From Grocery Dive:
This is something that I see really playing a part. With QR codes a TON of information will be built in, and dynamic pricing will let people choose the balance of freshness, quality etc in real time.
@ACESChris I wonder what other data could be embedded in codes, etc. to factor into consumer decisions. you mentioned quality - i wonder if eventually there will be supply chain info, traceability, etc. all embedded as data? it would change the need for labeling, but perhaps would only be feasible if there is some standardization around certain certifications, terminology, etc.
I also wonder whether eventually this would be through an augmented reality system - scanning codes is a high bar
Expiration dates are helpful, but knowing when produce was harvested will empower consumers most by driving efforts to reduce the hyper-critical period; time of harvest to consumption.
I work in the produce department at an upscale grocery store. A hefty percentage of produce is spoiled when it arrives, and we have to constantly cull produce as it goes bad on the shelves.
We recently got in a case of green-leaf lettuce that was grown less than a three-hour drive away from us, but it took nine days to get through distribution channels and into our store. Still, it was the freshest I’ve seen as most of it comes from 2,500 miles away.
A focus on the time of harvest should boost hyperlocal growers selling directly to consumers and retailers. It will drive speedier and more efficient distribution, increase the quality, nutritional value, and the shelf life of fresh produce while reducing waste.
Dynamic pricing should help quite a bit but put the focus on time of harvest, not when it’s time to throw it away.
Thanks for sharing, @SteveK8! This is an important point.
Is nine days average to get products from the farm to the store? Why does it take that long?
@NickOttens, nine days is probably on the short side of a wide range.
Our supermarket gets produce from Argentina, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand, Greece, Florida, Georgia, California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Virginia. I’m sure I’m leaving some out, but you can start to get a sense of what it might take to get from each of those places. For some, airplanes are used. For much of it, refrigerated shipping containers are filled in the field, loaded on trucks, hauled some distance, then shifted to trains, or boats. Sometime later the shipping containers are moved again onto trucks and carried to warehouses. Then the produce is shifted out of the refrigerated shipping containers and into the warehouses where it gets repalletized and put into different trucks then hauled hundreds of miles from the warehouses to over 30,000 grocery stores in the US.
We receive as much produce as it takes to fill our shelves and our storerooms several times a week, and we run out of many of those items just as quick. If we didn’t run out, we’d have to throw much of it away since it’s on the verge of going bad when we get it.
The warehousing and distribution system works well for products that have a long shelf-life, but it doesn’t work well for fresh produce.
Until we can instantly teleport freshly harvested produce from one side of the planet to the other, the highest quality fresh produce will be hyper-local. Most will be seasonal, and things like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, lettuce, peppers, spinach, and other fruits and vegetables that have the highest nutritional value when harvested at peak ripeness and have a short shelf-life will be consumed within a few days of harvest, or possibly frozen at home with most of its nutritional value intact.
Although it may never become a major supplier of calories, hyperlocal food can become a significant supplier of high-quality vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients and other components required for optimum health. And let’s not forget about flavor. Most tomatoes I see are blemish free and flavor free. I expect many people have no idea what top quality produce tastes like.
I haven’t even touched on the topics of pesticides, herbicides, depleted soils, contaminated water supplies, nutrient runoff, or carbon footprint.
Focus on the time of harvest would undoubtedly upset a few applecarts full of apples stored over a year, but it would help consumers and hyperlocal growers immensely.
@SteveK8, I suppose the main reason for getting products from half the world away, instead of nearby, is price?
Also, as you mention, not everything grows the year round naturally. I know Dutch farmers grow a lot of tomatoes in greenhouses, which are then exported.
We still accept some products as seasonal. Here in Europe, almost nobody eats strawberries in winter whereas in the last month I’ve seen whole baskets full of them appear in the supermarket.
@NickOttens, not being a corporate buyer, I can only speculate about the drivers involved. I’m sure they include profit, availability, variety, relationships with various parties involved, volume discounts for big distributors, convenience, politics, etc.
Sometimes the reason for getting produce from half the world away seems to be about getting in something new — the more exotic, the better. Remember the spice wars? Maybe we’ll eventually go to the far reaches of the galaxies in search of new flavors, or alternatives to pharmaceuticals, or both.
Something that doesn’t get talked about much is what I’ll call the satisfaction factor. If you eat food lacking in nutrition, you can be full and still hungry. I wonder how much less food we could live on and be happy with if it was nutritionally quite satisfying.
The Dutch use hydroponics extensively. Some Dutch growers set up a hydroponic tomato farm in Wilcox, Arizona that had over 300 acres under glass. A very sunny location, but a long haul to markets. Hydroponics is a superior technology, but no matter how it’s grown, if you pick fruit early to make it through a time-intensive distribution channel, it’s going to lack flavor and nutrition.
Strawberries grow year-round in the Central Coast of California and are trucked all across the country. We sell hundreds of pounds of them every week. When I lived in California, I would eat strawberries picked just hours earlier. Once you’ve had the best, the rest can be a let-down. I can’t think of any fresh produce that this doesn’t apply to.
Have a look at this for some guidance on the bigger picture. There are a bunch of active dynamic forces shoving the food stories around. We need data driven, mission focused programs, acting in total transparency. When we move up in context, and address the food/energy/water/health nexus we will solve all of these things. It is plain to see that “cheap” food can be tragically expensive! The XP sensor developments can play a part also. A company called RXall just won the Hello Tomorrow Global challenge with a device that can analyse your medication. https://innovation-village.com/adebayo-alonge-of-rxall-wins-e100k-in-the-2019-hello-tomorrow-deeptech-contest/
We need that for food!!
Imagine a device that could scan your body to let you know what nutritional substances you currently need and could also be used to scan available foods for those required substances.
Uncounted books and other sources prescribe vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients, and so on for specific ailments, and then give lists of foods containing them and recipes for preparing them. If all this information could be accessed by an AI agent that knows your body intimately, you could more readily shop and eat for nutrition as well as pleasure. This assumes your AI agent wouldn’t insist you eat something you don’t like because “it’s good for you.”
Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” The question becomes, what specific foods/medicines do we need, and where can we find them?
Start with your symptoms, or a diagnosis, then match them to beneficial nutritional factors and create a list. Then match the items on the list to possible, and then available, and then desirable foods and recipes. (Not unlike a doctor prescribing pharma-stuff). This is very doable, but total transparency, as ACESChris points out, is a must.
Now you go shopping to find high-quality versions of those food/medicines. If we had a scanner with an AI agent, it would likely most often point us towards fresh food harvested at peak ripeness, or towards food that was processed very shortly after in ways that best preserved the nutritional values.
Without the scanner, knowing the harvest dates of fresh produce could be the best piece of information we could ask for. The idea I want to convey is the nexus of food/water/energy/health is of the moment. It is time-dependent. Available nutrition is not constant. An apple a day is one thing, a year-old apple a day is a different thing.
Think of a spectrum that goes from harvested at peak ripeness to “expired.” Which end of that spectrum would you like to eat closest too?
This is happening in the Netherlands! (Story is in Dutch.)
On supermarket, Albert Heijn, has started an experiment where products are gradually reduced in price as the expiration date approaches.
Another, Lidl, has started selling products for as little as 25 cents on the day they’re due to expire.
The goal of the supermarkets is to cut food waste in half by 2030.