Innovations in Food Tech for Health

Here at Branchfood we often think about the future of food and food technology. What will the world look like 10, 15, 20 years from now and how will our food system evolve? From robots making your food to ultra-personalized meal plans based on DNA, it seems as if the future -- that far off, nebulous idea -- will be unrecognizable to the people of today. This topic is of such importance to us that last week, we held a panel at the Boston offices of architectural firm Perkins + Will in order to investigate what the future of food tech for health looks like.

In attendance were Janelle Nanos, the business reporter for the Boston Globe, who moderated the discussion, along with Kyle Cahill, the Director of Sustainability & Environmental Health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Tara McCarthy, the co-founder of Kindrdfood, Jake Cacciapaglia, the VP of Media at Runkeeper, and Ian Brady, the Chief Executive Officer of AVA.

The conversation began with a question from Janelle about the kinds of users that are utilizing technology for health. Jake, of Runkeeper, began by deconstructing preconceived notions that fitness apps are exclusive to the uber-athletes of the world. “The people that we talk to [...] are people who are just trying to make running a part of their lifestyle.” He also cited “weight loss as a primary goal,” a sentiment also echoed byTara and Ian, whose companies both aim to make balanced dietary info available to all. Kyle mused about how the healthcare industry was aiming to improve preventative measures, identifying that “94% of that [money in the industry] goes to treating people once they’re sick” and adding that “a lot of the technology that’s being applied to health is trying to change that.”

As the night went on, the conversation turned towards new technology and its various forms. Telehealth, as it was called, aims to reach clients no matter where they are. Tara began by mentioning that Kindrdfood is a digital-only platform, “that’s the only way we see clients right now,” she added. However, she mentioned that she saw Kindrdfood as a component of the whole health system, not aiming to overturn the establishment, but to work with it as part of a holistic whole.

As the panel progressed, discussion turned to date mining. Panelists all had different conclusions they’d reached about the role of data in their work and the ways they utilized it. Ian mentioned that AVA was utilizing Myers-Briggs profiles in order to tailor the tone that their AI took with users and to personalize the relationship between the user and AVA, adding “it tries to understand what will motivate you.” He mentioned that it had been “very, very helpful” in encouraging longer-term engagement with their users.

Nearing the end of the panel, Janelle opened the floor to questions from the audience. One participant asked whether Kyle “saw the insurance industry going towards having to incentivize customers to eat healthier by using lower insurance premiums.” “Perhaps,” he began, outlining the various ways that the healthcare industry tried to assess and improve the health of their clients and adding that they “will be finding ways to incentivize people to make those changes.”

After the panel wrapped, it was time for snacks and networking. Amongst the companies that brought samples of their wares were Keto+Co, a fairly new company aiming to provide convenient low-carb foods for people following strict diets. In exchange for offering feedback on their packaging, they gifted attendees a bottle of some delicious MCT Oil. Micro Mama’s, a lacto-fermented food company based out of New Hampshire, happily chatted about the various deliciously pungent veggies that they had brought with them, and at the end of the line was the Health-Ade table, which offered samples of some fantastic kombucha -- their ‘Holiday Cheers’ was deliciously festive, I should add.

So what does the future of food tech for health look like? We don’t really know yet. Innovation is happening at a rapid rate and nobody can tell for sure how the relationship between food, health, and people will be affected. One thing is for sure, however, if the panelists are representative of the food tech future, we’re in good hands.