The food of the future will be more resilient, renewable, and nutritious … and, yes, less meaty
The year is 2050. You’re rummaging through the fridge for a snack – not literally, of course, but via an app because it’s a smart fridge. Let’s see, there’s some of that leftover steak from last night. That cultured meat has really gotten good, and the carbon footprint – listed right there on the label with the nutrition facts – is so low, it’s guilt-free. But that’s a bit rich for right now, you just want something light. You go to the pantry. Hmm, there are some Cricket Bites in there. Or maybe some seaweed snacks. Oh, wait, there’s some breadfruit in the fridge, you remember, that’ll hit the spot.
That might not be what every kitchen in America looks like in another quarter century, but it’s not a far-fetched snapshot of the food of the future. As the world’s population approaches 10 billion and we continue down the path of decarbonization, we’ll be turning more toward climate-smart foods that are more plant-based and require less water and land to produce. We’ll need a great deal more food to feed all those people, and diets in developed countries will continue to trend toward delivering more nutrition and functionality, with less waste.
“For a long time, progress in food meant convenience. But the result is that we’ve become disconnected from the natural processes through which ingredients become food — negatively impacting our health, the planet, and equal access to nutrition. It’s time for hands-on participation from brands and consumers,” Agathe Guerrier, global chief strategy officer of TBWA\Worldwide said in unveiling the Backslash Future of Food report in July.
The report outlines four trends that are shaping food’s future. First is that people are increasingly looking to their diet as a source of personalized nutrition and health treatment. Rather than eating quick processed foods and relying on supplements to get the nutrients they need, people are turning back to the natural sources of all those vitamins and minerals. They’re also increasingly striving to eat food that is produced ethically and sustainably, with an eye toward the supply chain that brought it to their plates. They’re growing more of the fruits and vegetables they eat themselves, or foraging for ingredients that grow naturally close to home. They’re more accepting of lab-grown proteins as they’re wary of the resources traditional agriculture takes up and the greenhouse gas emissions it puts out. And with AI-discovered ingredients, they’ll be able to put whatever seasoning they want on those insects, a sustainable source of protein that more than 2 billion people already eat on a daily basis.
There are already plenty of items on the market that indicate this shift in the food of the future. Some may still be experimental, like the vegan nacho sauce Taco Bell rolled out for a limited time this fall. But they’re a sign of changing tastes and bigger shifts in what we eat to come.
“This sauce, born from the success of our Vegan Crunchwrap, represents Taco Bell’s commitment to providing delicious, craveable food for a variety of lifestyles – whether you’re vegan, flexitarian or want to try something new, there’s a place for you at our table,” Liz Matthews, global chief food innovation officer at Taco Bell said.
Lindt has launched vegan versions of its famed Lindor truffles using oat milk, almond butter, and oat and rice extract powders. Hershey is marketing Oat Made chocolate bars that replace dairy with oat flour across Canada.
“The plant-based category continues to see incredible growth, and today, one in four Canadians are actively seeking more plant-based options in their diets,” Hershey Canada brand manager Carly Cowman said. “Whether you’re a vegan or vegetarian, or simply looking for more choice in the chocolate aisle, Hershey’s Oat Made bars offer an amazing and delicious alternative that don’t compromise on flavor.”
Plant-based burgers and other meat imitations have already gone from novelties to the mainstream, with brands such as Morningstar Farms, Impossible Foods, and Beyond Meat ubiquitous in grocery chains and on restaurant menus these days. Eleven Madison Park, which topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017, has gone 100% plant-based.
What’s to Come
As climate change continues to impact growing seasons, alternately bringing drought and heavy flooding, and making it harder to grow certain staples in their traditional areas, the world will turn to toward foods that maximize limited resources and provide a lot of nutrition.
Breadfruit is one such crop that will have an impact on the food of the future. It delivers a lot of energy while being high in fiber, low-fat, and gluten-free. It’s easy to digest and contains more essential amino acids than many of the grains and starches we typically eat. Northwestern University researchers found that the total area around the world that could support breadfruit growth would shrink only about 4% in the next 50 years, making it resistant to climate change.
“Breadfruit is a neglected and underutilized species that happens to be relatively resilient in our climate change projections,” Daniel Horton of Northwestern University told Forbes. “This is good news because several other staples that we rely on are not so resilient. In really hot conditions, some of those staple crops struggle and yields decrease. As we implement strategies to adapt to climate change, breadfruit should be considered in food security adaptation strategies.”
Breadfruit is already a popular snack in the Caribbean, and companies like Jamaica-based Tropical Sun and Barbados-based Carmeta’s export canned breadfruit and breadfruit flour.
“Breadfruit is truly a gift for our planet and community,” Todd Manley, CEO of Mutiny Island Vodka, which uses breadfruit and rainwater in its distillation process, told Forbes. “By making conscious, sustainable choices like supporting breadfruit, we can create food security, a sustainable economy, and better our environment at the same time.”
Looking to find the next key ingredients and support the startups redefining the food of the future are venture capital funds like Zintinus. The fund, started in 2021, aims to foster and accelerate what it calls “an unprecedented wave of innovation” spurred by changing consumer preferences and the need to make better use of resources. Zintinus declares that it will actively contribute to the transformation of the food industry.
“We want to support the founders not only with capital, but also with our broad network and knowledge. Things that money can’t buy,” founder Olaf Koch told German business newspaper Handelsblatt. “Since the pandemic at the latest, a rethink has taken place among consumers across generations. The playing field in the $8 trillion food industry is huge.”
That change is coming to a fridge near you.