Innovations That Matter

5 Food and Drink Trends to Watch For in 2020

Innovation Snapshot

This year will see a diversity of players converge — from vegan evangelists to wellbeing experts, blockchain startups and venture funds.

Almost 50 per cent of American millennials expect all products to be GMO-free, 43 per cent expect organic, 64 per cent sustainable and 56 per cent recyclable, according to a survey conducted by SONAR™.

This year will see a diversity of players converge — from vegan evangelists to wellbeing experts, blockchain startups and venture funds.

1. Smart Pantries

Photo source Ovie

The United Nations estimates that one-third of all food is thrown away globally every year. That is €148 billion worth of lost food yearly, with most of it being lost in people’s own homes due to spoilage. 

As the need for sustainable practises becomes increasingly more prioritised, a plethora of new technological solutions are emerging to help counteract food waste. These innovations are allowing to track freshness and consume produce and leftovers before they spoil.

Chicago-based startup Ovie Smarterware has created a smart fridge tag to alert users when food is going out of date. The tag changes colour to signal whether or not the food is still good to eat. Users only need to press the button on the SmartTag and tell Alexa what food they are saving. If users don’t have a smart home speaker, they can type the food into the Ovie app.

Last June, researchers at London’s Imperial College developed a low-cost, eco-friendly spoilage sensor for meat and fish. The sensors cost only pence to produce and are made by printing carbon electrodes directly onto the paper. They work by detecting gases like ammonia and trimethylamine that build up in meat and fish when they spoil. The sensors can also be connected to an app so consumers can find out instantly if food is safe to eat by holding their smartphones up to the packaging.

Silo is another line of smart kitchen storage that wants to reduce waste with the help of Alexa. The system uses smart, vacuum-sealed containers to monitor contents. An accompanying app tracks what food is purchased and consumed. Alexa then notifies consumers when food is about to spoil with 

2. Edible utensils

Photo source Loliware

Governments are taking a more proactive stance to single-use plastic. In 2018, New Zealand moved to completely ban single-use plastic bags. In August 2019, France introduced a new policy banning disposable, single-use utensils, cups, and plates. As a result, edible straws, food packaging and plates have become the next brand innovation in the quest for sustainability. 

Last year, UK-based packaging startup Shipping Rocks Lab developed an edible, spherical membrane for carrying liquids called Ooho. The packaging is made from brown algae and calcium chloride, meaning it can be either eaten or thrown away with little environmental impact. The design is even simple enough that users can cook up the material at home, with each Ooho! bag costing just €0.01 to make.

Ooho! does for liquids what WikiPearl – the edible ice cream packaging – is doing for more solid foods. We first wrote about WikiCells way back in 2013, a form of edible packaging developed by Harvard professor David Edwards. The invention uses natural food products in place of plastic packaging – for example, its mango ice cream comes in a skin of coconut, while its vanilla ice cream is wrapped in a peanut-based container. Now, WikiCells can be found at WholeFoods, wrapping a variety of products such from cheese to vegetables and soup.

Several brands are also embracing flavoured edible straws in an effort to enhance the drinking experience while simultaneously working to eliminate plastic waste.  US-based Loliware has created plant-based straws that look and feel like plastic but start to decompose 18 hours after use. The star ingredient is seaweed, which means that it won’t harm marine life if it ends up in the ocean and can even be eaten by fish. In India, Nom aims to combat the stigma that edible straws are tasteless. Their flour-based, edible straws come in a variety of flavours to provide “drink compatibility”. Flavours include vanilla, butterscotch, mint, chocolate and lemon-citrus.

3. Vertical farms

Photo source Space10

As populations grow and cities lack access to reliable local food, Vertical farms present a sustainable alternative. Using advanced vertical farming technology, New Jersey-based AeroFarms, can now produce 130 times as much as a traditional farm per acre. 

For city dwellers worldwide, finding space to grow their own herbs, vegetables and flowers is a near-constant search. Athens-based CityCrop has created a smart solution. Using vertical hydroponics (a growing system based on water, not soil), growers can farm a variety of crops indoors and with minimal square footage. The method uses 90 per cent less water than traditional farming and much less space.

In Dubai, Badia Farms also introduced hydroponics to its vertical farms, and in Brooklyn, Square Roots prides itself on producing premium quality, pesticide-free, non-GMO herbs in its indoor, vertical farming facility. 

Grocery stores are also beginning to experiment with pick-your-own herbs and vegetables grown in-store gardens. In Netherlands’ award-winning Albert Heijn supermarket has launched the ‘Help Yourself Herb Garden’, allowing customers to pick to exactly what they need, from a full-plant to a few sprigs. Herbs are brought in-store as soon as they are fully-grown and ready to be harvested.

4. ‘Veganology’

Photo source Rustic Vegan on Unsplash

With the overall market for plant-based food is expected to surpass the $5 billion mark in the US alone by the first quarter of 2020, mass-market veganism comes as no surprise. In the UK, Veganuary 2020 is estimated to reach 350,000 global participants. Expect vegan habits to remain even when January is over, as consumers increasingly realize the effects of meat on their health and the environment. 

Until recently, lab-grown meat has been mostly limited to beef and chicken. However, 2020 is taking lab-grown meat a step further by focusing on exotic animals that are largely inaccessible for general consumption. Australian startup Vow has created the world’s first dumpling made from cultivated kangaroo meat, and US-based New Wave Foods is using plants and sustainably sourced seaweed to create vegan shrimp. 

Other hyperfocused ‘Veganology’ startups include Israeli food company Aleph Farms. During October 2019, they used a 3D bioprinter to ‘print’ beef meatballs in the International Space Station. In NY, Vegan ‘chicken’ nugget company NUGGS operates like a tech startup, offering customers the opportunity to provide feedback to improve their products. Just like an app that is continually updated with bug fixes, the NUGGS formula is constantly improved. NUGGS not only uses customer feedback to develop new versions of the product, but it also keeps users updated about any changes.

5. Mood food 

Photo source Heather Barnes on Unsplash

A “fast healing” retail movement is emerging to counteract our anxiety-driven economy, and the food industry is hopping on. The same way that people consume takeaways, people are also looking for quick fixes to help them relax. The wellness food market is projected to be valued at €732 billion by 2021.

Minnesota based startup Moody’s Ice Cream is changing the ice cream game by infusing its flavours with essential oils and ingredients that have specific sensory benefits. The best-selling flavour is rosemary mint chip, while the rosemary offers mental clarity, mint boosts the mind. Other flavours include lavender honey blueberry, which combats stress and provides antioxidants, and spicy citrus, infused with tangerine and ginger to promote digestive health.

UK-based Monarch Airlines also launched a mood-enhancing food menu for calmer in-flight experiences. The Mood Food box includes Echinacea and liquorice ice cream to improve immunity, green tea and lavender pastries to aid relaxation, and herbal tea for digestion.

In Singapore, Alchemy Foodtech raised €2 million in pre-series A funding to accelerate its development of lower glycemic index (GI) food staples. Almost 10 per cent of Singaporeans are diabetic, 80 per cent of which have Type 2 diabetes – typically caused by a diet rich in refined carbs. The patent-pending functional ingredient is called 5ibrePlus and can lower the GI of refined white carbohydrate-based food. For example, it can lower the glycemic index of white rice to the level of brown rice. 

Written by Katrina Lane