The FoodTech industry is booming, even in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Spurred in part by increasing food scarcity and environmental concerns, this uptick is, experts predict, something that will result in continued disruption in the sector going forward.
With the advent and development of robotics, the integration of CBD in food products, and the rising potential of 3D printing, the future of FoodTech is bright. The pandemic has only heightened the need for evolution given the current restrictions on food services and the millions facing food insecurity.
What the future holds for FoodTech is a vast amount of technological improvements that will serve to increase access to food, enhance the quality and function of food, and adapt food distribution for the sake of efficiency and equality.
Fake Meat and Insect Protein
Rooted in concerns regarding the environmental impact and ethical implications of meat consumption, innovative products like fake meat and insect protein have become more mainstream. When a single quarter-pound beef burger incurs an environmental cost of 14.6 gallons of water, 13.5 pounds of feed and 64.5 square feet of land, many believe it is imperative to seek solutions that reduce the negative impact of meat consumption without restricting consumers’ dietary options.
Two popular solutions that are likely to become even more commonplace after the pandemic are lab-grown meat products and insect protein. Fake meat is designed to look, taste and feel like real meat. Using stem cells that are painlessly extracted from live animals, scientists are able to grow fake meat in a lab. While the process can seem unusual or even disturbing to some, this practice is more sustainable, eco-friendly and ethically sounder than the prevailing practices used by the meat industry.
Insect protein is another promising product. Many Eastern cultures consume insects as part of their regular diet, but the culinary potential of insects may seem suspect to Western consumers. Insect protein could be used to replace or supplement some traditional meat options, but for the squeamish, this may not be a feasible solution. Still, the applications of insect protein are numerous, and insects can be used as alternative animal feed components or high-quality compost. The use of insects in these ways could help make farmers more independent following the pandemic, allowing them to reduce waste, improve the quality of their products, and promote a local approach to food production.
CBD Drinks, Gum and More
The medical applications of marijuana and CBD have made them a popular treatment for symptoms like anxiety, nausea and pain. With the pandemic causing a natural increase in stress and anxiety for many individuals, the integration of cannabis derivatives into edible products presents a new opportunity for the intermingling of medicine and food.
Thanks to the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, it is now possible to purchase drinks, chewing gums and other candies that include hemp-derived CBD in their ingredients. These products allow consumers to safely and easily reap the alleged therapeutic benefits of CBD. As the pandemic continues, and even after it ends, such products will likely serve as inspiration for further developments in this field, providing additional opportunities for symptom relief as a focus for FoodTech.
The Delivery Model & Home Dining
Some industries suffered greater losses than others during the pandemic, and the restaurant industry is near the top of that list. With restrictions on capacity for inside dining at points and mandates to offer only delivery and take-out services at others, restaurants have struggled to stay afloat during these turbulent times.
Food delivery apps have experienced an increase in popularity as users rely on their services to support local businesses and satisfy their cravings. Apps like GrubHub and Doordash saw an increase in restaurant listings and app usage over the course of the pandemic; restaurants that could not offer delivery services themselves were compelled to cooperate with such apps to increase their business potential, and as a result, the apps boasted more variety than ever before. The cloud kitchen model may also be a logical shift as a result of the pandemic, as new restaurants learn from ones that failed in 2020 and prioritize delivery and take-out services moving forward.
Similar to restaurant delivery services, grocery delivery apps like Instacart and Shipt experienced massive growth in app downloads, the former witnessing a download increase of 218% in the first half of March 2020 alone. As the pandemic continues to impact restaurants and other food services, delivery services are likely to remain popular, and given their convenience, in addition to frequent promotions that offer discounts to make the services more affordable, the delivery model has a high likelihood of persisting beyond the pandemic’s end. Meeting consumers’ needs and expectations with delivery services and making appropriate updates in order to accommodate the growing demand will be essential moving forward.
In addition to the drastic increase in delivery and take-out popularity, home dining has also become more favorable for individuals during the health crisis. Social distancing recommendations and financial concerns have contributed to this shift. FoodTech startups have already begun to appeal to these individuals; with technology that provides cooking tips, meal ideas and online access to professional chefs, home cooks have more information and resources at their fingertips than ever before. FoodTech stands to benefit from this shift toward home dining by considering what home cooks, especially those who have minimal cooking experience, need to succeed.
Following the pandemic, the FoodTech industry will likely continue its upward trajectory of evolution and development. There is rich potential for innovative solutions to issues that were present prior to the pandemic, as well as obstacles that arose in its wake. From addressing food scarcity and environmental concerns to developing food with medicinal properties, the FoodTech industry has a number of projects on which to focus as we continue to navigate the pandemic and plan for the ‘new normal.’