Millennials are shaping the future of food with startups and products focused on transparency and a return to nature.
For many Millennials, food is far more than what’s on their plate. It’s a culture, a status symbol, and a passion. The generation has been at the center of a shift in how food is discussed, as well as major influencers in what trends take off. Their food spending and tastes have already begun to reshape the food industry. In the last five years, the top 25 food and beverage companies have lost $18 billion in market share—and experts say Millennials and their desire for transparency are to blame. Lifeway Foods’ CEO explains, “’Millennials are driving a disruption in the food industry…I think we’ll see the food industry turned on its head.’” The trends they’re fueling include an awareness of ingredients, and a switch from low-fat to balanced diets. The generation is already outspending Boomers in some food categories, and as their spending power increases, they’ll become more and more influential—and they’re already planting the seeds (sorry) of trends that could shape the future of food.
Curious as to what we’d be eating this time next decade, we attended the Future of Food Holiday Bash event produced by Food+Tech Connect at the Redwood Studios in Brooklyn. (In a continuous stream of holiday events, ‘The Future of Food’ stands out as a fascinating indicator of where food technology is heading and you should plan on attending next year if food is your craft.) If these Millennial members of maker-culture that were eagerly showing off their innovations in Brooklyn have anything to do with it, the food industry is in for a serious makeover. Armed with an impressive array of ‘make it yourself’ tools and technologies as well as a strong desire for a healthier, more sustainable diet, the Millennial vision of the food industry can be best described as a total rejection of the consumer packaged goods industry as we currently know it.
A bold claim, we realize. Let us back it up with some examples straight from the food pyramid:
Cereals: A company that Kellogg’s and Post should be a little more than concerned about is Back To The Roots, an organic food company based in Oakland, CA that is dedicated to reconnecting people to what they eat. The startup began with the Organic Mushroom Mini-Farm, a box that allows anyone to be an at-home mushroom farmer, and followed it up with the Garden in a Can. Now, they’ve launched Stoneground Flakes, a series of organic cereals made with just a few ingredients. On their site, the founders state that they have a “passion for “undoing food” and reconnecting families to it through fun, delicious and sustainable “ready to grow” and “ready to eat” products. Their vision for the future of food is simple, organic, and transparent.
Vegetables: Edenworks has designed greenhouses specifically for flavor, creating an agricultural ecosystem of micro and macro-nutrients, beneficial bacteria, plants, and fish that makes hydroponic vegetables taste great. It designs, builds, and operates a network of automated rooftop aquaponic farms, providing organic and sustainable seafood and produce to local restaurants and food-service businesses. But these are no ordinary greenhouses. Edenworks farms ship flat and can be put together like Ikea furniture, making them more accessible to more would-be farmers, and can be monitored via smartphone, “creat[ing] the closest thing to turnkey farming that exists today.” Their vision of the future of food is that farm to table produce is out and modular, rooftop aquaponic farmstack to table is in.
Protein: The debate over whether beef, chicken, or soybeans are the most sustainable form of protein available to the human race rages on, but a new, unlikely candidate is shaking things up. Crickets! In January 2013 Greg Sewitz and Gabi Lewis ordered 2,000 live crickets to their house on the campus of Brown University, wanting to find out if they could make a food product using insects that actually tasted good. Armed with Google research, a vague recipe for cricket flour, an oven, and a blender, they began Exo. Now, they’re the makers of a variety of “soy, dairy, grain and gluten-free, Paleo, and environmentally-friendly” protein bars made with cricket flour. Following a massively oversubscribed Kickstarter campaign, Gabi has turned down a job at a hedge fund and Greg has deferred grad school all because their vision of the future of food centers on insect protein.
With these three examples as your compass, you can expect that Millennials will move the food industry toward a natural, organic, transparent, sustainable and eco-friendly future.
P.S. Here’s the full list of the food innovators that were there showing off their innovations at the Future of Food Bash in Brooklyn:
Ark Reactor: Ark Reactor is a robotic fermentation system that produces personalized probiotics, including beverages, medicines, and fertilizers.
Back To The Roots: A rapidly emerging organic food company that is dedicated to the movement of making food personal again and reconnecting families to what they eat!
Bandar Foods: Bandar Foods reimagines authentic Indian flavors for everyday American eating occasions through its Indian-inspired condiments and Naan Chips.
Edenworks: Edenworks is creating the future of farming: data-driven urban food infrastructure. It designs, builds, and operates a network of automated rooftop aquaponic farms, providing organic and sustainable seafood and produce to local food service businesses.
Exhibit C.: EXHIBIT C. is a fresh culinary event space powered by Chef Daphne Cheng and a curated community of talented chefs. It host classes, dinners, and events celebrating food, especially haute vegetable cuisine, and the many ways it influences our culture.
Exo: Exo is the market leader in insect-based protein – a revolutionary and sustainable alternative protein source. Exo’s all-natural cricket-flour protein bars are developed by a three-Michelin-star chef and are made with simple, whole ingredients.
food360: food360 is a food + innovation design caterer offering high-end food performance experiences.
Foodpairing: Foodpairing® is a creative food-tech agency that has developed one of the world’s largest ingredient and flavor databases and a series of unique algorithms capable of calculating the world’s best surprising and novel food & drink pairings.
Grove: Grove builds beautiful products to make local, healthy food accessible to everyone on the planet.
Homemade: Homemade is a way to connect people through food. It is a platform for cooks to share their meals and story with the community.
Misfit Juicery: MISFIT Juicery makes cold-pressed juice out of fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste either because they are excess or don’t meet the high aesthetic standards of commercial retailers.
Ox Verte: Ox Verte is a forward-thinking food seasonal catering startup that caters to the health-conscious and hungry alike.
Radicle Farm Company: Radicle Farm Company grows outstanding living salad greens and aggregates fantastic produce from local farms that do not have a viable marketplace. They provide an alternative to the generic bagged and boxed greens that consumers are accustomed to: salad that is distinct, delicious and fresh.
The Purple Carrot: The Purple Carrot ships healthy ingredients and delicious recipes to busy, health-conscious people, using only whole food plant-based ingredients.