Food Futures … how technology is disrupting the food we eat, and how we create and sell it

February 27, 2018

% Arabica‘s Japanese coffee shops and Aussie Farmers Direct speeding from field to fork,  Ava Winery‘s perfect artificial wines and Scotland’s Brewdog that gives equity to its “punks”, Deliveroo transforming food delivery and Graze healthy snacks by subscription,  Juan Valdez Cafe transforming the Colombian coffee experience and Nespresso‘s business model, Syngenta‘s Good Growth Plan to feed the future billions with GM food and Zespri reinventing Chinese Gooseberry’s as kiwi fruit.

Just some of the example of “Gamechangers” in the world of food and drink, rethinking every aspect of the way we source, produce, package, distribute, promote, buy and consume. Technology has been a key enabler of these disruptive innovators, but also creative development of business models and consumer experiences.

Imagine sitting down to a meal. For the appetizer, the long table of guests shared bowls of seasonal salad from Graze the Roof, a vegetable garden located on the roof of Glide Memorial Church. The main course was a frittata with onions (served in a compostable box) from Sprig, a new dining-on-demand service founded by Nate Keller, Google’s former executive chef. Dessert consisted of lemon curd mousse with strawberries and mint, prepared with Nomiku, which bills itself as the first immersion circulator made for home cooks.

These dishes have little in common, except for one thing: They all provide hints of our collective food future, as imagined by the Institute for the Future, which collaborated with Nomiku and Suppershare to put on the dinner.

The three courses–local greens, dining-on-demand, immersion circulator desert–represent examples of forecasts found on IFTF’s Seeds of Disruption map, which looks at the food supply chain, technological disruptions, and low probability, high impact “wild cards” in the food industry over the next decade.

Many of the trends detailed in the map are still in their infancy. Drone delivery of food (and other goods), for example, is often discussed, but has not yet been put into use–though Amazon may soon change that. Some, like “augmenting mindful eating” with products like Soylent and the HAPIfork electronic fork, are already available to the public.

The trends exemplified by my future-focused dinner are also quickly coming to fruition. Nomiku–a compact sous vide appliance that lets home cooks make things previously only accessible to restaurant chefs–is an example of the local manufacturing trend, which also includes 3-D printed food and Momentum Machines‘ ultra-precise hamburger-making robots.

The IFTF research project and emerging map includes forecasts of how technologies will disrupt core strategies our food system has pursued:

For each of these, the map includes signals—today’s innovations that indicate a direction of future change. For example, small food producers could learn from ColaLife’s strategy to tap into existing distribution infrastructure by literally filling the gaps in shipping containers. Or small, autonomous robots, such as Prospero, could enable cultivation on hard-to-reach surfaces and depopulated rural farms.

At the edges of the map are “strains of uncertainty,” wildcards that are low probability but with the potential for high impact. These are seen in experiments such as Ghost Food that use multisensory technologies to explore future dining experiences in an eating landscape altered by climate change and biodiversity loss.

Technologies create bold new possibilities. But people, and their tastes and values, determine which possibilities become reality. These four essays explore how the world the forecast map describes intersects with human values for food freshness, sustainability, satisfaction, and convenience.

Each perspective includes a narrative, today’s signals of change from around the world, and an Artifact from the Future—an illustration that makes the future more tangible in the present. Licensed under Creative Commons, we encourage you to share and use these Artifacts as inspiration for your own ideas.


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