In the ongoing conversation about the future of food, it is often suggested that a redesign is needed in order to create a system that benefits producers, consumers and the environment simultaneously without compromising food quality. This involves reconsidering how food is grown and transported, along with an effort to support increased food diversity. As a result, this has led to the rapid rise of certain industries and trends, examples including alternative protein, regenerative agriculture and the use of AI to rethink food.
A range of start ups and businesses have now begun to innovate in these spaces and to imagine what the food products of the future might look like. These companies take the “nascent trends, technologies, and behaviours that are early-stage today, but could become mainstream in the future” and build on these trends to conceptualise how future food might materialise (Future Market website here). These projections function to catalyse the process of making the food system more adaptable and ready for change through thought leadership, as they allow us to perceive a future in which alternative food production is commonplace.
The overarching goal is summarised by Alpha Food Labs, who explain that they aim to “help farmers do the right thing by creating bigger demand and incentives for them to grow food that’s better for people, planet, and palate” (Alpha Food Labs here). The future food products simultaneously incentivise food producers to shift their production practices to be more environmentally sustainable, while also encouraging consumers to be more mindful of their impact when choosing the food that they purchase and consume.
One of these companies is The Future Market, who “create conceptual food products that imagine what our grocery store shelves will look like in the face of massive food systems change” (The Future Market website here). Their products function to address key issues like food biodiversity and conservation, while also introducing new and alternative food production such as plant-based foods, blockchain technology for food and personalized food. This ranges from banana ice cream made from 31 different cultivars of banana, supporting biodiversity for the fruit, to chicken products developed using a fully transparent supply chain supported by blockchain technology where “the entire journey of the chicken, from egg to grocery store, is recorded and plainly visible on the front of the package” (The Future Market Concept Products page here).
Image credit: The Future Market website
A key example of this is the Varietal products in development from Alpha Food Labs, with products like the Varietal Crop Crackers demonstrating an intersection between high quality food products and ecologically sustainable agricultural practices. These crackers come from “wheats, legumes, and seeds all planted within a Crop Rotation”, which “support healthy and productive soil that leads to tastier food” (Alpha food labs product page).
Image credit: Alpha Food Labs
A major food concept shift exists in the animal product industries, particularly in the case of alternative protein and dairy. There are a number of start ups aiming to produce “imitation cow’s milk by artificially reproducing proteins in curds and whey” (The Guardian article here) while alternative meat business Beyond Meat is now valued at around $9bn (The Guardian article here). Further, the burgeoning lab-grown meat industry has had its first major win in the Singapore Food Agency approving the “world’s first fully synthetic chicken nugget” (The Guardian article here). Additionally, the use of insects as food is growing, with companies like Eat Grub creating edible insect snack foods.
Another of the key changes in thinking around food production involves the agricultural practices in use to sustain the current meat and livestock industries. The emerging movement toward regenerative agriculture is another example of the ways in which future food products could be made. US-based start up Wholesome Meats are “dedicated to accelerating the consumer adoption of regenerative agriculture” (Wholesome Meats website here) and have already produced a range of beef products using regenerative agriculture that exist in select grocery stores. This adoption of regenerative agriculture represents one of the more dominant trends in the search for food that is more environmentally sustainable and able to be produced on a larger scale.
The introduction of AI and machine learning has also generated thought surrounding its potential to assist food industries, with an example of this currently produced by start up Avalo.ai. They have developed the means to create climate-resilient crops to modify and optimise crops that are currently in danger due to climate change (Avalo website here and Green Queen article here). Another key start up example is NotCo, who replicate animal products using plants and vegetables, through a “proprietary algorithm” that “learns and studies infinite combinations of plants day by day and that can replicate animal products - or make them even better” (NotCo website here). NotCo were recently valued at $1.5 billion and have a milk alternative in US grocery stores and alternative meat and dairy products such as mayo in South American countries (Forbes article here). The shift toward innovative food products which minimise environmental impact is also represented commercially in Unilever’s new annual global sales target of €1 billion from plant-based meat and dairy alternatives within the next five to seven years (Unilever website here).
The question of what the future of food will look like is still being answered, but these emerging trends and production techniques provide a first look into the types of food that might arrive on our plates in the future.