Alongside the regular bingeworthy dramas and festive films that can be found on Netflix, I’ve recently discovered a new series of 20-minute documentaries called ‘Explained’ that are a perfect short watch now that the nights are drawing in.
With a new topic each week, the show investigates trends from cults and pirates to dreams and psychedelic drugs. One of the most recent episodes was about the future of the meat industry and how technologies in food could help curb the planet’s unprecedented and unsustainable appetite for meat products with plant-based alternatives.
This got me thinking about food technology in general and what the future holds for an industry expected to reach $250 billion by 2022. So, as we edge closer to the end of this year, what can we expect to see more of in the future of food and technology?
The complete package
With consumers already used to having access to information at their fingertips, the future of food is likely to be no different. Imagine being able to summon up calorie content or see how local and fresh the produce in your fridge is with just a simple tap of an NFC-enabled smartphone.
Ultra-low-cost flexible electronics company, PragmatIC, is aiming to do just that. The company creates low-cost, thin and flexible radio-frequency identification (RFID) integrated circuits (ICs) that can be integrated seamlessly into packaging to make it smart. So, you could tap the side of a product to get quick and easy access to recipes or dietary information, for example. It could also help reduce food waste, with a low-cost inlay and a unique ID in the packaging allowing consumers to access clear and localised recycling information or incentivising consumers to recycle.
In the future, these super flexible integrated circuits could become integrated into all sorts of products all across the world, to help both consumers and the planet!
Rise of the machines
Whether it’s picking fruit, waiting tables or flipping burgers, robots are increasingly becoming a key part of the food industry to help automate processes. For example, Hands Free Hectare is a project by Harper Adams University that looks into automated alternatives to farming that allow for ultimate crop yield with minimum worker input. The team’s three-year project is investigating whether a fully automated cropping cycle is possible.
Earlier this year, diners in Scotland’s Yamm World Buffet in Dundee were served by the country’s first robot waiters. While such sights can often be found in restaurants in China, the popularity of this new technology will be tested and, if proven popular, could become a more permanent fixture in restaurants across the globe, bringing a whole new meaning to grabbing a ‘byte’ to eat…
Elsewhere, the world’s first autonomous robotic kitchen assistant, Flippy, from Miso Robotics is a short-order cook with a difference. The cloud-connected mechanical arm can learn from its surroundings, acquire new skills over time and is capable of grilling 2,000 burgers a day. It even has thermal-scanning eyes to see whether the patty is cooked… That’s pretty flipping cool!
Hungry for change
But, while companies may be creating new and more exciting products and innovations, what do consumers think of the growing use of technology in food?
New research has shown that younger generations are more open to try foods grown using technology than older generations, with gen Z (people born in the mid-90s onwards) indicating that they would be more likely to try food grown by technology (77%) than millennials (67%), gen X (58%) and baby boomers (58%).
This represents a huge opportunity for brands to plan how they market their products to different generations. It also indicates that, in the future, innovations in food tech are likely to be increasingly common and accepted. Personally, I’m excited to see what’s next.