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Food trend turnaround

What Might the Food Sector Look Like in 2035?

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The food sector is changing. Sustainability, alternative proteins, vegan nutrition, food circles - these are just some of the buzzwords that currently enjoy great popularity. But which of these is more like the proverbial flash in the pan and which could be a trend that significantly determines the food market in 2035? The FOX project has found answers to this question and published two studies.

Food processing in a Box, or FOX for short, is the name of an association of 25 players from the food industry. Health and sustainability are the watchwords of the EU Horizon 2020 project, which has set out to find solutions that put local food processing at the centre of attention. One of the partners is the Competence Center Foresight of the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) in Karlsruhe, Germany. Its researchers have looked for trends that are already discernible today and could perhaps significantly define the food sector in 2035. Of more than 100 trends, 50 were convincing - 15 of which the research team considered particularly important. But how can the future of the food sector be predicted from the trends collected? This question was to be answered by three scenarios, each driven by a major player and painting a different picture of the future.

Top trends for 2035 - a selection

Als einen dieser wichtigen Trends hat das ISI-Team die lokalen Lebensmittelkreise identifiziert. Regionalität steht dabei in allen Punkten des Lebensmittelkreislaufs im Vordergrund. Während sie Frische, Rückverfolgbarkeit und geringere Umweltbelastung als Vorteile dieses Trends sehen, zählen sie unter anderem das je nach Saison eingeschränkte Angebot zu den Nachteilen. Mit Blick auf Online-Hofläden, Lebensmittelkisten oder Einkaufsgemeinschaften sehen sie bereits heute ein bestehendes Interesse vonseiten der Landwirte und Konsumenten gleichermaßen. Aus Sicht der Forscher sind es gerade solche Lebensmittelkreise, die die heutigen zentralen Strukturen aufbrechen und in ein dezentrales System überführen könnten.

In diese Richtung zeigen noch weitere Trends, die sie für wichtig erachten. Sharing Economy ist hier ein Stichwort. Beim Food-Sharing zum Beispiel werden überschüssige Lebensmittel mit anderen geteilt und in Gemeinschaftsküchen oder Essensgemeinschaften wird zusammen gekocht und gegessen. Während sich dabei die Frage nach der Kontrolle von Gesundheitsstandards als problematisch erweisen könnte, zählt die effiziente Nutzung von Lebensmitteln und die Vermeidung von Food Waste zu den positiven Aspekten dieses Trends.

Gerade Letzteres halten die Autoren für so wichtig, dass sie darin einen eigenen Trend sehen. Um die jährlich rund 1,3 Milliarden Tonnen Food Waste zu verringern, sei eine Kombination verschiedenster Aktivitäten notwendig. An erster Stelle steht das öffentliche Bewusstsein für dieses Problem. Der sich dadurch aufbauende gesellschaftliche Druck beeinflusst in einigen Ländern schon heute die Gesetzgebung und lässt darüber hinaus Produzenten, Händler und Konsumenten auch proaktiv handeln.

Technological trends

In order to, among other things, soften the consequences of climate change and increase sustainability - both of which, incidentally, have also been identified as trends - the ISI team has identified various technological trends that it sees as having great potential by 2035. For example, precision agriculture, in which process optimisation increases output while reducing the impact on the environment. Artificial intelligence and machine learning play a role here, as does the blockchain. And innovative forms of food production are also included in this area. Keywords here are, for example, vertical farming or aquaponics. The authors see great growth potential in the latter in particular.

Not only the type of production, but also the change in consumer preferences is responsible for some of the top trends. The study authors call one of them "Cooking -- vegan - gluten-free". Here, the focus is on abstaining from eating animal-based foods and avoiding wheat gluten, even without a medical indication. According to the authors of the study, producers who take this into account can look forward to a growing sales market. The "alternative proteins" trend is moving in a similar direction. Whether from plants, insects or the bioreactor - by 2035, new types of sources should help to ensure that the growing world population can be supplied with sufficient proteins on the one hand and that the impact on the environment is kept within limits on the other.

Three scenarios for the food sector in 2035

Identifying and analysing trends is one thing. But what will the food sector look like in Europe in 2035? The research team from Karlsruhe also wanted to find an answer to this question. However, without taking a look into the famous crystal ball. As predicting the development of the market on this time scale with acceptable precession is far too complex, the researchers have opted for three scenarios. What they all have in common is the premise that there will be no "business as usual". Instead, the main difference lies in the question of who will drive the changes and ultimately set the rules for the food market in 2035.

Based on the 50 identified trends, the researchers therefore developed 18 key factors along the value chain. For six of these, they made various assumptions about how they might develop in the future and developed three scenarios from them. These were then refined with the remaining 12 and the input from the FOX project partners.

The key factors at a glance

Top 6

• Appreciation of products that promote ecosystem services

• Degree of centralisation of food production

• Purchasing behaviour in connection with food

• Measures for reducing climate change in the food sector

• Public and private investment in food and agriculture

• Artificial intelligence in the value chain

... and the remaining 12

• Sustainability in the food industry

• Changing growth paradigm

• Food safety and protection

• Availability of resources: land, water, energy

• Food loss and waste

• Quality and quantity of labels

• Food packaging

• Online grocery shopping

• Data ownership

• Balance of power within the value chain

• Society's attitude towards new technologies

• Platforms and "product as a service" in the food sector

Prof. Dr. Michael Gänzle

Prof. Dr. Michael Gänzle

The state as a guiding force

Nationalisation and the common good are key words in the first scenario. This relies on a strong state as the director of the food sector, which uses laws and taxes to ensure food safety for the individual nations on the one hand and enforces sustainability on the other. As the owner and user of agricultural land, the state itself becomes a producer. And it has sovereignty over the data. This means that it not only monitors and sanctions food waste, it can also influence the eating habits of the population. While labels no longer play a major role in this future, innovations depend on whether they benefit the goals of the guiding state. The authors see points of friction above all at the international level, as agriculturally relevant resources are not evenly distributed and a strong focus on national self-sufficiency inhibits global trade. Moreover, in this scenario they see private sector involvement strongly inhibited by excessive regulations.

The post-growth society

Intrinsic sustainability and a post-growth society characterise the second scenario. Here, the changes emanate from the consumers. They, the study authors assumed, would recognise the need for healthy, sustainable and regional food cycles and demand them out of deep conviction. The sector would bow to this pressure. As a consequence, resources would also be used more efficiently in this scenario and the food waste problem would be solved. Due to the general interest in this topic, new technologies such as data-driven processes and artificial intelligence, but also alternative proteins or urban farming would easily find their way into the market. The limited assortment due to the focus on regionality and the resulting higher prices would not be seen as a disadvantage, but rather accepted as necessary.

International retail groups

Efficiency and limitless growth, on the other hand, are the focus of the third scenario. This future will be guided by international retail groups. As masters over the data, they individually tailor product placement. Producers and processors are required to be highly efficient. Profit maximisation takes precedence over sustainability and environmental protection. These issues are not completely negated, but are often pursued for marketing reasons. In this scenario, the study authors assume that it is not social change that addresses the problems described, such as food security, food waste or climate change, but instead technological progress. They see the issue of food safety as a major disadvantage here. For, in their opinion, this could suffer from the immense price pressure, especially at the international level. Limited assortments and high prices, on the other hand, are not a problem in this scenario due to globalisation.

Therefore, the researchers cannot say which road the food sector will take until 2035. Nor do they want their work to be understood as a recommendation for action to be implemented one-to-one. On the contrary, they are concerned with showing where the road may lead and all of the steps that can play a role in this.