San Francisco is a city where there is a lot happening and much of this has to do with their tech industry. In November I went down to participate in Bon Appetech, a conference that is looking at how technology can help innovate the food industry.
The first talk I found interesting was from Agtech Insight founder Arron Mahenheim. His project was to better integrate emerging technologies into the food production industry, such as open interfaces, converting paper records to digital to make records easily accessible, and to better control/track the use of irrigation, pesticides and fertilizers.
Another talk, called “Fix the Fundamentals”, made note of some particular issues in start up projects that involve the marriage between tech and food. Based on other talks and people I spoke to at the conference, an important piece of advice was to have the tech side focus their energy in a more collaborative manner, working on investment/leverage experience. When this advice isn’t followed, it can lead to unrealistic timelines in assuming that the food/agricultural industry will adopt the technology quickly. At the heart of the talk was an important point: Try to understand the food/agricultural industry, with its likelihood to accept and use new technology, its consumers’ current needs/wants (such as the desire for more information regarding what they are exactly buying), and what its already effective at doing without new apps, in order to find the pockets where there is both a market for technological innovation and where it will actually be helpful.
I found this talk particularly interesting for Quality Coach because it paid far more attention to the features we can preserve in our industry as well as being realistic about the willingness to change old habits. Working with a variety of clients, I have seen these two points first hand and I think there are more points to be made on this topic. For example, designing traceability programs is already very complex as it is, but adding in new technology (that might be at face value very helpful) to the process might only make such programs needlessly complicated and could even confuse a very important procedure. In a market that is only becoming more sensitive to ingredients such as allergens, I think it is understandable that food companies have been taking their time with new technologies insofar as their current methods are working.