We’ve been bombarded with 2020 predictions from starfruit to tigernut flour, but while reading them I also noticed some recurring favorites of years past. More plants. More sustainable sourcing. More snacking. It had me thinking of what might be more of a fad, and what are the longer-range influences on our food systems. To that end, I outlined some developments I see taking place over the next decade that could transform our relationship with food. Some are already taking root. While there is unavoidable overlap, I focused on three areas: technology, formats and environment. And for brevity, BIMD stands for “back in my day,” which in this case I mean about 10 years ago.
Technology Perhaps the biggest influence that transcends across everything. BIMD…smartphones were being adopted and Facebook and Twitter were in their infancy. Now they are an obsession that drives opinion and news cycles.
AI/Robotics: BIMD…I was pitching a video contest to leverage the popularity of the Flip camera. Eight years ago I met with a couple guys who introduced me to augmented reality. It was over five years ago that I was pitching a virtual tour of an orchard. Beyond opportunities to bring buyers and consumers to the source, expect to see greater analytics to bridge the gap between consumer statement and behavior, and expansion of robots performing human tasks from pizza making to inventory management.
Blockchain: BIMD…we bought from farmers. Just kidding, we went to a supermarket and selected from what they offered. Over the next decade, we will evolve from crypto currency to supply chain transparency to be able to really know “Collin the chicken” and his life and acquaintances. We can have assurances of labeling claims and better respond to recalls.
5G: BIMD…we still had Flip phones and Nokia bricks. Google Glass may have been premature, but in 10 years, we can expect to be light years beyond today. This could include a GPS for store visits based on lists, finding dietary options at stadiums or simply being alerted to hit your mid-afternoon Starbucks trip when passing by a low-traffic location on your transit from your 3 to 4 pm meeting. We’ll see expanded wearable tech that might actually reduce our neck strain from looking down at our phone. It will likely transform our homes and our lives in ways we can’t even imagine.
Formats From reimagining brick and mortar to the continued growth of e-commerce, our shopping experience has been long overdue for a change. Food has fared better than other retail, but has not been able to ignore shifting consumer expectations of how we shop.
Automation: BIMD…we had to go to stores, walk around and stand in line. Expect greater shifts that lean on technology from ordering to delivery. The overall goal is to reduce consumer friction. Delivery and “click and collect” options will continue to grow, but with food, and perishables in particular, there is still a desire for self-selection. This could result in new options where consumers shop the perimeter for the perfect avocado and then pick up their center-of-the-store items at checkout bagged and ready to go. All ordered from your voice assistant or even your refrigerator.
Ghost Kitchens: Also called cloud kitchens, these virtual restaurants are delivery driven, seeking efficiencies to operate in urban areas. They can house multiple concepts, share equipment and staff, and leverage data to optimize inventory and menu selection. If fast casual was the darling of the past decade, ghost kitchens could drive delivery in the next.
E-commerce: One development I predict is the reduction in people in the equation. Beyond self-driving trucks, I envision smaller mobile vehicles that can reach people in public spaces. Imagine a vending machine that comes to you with fresher options.
Environment There has been a growing expectation and desire of corporations and individuals to do their part in protecting our planet for future generations. Driven by new laws and new choices, there is broad recognition that we can’t simply keep doing what we are doing, and things must change.
Packaging: BIMD…I identified this for 2019. Expect a broader push and reckoning for e-commerce. There will be developments in both the type of packaging, as well as what needs to be in packaging. Companies like Path Water are already tackling the bottled water market with their reusable aluminum cans. Styrofoam takeout containers are giving way to biodegradable options. Now if we can only get people to move on from their dependence on straws.
Waste: As we figure out about feeding a growing planet, we need to not only be producing more, but wasting less. Behavior is important, but technology will be critical. Our client, Apeel Sciences, has developed a natural, post-harvest treatment for fresh fruits and vegetables that is dramatically reducing food loss, and in some cases even the need for plastic. Food recovery groups and new apps are helping food get diverted from the trash heap to people for consumption.
Systems: BIMD…I met with a couple of kids from Maine that had an idea of converting abandoned warehouses on the east coast to growing lettuce. They never got things off the ground, but others have sprung up. Expect more farming systems both indoors and in the ocean, that will increase yields while reducing inputs and transportation. In animal protein, expect to see more lab-developed meats, not from plants, but animal cells. This could be a greater threat to the commodity beef market than premium. I still have my doubts on the quality that can be delivered, but the technology is closer than many think.
With all of these predictions, I see a certain bifurcation of adopters vs traditionalists. We may be getting test tube burgers at fast food, while still going to steakhouses for black angus. No doubt, some advancements will be enjoyed more by some groups than others. My hope is that all of these developments move us closer to feeding a growing planet more sustainably, while reducing food insecurity and malnutrition. Here’s to a new decade of improvement to our global food systems.
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