Nanotech and Food – The Real Numbers


One of the areas where nanotechnologies and chemistry become almost indistinguishable is in the food industry. Chances are that unless you grown your own food, most of what you eat will have had some contact with chemistry, whether it is packed under inert gas to prolong shelf life, or in the case of highly processed food, consists almost entirely of chemically modified raw materials.

It is also a very emotive subject, and while people do worry about GMO’s in food, they tend to care far less about the number of other chemicals that go into food, from hydrogenated oils to flavourings and colourings. Groups such as ETC have sought to exploit these fears with the invention of green goo, a nightmare scenario involving the confusion of nanotechnology and biotechnology.

It’s amazing that people get so worked up about nanotechnologies in food when there is so little on the supermarket shelf that you can buy today. However, a quick glance at the ingredients list on any processed food will show you the impact that chemistry has already had, and in every market, from textiles to plastics, where chemistry goes, nanotech is never far behind.

In order to restore a little sanity to nanofood, we have just produced an in depth analysis of nanotechnologies in the food industry, and the result is that we now have a very clear idea of where and what the effect of nanotechnologies will be, and when.

While the food industry is already a trillion dollar market (that is packaging, processing, safety and additives and not agriculture) nanotechnologies only account for 410 million dollars of that total. However we predict a ten fold increase in the value of nanotechnologies to 5.8 billion dollars by 2012, although this increase is not uniform across every sector. Some sectors are so cost sensitive that nanotechnologies will only have in impact on very high value added products, whereas other markets need a number of nanotechnologies to unlock their potential.

Unlike a few of the other reports we have seen on nanotech and food, and as regular readers would expect, we don’t see desktop nanofactories churning out unlimited free food before 2012. As a result, we are confident that we have finally generated a realistic estimate of the markets for nanotechnologies in the food industry, and may even restore an element of balance to a somewhat overhyped and misunderstood sector.

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