Future of Food: Trends in how we’ll grow, transport, buy and consume food
At Sundberg-Ferar, we’re constantly investigating and tracking trends, building a comprehensive library that’s relevant across different industries, with focuses on social, technological, environmental, economic, and governmental shifts.
These trends give us a future-focused lens which can be overlaid into our design and innovation processes, helping us anticipate needs of customers into the future, and in turn identifying future buying behaviors and white space opportunities.
In this article, we look at the future of the food industry. Many published food trends tend to focus on sub-segments within the industry, or more short-term food fads. Our aim is to consider a few of the “meatier” topics; those that will likely disrupt the way we grow, transport, purchase, and consume food for years to come.
For more insights, case studies, and perspectives on design and the future of food, visit our our page Design the Future of Food.
1. Redesigning The Food Growing Process
As the world focuses more heavily on the importance of making sustainable choices, we’ve come to recognize that it’s not enough to just “do less bad”… we actually have to “do more good” to make a meaningful impact. In the world of food and agriculture, one concrete trend we’re seeing individuals and corporations embrace that delivers this good is through regenerative agriculture – the implementation of holistic farming and grazing practices that nourish the earth and local community by protecting and improving soil health, increasing water resilience, and improving biodiversity.
In the U.S., the concept of “regeneration” isn’t widely known yet – just over a third have heard of it. But even if people haven’t heard the term, they’re still behind the idea, with 79% of Americans saying that businesses should focus on making a positive impact, rather than just doing less harm. It’s also promising that 67% of people globally say they’re willing to pay more for their groceries to support more sustainable farming. Studies that are being done also suggest that, although regenerative agriculture takes an upfront investment to implement new techniques, over time these farms produce stronger crops, that cost less to produce, and that net higher premiums – overall making regenerative practices 78% more profitable than conventional.
We’re already seeing big, multinational companies take action:
- General Mills has committed to advancing regenerative agriculture on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030; they’ll do this through seeking out farmers for their supply chain who are producing corn, wheat, dairy, and sugar using regenerative processes
- PepsiCo has announced that by 2030, it will adopt regenerative farming practices on 7 million acres of its farmland – approximately equal to the entire amount of land the company uses around the world to grow crops and ingredients for their products
2. Food Transparency Breeds Trust
In an era where we have limitless information always available with the click of a mouse or the tap of smartphone, consumers insist that food can’t be an exception to the rule. They increasingly want to know the details of what’s in their food, when and where it was sourced, and exactly what that means for their health and wellbeing.
In return for providing this transparency though, companies in the food supply chain will see benefits, with 79% of consumers saying they’re more loyal to brands that provide in-depth product information, beyond just labels. Some examples of how companies are approaching this include:
- Technology that enables food tracking from the farm, all the way to the fork.
- FoodLogiQ enable customers, like Chipotle, to track every ingredient, from the grower to the supplier to the distribution center to the final retailer or restaurant
- Giving stakeholders a voice in the future direction of the company
- Unilever, which owns food brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Hellman’s, is opening up its Climate Transition Action Plan process for a vote among all its shareholders – the first time a company of this size has voluntarily committed to this sort of action.
- Direct to Consumer has been a growing trend for food and beverage companies the last several years, but is now also gaining traction with farmers. Farmers all over the country (and world) increasingly are taking advantage of a range of channels that help facilitate their connection to end consumers. These channels include traditional farmers markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture) and newer, less traditional online and social media channels.
- Technology platforms like Barn2Door and Harvie help connect farmers directly to their end customers with services like product pick-up, delivery, shipping, and even subscription services.
- Urban Farming can provide the ultimate transparency – not only do end consumers know exactly where their food is coming from and how it got to their table, but they can see first-hand all the resources that went into their food from the moment the seed was put in the ground, to the moment they make a purchase from an urban farm in their city
3. Waste Not, Want Not : Designing Better Food Conservation & Preservation
When it comes to our consumption habits, social and environmental forces are driving a key trend – reducing food waste. And it’s no surprise, given reports that show Americans throw out one-third of all food produced in the country. Not only is that billions of dollars wasted and millions of additional people who could have been fed, but when all that food ends up in landfills, it generates methane – a powerful greenhouse gas.
There are a variety of ways different companies have innovated to address the food waste issue, including:
- New business models, where companies are totally rethinking our approach to food, and helping consumers change behaviors
- Imperfect Foods partners with farmers and producers to “save ugly produce, surplus items, and more” that would ordinarily be discarded as not “perfect” enough to be sold at the supermarket
- Upcycling, where companies find creative and valuable new uses for by-products created by the manufacture of a final food product
- Dole recently launched a new venture – Dole Specialty Ingredients – which will capture unused fruit parts and fruit wastes from their operations to repurpose them into new, specialty ingredients including seed oils, extracts, fibers, and enzymes. These ingredients will have applications across a variety of industries including, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, and cosmeceuticals.
- Renewal Mill makes a variety of upcycled ingredients, including high fiber and gluten-free flours made from traditional “waste” like spent soybeans after they’ve been used to make tofu, and soybean pulp created during soymilk production.
- Smart packaging innovations that help track a food from farm to table. These packages do everything from help maintain the integrity of the food through monitoring temperature and humidity during transport, to helping consumers clearly understand when a food should be used by once it’s in our refrigerators.
- Insignia Technologies makes a FreshTag Smart Label, which is a color-changing indicator label that changes in real-time to make it easy for consumers to see if a product has reached the end of its shelf-life
4. “Laboratory to table”?
Eating processed food is something a lot of consumers hear they should avoid… but what about food processed in a laboratory that is intended to create a product that is either better for your health, or better for the environment (or both!) than the food product it is intended to replace?
- Plant-based products are one approach most of us are probably familiar with. In nearly every grocery store you can now find a plethora of:
- Plant-based milks (soy, almond, coconut, oat, cashew, macadamia, and so on)
- Plant-based meats, including those that are meant to closely replicate the format and flavor of meat (like Impossible or Beyond burgers) or those that just replicate the format of meat (like Quorn chiQin patties or Morningstar Farms black bean patties) or those that just replicate the protein of meat, but don’t really look or taste like any meat product (things like tofu and seitan)
- Plant-based seafood
- Plant-based dairy (yogurt, ice cream, cheese), etc.
There are a lot of different benefits and reasons why people head down a plant-based path – including wanting to live a healthier lifestyle and reduce certain health risks, wanting to make a positive impact on the environment, and feeling strongly about animal rights/cruelty to animals. This means plant-based products have a much bigger fan-base than just vegans and vegetarians – some studies estimate that nearly 90% of the people who eat plant-based alternatives are meat-eaters – they’re just looking for variety and healthy options in their routines.
Lab-grown products make up another approach that’s just starting to gain notoriety. Over the past decade, scientists around the world have been making significant progress in “growing” traditionally resource-intense products in laboratories – with beef often being a product of specific focus. These lab-grown products are meant to significantly reduce the environmental impacts of traditional cultivation efforts – such as using less water and less land, while producing fewer emissions and greenhouse gases – as well as provide products that have less risk of contamination in their processing, and don’t contain antibiotics.
For lab-grown meats, the general idea is that cell cultures are gathered from an animal, then put through something like a fermentation process to grow “meat” in just a few weeks. While this technology still has a long way to go, and a lot of cost, scaling, and regulatory challenges to overcome, some research suggests that as much as 35% of all meat consumed globally will be cell-based by 2040.
That kind of growth outlook might be part of the reason that lab-growing efforts are expanding beyond just steaks and burgers – there are endeavors underway to grow products like cow’s milk, coffee, and even exotic meats like tiger and lion in a lab environment.
While knowing what’s happening in the world, and where we’re headed as a society is important, it’s just one piece of the strategy puzzle – we also need to be able to understand and envision what each of these trends might mean for our specific industry.
For example, if we look at our first trend dealing with regenerative agriculture, this could be relevant across several industries. In the commercial products space, we might want to look at opportunities to create an ideal reduced tillage system to help farmers implement regenerative farming techniques. In the consumer food and beverage space, we’re already seeing companies source their ingredients from regenerative farms, but we could also consider the combined relevance of the “waste not, want not” trend and look for opportunities to create natural fertilizers from food waste and by-products that would support regenerative efforts. And in the mobility and robotics industry, we could consider opportunities that might exist to innovate an autonomous robotic solution that can measure carbon levels and general soil health conditions at various and targeted locations throughout a regenerative farm.
Need Trend Research?
At Sundberg-Ferar, we have a long history of collecting trends that help inspire a vision of what the future may look like, then working with clients to hypothesize potential opportunities for innovation that should be explored through research and ideation. The techniques we use ensure that your company is prepared and tactically poised to create and develop sought-after products.
If you’re looking for guidance on what the future means for your business, reach out to us! We’d love to talk about how we can help set you up for future success.
Future of Food: Trends in How We’ll Grow, Transport, Buy, and Consume Food
Senior Design Strategist
With a background emphasizing the importance of combining both human desirability with engineering feasibility in design, Lauren has a deep passion for understanding the needs of people and how they translate to a business growth strategy. She spent her early career growing and running her own small business, including managing new product innovation, instituting a multi-channel retail approach, and developing all marketing and PR communications. From there, she spent the next several years expanding her consumer research and business strategy skills at Gongos, Inc., where she specialized in bringing a human-centric approach to knowledge synthesis, trends, and innovation projects.