When Amazon announced the acquisition of Whole Foods last month, Alice Waters, an American chef and restaurateur, defined its significance as a chance for Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, to seize the moment and launch a food revolution.
Immediately after the announcement, Waters tweeted to Bezos: “…You have an unprecedented opportunity to change our food system overnight: It’s time to demand that produce comes from farmers who are taking care of the land…”
The basic elements of technology that can make Waters’ locavore dreams already exist. But none of the big grocers today have yet seized the reins.
Since 2015, however, on a much smaller scale, Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) has been on a journey to learn, improve, and instrument Internet of Things (IoT) related to the food industries. In search of fresh, local, and sustainable tomatoes that actually taste good in the Boston area, ADI initiated a pilot project called the “Internet of Tomatoes,” involving local farmers, data scientists, and universities. ADI also recruited technology partners such as Consumer Physics, developer of a molecular sensing device, and ripe.io, a startup that designs custom blockchains for various industries, including agriculture.
The idea behind the Internet of Tomatoes is to build a sensors-to-cloud platform that turns captured data into useful intelligence for farmers, while a blockchain offers a transparent, distributed ledger that can be shared by all participants in the ecosystem. By monitoring and tracking tomatoes from seed to table based on a common platform using common tools, local farmers, packers, distributors, trucking companies, grocers, supermarkets, restauranteurs, and consumers can now put on the table tomatoes that taste like tomatoes — whose quality, pedigree, and provenance is verified and validated by trusted data.
Mike Murray, general manager of ADI’s industrial sensing business, told EE Times, “We are putting the technology in the hands of family farmers so that they can create better outcomes.”
“Few consumers trust their food these days,” said Raja Ramachandran, CEO at ripe.io. Few people know where produce actually comes from, how it was grown, and how good it might taste. In his opinion, technology could put “trust” back into the food supply chain and “redefine the relationship that consumers have with food.”
For example, people often talk about fresh, local, and sustainable foods. Philip Harris, President of ripe.io, asked, “But what does it mean? How local is local? Did it come from a farm 200 miles away or from a store you just bought it at?”
Harris said, “The food supply chain is a very fragmented ecosystem.” By capturing data and sharing it among various players, “data allows buyers’ and consumers’ questions to be answered and helps verify the data.”
Amazon’s Whole Foods acquisition will surely trigger retail evolution on the local level, said Ramachandran. Leveraging Amazon’s technology, Whole Foods could improve shoppers’ choice and convenience. Meanwhile, retailers might be able to learn consumer tastes and preferences on a much more personal level, he explained.
Next page: Why tomatoes?