Data-powered farming needed to feed booming population, says WRAP

Data-enabled technology, new consumer eating habits and reducing waste will all prove vital in ensuring the UK has a sustainable supply of protein over the next 10 years, according to new research from WRAP.

The Food Futures report, launched today (5 November) at WRAP’s annual conference in London, considers how Britain’s food producers must adapt to climate change and an ever-growing population. The country will reportedly require another five million tonnes of food to in just 10 years’ time.

The report details 15 areas of improvement for the industry – including alternative proteins and intelligent packaging – with WRAP putting big data at the top of the list.

“Data-enabled technology presents one of the greatest opportunities for the food system since the Green Revolution,” reads the report.

“Whereas the Green Revolution saw increased agricultural productivity through techniques, such as plant breeding and the use of synthetic fertilisers, the ‘Green Data Revolution’ will create a smarter, more flexible and resilient food system, as more data is created and shared between supply chain partners and consumers.”

The characteristics of the food system such as complexity, huge geographical range, and diversity of operators reportedly make it particularly suitable for exploiting data-enabled technologies.

Potential opportunities include precision agriculture, smarter certification, factory automation, ‘intelligent’ packaging, risk analytics, supply chain forecasting, product personalisation and new means of engaging with consumers. 

Behaviour change

However, the report asserts that not all solutions are technology-based. “Consumers will help set the pace of change as they seek to have a healthier and sustainable diet,” WRAP predicts.

“The future will see individuals driving the way in which their food is delivered not just to their door but designed to meet their precise nutritional and taste requirements. We might even see the introduction of ‘food for the ages’ – designed specifically to meet the needs of different age groups, from growing teenagers to older people.”

This type of consumer-led change is already starting to take place. Earlier this week Morrison’s announced it would be selling more misshaped vegetables following public outcry after the BBC show Hugh’s War on Waste.

The supermarket said in a statement: “We are listening and if you want to buy ‘wonky parsnips’ they are coming back. Look out for them soon.”

Asda has also unveiled plans to expand its ‘wonky veg range’, while Sainsbury’s brand director, speaking at the WRAP event, said that consumer habits were forcing supermarkets to cut food waste.

War on waste

The WRAP report also highlights ways to tackle the chronic food waste problem which sees one third of food produced globally go to waste.

WRAP’s claims its Courtauld Commitment 2025 will play a leading role in bringing together the whole food system, helping to safeguard the UK’s food supply and respond to consumer’s changing needs over the next decade.

WRAP projects that food waste will likely continue to become less socially acceptable. “It is also likely to decrease as food becomes both more valued and more easily managed and planned through interconnected platforms, devices and appliances preventing waste”.

WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin said: “In the next ten years we will be faced with challenges around feeding a growing population and nutritional security.

“Our ‘Food Futures’ report highlights how governments, businesses and we, as consumers, can turn these challenges into opportunities.

“We need to be 21st Century ‘FIT’ to meet this challenge. By embracing the growth in data enabled technology and aligning healthy and environmentally sustainable diets we can nourish both the individual and the planet.”

A recent edie feature considered how the global food production chain might innovate to feed the expected nine billion people on the planet by 2050.

Brad Allen

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