Trend Analysis: The Food of the Future

Das Essen der Zukunft


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We trend researchers at the 2b AHEAD ThinkTank are often asked how food will change in the future. This is an intelligent question, because it leads us directly to a key social transformation, to new business models, and to a redistribution of the food and pharmaceutical industries on the basis of IT technology.


Today I would like to share with you why I see key significance behind the trend of the "future of food," because we are dealing with nothing less than our fundamental view of our bodies. Previous generations still believed that the human body was God-given or at least "nature-given." "Given" in this case means "Not to be altered! Repair in case damages only." Our entire healthcare system is based on this conception. The majority of people today, however, have moved away from this fundamental conviction. Most view their bodies as something that can be actively shaped. They no merely longer wait until they have become ill in order to then seek treatment, but believe in their own responsibility for keeping their bodies healthy, attractive, and productive. The question of how different people view this responsibility shapes emerging business models, from organic food stores to brain drinks to medical food.


Who do you think is driving the body-optimization business? Is it the familiar players from the healthcare sector – the doctors, pharmacists, drugs companies, and health insurance companies? Or is it the food producers, supermarkets and fitness coaches?


Read my trend analysis of today to discover what dangers for established businesses lie in the "food of the future"! As you do so, ask yourself: Who will be the losers here ... and the winners?


1.       Grasshoppers for breakfast? Chocolate straight from the printer? Artificial meat? What will the food of the future look like in 5-10 years?


Ten years from now, our food will look and taste the same as today. But there will be changes in the way it is produced and, so to speak, what's "in it." This is why "grasshoppers for breakfast" are a fantasy of nutritional theorizers. Printed chocolate and artificial meat, on the other hand, will in fact become commonplace. The reason is very simple: Due to rapid population growth in Asia and Africa, more than 10 billion people will be living on earth within a few years' time. Concurrently, these countries will see the development of a middle class with considerable purchasing power who will strive to take on Western eating habits as well. Whether we find it desirable or not, in ten years the world will need much greater industrial food production than it does today. A campaign to feed 10 billion people through biological sustenance alone is a very short dead-end street.


2.       What will the nutritional trends of the future be? Where will research go in the future?


Currently two trends can be observed in the field of nutrition today. One of them is that scarce foodstuffs can now be produced in a new, industrial way. The best example of this are "printed steaks." Here animal tissue cells are mass cloned and then printed by a 3D printer - a so-called bioprinter - in the form of steaks. This type of tissue cloning is still very expensive today, but all forecasts predict that it will soon experience a rapid decline in costs. Firms that are today investing in this area predict that, within a few years, printed steaks will become much cheaper than naturally produced steaks and thus will be able to cover the emerging demand for meat in Asia and Africa.


The second major trend is called "functional food." Within the next ten years, we human beings will no longer primarily eat foods because of their taste, but because of their additional functions. Most investments here at the moment are going in the direction of "medical food," or foods that contain various health-promoting substances (which could be either natural or artificial). The prognosis is very simple: We no longer want to wait until we become sick to then treat ourselves with medication. Medical food will make it possible for us to actively attempt to keep ourselves from becoming sick in the first place. Here two industries - pharmaceuticals and food - are partially converging. New claims are being staked. There will be winners, and there will be losers. Every major food corporation is making behind-the-scenes investments in this trend.


3.       You haven't mentioned the trend towards organic, sustainable, or regional food. This trend has dominated the public debate about food in the last few years. Has it suddenly stopped to play a role here?


I haven't mentioned this trend because I have already described the two major trends that will affect the majority of the world's population. The organic food trend has always been a minority trend, and it will continue to exist as such. But the impression that has surfaced in the past that virtually everyone wants to buy organic food was - and remains - wrong. According to the definition used, this trend applies to 4-20% of the world's population. This includes the vegetarians at with 2% and those who eat fish but no meat (1.5%), as well as the more recently appearing vegans (0.4%).


If you ask people today what they want, they are almost certain to answer: organic products. But this is the wrong question in the mass market. It leads to false study results and inaccurate headlines.


This is because most everyday purchase decisions made by most people are decided on the question of what they want to pay. This is the mass-market segment. And then there are those who purposefully want to avoid being part of the masses and who also can afford to do so. These are the consumers of organic products in the premium segment. In affluent and saturated societies like Germany, the premium segment accordingly counts for 20% of the market. In poorer areas of the world, it hardly exists.


Several months ago, we described the new customer segments of the digital age in one of our trend analyses:


The new customer segments of the digital age


4.       Most parents are concerned about the proper nutrition of their children, but would probably not describe themselves as belonging to the premium segment. Where does that segment begin, and where does it end?


There is no clear answer to this question, because most of us move between segments in our purchasing habits. We purchase the standard grocery list at the local supermarket, but a few selected items at the organic foods shop. You could also put it this way: We over our need for protein and carbohydrates at the standard (or discount) supermarket. In the organic food shop we manage our identities. There we show others - and ourselves - that we are especially "organic" or concerned about nutrition. In the balance, however, we still primarily remain in the mass market.


There is no clear answer to this question, because most of us move between segments in our purchasing habits. We purchase the standard grocery list at the local supermarket, but a few selected items at the organic foods shop. You could also put it this way: We cover our need for protein and carbohydrates at the supermarket. In the organic food shop we manage our identities. There we show others - and ourselves - that we are especially "organic" or concerned about nutrition. In the balance, however, we still primarily remain in the mass market.


This is really no new trend. Do you remember the campaigns for fair-trade coffee at the turn of the millennium? Back then, the call was made for fair trade coffee to be offered everywhere.


But did that actually happen? Obviously we do have fair trade coffee today – preferably prepared by€1,000 luxury coffee machines. This is a clear premium segment. Most of us continue to drink the good old cheap coffee we have known for decades. And, between these two areas lies the third segment of coffee in portioned capsules: expensive, very environmentally unfriendly, but individualized and adaptive. This will essentially be the case for other types of food as well in the future.


5.       What will our supermarkets look like ten years from now?


This will roughly be the situation ten years from now: We will see a three-way division of supermarket customer segments. First is a small premium segment for expensive, naturally grown organic products. Everyone who truly wants to eat local, organic, and sustainably will have that option, but will have to be willing to pay a bit more. This will amount to roughly 10-20% of the population. Alongside that will be the industrially produced foodstuffs that are available even today, which will supply the mainstream customer segment with more affordable prices. Priced between these segments, a third segment will appear. In this area, foods will be produced using 3D printers, or better put: raw products will be individualized and made adaptive when processed by the 3D printing device. This will be a rapidly growing segment in Germany within 5-10 years.


6.        Will people really want this?


Yes. As we've discussed: Not everyone! But a growing customer segment will. The reason for this lies in technological development. Currently we are seeing the emergence of the major technological trend of "measuring" the human body in everyday life.


The "quantified self" movement began with step counting using heartbeat-frequency measurements and at some point will probe much more deeply into the body. A few years from now, we will wake up in the morning and our smartphone or bathroom mirror will tell us "Sven, you are 18% sick today!" That is, an 18% deviation from my normal status has been determined. And the smart object in question will say even more: "Eat products X or Y today, or consume substance Z, and tomorrow your level of illness will sink to 13%!" This technological development is well underway even now. These services are sure to appear. The only question is: What percentage of the population will trust their smartphones and adjust their behavior accordingly? According to my predictions, this will begin in a niche market but will rapidly expand from there. I am so certain here because the optimization of the human body has always been one of humanity's great needs. We continue to strive for endless youth. If the food industry can promise to give us this through the things we eat - cheap, fast, and without side effects - then this will be one of the biggest businesses for the coming years – for consumers as well as for producers!


7.       So how will the production of these individualized and adaptive products work?


We are already seeing this in labs today, one the one hand with the food manufacturers, and on the other in healthcare. In genetics, it is already an open secret that the costs for the complete sequencing of the individual human DNA will fall below $100 US before 2020. This means that people will send providers a saliva sample and will receive a file. The file lists, among other things, what illnesses are latent in the customer's genes. The most important piece of information contained, however, is what the bacteria mix in his or her body would ideally look like to prevent the outbreak of these diseases. Smartphones will be capable of measuring the difference between the current and ideal mixtures in our bodies. And this difference will be printed with our daily food: in the butter, the jams, the cheese, the milk, the cake, the coffee ... The exciting question is who will do the printing here. There will be different solutions: Some will have this kind of 3D printer in their kitchens, while others will do the printing in their local supermarket.


8.       The meat question: What will meat consumption look like in the future? Will there be more meat, or will nutrition tend towards vegetarianism/veganism? What role will be played by meat "bred" in the lab?


In a major publication recently, I saw the headline: "Germany Says Goodbye to Meat." And the reason given in the article was that the number of vegetarians has doubled from 1-2% of the overall population. In these two sentences, we clearly see the schizophrenic nature of the meat question. We are constantly over-interpreting the supposed anti-meat trend – sometimes led by special interests, and sometimes for ideological reasons.


There are two actual worldwide meat trends, a larger one and a smaller one. The smaller trend is that we will eat somewhat less meat in Europe in the future. This will be, however, a very slow and gentle decline that will hardly affect the overall balance of food consumption. Here I would warn against believing any expert opinion or study that predicts a dramatic drop in meat consumption. These predictions have absolutely no objective scientific foundation.


The major trend, on the other hand and, is the global perspective. Here, in the coming years, much more meat will be consumed thanks to the growing middle classes in Asia and Africa. So much meat will be in demand that natural production through renewable livestock will fall far short of covering the demands. On the contrary: It would be very dangerous. The methane waste gas from these masses of cows and the emissions from other farming alone would likely mean the end of the ozone layer. This means that artificially produced meat which looks and tastes exactly the same as natural meat is the cheap and climate-neutral alternative.


9.       Is it true that we will eat insects in the future? What would the advantages be? What would hold us back?


In my view this is complete nonsense. Obviously, the substances in insects are harmless or could even be beneficial to human nutrition. But nutritional habits are part of our cultural memory. They have been produced and reinforced over hundreds of years. For this reason, eating insects will remain limited to tests of courage while traveling in Asia or on reality TV. There are supposed trend researchers who predict the mass consumption of insects. These prophecies, however, are not based on human nature or behavior, but solely on the theoretical calorie counts of the contents involved – and often from their own wishful thinking. These predictions have nothing to do with serious future research.


10.     How much of our food ends up in the trash, and how can that be prevented? Will that change in the future?

It is true that far too much food is wasted today. This is a nearly endless wastage that is much greater than we will be able to afford in the world of tomorrow with it's population of 10 billion. This is also the reason why a rapidly growing re-use sector is appearing in many other industries. Currently, however, this trend is keeping a healthy distance from our food – and from the food industry. Here reigns the invention of the expiration date, which from the re-use perspective is seriously counterproductive in most cases. But here the industrial and consumer-protection lobbies are pulling together to block alternatives. No wonder: this feature means a lot of money for one party and an ideological "achievement" for the other. For this reason, we futurists see absolutely no signals in the direction of waste prevention at present.


11.   What will the restaurants of the future look like?


The restaurant sector will also see this three-way distribution of customer segments. First, in ten years we will still have fast-food restaurants for quick and, cheap meals. On the other end of the spectrum, here there will also be a premium segment with restaurants that primarily serve as identity locations. In this segment, price and quality will not play the lead role, but the fact that customers can use visits to these restaurants to show their friends, colleagues, relatives, etc., that they are unique. And between these segments, a third segment will appear where the restaurant menu and experience will be especially individualized or will perfectly adapt to the prevailing everyday needs of the customer.

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