Clean label, cutting edge-technology and the future

by Keith Nunes
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KANSAS CITY — Many news outlets spent an ample amount of time this past week discussing the innovative technologies being exhibited at the International CES, also known as the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas. Much of the media attention focused on driverless cars, increased Internet connectivity and the proliferation of wearable devices, but there were several exhibitors whose products may have an influential effect on consumers and the food and beverage industry.

Given all of the attention paid to the subjects of clean label and calorie counts, industry executives may want to pay closer attention to the developments taking place in the markets for sensors and analysis software. Clean label is a trend that has had a dramatic effect on food and beverage formulation and now some technology companies are developing products that allow consumers to verify the absence of some ingredients.

 For example, TellSpec, Toronto, exhibited its “food scanner.” The system features a handheld device able to scan food and identify the ingredients in the product as well as its nutritional values. The system achieves its goals through spectroscopy and a mathematical algorithm to analyze a product’s chemical composition. What makes the product even more interesting is as foods are scanned, the results are added to a global database for reference by the company’s customer base.

Along the same lines, BioSensor Laboratories, Seoul, South Korea, exhibited its Penguin system that the company said may determine if such products as fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products are free of pesticides or contain antibiotics. BioSensor markets the system as a “smart home food safety device,” and positioned it as a solution for ensuring food is organic. If food fraud continues to be an issue in some product categories, it is easy to see how consumers may turn to such devices.

Another company, Smart Diet Scale, Romeo, Mich., exhibited its Smart Diet Scale, which the company claims is capable of calculating the nutritional value of a consumer’s entire meal. Four separate sensors built into a scale are able to weigh the individual portions that make up a meal and, through an app, access the nutrition information of “over 315,000 food, grocery and restaurant items,” according to the company. Once each individual portion is measured, the system calculates and displays the entire nutritional value of a meal.

A key topic of discussion at this year’s CES conference focused on the “Internet of things,” which references the level of connectivity that may be achieved between smartphone and tablet devices and such everyday household items as refrigerators, dish washers and even such mundane items as containers.

SKE Labs, Toronto, exhibited Neo, which it is marketing as the “world’s first smart jar.” Featuring Bluetooth connectivity, Neo is capable of tracking what is inside a container and, the company, added, what it may mean for the consumer’s health. The system allows a consumer to scan the barcode of a product, enter it into the Neo system and it will track consumption, consume-by dates and even allow users to track their eating habits based on how products are consumed.

Many of these technologies and ideas may seem farfetched, but they underscore how sensor technologies and analysis programs are rapidly advancing. As a result, the technologies are putting greater knowledge into the hands of consumers. Whether consumers adopt such applications is open for debate, but given how much interest there appears to be in clean label products, it is a segment that requires scrutiny.

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