That’s the view of James Deverell, director of CSIRO Futures — the national science agency’s strategy and advice division.
He revealed that the organisation had recently identified these core areas, in light of five global trends it saw as shaping the nutrition and food industry.
Speaking at the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST) convention in Sydney, he elaborated on the five trends: growing sources of international competition, consumers becoming increasingly sophisticated as global incomes rise, the increase in non-communicable diseases and ageing populations, threats to natural resources, and the need for greater supply chain efficiency.
“The key for us is what do we focus on in response to these trends to strengthen our position as a nation exporting products that are high-quality, sustainable, and provide added value,” he said.
The first opportunity is to focus on products for health and well-being.
“We think there is an enormous opportunity to create new products, and a good example of this is personalised nutrition. This could be the next big disruptor to the food industry.”
Deverell then suggested that devising products for particular population groups based on age, weight, sleep patterns or fitness objectives could reap big rewards, while the falling cost of genetic testing could lead to individual solutions for digestive health.
“We also know we have many people who are elderly and have a problem with swallowing. They need to increase protein and zinc intake, and we could actually do this through 3D-printed food,” he added.
The second opportunity is creating new functional foods from waste products.
CSIRO currently has a team creating high-value foods and powders from apple pomace. This can then be used as a supplement, a functional nutritional ingredient, or in formulated extruded products.
“Consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental and social impacts of the food they buy,” said Deverell.
He also urged the industry to use new technology to increase consumer confidence in traceability and the provenance of sustainable and functional foods, especially for export markets.
“We can use technology like isotope analysis or blockchain — which we can use to create a permanent record of how food products travel through the chain — to provide this,” he said.
The final opportunity comes from strengthening food safety and biosecurity.
“One in 10 people will fall ill after eating contaminated food each year,” Deverell said, adding that technology that improves safety and increases shelf stability would increase export opportunities.
The challenge now, he told delegates, would be to convert science and technology into an economic advantage.
“In Australia, we do 3% of (the) world’s research and development with just 0.3% of the pop, but we often struggle to commercialise it,” he said, adding: “Growth will not be maintained by increasing productivity alone.”