There are truly exciting times ahead for food and biotech research and development. Significant changes are needed in these industries to meet the needs and demands of our future consumers. The consumers today are very different than yesterday’s consumers. The future consumers will be even more different and will put greater demand on the industry for transparency and custom solutions to fit their preferences and needs. The next generation of consumers will be the most diverse, most educated, most self-aware and socially responsible, and socially connected than the generations before them. Current business and innovative practices will not work for this generation. Companies therefore need to better engage consumers in the product development process as well as adapt new and emerging technologies. We also need to create mechanisms which will fuel and foster great innovations and lead to tangible impacts.
Changes are greatly needed
The industry is realizing that changes are greatly needed and we that work on R&D need to make sure we are equipped and ready to take on these changes. We have seen Uber disrupt the taxi industry, Airbnb the hospitality industry and iTunes the music industry. The next big wave of technological disruptions will be in the food industry, and it is already happening. We are seeing entrepreneurs developing 3D food printers which will enable consumers to custom make their own foods in their homes with respect to nutrition, taste, texture and appearance. Companies are developing the kitchen of the future, which will be so interconnected to us that it will know our preferences, tell us when and what to buy, know when our food is expiring or becomes unsafe, and even prepare and cook the food on demand and to our liking. Lines are also blurring between biotechnology and food science. For example, advances in stem cell research are now being applied to the food industry where we have succeeded in growing the first lab made meat. Automation and robotics will also greatly change our industry and our lives. We are seeing the birth of precision farming via robots, which is also moving into the marine and aquaculture sector. Companies are also experimenting with innovative ways to deliver food on demand to people via unmanned aerial vehicles (drones). These are indeed truly exciting times.
Models of funding research and innovation are changing
The business models in the industry are also changing. The larger multinational companies have seen little growth as a result of being conservative and lagging in innovation. To grow, they have been investing heavily in smaller more agile and innovative start-up companies. Some have even set up large venture capital funds, which is something very new for the food industry. Major investments are now flowing into food and biotech from the same investors that were behind the technology revolution in Silicon Valley. They know that the next big wave of disruptions will be in these industries. Companies are also more taking advantage of open innovation by outsourcing their R&D to companies like Matís. The models of funding research and innovation are also changing. A great example of that are the Knowledge Innovation Communities (KICs) funded by the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT). Matís is a proud member of the newly established EIT Food KIC, the only KIC focused on food research and development. The KICs are an independent group of top educational, research and business partners that are funded after successfully winning a proposal bid to establish a KIC. They set the objectives, develop a business model and devise a structure to deliver its results. They get seven years to deliver, with the goal to lead to the most impact possible. This is a great model which will undoubtedly have an effect on how we develop the funding programs of the future.
Interesting journey ahead
The times are indeed changing and there is no business as usual anymore. To succeed in this changing environment and tackle all the grand challenges, we need to be fearless and think in very different ways than we have before. We need to understand the market and the consumers and where they are heading, find new solutions and work across sectors with partners we never imagined working with before. To accomplish this, we at Matís have set out a long term vision to invest in strong infrastructures and our people, be part of shaping the business models of the future and not just be part of the technological disruptions, but create them. We need to dare to go where no one has gone before. All of us at Matís look forward to this journey as we move our company into its second decade of operations.