The future of food & the inconvenient truths

the future of food_Angeline Achariya Monash Food Innovation Centre

Dr Angeline Achariya, CEO, Monash Food Innovation Centre *  

Macrotrends and disruptions are shaping the food industry like never before. Indeed, no “Planet B”, 60 being the new 20, and “reductarians” are just three of the many influences on a global consumer who is at the intersection of health, wellness, nutrition and digitisation. 

As a food manufacturer should you be excited or daunted? Well, it’s a bit of both. But let’s go through it to increase the former and reduce the latter. Here’s a peek at the future of food. 

2050’s transformational shifts are coming

Looking out to the year 2050 shows the transformational shifts that are coming: 70% more food will be needed, but created with half the renewable resources available, there will be increased wealth that’s four times the global GDP, with 60% of the middle class being in Asia (which is over half the world’s population) in a world with 100,000,000 (that’s a hundred million) times the computing power. 

If you are an actor in the food and agribusiness food value chain, then you need to be aware of some of big shifts that are coming at our sector. They’re just around the corner in 2050, and while it might sound like a distant number, it’s really not far away.

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Here are some of big shifts coming at our sector in more detail: 

  • A hungrier world :we will need 70% more food at the current population rate to eventually feed a global population of 11 billion
  • A bumpier ride: and we need to do it with half the renewable resources, because our resources and inputs (such as such as land, water and energy) that create food are under pressure and reducing fast
  • A wealthier world: the world’s population will start to divide even further with “those who have” and “those who do not”; a new middle-income class will increase food consumption, diversify diets and eat more protein 
  • Choosy customers: information-empowered consumers of the future will have expectations for health, provenance, sustainability and ethics. Of course the opportunity sitting in Australia is Asia. The world’s largest middle class will be here (60% of it) and they will have the spending power and demand better food choices, quality and safety
  • Transformative technologies: advances in digital technology, genetic science and synthetics will change the way food and fibre products are made and transported. The advent of and adoption of technology, along with large-scale digitisation, will drive food and ag tech, transforming the sector


We need new tools & thinking 

At the end of the day, knowing what we know today as well as the upcoming shifts, we cannot sit here and do the same things the same way. We need new tools and new thinking at a system level regarding food security, water security and energy security. 

One of the big drivers for the global consumer will be the intersection of health, wellness, nutrition and digitisation. The current burden on the health system will drive a system-wide focus on foods that become the consumer’s first medicine. Coupled with the technological advances where you can now test your DNA for under $400, this will drive consumers to make more interventions on their food choices and see a demand for highly personalised diets.

So we now must shift focus to the changes of diet. A full menu of solutions is required to sustainably close the food gap. 

The rise of “reductarians”, or “flexitarians” as they are also called, is starting to influence research types and innovation with products; for instance, the creation of products such as the “impossible burger” and lab-grown meats. This is all due to the global consumer – largely led by Millennials – now being more conscious of their environment and the impact to the planet. Because as of today, we do not have a “planet B”!

Check out this article on lab-grown meat, aka fake meat, in Australia.

How no brown cow?

With all this in mind, let’s look at the disruptions which are relatively imminent that will address some of these challenges and turn them into opportunities. 

There are several examples where a number of start-ups, backed by high-value investors, are already making headway. Memphis Meats is currently working on producing chicken that is not animal based, and even fast-food chain KFC has suggested they are open to selling lab-grown chicken. Modern Meadow is focusing on designing and growing a cow in the lab, looking to replacing it fully in the future. The firm also “biofabricates” collagen to create products it says are “inspired by leather, but do not aim to imitate it”.

With the rise of vegan, vegetarians and religious-based diets, Geltor is looking at using a yeast-fermentation process to produce vegan gelatine, which could be a game changer for confectionary brands. 

Then there’s the milk that’s not milk, nor does it come from a cow: Perfect Day is working on a yeast-fermentation process that produces milk proteins – cow free!

Global macrotrends

Let’s look at the global macrotrends that we see coming through in the next five years affecting the future of food. Working with our partner Stylus, we have identified five of these trends that will have the biggest impact in personalised health, nutrition, wellness and digitisation of food and beverages. 

  • New urbanism:refers to the resurgent relevance of the 1980s’ Urbanism movement, strongly emphasising walkability, multi-generational city living and mixed-use spaces within the one neighbourhood. In an expression of this trend, apartments are being built without kitchens, so what does this mean for future generations and the type food offers they will be looking for?
  • Seamless + on-demand: refers to the on-demand economic activity that tech companies create to fulfil consumer demand by immediately providing goods and services in an efficient and intuitive format. It’s being able to choose your food, have it personalised for your nutritional needs and then delivered to you anywhere. 
  • Sharing economics: is the shift in consumer perceptions that has made access to goods and services more important than ownership, creating a less-is-more trend with consumers accessing, sharing or selling items easily. This will be the movement that sees value reset with consumers’ concerns for waste.  
  • Smart sustainability: investment in sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) is crucial – both in terms of recruitment and building conscious consumers’ trust. Companies will work actively with consumers to reduce the impact of their purchases and lifestyles, boosting sustainability while encouraging brand loyalty. I’ve said it earlier, but this is driving the idea that “there is no planet B”, so this is not just environmental sustainability, but is holistic and all about the impact of choices people make. 
  • Automation + intelligence: automation and artificial intelligence (AI) have already transformed how consumers interact with brands, interact with objects in their homes, and the service expectations across sectors. Now we’re seeing AI being more at the intersection of “humantec”, and how AI will start to transform interactions and choices. 

Opportunities ripe for disruption

We see two opportunities that are ripe for disruption: one with a wellness lens around personalised health, nutrition and digitisation, and the other on creating sustainable food systems. These are interlinked and both have the opportunity to transform the sector and address the big shifts that I mentioned above in shaping the future of food. 

With personalised health and nutrition, the focus will move to foods, technologies and food systems that will enable individuals to adapt their diet throughout their life stages and to meet lifestyle choices. With sustainable food systems, we’ll see a movement to foods, diets, technologies and food systems that maximise and replenish their environmental resource footprint to balance the population growth.

Personalised health and nutrition

Within the context of personalised health and nutrition, four trends will be the leverage points for future product and services for the global consumer: 

personalised health and nutrition mood mind_Angeline Achariya Monash Food Innovation Centre
In personalised health and nutrition, 4 trends will be leverage points for future product & services for the global consumer: ‘mood + mind’, ‘bio-bespoke’ ‘performance + optimisation’ & ‘clean living’.
  • Mood + mind: as consumers become more cognisant of the relationship between what they eat and how they feel emotionally, as well as more open to conversations about mental health, the food-mind-mood connection is shifting to the mainstream. With new research showing the gut is the new brain, food choices that make one feel great and look great become more important. It is imperative to have scientific evidence as the consumer looking for these products is very savvy. 
  • Bio-bespoke: empowered consumers are adopting an informed and personalised approach to eating thanks to sophisticated DNA-based diets, mail-order genetic testing kits and predictive nutrition-based technologies. Alongside this, new tech tools could help individuals to manipulate flavour in pursuit of superior taste experiences. Bio-bespoke is the ultimate in personalisation, where your nutrition intake is designed based on your DNA. As technology advances, this becomes more ready for adoption across the mass market. 
  • Performance + optimisation: sophisticated data-tracking tools are becoming more intuitive and seamless as they enable users to monitor daily lifestyle and dietary habits. Next-gen devices can now also suggest behavioural tweaks to optimise personal performance. Wearables will be everywhere, recording loads of data, which are now shaping and influencing behaviour, lifestyle and food choices. 
  • Clean living: as the notion of “clean” wanes from a dietary lifestyle perspective, the idea is still massively relevant when it comes to sourcing and production. Utilising less of the Earth’s precious resources, faux ingredients (such as lab-reared edibles) are becoming prestige purchases for “impact-aware” consumers who desire guilt-free indulgence. This is opening up a new category of “morally conscious” and humane foods that command top dollar. Given our lack of Planet B options, with the rise of the reductarians (or flexitarians), and the “conscious consumer”, we’re seeing lab-grown meats and plant proteins replacing traditional animal proteins.

Future-consumer attitudes

Now let’s talk about the humans and generations that will have the biggest influence on the future of food. These are the Boomers, the Millennials and Gen Z. Unfortunately, the Gen X-ers – like me – are forgotten, and we’re not going be the biggest game changers! For each of these generations we have looked at their attitudes to wellness, sustainability and connectivity.

Boomers

Baby Boomer future consumer attitudes_Angeline Achariya Monash Food Innovation Centre
Boomers have spending power. They act young and want brands that talk to them as individuals – not those that remind them of being old.

If you are a Boomer, you are the “new black”. The silver generation has spending power, and while they might be aged 60, they act like they are going onto age 20. Boomers are looking for brands that talk to them as individuals – not those that remind them of being old. 

  • Wellness: focused on staying active, engaged, and living a high-quality life
  • Sustainability: more concerned about immediate wellness and wealth
  • Connectivity: technology supports their independence and longevity

Millennials

This generation is becoming the biggest influencer on consumer goods and the environment than any other before them. They are not afraid to vote with their wallets.

  • Wellness: focused on feeling good and their performance
  • Sustainability: expect brands to impact change
  • Connectivity: see technology as a means for a simpler and easier life

Gen Z

Right on the heels of the Millennials, Gen Z are focused on high self-care in all the non-traditional places, and they will influence further what they see Millennials doing. 

  • Wellness: see opportunities for self-care in unexpected places
  • Sustainability: are highly connected and educated about their impact
  • Connectivity: expect easy and on-the-go access to goods and services

Premiumisation 

Consumers are willing to forfeit some convenience and privacy to receive more personalised products and services.

Deloitte research in 2017 found that in the UK, 48% customers are willing wait longer for a personalised product, while one in five is willing to pay 20% more for personalisation. 

To round this off, you cannot forget the premiumisation space – because this is where consumers will pay more for a product. Anything that is truly unique, and is just for them, will always win out. Two great examples of products in this space are people’s names on cans of Coca-Cola and KitKat chocolatery. 

Now imagine coupling premiumisation with health, nutrition, wellness and digitisation. That’s certainly some amazing innovation!

Understanding & the ‘team sport’ of innovation

As American educator, author, businessman and keynote speaker Stephen Covey said: “seek first to understand, then to be understood”. 

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you sit as an actor in the food-value chain, you must always seek to understand the market, the consumer and the technologies that can create magic. 

One way to do this – and to do more of this – is through collaborative innovation. This is where you co-create with the right partners in the food-value chain to deliver the best potential outcomes. 

Innovation is a team sport. 

Unfortunately, not many choose to play this, and this is where we see the expensive failures of products that don’t stick around for long, which is especially so given that 90% of products fail in the first 12 months of launch.

Where next? 

So what now from all this? 

I hope I’ve jolted your thinking by providing broad perspectives from the shifts to the macrotrends and the disruptions that are coming at us. As manufacturers and brand owners, it is equally an exciting and daunting time be in the food game. 

Exciting because of the opportunities, the changing consumer habits and behaviours, the advent of new technologies and solutions to address the big challenges. Daunting, because the only thing for certain is change and uncertainty. 

So, we can either grab it with both hands and be proactive and masters of our own destiny in the future of food, or continue to do the same thing. If you do want to do something different, then the Monash Food Innovation Centre at Monash University is here to help!  

Interested in further information to help Australian manufacturers? Matthews large resource library is jam packed. Plus, it’s all free to download!

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Dr Angeline Achariya, CEO, Monash Food Innovation Centre

*  About the author: the CEO of Monash Food Innovation Centre at Monash University, Angeline has commercialised over 800 innovations in FMCG, food service and quick service restaurant (QSR) retail channels in Japan, China, Thailand, New Zealand and Australia. With more than 20 years’ experience in food-service channels, she has led teams in innovation, packaging functions, strategy development, market expansion, R&D, quality and regulatory areas. Angeline has worked and consulted with household-name, blue-chip multinational companies and small businesses. She holds a BSc (Honours) Food Technology, PhD Food Systems and Grad Cert Food Business Management, and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a member of the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST). Angeline speaks English, Fijian and Hindi, and has a limited working proficiency in Japanese and Samoan. Highlighting her passion for the food industry, she continues to be involved in several agribusiness, food & beverage, nutrition and mentoring organisations in a voluntary capacity. 

*  About Monash Food Innovation Centrethe centre co-creates with Monash University science, research and technology solutions to nourish a growing and hungry world to help feed nine billion people a healthy, sustainable diet within planetary boundaries. Among its services are product & packaging design, consumer-led innovation, guiding food and agricultural businesses how to sell into China, shopper research, virtual reality to test in-store environment and community events & workshops.

Image credits: iStock/ gremlin (main); iStock/ Quickshooting (middle); iStock/ Aleutie (third)

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