“I get asked a lot what the future of food will hold, and that is a really complex answer … but really it kind of boils down to two things that we see, which is the future of food has to be better for people and the planet. These cannot be mutually exclusive anymore,” said Mike Lee, who created The Future Market as a virtual store of concept products that projects what food will look like in five to 25 years based on nascent trends, technology and consumer behaviors today.
He explained at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit in Washington, DC, this month that The Future Market was created as a way to manifest the mantra that “better innovation in food today starts with more ambitious thinking about tomorrow,” and the idea that “we need to look up to know where you are going, otherwise your trajectory is going to be really off in the food trade.”
One reason he said he believes the industry is going towards healthier products is the emerging aspiration that food can be medicine, as illustrated through the rising demand for functional products and personalized nutrition.
Food as medicine
“One of the promising signs that food is actually becoming better for people … is it is leaning toward the area where food is not just about taste and sustenance anymore. But it also has to have a function,” Lee said.
For support he pointed to Google search data which found the highest search phrases around food in 2017 included interest in the high-fat, low-carb keto diet, plant-based diets and little things like black sesame seed oil and apple cider vinegar, which are associated with a range of health claims.
“People are also searching for functional foods, like turmeric,” which is prompting “a doubling down from a lot of early stage CPG entrants that are disrupting the marketing and building brands on top of function, not just hedonistic and nutritional value,” Lee said.
For example, he pointed to the influx of specialty waters, products made with medicinal mushrooms and meal replacement products.
“We are trying to get to a place where food can bring medicine-like qualities,” he said, adding, “we have a long way to go and a lot of research to make sure these claims are substantiated, but I think it is interesting to note that there is this aspiration that companies are grasping at about what they want food to be the answer, not medicine.”
Personalized nutrition is going mainstream
The second indicator that the future of food will be based on better-for-you products is rising consumer interest in personalized nutrition, Lee said.
“Personalized nutrition is really all about recognizing that we are individuals and there is no such thing as a one size fits all product,” he said, explaining that repercussions for food manufacturers of this realization are far-reaching.
“Long gone are the days when a company could find $5 billion worth of demand from the lowest common denominator needs” met by one product, he said.
Rather, he said, the brands of the future need to recognize the fragmentation of the market due to the rise of food tribes and the proliferation of diet as a source of identity for consumers.
“In 2014, the percentage of new food brands that were $20 million in sales in the first year was about 63%. Two years later it was down to 43%. The size of the prize for any single brand is shrinking because we have become a series of food tribes and there is no such thing as a lowest common denominator anymore,” he said.
Examples of adaptation
Some companies already are responding to early consumer demand in these areas, such as Campbell Soup Co.’s investment in the personalized nutrition company Habit, or the launch of other at home testing services that evaluate a consumer’s microbiome and how they react to certain foods in order to craft the most beneficial diet, Lee said.
And while these are a good start, there is plenty of room to grow, he said.
“This is all nascent technology and if we look at it and extrapolate it for the future we can imagine a world where you could have something that like this [concept] Analyze Me pill, where you buy seven pills for a week, swallow them every day and they sense what is happening in your microbiome and what is happening in your body and the data is beamed out to do something with,” Lee suggested.
One example of how this data could be used is another concept product created by The Future Market called Custom Culture, which is a blend of probiotics and preboitics in a yogurt that is specifically tailored for individuals.
While all these innovations are exciting and offer significant room for growth, Lee emphasizes that products will fail if they do not taste delicious.
“We can’t forget delicious. Delicious and taste give you the license to talk about all this other stuff. Without it, the whole thing falls apart,” because consumers won’t try it, Lee said, adding, this also applies to beautiful and inviting packaging.