22 June 2023, 09:59 AM
  • Discover two of the four forces transforming the food sector for the better, from sustainable materials to new technologies
Four forces shaping the future of the food sector: Part one

Trends come and go. For each craze that becomes ingrained in the way British consumers eat, there are dozens more that have been lost to time. While short-lived fads can certainly provide value for retailers, when it’s time to get the crystal ball out to gaze at where the sector is headed in the next decade, they tend to fall flat.

To understand where the food and drink sector is headed, we need to look at the deeper movements underpinning these passing trends. By understanding these, independent retailers can get ahead of the curve and be at the cutting edge of the industry. Here, we’ll look at four forces shaping the future of food and drink.

1. Climate change
Anyone working in the food and drink sector knows that sustainability is much more than a trendy buzzword. The impact of the climate crisis on the global food industry is not only poised to reshape supply chains and define the crops of the future, but as consumers become aware of the impact of their diet on the planet, eating habits are shifting too. Kantar’s Global Trends Report found that consumers are driving 920,000 monthly average searches for ‘fair trade’ and 254,000 for ‘sustainable agriculture’.

“As the growing consciousness around sustainability gains momentum, consumers are paying more attention,” the report says. It cites a “genuine interest” in learning about sustainable agricultural methods and regenerative practices. Reading the tea leaves shows that consumers are looking at sustainability from a long-term perspective, with a growing interest in areas like soil health, managing food waste and sustainable packaging.

Interest in ‘regenerative agriculture’ grew by a whopping 85 percent. “Consumers are vested, aware, and willing to hold brands accountable,” the report says.

The growing interest in a sustainable food industry may not be so surprising when we consider how present climate change has become in our daily lives. “We can no longer consider climate change as a future threat,” Jayne Brookman, EIT Food’s chief partnership officer tells

Speciality Food

“Every corner of the globe, including the UK, is experiencing change now, from unpredictable weather patterns, extreme climate events and seasonal shifts, to increased health risks, rising food insecurity and rapid biodiversity loss.” And the food and drink sector is at the centre of this quickly shifting arena. “The food system is both a cause and casualty of these challenges, and stakeholders in the UK food industry must continue to adapt to ensure food is affordable, sustainable and nutritious,” Jayne says.

Farmers are at the frontline of these changes, but consumers will also play a key role, and Jayne only expects their understanding that dietary changes are needed to grow. For retailers, this means you can expect to see more consumers seeking out local meat and produce, alternative proteins or brands with high environmental standards.

2. Disruption from new technologies
The continual need to create solutions to address challenges like climate change has fostered an innovative growth spurt in the food and drink sector. From developing new materials for planet-friendly packaging to expanding the concept of animal-free protein, there are countless areas where innovation in technology will have huge impacts on the food system in the years to come.

Kantar found a 17 percent growth in interest around ‘cultured meat’, also known as lab-grown meat. This year, a team of scientists created the world’s first 100 percent cultivated steak. Made of pork cells, the fillet reportedly replicated traditional pork meat in look, flavour and texture. The 3D Bio-Tissues team called it a “cruelty-free fillet” and said it exceeded expectations.

However, researchers at the University of California, Davis, this year claimed that lab-grown meat’s environmental impact is likely to be even worse than retail beef. As this technology is only in its infancy, it is hard to predict where it will end up, but with the market valued at $246.9m in 2022 and predicted to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 51.6 percent, we are certainly likely to see more results sooner rather than later.

Another area ripe for innovation is sustainable packaging. There are several avenues being explored today, from recyclable to biodegradable – and even edible. Australia’s Good-Edi has crafted an edible coffee cup which is made from natural ingredients like flour, wheat bran, oat bran, salt, sugar, coconut oil and water.

Technology is not only disrupting materials and ingredients, but it’s also making the global food sector more transparent. As consumers demand transparency through the global supply chain, businesses are developing ways to trace products and ingredients through data and cutting-edge technologies. With consumers quick to lose trust, retailers should be on the lookout for brands that find ways to showcase their sustainability credentials with hard data in the years to come.