The percentage of American adults who believe that chocolate milk comes directly from the udder of brown cows is currently around 7% according to a recent survey. Not bad. What are the beliefs of this group about the origin of sausage meat? Or shrimp … to check.
Impression: The industrialization of our lifestyles tends to keep us in a bubble of comfort hovering far, far above the realities that make this industrialization possible. To the question of knowing what we will eat tomorrow, the sweet ignorance which reigns in this bubble answers naively: anything, of course.
This perspective is silly but not necessarily wrong, in a sense. It is not impossible that we eat in the future more and more anything, more and more processed junk food. Nevertheless, by its equivocality, this answer also suggests a certain indeterminacy of the future, as if we were free to eat more and more anything. As if this freedom were only the counterpart of the inexhaustible diversity of our tastes and the market offer.
But it seems to me that in the late industrialized context of ours, the opposite is true: if we are free, it is to refuse to eat anything. And if the future does not seem so indeterminate, it is because the contours of the future of food are shaped by trends that we already know in part.
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Three key aspects of the future of food
1. Exogenous Megatrends
On the one hand, general trends and their impact on food production and consumption: food production and consumption are affected by three well-known major trends: overall population growth; the struggle for the sustainability of the food value chain, against global warming and against industrial pollution; digital transformation. These trends are expressed by both local initiatives and centralizing projects and institutions.
2. Transformation of consumption patterns
Next, trends in food consumption: Consumption trends emerging in developed markets indicate a growing interest in health and well-being. Other consumer trends include the pursuit of new gastronomic experiences, the quest for efficiency, speed, convenience, new modes-based or motion-based diets, and the desire to use short distribution channels and to become involved as an active consumer in the promotion of local products. Quality labels are a major aspect of the transformation of eating habits through consumption.
3. Technological disruptions
Finally, the technological trends and their impact on the production and consumption of food: this third aspect is much less visible since it touches on the technological innovations in the field of food, which generally aim to follow the trends outlined above. building on new scientific discoveries and new technological opportunities, across the entire food value chain. The exploitation of new technological possibilities may give rise to social resistance or be limited by ethical standards.
To deepen the technological dimension of the future of food, visit the Presans Platform technology sheet dedicated to innovations in the field of food.
The role of political and cultural factors
The answers to the trends outlined above will not be random, either. They will obey political and geopolitical imperatives. They will also express cultural preferences.
Take a country like China. China’s demand for animal protein is growing, leading to increased demand for animal feed. Confronted with the insufficiency of national agricultural production, and in order to reduce its risk of dependence on the international agricultural market, China has been trying for several years to relocate its production … particularly in France, where a regular concern about Chinese acquisitions of agricultural land.
France, for its part, enthusiastically embarks on the digital transformation of the food value chain. The FoodTech sector is growing and gaining notoriety. The idea of developing applications to monitor food consumption is part of the US and life hacking but seems to have found in France a preferred field of expression, as evidenced by the success of Yuka, Foodvisor, etc. Hypothesis: There is a French affinity with the idea of indexing, evaluating, labeling the food, which itself is part of a broader affinity for the principle of an obligation to inform consumers and to regulate economic activity. This affinity for information, even for consumer education is at the very heart of the French digital strategy championed by Emmanuel Macron. From the outset, we can observe that the American pioneer Fooducate, is funded by the French fund Kima Ventures.
If you are in the agribusiness business, underestimating these political, geopolitical or cultural factors can lead to missing opportunities or destroying value. But to operate the real innovations of rupture, the questioning must not stop there.
Cornflakes as a paradigm of industrial food innovation
To anticipate what we will eat tomorrow, we must not neglect the philosophical aspect of the question. From this point of view, what is most striking is the frequent association between religious conviction and food innovation. To understand how concretely a new food product appears, let’s take the origin of cornflakes.
This may be surprising, but innovating in the field of food can also mean engaging a struggle to transform, to redeem a fallen world, from the powerful contrast of a religious and educative vision. The story of cornflakes illustrates this idea perfectly and allows to see at work creativity that is not limited to regulate or inform on existing products.
The origin of cornflakes lies in the search for new vegetarian foods by members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the late nineteenth century. Our heroes, the Kellog brothers forgot a bowl of boiled wheat and in a moment of serendipity decided not to throw the stale wheat, but to flatten and then grilling the grains. The success of this new food in their sanatorium encouraged them to mass produce it and market it to the general public.
It is instructive to consider how this industrial adventure unfolded during two episodes of vegetarian purism. Case number one: The Kellog brothers did not agree on the addition of sugar, which John Harvey contravened to the vegetarian principle. As a good Protestant Will Keith founded his own company, which eventually became the only one with the right to use the name Kellog. Case number two: a certain Edward Halsey had sought to persuade the Kellog brothers to give up exploiting their invention. The objection was based on the idea that adding milk to cornflakes would be incompatible with the vegetarianism promoted by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Kellog brothers sent the troublemaker to Australia not to interfere with their business while giving a chance to the energetic young man, who was quick to develop innovative products in his bakery. But this is another story.
Before closing, note that if you feel confused but still curious to test another way to lead your strategic thinking, Presans Explore is here to help you.
We have shown that the future of food is not just any and that it does not want us to eat anything. Among a whole set of factors to consider, we ended up considering that of the spirit that animates any new food movement. It seems particularly interesting to study the cases where such an inspiration is successfully combined with the economic system. The creativity at the origin of cornflakes is thus not that of a religious madness uncompromisingly prescribing an eccentric diet, but a conciliation of the imperative of profitability and that of the improvement of the world by the education, which is characteristic of the success of a certain Protestant Anglo-Saxon capitalism. Who will be the successors of these innovators able to combine the breath of collective inspiration with the vision of a profitable economic model? This may be a question to begin to identify the future winners of nutritional capitalism … So, let’s talk about it!