The dominant narrative in the next year will not be about new flavours or aromas, but about finding security in what we eat.
With the rise of food scandals in recent years, a third of UK consumers are less trusting of products and retailers than they were five years ago (source: NFU Mutual). They seek reassurances that the food that they eat is labelled correctly, and that it is not only transparently made but also sustainable in its production methods.
Beyond simply rethinking waste, a microtrend that has become more prevalent in the past couple years, there will be more long-term approaches, from novel production methods to alternative packaging materials. And while food is inherently political, in 2018 it will become even more of a flashpoint for activism as geopolitical manoeuvres – from Brexit to US immigration policy – affect the industry.
With brands such as Pringles being shamed across social media and boycotted for its difficult-to-recycle packaging, next year will be defined by a search for sustainable alternatives.
Dutch fruit and vegetable supplier Nature & More and Swedish supermarket ICA are already showing the impact of removing plastic labels from vegetables with their laser marking system. The technique uses a laser to remove pigments from the skin of fresh produce and uses 1% of the carbon emissions needed to create a comparable sticky label.
The next generation of designers are also taking up the cause. Central Saint Martins graduate Maria Kurian, for example, has developed a range of short-use products made of rice starch and gelatin that degrade at variable speeds depending on required usage time. MIT’s Tangible Media Group's experiment in flat-pack pasta, which takes its final form once boiled, resulted in a reduction of 67% in air volume normally present in packaged dried pasta.
Industry Innovator: Finless Foods
Big idea: Making lab-cultured fish that is not only environmentally friendly, but healthier too.
Why it matters in 2018: Increasing awareness of food security issues and climate change means that more consumers care about where their food comes from and how it is made. The debate between ‘natural’ and ‘synthetic’ will become louder, and Finless Foods will lead the charge in redefining the former.
As the conversation on sustainability in food moves from farm-to-table to an increasingly nuanced look at our food systems, more and more projects will be aimed at replenishing food products that humans have decimated.
In Norway and Scotland, two projects are already under way to restore mollusc populations. Architecture firm Snøhetta is designing Under, a restaurant that will be partially submerged in the North Sea. Its concrete exterior will serve as the rock to create an artificial mussel reef that will encourage biodiversity and clean the water around it.
Meanwhile, Glenmorangie is aiming to restore the wild oyster reef of the Dornoch Firth after it was shed into extinction more than 100 years ago. The naturally filter-feeding oysters will clean any by-product of the Glenmorangie distillery that is not purified by the whisky brand’s new anaerobic digestion plant.
Both projects illustrate the growing need for brands to consider how their products can have a purpose and a life beyond their initial function.
The dining table has always been a space for discussion, planning and debate, but in 2018, a mid-term election year in the US, it will become an even more important space to foster cross-cultural empathy and civic action.
With migrant workers’ jobs under threat, local eateries in the US will increasingly take a stand on social issues and engage in social activism to protect their workers. The Sanctuary Restaurants movement is already paving the way for change with its programme aimed at safeguarding the rights of workers in the US restaurant industry at a time of growing anti-immigrant sentiment.
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