Future Food Trends
Chewable coffee, anyone?
Our dinner plates are destined to look very different in the near future, as are our restaurant set-ups, takeaways and even the contents of our refrigerators.
Within as little as five years, we could be seeing lab-grown meat on supermarket shelves, GM foods – with regulated ‘clean labelling’ so everyone knows exactly how radioactive they are – readily available, and a waste-free agricultural and food production system (we can dream) on a relatively global scale.
And the revolution has already started (and been televised – see The Human Robot  featuring Japan’s Tokoyo Robot Restaurant) in countries including the US, China, Japan and the UK where robots are replacing waiting staff, drone delivery is running successfully alongside the traditional takeaway model and kitchens not requiring a single human present are producing gourmet burgers to order.
A burgeoning trend you may recognise very well has its roots in vegan and vegetarianism – yet the people who follow these diets are no longer the fussy eaters of the foodie world. The number of people who consider themselves vegan in Britain has risen by an incredible 360% over the last decade, and even committed carnivores are more likely to find themselves confronted with meat alternatives in shops and restaurants than ever before. In David Chang’s words – the man at the helm of the Momofuku restaurant empire – “Today I tasted the future and it was vegan.”
Mr Chang was referring to a (presumably very convincing) legume-based burger patty. Meat alternatives, such as Quorn, have been relatively mainstream for several years now, but the rise of similar foodstuffs has taken the burger world particularly by storm. You can even buy a type of vegetable patty that ‘bleeds’ in the way that a steak burger might when you bite into it, cunningly made with pulverised beetroot.
Plant-based eating is the subject of numerous successful food blogs – some with best-selling cookbooks to their name – and is endorsed by celebrities such as Ellie Goulding and Liam Helmsworth; there is a glamorous side to this lifestyle, which was previously seen as restrictive and difficult, that clearly holds appeal, especially for the younger generation.
Many people are subscribing to this trend as and when it suits them – a growing demographic, dubbed ‘flexitarians’, who want to be conscious of what and how they eat in relation to the health of themselves and the planet, but can’t resist a bacon sarnie every now and then.
Sustainability goes hand in hand with this type of approach to food consumption, and supermarket giants across Europe are responding to demand for local produce and ethical methods. Consumers want transparency where ingredients and place of origin are concerned, and regulations regarding ‘clean labelling’ should make sure this is a feature of our food industry that we can depend on in the future.
A significant number of smaller businesses across London are capitalising on this growing desire for farm-to-table food, and – despite their inner-city locations – have taken to growing their own herbs, salads, vegetables, flowers, and fruit, with some even producing local honey from rooftop apiaries.
Disconnect between the food we eat and where it comes from can cause problems for consumers and industry professionals alike, but the ‘ugly fruit and veg’ brigade are doing wonders in the fight to reduce shameful levels of waste – tons and tons of unsold produce rotting in farmer’s fields because they don’t match up to aesthetic standards, as well as endless packets of all kinds of perfectly edible food languishing in bins, a day past their sell-by date.
In the UK, Jamie Oliver and Asda introduced the public to ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables, sold in seasonable boxes for 30% less than their standard counterparts. It’s been so successful that 550 stores now stock these lines (the Scottish public actually petitioned the store to get theirs) – the first 2,500 boxes they introduced sold out in 36 hours. Over in the US, a start-up called Imperfect recently partnered with high-end grocer Whole Foods to run the same initiative. It’s about getting industry leaders to re-compute their concept of what the public will and won’t buy and eat, as it seems the public themselves are more than happy – sometimes oblivious – to consume less than ‘perfect’ produce.
A nose-to-tail approach, particularly in the restaurant trade, is doing the same good work where animal products are concerned. Offal used to be cheap, popular fare in the UK but has only recently seen a resurgence in popularity, surely due in part to dishes featuring liver, kidney, sweetbreads and more appearing on upmarket restaurant and gastropub menus.
Eating a variety of foods has always been billed as healthy – think rainbow salads and the old adage of ‘everything in moderation’ (when it’s not being used as an excuse to indulge in your favourite sugary treat) – but now there are some very specific foodstuffs emerging onto the scene which claim to relate directly to distinct areas of bodily health.
Nutritionally complete meal-drinks mean you don’t have to ingest any solid food to ‘eat’ a balanced meal – companies such as KetoOne (formerly Ketosoy) report that their $80-10mn market serves an estimated 1 million people a year in the US.
Other examples include probiotics (live bacteria usually added to yoghurt) and fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha (tea) for gut health, or how about a dose of nootropics in the morning? These ‘smart drugs’ in the form of supplements promise to unlock more of your brain’s potential, making you more alert and focused and more resistant to degenerative diseases. It’s a world away from chewable Vitamin C, and certainly more controversial, but it is a world that many, especially those at the forefront of technological innovation, already inhabit.
Technology and food are becoming more and more closely linked as we progress into ‘the digital age’. Epicentres of innovation like Silicon Valley are hubs for the production of enhanced food – a startup called Nootrobox developed chewable coffee ‘Go Cubes’ there, Memphis Meats have proudly announced the first chicken in the world to be ‘produced without the animal’ and Impossible Foods have become one of the top funded food companies of all time through the production of its plant-based burger.
The US doesn’t have a complete monopoly on technological cuisine though; high-end vending machines dispensing fresh noodle dishes amongst other things are already common throughout Asia, and of course entrepreneurs worldwide have created apps to order takeaway food, apps that tell you what to cook, apps to order ingredients for a particular recipe, apps to find out what foods are in season, apps to make restaurant reservations and then tell your friends what restaurant you’re eating at…the list goes on.
It doesn’t seem too preposterous to wonder not if, but how soon, the food industry – from supermarket shopping to eating out – will become automated and/or only exist in the ‘digisphere’. Online-only grocery stores already exist and are doing very well for themselves (Ocado, for example) and the vastly successful conglomerate Just Eat – which incidentally was the first company to deliver takeaway food by robot – allows people across 13 countries to get the food they want, when they want, with just, at the risk of sounding like one of their advertisements, a tap of the app.
If the future of food had to be described in three words, the most fitting – based on the trends currently revolutionising the way we eat and drink – would arguably be hi-tech, sustainable and personalised. But perhaps this is wishful thinking. Trends that seem unshakeable in their midst can be relegated to a historical footnote in no time, and these may prove no different. It’s exciting, though, to consider the new ways in which we are shaping our food industries, and so important to keep pushing them towards a more sustainable and healthier future. Hopefully this revolution will prove too exciting to ignore!