Just a couple of years ago, ‘food futurologist’ and director of London-based Bellwether Food Trends, Dr Morgaine Gaye, gave a talk at a corporate event where she offered her predictions for the year 2020.
Dr Gaye showed attendees a slide of people in masks and hazmat suits. “There is going to be a cataclysmic disaster in 2020,” she recalled telling delegates. “There is going to be a stock market crash. It’s going to be unprecedented. There will be two years of change.
“We’re going to get to 2020 and look back to 2019, which will not have been that far in the past, and not believe that that was our life before. Because it will never be that way again.”
True to her word, the world ‘turned on a dime’ when the global coronavirus pandemic hit. What can we learn from Dr Gaye’s predictions? That change ‘you can’t see happening’ can happen overnight, she told FoodNavigator. And more change is on its way.
We asked Dr Gaye some key questions about the future of food 10 years from now: What will we be eating? Will we still be as protein obsessed as we are today? And what role will variety play when it comes to fresh produce?
The hottest new ingredient: air
Consumers should be prepared for an influx of innovation as we move towards 2030, predicts the Bellwether Food Trends director, with a large proportion of that innovation focusing on texture.
Next-generation technologies, such as 3D printing, will help industry to create ‘incredibly beautiful, detailed shapes’ in food, Dr Gaye elaborated. And these new forms will bring new textures.
“We want to texturize our future,” she told this publication. “We want a more textured experience because consumers want variety. New NPD is always what [they] want, it’s not really about new flavours and tastes, it’s about textures.”
This is where ‘the biggest ingredient of the future’ comes in: air. It allows food formulators to modify textures of foods to improve health and in some cases, lower costs.
Consumers who don’t like avocado, for example, often say it is because they find the texture slimy or greasy, Dr Gaye explained. “But if you put air in it, and make it crunchy, suddenly a whole new audience for a certain food group appears. This is what we’ll start to see.”
Air can also help manufacturers use fewer expensive ingredients and simultaneously lower calorie content. “As commodity prices go up, we can put air into [foods] to create more volume with the same amount of raw materials,” said the food futurologist.
“If you can imagine a latticework of chocolate: When you put it in your mouth, all the corners touch your mouth, so you feel like you’re eating a big piece. But actually, most of the lattice is air. So you’re getting an interesting eating experience, but you’re not actually consuming more of the cacao itself."
Air is also a key ingredient for a growing number of food tech companies. Finnish start-up Solar Foods, which claims to make ‘the most environmentally friendly food there is’, is one such example.
Its high-protein ingredient, Solein, is made from a proprietary organism, carbon dioxide (CO₂), water, and renewable electricity.
There are others working out of Silicon Valley, Dr Gaye told this publication. “There are lots of brands doing it and they’re all innovating in the tech space. That is where we are going in terms of air as an ingredient.”
Moving beyond the protein craze
One need only look along a supermarket shelf to observe the current trend for high-protein foods. Today, foods are regularly marketed as ‘high protein’, indicating exactly how many grams of protein are included per serve.
“We’ve been in this protein fad for quite a while now,” noted Dr Gaye. “Everyone seems to think they need more protein.” However, communicating a food product’s protein credentials on-pack is ‘all marketing’ and ‘just nonsense’, we were told. And consumers buy into it.
Not for long, however. Within the next decade, the food futurologist believes consumers will be less focused on fulfilling the ‘we need protein’ agenda. “It’s a long moment, but that will fade.”
So what does that mean for some of the burgeoning protein trends, such as cell-based meat and insects?
Earlier this month, US company Eat Just became the first cell-grown meat company to receive regulatory approval, when Singapore gave its cultivated chicken ingredient the green light.
Although FoodNavigator caught up with Dr Gaye prior to this approval, she was certain that lab-grown meat would be commercialised. “People will be eating it, but I don’t know how mainstream it will be,” she revealed.
This is because cultivated meat is at odds with vegan and vegetarian preferences, and Dr Gaye is convinced we are moving towards a ‘plant-based future’. For those that avoid some or all animal-based products, cell-grown meat will probably not appeal, she continued.
“It’s a funny one. The ones who don’t really care will probably eat meat anyway: they’ll pay the premium and pay for good meat. There will always be some meat, and some people will choose it. And then there will be others who will go for the millions of different plant-based or air-based options.
“Yes, there will be stem cell [offerings], but I don’t think it is going to be a big takeover.”
The consumption of insects is another young trend attracting consumer intrigue. In the UK, some of the better-known insect snack brands include Eat Grub, Small Giants, and Jimini’s.
While Dr Gaye is aware of this growing category, she sees a ‘much bigger future’ for insects in the animal feed space. “Insects as food will be used, in part, but it’s difficult to mask the flavour of them,” she continued. “And it doesn’t deal with the vegetarians or the plant-based people, which is a growing percentage of the population.”
Variety: the spice of life
Diversity makes life interesting, suggested William Cowper in the 1785 poem ‘The Task’. In it, the English poet wrote: “Variety is the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavour.”
Looking towards the next decade, Dr Gaye certainly sees this phrase ringing true in Britain – particularly when it comes to fruit and vegetables. “I think we’re going to start seeing much more focus on variety. We’ve had sort of two [varieties] of pears [for example], and I think we’re going to see many more options. We’ll start to celebrate our own food.”
Once the Brexit transition period is over, the food futurologist expects the UK to ‘eventually’ become more focused on what we are producing – including the older, less commercial varieties of fruit and veg.
“At one point, there was only the Granny Smith apple,” she recalled. “Now, we have Pink Lady and Gala [amongst others]. And actually, Britain has loads of apple varieties that we don’t see a lot.”
Further, the food trend expert predicts how we procure these apples – and indeed all fresh produce – will also change. “We’ll be buying more directly from the producer,” she predicted. “Consumers will be cutting out the supermarket…and buying in bulk.”
Storage will be less of an issue than it is today, she continued, as people move out of the cities. “We’re seeing a bit of an exodus from the city, so people will have more space for cold storage.
“We’ll also start seeing people sharing their windfall much more and their crops…so it becomes more of a community experience of fruit and veg.”
In part two of our Food Futurology article (available to read here), FoodNavigator will look beyond what, to how we will be eating 10 years from now.