacteria tainted infant formula in China, unsafe handing of bean sprouts in Germany or the infamous Mad Cow disease scandal, the proliferation of stories of unsafe foods in our local food chain has now become a frequent and unwelcome buzzing in the background.

Stories of such outbreaks spread instantaneously across social media, leading this humble blogger to wonder about the role of information technology in changing both producer and consumer behavior.  The “pink slime” beef incident in the US recently lit a fire under the issue of the media in public safety.  Meatingplace, the meat processing industry’s trade magazine, fired back and wrote an article about the incident and role social media and non-food experts played in creating consumer fear.   Last year, a shopper at Safeway in Arizona made a splashy social media play to a local news station when she found a chicken foot shrink wrapped in a package of chicken breasts.  These kind of local stories have the viral capacity to lead consumers to wonder, just who is minding my food?

How well does the average consumer really understand how the food we consume is produced, processed and brought to market?  The complexity of sourcing, tracking, reporting, packaging, marketing, and distributing through a variety of end user channels is vastly different for fresh perishables like summer tomatoes and lettuce, proteins like beef and fish, and packaged goods like breakfast cereal and frozen dinners.  Add Nutrition Labeling and Allergen policies mandating the food system make ingredients and nutritional data more transparent to consumers and we are all swimming in one complicated food chain stew.

As consumers read more news stories, scan new product packaging and begin to worry about the safety of food on their dinner tables, will the inevitable proliferation of social media news change our dialog about food?  Will the average consumer connect the dots between a local product recall and the source of that product?

What say you, FoodieData thinkers?