The food industry is a huge industry. Exactly how huge? Well as Sarah Murray explained in her article ‘The World’s Biggest Industry’ it’s hard to grasp the sheer scale of it because of its many component parts.
Think about it like this: it’s not just growing the food, transporting it and selling it at grocery stores, it’s also the restaurant and hospitality industry. Not to mention canned and packaged foods! And what about the massive amount of technology and entertainment that revolves around food? When you consider all of this there is a very strong case to be made that food may be the largest industry in the world, and the largest industry in the world is becoming a hot bed for innovation.
So here are five major trends to look for in the future of the food industry:
- Ordering and Self Service
The fast food restaurant server may be an endangered species. Self-service kiosks are one of the key areas of innovation according to leading experts and quick service restaurants like McDonalds are leading the charge. In addition to bringing down labor costs, self-service kiosks are also far more accurate than a server in the fast food context.
The kiosks display the items on the menu and then allow for the user to place their order using a touch display interface. As this technology is evolving the kiosks are becoming even more sophisticated;
- Restaurants in homes
Food service innovation won’t be reserved for the restaurant alone, in fact you may have to reconsider your definition of a restaurant all together. Following in the footsteps of tech innovators such as Uber and Airbnb, who have leveraged the sharing economy through their innovations, tech companies are disrupting our conceptions of restaurant dining.
Companies like Yuma and CookFromHome are allowing anyone to be a restauranteur from their home; users can log on and buy home cooked food to be delivered to them, or can themselves become chefs and sell their food to others.
- Gourmet DIY delivery
But the changes to the food service industry won’t just be reserved for where you eat, and who cooks your food, one of the biggest trends is trying to turn you into a gourmet chef. Sound impossible? When companies like Blue Apron and HelloFresh think otherwise; they are delivering fresh seasonal ingredients in perfect proportions to your doorstep, together with instructions of how to use them to prepare a gourmet meal.
They are banking on the idea that the barriers to us cooking and eating great meals is the difficulty in in sourcing ingredients and the time and effort it draws from our busy schedule. With their meal plans and their doorstep delivery systems they hope to change the way all of us cook and eat.
- Supply chain
One of the biggest changes to the food service industry will happen behind the scenes without you ever realizing it; the supply chain. Food has to be acquired from its source of origin (farms, ranches, orchards, etc.), stored and then transported to grocery stores and restaurants. Companies such as Sysco have been on the leading edge of this practice, with food trucks that contain different individually temperature controlled compartments, allowing each truck to transport every kind of food at the same time.
The latest breakthroughs in technology will also be coming to this practice. The ‘Internet of Things’ will bring a host of smart devices and data points to the different aspects of the supply chain. High standards of quality and safety will be maintained by monitoring the storage and transport of food from the farm all the way to the final point of consumption.
But how will you know that the food service companies are not deceiving you about the data? Well another breakthrough technology comping to the food industry is blockchain. The same data-ledger technology used to maintain decentralized trust for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum can be applied to the food service supply chain too. Blockchain will allow both the customer and the suppliers to share a single set of incorruptible data, so they both know everything that happened to their food as it moved through the supply chain.
- Food Engineering
If any of you thought that this list wasn’t futuristic enough we saved the most radical innovations for last, innovations of food itself!
Beyond Meat, and Hampton Creek’s flagship product Beyond Eggs are two Silicon Valley based food engineering startups that believe they can create sustainable plant based meat and plant based eggs that are not just convincing but are better than the real thing. The two companies have taken advantage of the push for veganism in light of the environmental and ethical concerns surrounding factory farming, and created an enormous amount of buzz so far inspiring both fans and critics.
Cultured meat is the other solution to this problem being explored. The meat is a result of cellular agriculture; a process scientists use to grow meat using only animal cells instead of animals by applying the same techniques used in regenerative medicine. The result is the creation of a potentially infinite meat source that only needs a cell sample from an animal to begin.
Still the furthest point on the spectrum may be the vision of software engineering Rob Rhinehart, a man trying to make liquid meals the staple of our diet. Based on the idea that a human’s should extend to their food the same level of technological engineering we apply to everything else, and cheekily named Soylent, the liquid total meal replacement intends to provide the human body with all of its nutritional needs. Still, there have been reservations (from this author included) as to how appealing and appetizing the prospect of a liquid diet but Soylent soldiers on with a successful kick-starter and successive VCs powering it.