Changing tastes, a growing world population, and concerns over the impact of the current food system are driving new innovations in food production. The goal isn’t just to feed a lot of people, but to feed them well with fewer resources and less waste. From agriculture to protein, future food trends are making sweeping changes across all industries.
Technology is becoming increasingly more integral to food production, particularly for companies developing new plant-based products. Research and development can be a long, slow process, and in the face of the current rapid shifts in consumer preference and demand, companies that take too long to adapt risk being left behind while competitors take the lead.
Data is the missing link for brands looking to capitalize on the plant-based revolution. New platforms are making it possible to identify previously unknown plant compounds and utilize them to create proteins, as well as improve both the texture and flavor of plant-based foods. Other tech advances, such as robotics and 3D printing, are changing the way food is produced and prepared for consumers.
Farming is having its own technological revolution as the future of food trends in robotics and hydroponics make it possible to grow food in new ways. Indoor farming, including vertical farming, is bringing viable agriculture into areas where it would otherwise be difficult or impossible to produce foods like leafy greens and tomatoes locally.
With the help of technology, these farms are able to produce larger yields than traditional farms using a fraction of the land, water, and energy. Food can grow all year long in almost any location: arid climates, inner cities, and even inside grocery stores and restaurants. As a result, more people are able to access healthy, fresh food grown near the point of sale.
Traditional farmers are also getting a helping hand from tech. Farm robots that can monitor plant health, detect pests, remove weeds, and provide targeted irrigation reduce some of the labor-intensive work and improve overall yields.
In response to growing demand for plant-based alternatives to animal products, companies are developing new protein ingredients from novel sources like:
Proteins derived from these alternatives — as well as more traditional sources like soybeans, peas, and chickpeas — are making their way into animal-free meat, dairy, and egg products around the world.
Interest in fermentation and cultured proteins is also growing, although there’s a considerable amount of debate over whether cultured products have the same negative health effects as conventional animal foods.
Sustainability was already a hot topic, but it’s continued to heat up since the COVID-19 pandemic revealed significant problems with the current food system. More people are becoming aware of the need for a food system that relies less on consolidated, large-scale farming and makes use of spaces and methods that aren’t currently being harnessed for food production.
With rising concerns over carbon footprints and a growing interest in local food, key players in the sustainability movement are focusing on:
Although a lot of positive changes are taking place in the food system, health and nutrition remain major hurdles. Alternative protein producers focus largely on meeting consumers’ taste preferences first and leaving the health aspect for later, after a significant amount of market share has been established. But because these products are made from plant ingredients, even fast food restaurants can incorporate them into meals and boast “plant-based” options.
Where does that leave whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diets in the future of food discussion? Several trends are beginning to improve equality of access to whole plant foods in underserved areas and reduce reliance on chemical-heavy farming practices. Providing more people with affordable, fresh, nutritious food in their communities has the potential to create true farm-to-table experiences in places where it was never possible before.
However, for WFPB eating to really take hold as the future of food progresses, companies and communities will need to work together to educate people about how food choices impact health. Educated consumers have the potential to drive demand, not simply for more plant-based products but for truly healthy, sustainable whole foods that can nourish the growing world population well into the future.
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