By Dr Stefan Hajkowicz

Digital disruption plays a big part in transforming the way companies and agencies operate, and how they talk to their customers. This is no different for the food industry. We take a sneak peek into the mind of one of Australia’s most reputable speakers on future trends to find out about digital disruption and what this will mean for the future of food.

Digital disruption will have a profound effect on future labour markets and can provide opportunities for new market entrants to gain a foothold, compete with longstanding incumbents and access a global market.

There are some significant digital disruption trends that are shaping how the Australian and global food industry will operate in future years. Here are some to keep in mind.

Automated food 

Over time, we will see the production of food become more automated and technology increasingly replacing human labour.

Automating food manufacturing will make it easier to personalise and design food specifically for an individual person and incorporate a range of personal and health factors.

Automating food will also help close the gap between the farmer and the consumer, and help the farmer tell the story of their product, its provenance, quality, health and any other benefits.

The functionality of foods 

Functional foods (foods inherently containing health-giving properties) will continue to grow in popularity and prevalence across the market.

Our neighbour Asia is one of the largest market potentials for Australia. Across Asia, the ‘healthy’ consumer - a person who wants to buy food that will benefit their health and wellbeing - is increasingly driving demand. The Australian food industry has the potential to capitalise on this increasing demand for healthy food thanks to the reputation of freshness among our local products. 

Tracking food’s journey from paddock to plate 

Digital technologies are improving every day in explaining the journey of food from paddock to plate. Consumers want to know exactly what part of the world their food comes from, and then trace its journey through the supply chain before it ends up in their shopping trolley.

For example, a consumer in the Shanghai supermarket of the future will have the capability to wave their smartphone over a bag of tomatoes and see a detailed description of where they were grown, what happened to these specific tomatoes, and whether pesticides were used.

Should the Australian food industry think about digital disruption now? 

Digital disruption is already happening and Australia needs to be exploiting it. The recent Free Trade Agreement announcement between Australia and China means there is potential for Australia to easily cash in on the healthy food demand across Asia, and one way of doing this is by adopting digital technologies for food manufacturing.

Provenance and origin of food is also proving to be at the forefront of mind for consumers, and digital technology is a method food manufacturers can embrace to easily show where food is from. 

New Zealand vs. Australia

New Zealand is currently exploiting the opportunity of accessing markets in Asia, with a $10 million research program dedicated to targeting niche markets in the region for high value feed and high value nutrition. 

The use of digital technology is a key part of that arrangement.

Even though Australia is a much larger, multi-faceted food industry, we need to take a page from New Zealand’s book and get the industry working together as a whole to crack the Asian market.

Australia is not moving on with the Free Trade Agreement’s fast enough. The only way this will work is through a concerted effort across industry, government and academia, as has been done in the New Zealand food industry.

Dr Hajkowicz currently leads the Strategic Foresight Team at Australia’s largest data innovation group Data61 in CSIRO, a small and growing team of researchers and consultants working on strategic foresight with a focus on the digital economy.