Future of food

The great disrupters of the 21st century are changing the face of the food industry. Key ingredients include technology, social media, concerns about the environment.

(The first ever report our founder, James Wallman, delivered on trends and the future was about food, way back in 2004. So we've been covering this area for more than a decade.)


Trend drivers

These are the most important mega-trends affecting the future of food. 

Connected society, social world

Everything that happens is shared. This means you have to have a story to share…

The experience revolution

… And that story has to look good.

Instead of looking for happiness, identity and status in material goods, people are increasingly finding happiness, identity and status in experiences instead. (This is the central thesis of the book, Stuffocation, by the founder of The Future Is Here.)

Example of a new app helping people share even more effectively — Foodie: 

  • to make taking stylish photos of food simple
  • filters optimised for food photography
  • choose 3:4 or 1:1 aspect ratio, to have blurred edges or not, to use flash or not
  • it has 26 filters
  • a yellow bar flashes "top" to let you know when the camera is directly above your food
  • the filters do most of the work for you

Higher expectations

Despite our world offering us ever better standards of living, we always seek more. So as life gets better, our expectations are ever higher.

Smart times

Just as there was a time when people put an “e-“ in front of things to make them sound current, the word of these days is “smart”. Thanks to everyware, algorithms, and a belief in better, we now aim to live “smart” — from how we spend our money to how we heat our homes and what we eat. Consider the rise of: 

  1. Smartphones: from 0 units in 2008 to 1.5 billion today (and rising fast)
  2. the "smart home": Google bought Nest for $3.2 billion
  3. the "smart city": the city of Melbourne has unveiled plans to become a smart city


People are genuinely worried about having too much stuff, their materialistic lifestyles, and their impact on the environment and the climate. Even Apple has created a robot that takes old iPhones apart to reduce e-waste. (See our report on The Future of Business.)



Platform revolution

The big revolution that affected food in the 20th century was directly associated with food. The Green Revolution solved many of the world's issues with feeding people. The revolution that will affect food in the 21st century is also technological: but this is the platform revolution, where technology is making it possible to directly connect producers and consumers.

As a result, some of the biggest names in food in 2016 aren’t even food companies. They’re tech-driven, on-demand delivery services — from Google to uberEats and Amazon — and they’re set to cause major disruption to the food industry.

For the consumer, this means every one of their favourite restaurants can deliver. For the restaurants, it means more orders, with very little extra marketing effort and distribution investment. And for the platforms it means lots and lots of data: where people, when they eat, what they eat, how often etc. 


  • food delivery services Wolt and Foodora in Finland
  • Panera is building "food hubs" to handle deliveries without distracting regular shops from concentrating on customers.
  • Starbucks added a delivery-only venue to the Empire State Building.
  • Domino's is fielding an auto fleet with warming ovens.
  • Chipotle's tinkering with a second assembly line so its stores can ramp up deliveries.
  • uberEats gets a limited menu to your curb in ten minutes ... by pre-loading food into drivers' cars.
    (Note: this reflects the Cognitive Commerce idea we cover in the Future of Grocery Retail.)
  • Amazon's Prime Now app gets entire menus delivered in an hour (39 minutes in Seattle).
  • Postmates's Pop app promises 15 minutes delivery in San Fran.
  • Amazon Prime in certain New York zipcodes delivers groceries and prepared meals from supermarkets and gourmet shops in an hour for an extra $7.99. For two-hour service, delivery is free.
  • In the US, it's over-crowded field. In Seattle, for instance, there's Amazon, BiteSquad, uberEats, DoorDash, Lish, Munchery, Square-owned Caviar, Postmates, Seamless, GrubHub, Yelp-owned Eat 24, Peached. Plus, 7-Eleven and DoorDash are offering on-demand delivery in five US cities.
  • Facebook goes foodie: now features professional reviews, eg, from Bon Appetit, Eater, San Francisco Chronicle, New York and Conde Nast Traveler, to its site.
  • Amazon + Fresh Nation delivers food from farmers markets directly to homes.

The new “Do-It-Yourself” movement

In their leisure time, people want to escape their digital work lives, and do something with their hands. They also want to show off to friends that they are interesting, cultured people. A great way to do this is to make your own food. But people lead busy lives… the solution is brands creating ready-to-cook kits.


  1. meal kit services like Blue Apron and Plated saw huge growth last year and 2016 will see it continue to expand
  2. New services now launching that offer solutions for every type of diet, including vegan and paleo: 
  3. Purple Carrot
  4. Hello Fresh
  5. One Potato
  6. Sun Basket
  7. Peach Dish (sells Southern-inspired dishes)
  8. Forage
    Delivers pre-prepared ingredients and recipes for people to make famous dishes from popular restaurants
    The most labor-intensive parts of the meals — such as making rich sauces or finely chopping ingredients — are already prepared by the company
    Dishes can be served in 20 minutes.
  9. Hop Theory
    Baltimore-based startup
    Similar DIY attitude
    Their teabag-like sachets transform average beers into quality craft brews
    Their biodegradable bags contain a combination of hops, fruit peel, seeds and natural flavours, which enable drinkers to customize their beverage in minutes. 

Phil Lempert, the guru of food predictions, says that 2016 will bring celeb chef-driven meal kits and we'll see some brands consolidate to create the Amazon of meal kits.

New Nordic pride

The ideals of new Nordic cooking — simple, natural, local — will continue to take the world by storm. 

Smart health, smart eating

One of the fastest growing areas of CES (the Consumer Electronics Show,, the western world’s largest tech show, held in Vegas in January each year), is the digital health section, covering gadgets like wearables. What will this mean for food? In the long run, it'll mean a lot. 


  1. GoBe — a wearable which claims to count the calories you eat
  2. the Sugar Smart app
  3. DietSensor — which uses a techology called Scio, which (using a spectrometer) can work out what's inside objects… including how many calories.

The Vegetable Hero

Move over meat. Vegetables are becoming hot. 

Why now?

  1. Cost
    Relentlessly rising beef prices
  2. Health: 
    1. concern about the hormones, antioxidants that go into meat production
    2. awareness of meat's affect on health — witness the UN proclamation about the cancer-causing properties of meat
  3. Farmers markets rising
  4. Locavore rising
  5. The rise of the flexitarian lifestyle
  6. Environment/sustainability
    Concern for the environmental cost of meat
  7. From restaurant to home
    Leading chefs are taking meat (and even fish) off the pedestal, and making vegetables the hero. 
  8. Instagram!
    Vegetables look great in pictures (see above!)
  9. Seasonal
    Vegetables are seasonal — and since people are more attracted to seasonal food, they will be more attracted to food that can be seasonal.
  10. This chef in Finland has an interesting take on this

Result: root-to-stem dining and the Vegetable Forward restaurant movement.

Root to Stem dining

The vegetable version of nose-to-tail movement, which also means using parts of the vegetable previously put in the bin



Vegetable Forward

Where meat is the side dish, and vegetables are the hero.

  1. Al's Place, in San Francisco's Mission District, best new restaurant of 2015 (says Bon Appetit magazine). Most meat on their menu is listed under "side dishes". 
  2. Note this isn't lazy veggie food. All-vegetarian Vedge, in Philadelphia: broccolini with smoked onion dashi, sweet potato pate with jerk cashews and pickled onion.
  3. Dirt Candy, Manhattan: in 2016, moving from a shoebox to a 60-seater. Does veg-only food in a modern context ... pulled, pickled and jerked carrots with peanut mole sauce on carrot waffles
  4. Semilla, Brooklyn. Pete Wells of the NYTimes: "You will be browsing extensively upon stems, tubers, rhizomes seeds and other plant
    parts. Semilla tends to save fish and meat for moments when extra depth or intensity are needed."
  5. Sqirl, LA: vegetable toast with green garlic crème fraiche, spicy pickled carrots, and house za’atar
  6. Jose Andres' veg-forward fast-cas Beefsteak has two sites in DC Washington and one coming in Philadelphia
  7. Sweetgreen, 31 units on both coasts
  8. White Castle now has a veggie slider ... served on a vegan bun.
  9. McDonald's this year launched Mogu Mogu Mac: chicken patty with bits of corn, edamame and carrots, topped with ketchup ... promoted as
    a healthy kids meals. Even an organic burger in Germany (only a trial)

Waste-free eating

Concern for the environment, coupled with an increasing realisation of the waste that comes with mass production and mass consumption, is heralding a new movement where people want less waste. Consider: 

  1. the supermarket powered entirely by food waste
    1. Sainsburys store in Cassock, Scotland, is powered by bio methane produced by the store's food waste
  2. a method for powder-ising fruit and vegetables about to go bad
    FoPo food powder use expiring fruit
    They freeze-dry fruit immediately before it expires, and create a nutritious food powder from what would have otherwise gone to waste
    This increases the produce’s shelf life from two weeks to two years.
    The powder will be good for use in soups, smoothies or baking.
  3. Brothl
    Zero-waste cafe in Melbourne
    uses food commonly considered as organic waste on its menu: rainwater, foraged sea vegetables, stale bread and carcasses normally thrown away
    uses the byproducts of high-end restaurants - such as unused meat and seafood bones from Attica and Rockpool – to cook its broth.
    Closed in January after dispute with council
  4. French supermarket Intermarché is turning fruit and veg that are too ugly to sell into a range of new products
  5. French government’s recent directive stopping stores from wasting food
  6. At Al's Place in San Francisco: nothing is wasted.
    Examples: citrus peels are transformed into flavored oils that are frozen for freshness. Eggplant mayo is made with pods of shelling beans.
  7. The success of Bea Johnson and her 5 R method

Pop-ups, food trucks, and new world flavours

Pop-ups and food trucks keep popping up and parking up — making it easy, cheap, and low-risk for chefs and food entrepreneurs to try out new flavours (and flavour combinations) on foodies who are risk-friendly. Armed with Instagram and perhaps Foodie — the app that makes your food snaps look better — these new foodies will try anything once. 

Like this from London, January 2016:

“Street food is showing no signs of slowing down, although healthier options are likely to take over in 2016 with more vegetable-based dishes. East Asian cuisine from Thailand and Laos is perfect for this because it provides fuller-flavoured dishes that are fast, fresh and soulful with lots of vegetables and herbs.” — Saiphin Moore, co-founder and head chef of Rosa's Thai Café, which started out as a stall in Brick Lane, east London.

Gourmet junk food

We first noticed the phenomenon, and coined the term "Gourmet Junk", back in 2010 (in a report for Jameson whiskey). With the role of self-promotion and self-expression through social media becoming ever stronger, this nostalgia for old style foods is set to continue for some years. At present, there is a noticeable shift from sophistication to irony.

Old processes make a comeback

As people become aware of the problems with modern processing methods, they are re-discovering age-old processes. 


  • 36% of consumers worried about "chemicals" in their food
  • 40% of consumers report it’s “very important” that foods use all-natural ingredients, free of GMOs and artificial flavors or colors
  • Source: Baum + Whiteman (US restaurant consultants)
  • Sales at healthy fast casual chains totaled about $384 million in 2014, up almost 30 percent from 2013, according to preliminary data from Technomic.


  1. Chipotle Mexican Grill is purging genetically modified ingredients. Their tortillas still contain preservatives and dough conditioners but they're working feverishly on that.
  2. Panera Bread listed more than 150 artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives that it will send into exile by the end of 2016.
  3. No more anti-biotics: which are cheap ways of fattening animals.
    McDonald's is ridding its chickens of antibiotics used by humans. 
    Chick-fil-A will take until 2019. 
    Panera's and Chipotle's chickens are already free.
    Subway over the next ten years will rid its meats of antibiotics
  4. Subway will no longer use azodicarbonamide in its bread, a dough conditioner used in yoga mats and shoe rubber. 
  5. Dunkin Donuts will give the heave-ho to titanium dioxide, a whitening agent used in paints.

Healthification example: Kraft Heinz brings health via stealth

Kraft Heinz created ‘biggest blind taste test in history’.

They went public in March with an ingredient change for its macaroni and cheese recipe, which it has been secretly trialling since December 2015.

New recipe contains no artificial flavours, preservatives or dyes

On 7 March the food brand officially launched its new macaroni and cheese recipe with an advertising campaign entitled It’s Changed. But It Hasn’t.

The new recipe is healthier strategy, as it now contains no artificial flavours, preservatives or dyes.

The company deliberately deceived its audience to work out whether introducing the new recipe affected the flavour.

After the change, Kraft Heinz did not publicise the new recipe except for listing the ingredients on the reverse of the box. Then it monitored the brand’s social media feeds and sales figures to make sure that there was no customer outcry. After a number of weeks, all remained quiet and people continued to buy the product as usual.

Healthification by Coca-Cola — now that sugar is the new tobacco

Reflecting a trend we've heard called "Coca-Cola is routinely urged by health experts and anti-obesity campaign groups to do more to tackle obesity rates worldwide. Often threatened with soda tax to convince people not to buy their products.

In response, Coke has launched new variants and introduce smaller cans as well as promote healthier lifestyles in both its marketing and sponsorships. 

Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola’s chief executive last month penned an article in the Wall Street Journal in which he pledged the company will “do a better job” of being transparent about its research into sugar after being accused of deceiving the public about its support of scientific research.

“We will also continue our work to provide more choices, in smaller pack sizes, in more communities—waters, lower-calorie and lower-sugar drinks, diet soda and zero-calorie drinks,” he added.


Digitization: McDonalds Happy Meal Box becomes a virtual reality game

McDonald’s gave its Happy Meal box a 21st-century makeover to keep the brand relevant to today's smartphone-owning pre-teens

With fold lines and perforations, the Happy Meal container can be turned into a DIY virtual reality headset

They also created a game to be used with the Happy Goggles. The game, Se Upp I Backen ("Watch out on the slopes"), is a ski game which, according to McDonald’s, has been endorsed by the Swedish national skiing team ahead of the Swedish holiday Sportlov, when it is traditional for families to go on skiing trips.

‘It is our mission to ensure that the world’s most famous box will continue to be magical and relevant to families for another 30 years,’ says a statement on the company’s website. ‘The Happy Meal simply must move with the times.’



New cuisine: OK Poke!

Peru's ceviche is catching on. Alongside it, we'll see poke — pronounced poke ay and poh key. It's a Hawaiian mainstay that's migrating to the mainland. Basically a bowl of chopped or cubed raw fish (traditionally ahi tuna over seaweedseasoned rice ... the fish tossed in a capriciously composed marinade: soy sauce, macadamia nuts, green onion, seaweed, avocado, mango, sesame oil, ginger, chiles of varying degrees of heat, numerous Japanese seasoning blends ... you can see where this might lead directly to kale and tofu. Pokerias are cropping on the West Coast and 10 ahi is giving way to octopus, scallops, salmon, blue fin. The dish is all over Los Angeles. You also can find it at Laid Back Poke Shack in Salt Lake City. Boston's new Hojoko at the Verb Hotel ... by the hot-hot O Ya team ... has tuna poke with chile water, roasted macadamia dressing and avocado. Seamore's ... an offshoot of New York's Meatball Shop ... ha 

Snack-tivism: less sweet, more savoury and more of them

Haha! What we mean is: snacks are on the rise.

And they're set to shift from sweet, sugar-y treats, to good-for-you, protein.

  • In the US, snacking has risen 47% from 2010 to 2014
  • More snacks made out of lentils, chickpeas, and quinoa.
  • Chips made from things other than potatoes: like sprouted grains, which provide more nutrients than regular grains, from brands like Way Better and Flamous.
  • High protein snacks, including nuts and nut-based bars.
  • Meat snacks? Eg,  bars from Epic and Tanka made with high quality, grass-fed, pasture-raised meat paired with dried fruits.


What does all this mean for you, your company, your future?

To hear what this means for you, get in touch.

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