Dominic Watkins

In a week when we voted to leave the EU, the Prime Minister resigned, and there appears no plan for our economic future – to just scrape the surface of events – my thoughts about the impact of tech business on the food sector being one of the most significant changes over the next year seem somewhat less significant than they did.

Before Brexit, and over the last 12-18 months, I had seen more and more tech businesses entering the food sector. Many of these businesses just provide solutions – whether logistics or retail; they own no food and have no manufacturing process, but are nonetheless helping to make supply chains more efficient or to create new opportunities.

Using GPS to track movement is not new, but the ubiquity and accuracy of smart devices has enabled this to be exploited like never before. Just as many found it incredible to see where their taxi was, people both in the supply chain and end users are valuing the control and information that similar systems provide them for food supply. This could be at farm level to enable tracking of the product from a provenance and food fraud avoidance point of view, or tracking products being delivered. When this is integrated into supply chains it means that very quick delivery – such as 60 minutes from ordering – is possible for food beyond takeaway services such as Deliveroo or UberEATS. With the Amazon Prime Now model leading the way, it is proving that in 2016 ‘just in time’ delivery has a whole new meaning and opens a door to a truly convergent world where online delivery is faster than a trip to the store.

A range of increasingly innovative technologies are also being applied in food production. One of the most exciting, if somewhat mindbending, is the launch by the Magic Candy Factory of the world’s first 3D printed sweets, giving not only ‘printed food’, but also consumers a customisation of the product not normally possible. While candy and fruit are clearly two different markets, the potential for this technology is vast. Even if fruit might at this stage be a step far, spare parts for equipment at the farm is not, with this technology being famously used on the space station to ‘print’ the tool needed to carry out repairs.

The potential disruption seen by Amazon and other online retailers entering the grocery market is going to be vast. Unlike when Ocado launched and it needed to develop, Amazon already has slick systems and a logistics network that works effectively. Given that supply chain logistics and availability historically have been the Achilles heel of traditional retailers, Amazon is starting from a significant advantage, which it is no doubt keen to exploit as well as offering manufacturers an alternative route to market. In a week where most of the news has been bleak it is good to remember there is a huge amount of innovation and change in the sector and the future is bright.

Dominic Watkins is the head of the food sector group at international law firm DWF andspecialises in regulatory issues.