With all the changes and pressures afoot in the food industry, and with international targets clearly defined through several of the United Nations Sustainability Goals, what can we expect our food to look like in the future?
Some advances will be to the products we eat, some will be to the packaging they come in and some will be not so obvious, but will be major changes to the way food is produced.
Here are my top 10 predictions for trending food changes to watch out in for the near future.
1. Functional food diversity
We have seen new food crops such as chia and quinoa come into our diets in the last 5 years. This food diversity trend is likely to increase in the future. We are also likely to see new ‘healthier’ varieties of existing foods bred for specific health functions. For example new lutein-rich wheat strains that can help prevent blindness.
We have only scratched the surface of the potential of new crops and particularly here in Australia with native foods – some of these are naturally very high in vitamins and antioxidants (e.g. Kakadu plum). We have 35,000 plants in Australia, and estimates are that up to 4500 have been used by indigenous communities for food over a period of 50,000 years. Yet the macadamia nut is the only Australian native to have been domesticated – and it doesn’t even make it onto the list of the top 150 global crop plants!
Driving forces – improved dietary and health understanding, more adventurous consumers
Technological advances – ability to rapidly breed new varieties including precision editing of plant genomes to improve crops
2. New protein sources
Protein is the new black. We are likely to see an increasing diversity of animal protein snacks (not just jerky).
But we are also likely to see other protein sources coming online:
- protein rich plant products (e.g. pulses);
- microbial protein from mushrooms, bacterial and spirulina;
- insect protein;
- protein grown from animal cell lab cultures, or in vitro meat (several new companies, Memphis meats, have been established in California);
- but lets not discount animal protein meat. Still an excellent source of protein, minerals and iron. There are a range of options from beef through to chicken and supporting native Australian meat harvest, such as kangaroo, is also an option. The potential to eat less, better quality meat is open to us all. In addition the reputation of Australian meat means that premium international markets should be keen to take up any production excess from national markets.
Driving forces – growing global middle class demanding a higher protein diet.
Technological advances – improved taste and texture profile of non-animal protein products; laboratory tissue engineering techniques
3. Printed food
We have only just scratched the surface of food printing. The Cube in McLaren Vale sports the first restaurant-grade food printer in SA – and featured recently on an episode of MasterChef Australia. We are likely to see this technology used more and more for a range of large-scale food preparation activities, including ready meals, airline meals, baby food and food for the elderly – something for us to look forward to in old age!
Driving forces – consumer demand for innovation and convenience.
Technological advances – 3D printing technology using a range of edible materials
— Prof Andy Lowe (@ProfALowe) August 10, 2018
4. Food identity
Food is big business – and so is the fraud associated with high end products, estimated as costing the food industry $50B per year, and increasing. Recently 60,000 bottles of counterfeit wine – labelled as Benfolds, not Penfolds – was seized in China. There is an appetite for producers and consumers to make sure we are getting what we pay for.
New technologies are available – digital blockchain, to track products along supply chains. DNA, chemical and biomarkers, which can be analysed to determine the species of animal or plant in a product (e.g. tuna not dolphin), the origin (Australia not China) and also food safety status (e.g. good to eat for another 10 days) of products we consume. Putting these tools in the hands of consumers will be appealing.
Driving force – consumers are increasingly wanting to reduce their carbon footprint and eat ethically. Eating locally and sustainable is a growing trend.
Technological advances – ability to track biomarkers (structural, chemical, DNA) using a range of new technologies and incorporate in digitally tracked supply chain (block chain)
5. Mind your microbiome
Microbiome is the term for the microbes living around, on and in us (mainly in our gut), and we are each host to trillions of these visitors. It’s pretty important to get our microbiome right as it can have big health benefits including weight loss, mental health improvement and allergy reduction.
We will see more supplements, not just yoghurts, that aim to fine-tune our resident microbiome. The other option is for faecal transplants – but that is probably more of a niche offering.
Driving forces – recent advances in understanding that our gut microbes are intrinsically liked to our health
Technological advances – capacity to more proactively manipulate our gut microbiome
6. Reduced food waste
We are wasting a lot of food. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has estimated that a third of all food produced globally is wasted, that’s 1.3B tonnes per year. I have difficulty imagining what 1.3 billion tons of food waste looks like. So I did a quick calculation against something big – The Great Pyramid at Giza.
The great Pyramid of Giza Weighs about 5 million tonnes. If that were food waste it would weigh about 1.4 million tonnes – because food is less dense than stone. So the amount of food waste produced globally is equivalent to just less than 1000 Great Pyramids of Giza.
That’s a lot of food waste.
On average Australia families waste about $4000 of food a year. Whilst in-date food waste goes to food charities like Food Bank and Ozharvest there are other options for our food waste. Food waste can be transformed into a range of useful products, not just landfill, including nutraceuticals, cosmetics and biofuel. If we get it right we can develop new circular industries driven by food waste.
Driving force – public demand to reduce unethical and costly food waste
Technological advances – emerging fields of food science and biotechnology
7. Biodegradable packaging
Packaging is essential for food safety and transport through the supply chain. However, we are likely to see a range of plastic-replacement packaging made from materials such as starch or carbon which can protect food and are easily biodegraded or recycled.
Driving force – plastics are the new hate symbol of the 21st century. A move away from plastic packaging is inevitable and urgently needed
Technological advances – biochemical and chemical engineering
Agriculture is changing – we are starting to see huge changes in the way farmers grow and harvest food. The intensification of food production will accelerate, including vertical farming with improved water and energy efficiency. Farming systems will increasingly use robots and drones to tend crops, remove weeds, treat plant diseases and harvest more efficiently.
Driving force – increasingly unpredictable weather due to climate change is driving the need for better ways to predict harvesting and maintain yield and profitability
Technological advances – include big data analytics, robotics, drones, visual analysis, remote sensing and smart machinery with artificial intelligence
9. Sustainable production landscapes
We can use our expertise and knowledge to develop model systems for national and international food production, as well as production landscapes that reduce energy and water use, harnessing ecosystem services and optimising transport, logistics and market access. Increasing concentration of food production whilst moving towards Regenerative Agriculture.
We have opportunity to reinvent Australia’s production landscapes. But what type of food production and processing landscapes do we want? We have opportunity to leap frog and build on our innovation potential.
Driving force – consumer and market demand for sustainable products
Technological advances – improved landscape management techniques and knowledge that harness and support ecosystem services and productivity at the same time
10. Market development and access –
Helping businesses protect markets through ensuring efficient supply chains, and providing tools to prove the provenance of our foods, can give markets confidence in the Australian brand. A great product with a great reputation.
It is important to support the development of national and global market access and communities – and help new producers and products crack international markets. Wine has been able to achieve this globally and we have seen a premiumisation of Australian wine in the global market place – it is time to apply the tactics more broadly to food.
Driving force – consumer demand for provenance and supporting a great product with a global reputation for quality
Technological advances – improved market and consumer understanding ability to position Australian produce as premium product, building on reputation established by wine and seafood
So its exciting times – with lots of opportunities.
We need to understand the technology opportunities, leverage existing expertise but also understand where we can lead with our own expertise. This requires building partnerships between industry, government, academia and community.
In order to be successful those in the food industry of the future must understand the benefits of technologies, and follow market dynamics and changing consumer preferences. We need an industry workforce trained for the future where life-long learning is the norm.
But if we do get it right, we will help build a key sector of our economy for generations to come. Getting it right also means we will be developing Australia’s food production systems in line with the Global Sustainable Development Goals, and a more sustainable future for us all.
With the collision of technologies and consumer driving forces these futures are not far away and in many cases have already begun.
Read my previous blog post, ‘Having our cake (and eating it too)’ about some of the mega challenges facing society that are driving food production and processing through one of the biggest industry changes since the industrial revolution.