How we eat now: five disruptive food trends

The future of food is changing but what are the key trends influencing what and how we eat?

Businesswoman Eating Lunch While on Phone

Food is one of the rare commodities for which the potential market is 100% — everyone needs it. For this reason, the global food industry is estimated to amount to US$617.6b by 2019. In 2016 alone, US$5.7b was raised across 275 deals in food tech start-ups worldwide

In such a huge market, disruption is to be expected — here are five current trends that are changing the way we eat:

  1. Bottle-fed

    Liquid meals are typically the staple of babies and toddlers — but companies such as Soylent and Ample are creating “meal-replacement” drinks by fusing obscure ingredients, such as bioengineered algae (to provide lipids and fatty acids) and artichoke inulin (a source of carbohydrate). Beyond criticizing the potential tedium of drinking the same bottle each day, nutritionists have struggled to find fault with the health benefits of such drinks — which meet stringent US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) requirements.

  2. 3D printing 

    The IoT and fine dining are increasingly crossing paths via 3D printing. Anything which can be liquidized, in theory, can form an ink which, layer by layer, amounts to a meal. And this has implications for customizing nutrients, liquidizing the unappealing. The process still takes a while — especially when cooling time is included. Moreover, the necessity of creating a cartridge for every different food group means additional costs and complexities. However, while to date 3D-printed food has found a foothold primarily in the more expensive restaurants, it is beginning to cross over into the mainstream. 

  3. Insects

    Inexpensive, nutritious and plentiful — insects fulfil many criteria that meat cannot. Food manufacturer Exo recently launched a set of bars made from cricket flour: cricket flour contains 60% protein, more calcium than milk and all essential amino acids, but is gluten- and dairy-free. It takes 100 gallons of water to produce 72g of crickets as opposed to only 6g of beef. Grasshoppers too are on the menu, along with fruit fly larvae. Over one-third of the world’s population already eats insects, such as caterpillars and termites — but questions remain as to how they can be presented to appeal to a more widespread consumer base.

  4. On-demand

    Following a general trend for personalization through technology, food experiences can now be tailored to your specific tastes. Algorithms are used to track when supply of certain products outstrips demand, in order to push adjust pricing. New apps get to know your tastes, similar to the way Spotify delivers music recommendations, and give you rewards for loyalty. Workplace vending machines are getting a significant makeover too — for example, Byte’s vending machines offer sushi instead of crisps and chocolate bars. 

  5. Ethical choices

    Sustainability and ethics are growing and, arguably, necessary trends. Insects far outnumber livestock (in 2013, the UN suggested crickets could help stabilize the world food supply) and don’t produce methane (unlike cows). Soylent’s meal-replacing drinks are vegan, and the precision of 3D-printed food reduces waste. 

    Further, for every box of bars purchased, Soylent donates a meal to World Food Program USA. The CEO of Ample suggests that food manufacturers have a social obligation to provide healthier products: "When Big Food and Big Medicine don’t work with each other, we get US$3t in medical expenses and a big societal impact.” Indeed, some feats of food-based bioengineering take extraordinary steps to meet health needs and may mean that they soon inhabit a category beyond merely that of “consumer products.”

    The future of food is undoubtedly changing — but while many of us have dabbled in UberEATS, few have substituted meals for bottled drinks or chocolate bars for grasshopper bars. Our established relationship with food may well be what stands in the way of its disruption. 

    So, can we disrupt in a way that allows us to keep our relationship with food? For example, the social aspects of eating are sustenance for another part of our human needs — can they be bundled and commoditized too? Perhaps they can — Project Nourished has explored using virtual reality to make users believe they are eating delicious foods. 

    We will have to wait and see what the future holds for our eating habits — since the online penetration in the domain of food is currently only 1%, there is a very large opportunity to change the way we eat, whatever that might mean.

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