The results of a Europe-wide competition to find the best and most innovative early-stage businesses in the grocery retail supply chain were announced in Dublin last week.

The winners across four categories each received a €12,500 cash prize, with the overall winner receiving an additional €50,000. Among those winners were two which could have far reaching consequences for farmers and producers.

The overall winner was a French start-up called Spore.Bio. The company have developed a technology which, if successfully implemented, could change the detection of pathogens in the food processing industry.

Currently, factories generally have to use decades-old solutions to ensuring their production facilities are free from all the bugs and biology which could make consumers very ill.

This involves sending samples to laboratories and waiting up to a week for results to come back. If something unpleasant is found, then significant amounts of production can be wasted.

Even worse, if the testing is not conducted regularly enough then contaminated food can make it to consumers, leading to recalls and reputational damage for the processor.

Spore.Bio’s solution is a machine which enables testing for pathogens to be carried out on the factory floor, with results provided instantly.

The benefits of this are obvious. Processors should see recalls reduced to zero. There would be a huge reduction in food waste as production will not run for days as they wait for results of lab tests.

The benefits for consumers are also obvious, as they can have more confidence in the food on supermarket shelves.

The Irish Farmers Journal caught up with Spore.Bio CEO Amine Raji to try to understand how the technology works and how close it is to becoming reality.

He explained that their machine works by shining light onto a food sample and then using sensors to measure the spectral signature created to detect the unique markers for bacteria.

“Basically, it’s a really fancy camera,” he said.

But the camera is only a small part of the machine. Spectral signature analysis is not new to science – it is used in everything from measuring soil properties to identifying atmospheres on planets orbiting distant stars.

Spore.Bio is also using machine-learning technologies to teach its system how to detect bacteria, and differentiate between the good and the bad types.

At the moment, this involves “training” a computer on lots of samples of food and beverages, both contaminated and non-contaminated. The more training the computer gets, the larger the dataset it will have access to, which in turn should make the results of each subsequent test more accurate.

Raji said that they are currently partnered with some of the world’s largest food companies, for both this training and as a proof of concept.

He said they are now embarking on their next growth phase, where they will be “constructing multiple machines and deploying them in various factories worldwide.”

Start-up investors are clearly excited about the possibilities for the technology, with Spore.Bio recently announcing it had secured €8m in pre-seed funding.

There was a much more down-to-earth winner in the packing and production category, with first place going to German start-up Nerit’e.

Instant analysis

The company has developed a soil monitoring tool which provides instant analysis of nitrogen and potassium levels, as well as tracking ph, humidity and temperature.

The tool, which is basically a probe that you stick into the ground, sends the results back to the farmer’s phone or computer within seconds. The probe also uses geo-locating technology to track where samples have been taken.

The benefits for farmers are three-fold. Firstly, a successful product would instantly do away with the need to do soil sampling as it is currently undertaken – walking across a field with soil corer, putting the dirt into a bag and sending if off for analysis.

Secondly, as it provides instant geo-located results, it can provide a timely picture of the nutrient quality of the soil on the day fertiliser is to be spread. Lastly, Humberto Martinez Barron, CEO of Nerit’e said that the probe can also monitor carbon levels in the soil, data which can be used over time to accurately measure carbon sequestration.

With nitrates legislation at the front of mind for all farmers in Ireland at the moment, it is probably no wonder that Nerit’e is already working with one Irish processor on a trial basis.


If the technology lives up to its potential, it could lead to significant fertiliser savings for farmers, which in turn could see a reduction in levels of added nitrogen to farmland.

And anything, backed by data, which helps that reduction would be another argument in favour of Ireland maintaining its current derogation.

The Irish finalists were BiaSol, a Tullamore-based company upcycling leftover grain from brewers, MyGug, a Cork-based maker of micro-scale anaerobic digesters for food businesses and schools, and Kwayga, also Cork-based and a supplier-sourcing engine for retailers.

Greenman Investments

The idea of these awards was the brainchild of David O’Meara, head of distribution at Greenman Investments. He told the Irish Farmers Journal why they are so interested in the space.

“Greenman started 19 years ago as a small investment company, and for the last 10 years have been regulated by the Central Bank as an investment manager.

We now have five different divisions, real estate, financial services, utilities – which is energy generation for our properties, vertical farming and also networks which is data management. So we’ve grown in several different directions.

“Innovation has always been a driver for what we do.”

While O’Meara grew up on a dairy farm in Fethard, Co. Tipperary, his career took him in the direction of finance in Dublin. He remarked that he finds it funny that his career has taken him full circle, because through their investments in retail and vertical farming, he is now back in the business of producing food.

“In our little niche of the world, we’re interested in the food supply chain, so we came up with the idea of these awards to mark innovations in that space.

"We could have paid McKinsey tens of thousands of euros to write a report which would have ended up in a drawer somewhere. You learn much more from meeting the people and finding out what’s going on.

“The enthusiasm you get from speaking to entrepreneurs is infectious. As we’ve grown, we’re now 150 people spread across six countries and 10 different companies, we want to keep in touch with that entrepreneurial spirit that got us here. This has been a great way to do that.”