This year is going to be one of the most exciting in the history of food as food technology, agritech, consumer communication and transparency take a more significant role in the field. CB insights estimated that over $1 billion dollars was invested in food startups and projects, last year alone. There’s a reason why food is of interest to startups and bigger companies. Consumers, especially people in their 20’s and 30’s are more and more interested in what they put in their bodies and are increasingly aware of the environmental and health impacts of the food they consume. Not only is food the fuel that keeps us going, it can help make a positive impact in the world and thus meets the sustainability portfolio requirements for investing.
Traditional supermarkets have seen store count downs and slight market share shrinkage, as well as continued loss of sales. Newer food retailers are approaching and stealing customers with a different approach and understanding of shoppers. High quality, low prices and convenience as well as food transparency, set the stage for food retailing. The future holds smart price tags in products, members only stores, zero-waste markets and delivery-only grocers and restaurants.
Enhanced foods are also trending amongst the consumers. Enhanced foods are more than just adding some protein to just about every food category, they are to have even medicinal attributes. As the millenials are increasingly conscious about food trends, the new generation, generation Z, is more likely to eat fresh home-cooked meals and healthier QSR offerings, they also prefer cooking to microwave cooking and are the generation of more intuitive cooks. Ethnic foods are the new norm for this generation. Where producing meat is the unsustainable option and becoming increasingly expensive, the search for alternative sources of protein, such as insects accelerates. The new generations demand good value and transparency from the foods they consume and are less likely to trust brands.
While the industry keeps arguing about the definitions of sustainability, consumers are making their purchasing decisions based on where and how their foods are made, grown, raised, packaged and by whom. Food ideologies have and are becoming more important to people, as studies are showing that our current ways of producing food could in the next decade, lead to the disappearance of some of our favorite foods such as avocados, coffee, chocolate and for example lobsters. People are following more food related lifestyles rather than diets, as we have more information about nutrition and are more aware of it. Food tech companies are making these diets more personalized by gathering data about what they consume and how much, how they move and sleep etc. People also want more information about the food they’re eating. New innovations are flooding the markets to meet these needs. From smart tags that you can scan with your phone with all the information (farm to store) regarding the product to keychain scanners that tell you all about the nutritional values of the products and meals you’re eating. The latest foodtech apps let you take a snap of your food and tells you in seconds how many calories you are consuming with that meal or product. Gamification and VR content are also in the future of food-related communication.
Another thing raising concern is food waste. Did you know that one third of all the food produced, ends up in the bins? At the same time there are millions and millions of people dying from starvation. This presents a massive opportunity for food tech companies. Food delivery services, restaurants and food apps have monetized on this grievance and the amount of new innovations figuring out how to utilize food waste and prevent its incurrence are growing. Indoor composting without any mess, smell or work, will come to every kitchen producing prime fertilizer.
As the population keeps increasing, our natural resources and our climate is stretched to its limits. We need to come up with ways to feed ourselves in the future – synthetic foods could be one solution. Some companies are coming up with foods such as meatless meats and smoothies that have all the nutrients a person needs, others are growing and producing foods in laboratory-like environments, where they can control the climate and the nutrients and gases in the soil and this way optimize the taste and nutritional value of the foods they’re growing. New ways of packaging, shelf life of products and preserving foods are taking leaps in development as well. The amount of plastic we use in food packaging, where that plastic ends up, and the effects those chemicals in plastics and preservatives have in our bodies should be issues that are regarded by companies when taking the next steps in business development.
It is predicted that by 2050, 80% of the global population will live in urban environments, this triggers the growing movement towards cultivating plants in skyscraper greenhouses. The world’s largest vertical farm was opened last year in New York and farms leafy greens and herbs using aeroponics and LED lighting. Agritech is changing the way we farm, in fact, the newest inventions in agritech are methods that don’t use soil at all. Hydroponic and aquaponic farms for instance, use nutrient rich water to grow plants. Aeroponic farms use nutrient- and oxygen-rich water as a mist, using 95% less water than hydroponic and aquaponic farms. These types of farming methods and vertical farms enable us to grow plants faster than the conventional ways of farming and don’t require any pesticides or chemicals in the process. These methods also shorten the path of food from farms to our plates.
Finally we get to consumer convenience, which was one of the fastest-growing consumer demands of 2016, and shows no sign of slowing down this year. One of the things that will answer to this requirement, are 3D food printers that are already available for consumers. All you have to do is prepare the ingredients for the printer and let it take care of the cooking. Besides, as AI is conquering our homes and lives, soon enough your fridge can take care of grocery shopping, so reeeeally all you have to worry about is chopping up your veggies. Although in a few years your very own kitchen robot can take care of that for you too. 3D food printing can also be an opportunity for food companies to personalize products for individual customers. There are a lot of smart kitchen ware for offer as well. Intelligent frying pans for example, use Bluetooth technology and can prevent the under- and overcooking of food. Mind reading menus are already the now of the restaurant industry. Menus can track your retinas as you read the menu from a tablet and suggest meals that it believes you want to order based on what your eyes lingered on the most. Technology will take all the effort away from cooking and eating healthy.