Five New Trends to Spot in the Future of Food
Last month, I gathered with thousands of the world’s most exciting food brands for the world’s top events in the future of food. Starting in sunny Anaheim at Natural Products Expo West, then off to Austin’s iconic SXSW festival and finally to San Francisco’s Future Food Tech, I jumped through a whirlwind of tastings and visions of what our future food system could look like. Though none of us have a crystal ball, here’s my take on the top five future of food trends going on right now.
By far and away, the biggest trend we are seeing in food right now is “regenerative.” As I covered in my last article, even though the term regenerative has no legally defined meaning, the use of the word has increased by 113% in the past 12 months, so it was no surprise to see it everywhere — both good and bad. While I came across a number of brands at Expo West, such as Applegate Farms, which is owned by the renowned producer of SPAM, Hormel Foods, using the term to greenwash their processed meats, the industry also marked a huge milestone with the acquisition of regenerative snack brand Moonshot Snacks by Patagonia Provisions. With money flowing into the regenerative space and consumer demand growing, the regenerative trend doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Nonetheless, it is only a matter of time before “regenerative washing” practices are brought into the public eye — just ask JBS, the world’s largest meat producer, which made history last month when the Better Business Bureau ordered them to stop misleading consumers with marketing around net zero climate goals.
What’s old is new again, as the world’s leading future of food brands are jumping on the nostalgia train! Not only are we seeing plant-based brands revive old marketing campaigns, such as Silk NextMilk’s nod to Got Milk?, but many of these brands are even making plant-based products to imitate childhood favors. This makes perfect sense, as the warmth and familiarity of nostalgia helps these new products navigate the complexities of consumer perceptions of food technology and science. These retro vibes could be spotted across both consumer brands at Expo West, such as Meati mycelium steaks, and even startup brands at Future Food Tech, such as Mellody plant-based honey. Given the Gen Z and Millennial fondness for nostalgia, it seems likely that future-of-food brands will continue to follow this trend as they roll out new climate-friendly, technology-powered food products.
Make It With Science
In a funny twist to the simplicity of nostalgia, this year’s events also brought forth the most scientific and technology-advanced food products yet. With machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) no longer being just buzzwords, products debuted across the industry using these technologies, including brands like Climax Foods, which creates hyper-realistic plant-based cheese through machine learning, or Brightseed, which unlocks improved health benefits in food through AI. Until now, the intersection of these technologies and consumer benefits has yet to take off in the food industry. Now with a proof point, it will be interesting to see how these products are received in the market — and whether the pricey investment into AI and machine learning will ultimately be worth it. These early brands will certainly dictate whether this trend continues on or fizzles out.
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Let’s Get Cultivated
There is no doubt that 2023 will be a watershed year for the cultivated space, as cultivated meat products (meat made from cells grown outside an animal) are expected to debut to the U.S. public later this year. But even though more than 100 cultivated meat companies now exist around the world, meat is not the only player in the game. While meat remains the industry’s foremost focus, clever innovators are now using the same technologies to recreate many of the world’s other biggest polluters in the food system. In just one day, I tasted products from startups cultivating everything from chocolate to caviar to coffee. Interestingly, cultivated meat continues to face an uphill challenge for consumer acceptance, but this same technology may find an easier pathway to the consumer through these other everyday food products — potentially helping boost overall acceptance of the technology.
Give Me Them Whole Cuts
Americana may be synonymous with a good old burger, but the reality is that this country runs on an entirely different meat: chicken. With chicken accounting for more than 95% of meat produced in the U.S., it was only a matter of time before meat-free whole cuts became the next big thing. Whether it was attending celebrity-packed SXSW parties with fungi-powered chicken skewers from Meati and plant-based chicken sliders from TiNDLE or walking the Future Food-Tech startup alley to see up-and-coming whole-cut innovations from India’s Demolish Foods, Spain’s Novameat or France’s Umiami, it is clear that meat-free whole cuts are having a moment. It’s incredible to see how far these products have come in a short period of time, and as the leading meat category, it would not be surprising to see meat-free whole cuts overtake meat-free burgers in only a few years’ time.
With a rapidly changing climate and a young, progressive consumer base taking hold, there is no doubt that not only how we sell food, but what we sell as food, will change. There is no future reality where the foods of today stand the test of time, but what that future food system looks like remains to be seen. By next year’s conference circuit, it will be interesting to see which of these trends will have become a long-term change in how we eat, and which will be a momentary blip in time. Only time will tell!