OFTEN freaky, in parts predictable and certainly dramatic - the big trends driving the way we are likely to process, distribute and consume food in the future have but one thing in common.
The businesses that stand out will be the ones playing in high value markets.
Futuristic thinker Ian Proudfoot, the global head of agribusiness for business services firm KPMG New Zealand, believes the almost desperate search for innovation currently on show among well-known food companies is just a mere hint at what is to come.
In a session on how food choices are evolving at this year’s ABARES Outlook conference in Canberra, Mr Proudfoot pointed to significant company changes in the past year alone.
Protein leader Tyson Foods put money into Beyond Meat - a burgers-made-from-plants company.
Global food company Danone spent $11b Euros on a company specialising in plant-based milks.
A2 Milk is now the largest company on the NZ stock exchange - a virtual business with not one processing plant, but rather a proposition around what a certain type of milk can do for people.
It could be that these types of shifts are aimed at staying one step ahead of the key trends set to determine consumer purchasing choices in the future, Mr Proudfoot argued.
Sustainability is the big one, he said, and it’s not just about the environment and water but about how a business thinks about its people and how it interacts with community.
Minimal food wastage will be a key part of this, he believes.
“Consumers are increasingly millennial - people who want to buy your product because you are making an impact,” Mr Proudfoot said.
“They are people who want to make a change to a food system that leaves 825 million people around the world hungry every night.”
Farms will look different to match what consumers are looking for, Mr Proudfoot said.
His projection: the next generation farmers will be local, organic and vertical.
And quite possibly animal-free.
The evolution of cultured burgers - grow your own beef in your kitchen when you fancy a steak - could mean the world is one day fed on a tiny cattle herd, providing consumer needs are met.
Seemingly competing food trends - for the convenient alternative and for the crafty, artisanal and ultra-raw - will strengthen and co-exist in Mr Proudfoot’s future.
“This is how they will come together: Monday to Friday’s convenience demands will be vastly different to what is sought on the weekend,” he said.
Meanwhile, personalised nutrition will be a big part of the way we’ll see our food. It will be a “one sizes fits one” world.
Could that mean our DNA profiles determine what food we need to stay healthy and fully functional and tailored food solutions - perhaps printed - delivers?
Information and insight will dominate what the future conversation will look like even more than it does today.
New lifestyle paradigms are already emerging that food companies are stretching to stay on top of.
“On-the-go dominates. No longer can you assume people have time to sit and eat,” Mr Proudfoot said.
“Providing food at the right time becomes a big opportunity.
“And food is fashion - fashion changes, and will do so faster than it ever has before, so your ability to be nimble will be a big part of the future.”
The Proudfoot recipe for action?
Think of disruption as opportunity.
The consumer must be the centre of your world. Regardless of where you sit in a supply chain, you have to understand what your consumer wants.
Standing out will drive value.