THE TOMATO INTERNET-OF-THINGS PROJECT
What is the project about?
In early 2015, Experience Co-Creation Partnership and Analog Devices, INC. (ADI) decided to come together
and launch a project whose objective is to create a new form of economic and societal value (called “shared value”)
by engaging multiple members of the entire agriculture and food value chain in a data-driven dialog enabled by the
so-called Internet of Things technology, thereby allowing a new optimization of the entire supply chain (this process
of ecosystem-wide engagement is called “co-creation”). The initial focus of the project was on tomatoes consumed
in the greater Boston area, either produced locally or “imported” from other tomato-growing regions. After
demonstrating the value of the approach through the Boston proof-of-concept experiment in Phase 1, the Internet of Tomatoes project is now being deployed on a global basis in Phase 2.
The idea behind the project is to collect data along the tomato Ag-Food value chain through the use of sensor-based, Internet-of-Things technologies, engage all actors in the value chain in a data-driven dialog aimed at transforming the overall quality of the finished tomato product and improving the efficiency of growing, distributing, processing, and retailing those tomatoes, and eventually lead to the co-creation of new practices, products or services in the tomato ecosystem that benefit all actors in the chain.
What’s new about this? Aren’t there lots of projects doing that already?
We want to create a longitudinal view of the whole tomato value chain from seed to mouth, resulting in an optimization of yield and agronomic practices at the growing stage, productivity at the distribution, processing and retailing stage, and cost, taste and health at the consumption stage.
While there are many sensor-based projects underway in specific stages of the Ag-Food chain (precision agriculture programs for corn and soybean, for example, or rating of produce sustainability by leading retailers such as Whole Foods), there has been little farmers-to-consumers dialog rooted in the sharing of integrated value chain data. This has led to farmers and their suppliers being too narrowly focused on cost and productivity issues and potentially less sensitive to taste and environmental issues, and to consumers perhaps being unrealistic about the practical economics of tomato growing and distribution. There has also been a lot of tension in the Ag-Food world about who should own such data and who should be allowed to monetize that data. We believe our Internet of Things project can provide a neutral, transparent, data-driven view of productivity and quality along the tomato chain that will lead the various actors to different, mutually beneficial choices, thereby leading to a transformation of the entire value chain, and fostering the development and sales of the enabling technologies and associated services.
Are you really just interested in tomatoes? Why did you pick tomatoes rather than say, grapes or rice?
Our ultimate goal is to pioneer a new ecosystem development model that extends beyond
tomatoes to the entire global Ag-Food global ecosystem. While global scalability is our
ultimate goal, we believe the chances of success are highest by starting with a product-
and geography-constrained “sliver” of the larger ecosystem, then gradually migrate our
design and engagement process to other produce and geographies.
We picked tomatoes because it is one of the largest produce market, because its
value chain is not overwhelmed by a GMO quasi-religious battle that would cloud our
data-driven approach (there is no GMO tomato as of today), because tomatoes are difficult to grow (numerous pest issues) and distribute (fragility, complex ripening cycle), because the current producing tomato areas in North America need to develop new paradigms of production (drought in California, sands of Florida, labor issues in Mexico) and because there are passionate lovers of tomatoes at the consumption stage who wish for tomato taste and flavor to be significantly improved.
What is the role of Analog Devices, Inc.? What is the role of Experience Co-Creation Partnership?
ADI is the lead company and general contractor developing the technology stack used in the Internet of Tomatoes project. It is developing the core technology through its Fenway development platform that includes several of the company’s proprietary sensors and microcontroller, while leveraging multiple technical agreements or partnerships the company has with other companies. ADI recently announced an agreement with Consumer Physics of Israel whose molecular sensing device is being integrated into the Internet of Tomatoes approach. ADI also provides the rapid-prototyping team needed to constantly adapt the technology to the need of tomato farmers and other value chain players in various parts of the world. It also provides the global infrastructure of physical facilities and application centers required to adapt the technology to each geography. The goal of the company is to become the leading Internet of Things infrastructure builder and data services provider for the Ag-Food vertical, and the Internet of Tomatoes is its first foray into this vertical.
Experience Co-Creation Partnership is a services company with a deep focus on Agriculture and Food. Its role is to act as project manager for the Internet of Tomatoes project on behalf of ADI, to utilize its market intelligence on the Ag-Food value chain, to assemble and manage for ADI the communities of farmers and other value chain providers who own and can use the data, to advocate for those data owners in monetizing their data with companies whose offerings can benefit from that data, and to offer those companies custom contract research services based on the IoT infrastructure and basic data services made possible by the ADI technology.
To use a comparison with the more traditional division of labor in hardware, software or telecom services, ADI is the products company and ECCP is the systems integrator that supports the deployment of those products and provides customs research services. ADI has sole ownership of the technology it develops and has the right to work with other services firms than ECCP. Similarly, ECCP has the right to work with other technology companies than ADI.
How is the project funded?
ADI is a publicly listed company that funds the Internet of Things project through the usual allocation of resources process inside a large public company. Experience Co-Creation Partnership is a private company currently in the process of raising funds from private investors.
What business methodology are you using to do the work?
The project has two methodological underpinnings, one defining the strategy for the project (its destination or end-point), the other defining the process of engagement through which member companies will engage with each other to implement this strategy (the journey).
On the strategy front, the goal of the project is to create shared value, as defined by Professor Michael Porter at Harvard Business School in his seminal article Creating Shared Value (co-written with Mark Kramer, Harvard Business Review, December 2006). Creating shared value involves developing a new business model (for the Tech-Ag-Food ecosystem in the case of our project), while simultaneously solving a large social issue (solving selected food supply, health and economic development challenges tied to tomatoes). Porter subsequently applied the shared value concept to Internet of Things technologies, providing the blueprint for our own Internet of Things tomato project (How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition, co-written with James Heppelman, HBR, November 2014).
On the process of engagement leading to shared value, we utilize the co-creation engagement process developed by Francis Gouillart, Founder and President of the Experience Co-Creation Partnership, LLC, in two articles: Building the Co-Creative Enterprise, co-written with Venkat Ramaswamy, HBR, October 2010 and Community-Powered Problem-Solving, co-written with Doug Billings, HBR, April 2013. The Experience Co-Creation Partnership, led by Francis Gouillart, manages and staffs the project on behalf of ADI.
What were the objectives of the project in phase 1?
The objectives of the first phase of our project included the following:
Phase 1 was completed in the second half of 2015 and Phase 2 is being launched as we speak. The design of Phase 2 will be completed by the end of March 2016 and the global roll-out of the project will take place over the next three years (2016-2018).
What did Phase 1 achieve on the technology front?
Phase 1 has been highly successful on both the technology and the market acceptance fronts. On the technology front, we can point to the following three major achievements:
1. For the tomato in the field or in the greenhouse, we have successfully developed a prototype using ADI’s Fenway platform that captures humidity, temperature and light data, transmits that data to a central cloud server that provides analytics-based prescriptions in real time to the farmer on items such as when and how much to water, when to open vents on tomato tunnels, or when to harvest. Our focus in phase 1 was on demonstrating technical feasibility (which we achieved successfully), not on collecting a large volume of data or developing algorithms (given that our sample was limited to three farms). We are now ready to start collecting data in earnest as the tomato season starts in New England in April 2016.
2. For the finished tomato, we have successfully built a tomato flavor/taste model that objectively measures intrinsic physical characteristics of the tomato, such as its sugars, acids, salt, water content, or lycopene content (anti-oxidant) and correlates those variables with the taste and flavor scores given by experts at the Boston Tomato Contest held at the Boston Public Market in September 2015. Through this event, we now have a data base of 100 different tomatoes from about 40 farmers across Massachusetts and have found some important correlations that enable farmers to alter their practices to improve their ranking at the Contest in the future. Most of the measurements we used at the Contest are traditional invasive instruments requiring destroying the tomato.
3. Very recently, ADI has successfully developed a prototype of an optical, noninvasive
technology that can substitute for the invasive instruments used so far for the analysis
of the tomato (e.g., analyzing a solution through a pH meter, etc.). Once perfected, this
near-infrared technology will allow us to scan the same tomato at various stages of
its development, from seed through its growth on the plant, its harvest, its distribution,
retailing, kitchen processing and eventual consumption.
The ability of this new optical technology to create a longitudinal view of how the quality
of a tomato forms over time is particularly crucial to our goal of allowing a rebalancing
of the tomato value chain toward a better equilibrium between productivity, quality and
sustainability, so we are happy to report that the technology developed toward the end of Phase 1 potentially represents a major breakthrough for our project.
What did Phase 1 achieve on the market front?
Of course, technology is only helpful if it can lead to the development of a market willing to pay for the services arising from the technology. Given the complexity of the Ag-Food value chain and some of the battles currently waged over the ownership of the data, this is a particularly important area. Here are five important things we learned in phase 1.
1. Farmers are very interested in obtaining tomato data through our proprietary Internet of Things technology and are eager to use the data we provide out to improve their operations. Suburban, retail-oriented farmers catering to sophisticated high-end customers are particularly interested in learning to optimize taste and flavor characteristics of their tomatoes and are envisioning pricing more aggressively for tomatoes with known beneficial characteristics. Wholesale-oriented farmers are focused on both improving yields through better irrigation, temperature and light control, and on extracting a price premium for tomatoes known to possess particularly valuable properties.
2. The ideal business model for farmers is one where we install our technology in their fields for free (New England tomato farmers are generally small), provide the data and insights back to them also for free, but they would grant us the right to sell their data in aggregated and anonymized fashion to input companies (seed, equipment, pesticide, fertilizer) or output companies (traders, distributors, retailers, restaurants, foodservice companies). They would also like for a small portion of the revenues generated through our technology and their data to flow back to them, creating a new source of revenues for them. They inherently trust that a technology company such as ADI and its associated services arm (ECCP) can advocate for them toward the large Ag-Food companies that want to use their data. They wish to see us set up a community-based governance process that allows them to discuss with us how the business model evolves over time and how the data is used.
3. There is early evidence of the value of tomato data for both input and output companies, and we believe the revenue model should be geared toward them, not the farmers. On the input side, seed, fertilizer and pesticide companies, are all eager to get access to actual yield data from their products in actual farms and would likely but such data from a subscription service. This is equally true for local crop protection distributors and providers of agronomic services, for whom getting a continuous feed of live data would represent a more effective way to operate than the sporadic field interventions they do now.
4. On the output side, industrial distributors and retailers alike struggle with an average 8% waste due to uneven ripening of tomatoes that they would hope to reduce through a better prediction of the ripening/rotting trajectory of tomatoes they handle. Traders today buy tomatoes based on physical appearance and provenance labeling data, but would love to develop pricing bids based on more objective characteristics of those tomatoes such as sugar, acid or water content. Retailers and chain restaurants would also like to be able to claim that their tomatoes have intrinsic characteristics that allows them to differentiate their offerings, as more and more of them utilize transparency of their suppliers’ practices as part of their branding.
5. Phase 1 revealed the potentially unique role that consumers and chefs can play in demanding the development of a transparent, objective and comprehensive tomato scorecard encompassing all dimensions of tomato productivity, quality and sustainability. While there is not likely to be any source of revenue from this population in the short-term, they will play a key role in advocating for the value of our technology in terms of public relations. In phase 1, we generated a high level of engagement through several public events in the Boston area (Boston Tomato Contest, “Let’s Talk about Food” forum, Ted X Cambridge exhibit), which allowed us to see how interested the general public is in a technology initiative that provides local farmers, chefs and consumers with the tools through which they can objectively assess the relative quality of tomatoes used for various culinary applications (“terroir tomatoes”). On an anecdotal basis, we generated great interest by creating a scientifically-designed, experimental tomato sauce with a local food company called Heritage Truck Catering that produced a unique local heirloom tomato sauce through the use of our prototype technology and the data science it allows for a food producer (full disclosure: Francis Gouillart, head of Experience Co-Creation Partnership, is one of the owners of Heritage Truck Catering and its mother company, Stock Pot Malden).
By all standards, Phase 1 has been highly successful from both a technology and a market standpoint.
What will happen in phase 2?
We are now launching phase 2. Phase 2 involves a global roll-out of the Internet of Tomatoes project across all major tomato regions of the world. The plan is currently being designed and the team assembled, but will cover the following regions:
1. Expansion of New England work to a larger number of farms
2. Extension of the approach to large tomato markets for the North American continent:
Florida (fresh tomatoes)
California (fresh and processed tomatoes)
Canada (greenhouse tomatoes)
Mexico (fresh tomatoes)
3. Launch in major global tomato markets
When and how do you plan to expand into other produce?
Once we have a tomato team in place in each geography, we plan on expanding laterally to other produce of that country, utilizing the basic infrastructure the Internet of Tomatoes project has allowed us to build. For example, we may migrate from tomatoes in California to lettuce or avocado, or move in China from tomato to rice.
Whom should I contact if I have an interest in this project?
Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get in contact with you on how you can get involved with this project.
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