The Future of Food & Drink

Quorn technologies, powdered ice cream, seaweed farming and microalgae, and ultra processed foods

November 30, 2023
Naomi Barry
Graphic image of chefs in futurustic restaurant
November 30, 2023
Naomi Barry

As another year draws to a close, one of my favourite reads is always the predictions for what the year ahead might hold.  And when it comes to food and drink, there’s always plenty to digest (no pun intended), whether it’s new flavours, hot products, the weird and wonderful, or at home vs eating out.  Let’s be honest, sometimes the ‘what next’ can seem more ‘yeah, right?’, unrealistic or too forward thinking…  but it’s always exciting to see what lands, and where we make progress!

And luckily for us, the clever team at The Food People hosted their annual food and beverage trend summit last week – helping us all to ‘Shift the Future of Food & Drink by harnessing the power of trends & foresight’ which gave us plenty of food for thought for the year ahead.

According to Charles Banks, Co-Founder of The Food People, the word for 2024 is agility – move, respond and adapt quickly which plays into The Food People’s theme for the year ahead: Adapt to Thrive – harness knowledge and apply technology to adapt to how we are living in the now.

This overall trend is backed by a further ten trends, derived from a huge amount of global intelligence, human wisdom and frameworks, for us to take forward into the new year.

It was certainly a day packed full of inspiration from industry experts, set against the backdrop of what’s been a tough few years for the industry – living in an unstable market since the global pandemic, ongoing global conflicts plus a rise in interest rates, all whilst navigating our way through a cost-of-living crisis.  While inflation is starting to stabilise, there are still so many factors at play and, at a macro level, economic recovery won’t be instant.

So, what’s instore for 2024? 

Harnessing AI

Not a day goes by when we don’t hear about AI.  The technology taking the year by storm, has become ‘accessible to all’, and next year it’s predicted to be even bigger.  It’s a fascinating development with so much ‘how do they do that’ factor driving creativity across the globe.  And it’s an exciting time to think about harnessing AI, with a plethora of opportunities to revolutionise every industry. The winners here are thought to be those combining AI with human intelligence – to speed up scientific breakthroughs, create uniformity in foodservice and reduce food waste and inefficiencies, improve agricultural sustainability and personalise consumer experience.  There is of course a fear of the unknown here, and it will be interesting to see how far we push the AI boundaries in the coming year. 

Pillars of protein

As we mentioned in last week’s blog – plant-based proteins are well accepted by the mainstream.  While it’s been a turbulent year, we should expect to see big changes, and market consolidation over the coming months as brands revisit their strategy, product range and respond to consumer needs.  The next step it seems is towards cultivated and lab made products (already available on small scale in the US). It will be interesting to see the uptake and consumer barometer here before entering the UK market.  While biomass fermentation farming technologies are on the rise too (think Quorn farming technologies to grow an abundance of protein rich foods). And finally, for the ‘what? factor’… inspired by NASA, moves are being made to maximise the elements found in air to create protein!  Don’t expect to see this one overnight, but advancements here could be out of this world!

Awesome ambient

The ambient revolution! Yes, those familiar tins in your cupboard may have just secured a top seat at the table. Best loved for their convenience, and often low price point, ambient tins are set to respond with creativity.  Look out for tins and jars going gourmet, while meal kits are set to take inspiration from world cuisine – making cooking and recreation of dishes at home even easier. It’s likely we’ll also see more affordable and convenient powdered solutions (we quite like the sound of ‘just add milk’ powdered ice cream for those emergency evening treats!). Elsewhere, store cupboard essentials like millets and legumes, as well as ancient grains, are being used more in baking – and low cost, convenient carbs like noodles, pasta and rice will once again rise up the rankings too.

Simple gourmet

Perhaps unsurprisingly given rising costs, consumers are seeking out comfort and familiarity from food.  Noone wants to spend money on something they’re not sure they’ll like, so this trend is all about keeping things simple, ‘results guaranteed’ food but with a cheffy twist.  Think elevating well-loved staples like hot dogs, chicken wings and burgers with extravagant extras.  Customers will also be looking for food with a story and heritage.  Here predictions suggest a rise in gumbo and hush puppies (deep-fried cornmeal-based batter, often served alongside seafood or other deep-fried food) when it comes to Americana, and a return to simple, rustic, French dishes like steak frites, rotisserie chicken, and plenty of butter – sounds right up our street!


Umami 3.0

A loanword from Japan, umami is translated as ‘pleasant savoury taste’, and it appears we can’t get enough of it!  It’s time to get creative by combining bold tastes and cuisines – the experts predict the use of unexpected ingredients like olive, black garlic and tomato in desserts.  And a savoury take on our favourite cocktails too – think avocado, sweet potato and even rice!

Retro throwback

Giving another nod to comfort and familiarity – retro dishes from the 50-80s are back! Nostalgia is set to be a big player when it comes to creating dishes and menus as we seek out a simpler way of life.  Nothing used to beat mum emerging from the kitchen with a Viennetta in hand!  Expect a resurgence of vol au vents, prawn cocktail, meatloaf, trifles and knickerbocker glories, accompanied by sherry cocktails and dirty martinis.

Regenerate land and sea

We’re all familiar with the term sustainable, with brands also communicating their credentials to consumers, but in 2024 ‘regenerative’ is set to replace the familiar. Creating a feeling of positive change, regenerative is thought to be a more ‘doing and progressive’ term.  This will go hand in hand with taking consumers on an educational journey to establish buy in and understanding. This trend will extend to the sea too, with more awareness for aquaculture, seaweed farming and microalgae. 

Smart plants

Thinking back to school science lessons, plants were always pretty cool, and they’re set to get even cooler!  Thanks to molecular farming, scientists are turning plants into ‘protein factories’.  This combined with gene-editing has a host of potential advantages, using tech to overcome issues with waste, drought resistance, creating super flavour and nutritional credentials.  With advancements in vertical farming too this trend feels really exciting – creating endless possibilities for application across the whole food chain and ultimately, reducing waste. 

Hack my health

We’ve seen the rise of personalised beauty products and vitamins tailored to individual needs and it’s set to dictate the direction of travel in health and wellbeing with a trend towards ‘proactive prevention’ and ‘optimised living’. We want to reverse the aging process, live longer and look after ourselves, so are prepared to spend big here.  We’ll see a rise in ‘what works for me’ whether that’s meditation and mindfulness or personalised nutrition, biohacking, eating for life stages (with so many opportunities, this could be huge) and weight management. 

Ultra processed impact

As the conversation around Ultra Processed Foods (UPF) continues expect more debate between big health and big food into links between what we eat, how it’s processed, and how it impacts our long-term health.  As part of the summit, Dr Kevin Hall, senior investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases shared insight into the work being done to explore UPFs, or those foods in the Nova 4 Group.

There are so many factors at play, and the truth is that we just don’t know enough.  Around the globe consumers are cooking less, looking for convenience and don’t have the time, equipment or skill to make food from scratch.  At the same time, there’s been an increase in chronic related diseases. Dr Hall has been conducting research into the impact of UPF and HFSS diets, but there’s still no proof as to what is causing the said effects of UPF.

The outtake was clear – more investment is needed in research.  Simply reformulating products without knowing the facts doesn’t address the bigger problem.  And to quote Dr Hall: “we’re living in a world where there cost of food is increasing and demonisation of UPF is a luxury the world can’t afford to embrace right now.”

And that concludes the top ten trends to expect in 2024!  An absolutely fascinating forward look into what the next 12 months might hold.  On one hand so much of the future relies on advancements in technology to improve the quality and supply in the food chain, using tech to ensure food security and feeding a growing population.  But on the other hand, we’re seeking out comfort and looking to the past for reassurance and inspiration in difficult times. 

It’s a meeting of two-worlds and it’s exciting to think where we might be at this time next year.  Or perhaps I won’t be writing another similar article, because AI will be doing it for me, while I sit back and sip on a rice negroni accompanied by air protein snacks. Now we’re talking!