How digital technology can transform the food and beverage industry

Back in 2018, Accenture estimated that food and drink (F&D) businesses could reduce costs by almost £53 billion and add £3 billion in revenue over ten years by adopting some key digital technologies.

At the time, Accenture managing director Yen-Sze Soon said: “Most food and drink companies we work with recognise that digital technologies can drive transformation and growth, but many aren’t yet realising this potential. This research quantifies the potential prize for industry, individuals and society if they get this right.”

Fast forward to 2022 and, with the COVID-19 pandemic all but behind them, the sector’s companies need productivity, cost-efficiency and innovation more than ever.

So how can tech make these things happen? Here are four examples of important advancements.

Meeting evolving consumer tastes using big data

Swiss “fragrance and flavour” company Firmenich recently made the world’s first flavour created entirely using artificial intelligence (AI).

It used a mix of cloud technologies, consumer data and digital surveys to formulate what it called a “lightly grilled beef taste” for use in plant-based meat alternative products.

The company claimed that this kind of AI application can speed up manufacturing and development processes for F&D businesses by providing accurate formula starting points they can build on to create more bespoke experiences.

Reducing foodborne diseases with self-aware packaging

Scientists in Canada have developed a “biosensing patch” that can be attached to food packaging to monitor bacterial contamination. When the patch detects certain bacteria, it changes colour, allowing consumers and sellers to see whether food is safe to eat without needing to unwrap it.

According to the World Health Organization, around 10% of people worldwide fall ill from eating contaminated food, and 420,000 die as a result every year. A sensor like the one developed at McMaster University could reduce these figures by providing more accurate data than the sell-by dates currently used by most manufacturers.

If adopted widely enough, such a development could also reduce global food waste.

Automating orders with restaurant voice bots

American company Orderscape designs voice bots for restaurants and online food sellers, enabling them to automate (and streamline) their ordering processes.

The bots work similarly to text-based chatbots by using automated responses but instead allow customers to place orders through popular voice assistants such as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. These are available on most smartphones and tablets, via an app.

The solution can also be integrated into restaurants’ existing digital point-of-sale (POS) devices to provide a potentially faster, more accessible sales experience.

With the popularity of voice searches rising, we could well see the adoption of Orderscape and applications like it become commonplace in the UK F&D sector.

Streamlining food production with agricultural robots

UK firm Small Robot Company develops and builds robots that use AI to identify and destroy weeds on farms.

The idea is that, by using this tech instead of spraying crops with harmful chemicals, farmers can increase food production efficiency, reduce costs (to potentially pass savings onto customers) and increase their sustainability.

The company’s AI-driven machines could also help growers who struggle with herbicide-resistant weeds, such as blackgrass. Blackgrass alone costs the UK economy almost £400 million and 800,000 tonnes of lost harvest per year, according to Rothamsted Research.

Looking for research and development support?

These are just four examples of how tech can reduce pressure, increase efficiency, cut costs and solve problems for businesses in the food and drink sector.

To harness the full power of big data, sensors, AI, robotics and other fast-evolving technologies, companies in the UK – in F&D and beyond – need access to innovation funding.

As R&D tax credit specialists, we help forward-thinking businesses like yours get the financial support they need to keep developing industry-changing tech.

Take our free eligibility assessment today to learn more about the help on offer for your business, or book a free consultation to chat with one of our friendly experts.

Back in 2018, Accenture estimated that food and drink (F&D) businesses could reduce costs by almost £53 billion and add £3 billion in revenue over ten years by adopting some key digital technologies.