By the mid-2030s, the world’s population is poised to grow to 8.4 billion. Barring the inhabitation of luscious exoplanets, cyborg bodies that do not source energy from normal food products, and similarly futuristic possibilities–that’s a lot of mouths to feed. The food industry is quickly evolving to meet new trends in the disruptive tech scene, and many solutions still exist for discovery by enthusiastic entrepreneurs.
The food industry is expected “to grow at a steady rate of 2.9% CAGR through 2022” according to the 2016 Food Packaging Trends and Advances report from PMMI, sourced from the Packaging Strategies website.
Major trends in the food industry on a wide scale revolve around quality and sustainable practices. Major chains such as Chick-fil-A and Longhorn Steakhouse are listening to user wants for locally sourced food, according to Emerson Climate Technologies. Users also care about sustainability in other respects and healthful practices regarding the use of pesticides, hormones, etc., and organic items appear in 82% of American households. Consumers are also focused on company ethics including payment of living wages and animal treatment.
These future-wise consumer choices are changing many of the methods of the food industry which in past decades have focused on generating the greatest amounts of food for the lowest costs which has given rise to pervasive trends such as genetic engineering and ethylene fruit ripening.
Beyond these trends, major disruptive technologies are opening doors for tech-savvy entrepreneurs to enter the food industry in ways that have never before been seen by humankind.
From an artisan standpoint, molecular gastronomy has made a major impact on the offerings of high-dollar chefs and mixologists.
Among the most common of molecular gastronomy techniques involves using non-toxic chemical agents to change the textures of foods.
Frequently seen textures include foams, airs, jellies, and spherification.
Spherification is the process behind making faux caviars, sometimes referred to instead as “pearls,” out of substances like honey, olive oil, fruit juices, and even Sriracha sauce.
For example, here is a photo of spherified apple juice:
Playing with textures in the culinary realm can also be seen in the novel shapes of foods created via 3D printing. 3D printers have allowed chefs to create highly intricate creations from chocolate, pancake batter, and other substances.
Take, for example, these roasted red pepper crackers created using a Foodini 3D printer:
In terms of sustainability, meat is a huge resource hog.
Luckily, scientists have found a method to grow meat in labs which can reduce the amount of land and water needed to create meats such as bacon and sausage by 90% or more. Although the meats were expensive to create initially, they are expected to hit consumer markets within only a few years. Not only does this create for a more sustainable environment on earth, it also brings consumers meats that are potentially safer because they have not contacted naturally occuring bacteria that exist with traditional methods.
Another alternative in the future of food is virtual reality.
Companies like Project Nourished are creating complete VR experiences that use virtual sight, smells, sound, and texture to allow users to experience food in completely new ways. They use many of the same components that generate textures in molecular gastronomy dishes to assist users in experiencing the virtual foods.
It has been proposed that these virtual experiences layered with nutrient-enhanced and easily sourced ingredients may completely change how humanity experiences food in the future.
Here is the equipment used to create virtual dining experiences by Project Nourished:
Because of the necessity of the food industry as well as its many challenges, huge opportunities exist for entrepreneurs who are prepared to solve these issues. Plus, work within these lines could legitimately alter the course of humanity and save our species and our planet.