December 4, 2023

These days, there’s so much innovation going on in the food and beverage industry. Where is the industry headed – and what do consumers think?

From plant- and fermentation-based to cultivated meat and insect proteins, the food and beverage industry is busy cooking up a lot of new ideas. And for good reason:

By 2050, the world will need 56% more food to feed nearly 10 billion people. At the same time, we need to do it without using more land and while lowering emissions.

So, we need to rethink food. But food innovation is complex, and consumer perception of New Food technologies is sometimes a barrier to real breakthroughs. Some see it as a way to address challenges like food security and sustainability. Others are more hesitant, perhaps concerned about ethics and how these new products are produced. 

In our latest Customer index, we explore the latest innovations in food and look at what the future of health and nutrition holds. 

A person holding a glass with fermented food

"Artificial" meat and "scary" insects

Let’s start out by looking at some of the innovations leading the way today. One example is insects, which are rich in nutrients and protein and easy to cultivate. Eating insects is far from being a new concept as they’re already eaten by two billion people across approximately 80 countries. 

“Four different insects are currently approved by the EU for human consumption,” explains Anders Nelving, Line Solution Manager at Tetra Pak. “But there are certain barriers edible insects need to break down. Around three in ten consumers find the concept disgusting – and just as many are scared to try it.”

Another example is cultivated meat. It’s a relatively young and very fast-moving technology, and among consumers, it’s considered good for animal welfare and the planet. On the other hand, it’s still quite expensive, and more than a third of consumers consider it artificial.

“It’s very clear that cultivated meat has some ways to go. It scores low on trust, and one reason for this could be that many consumers prefer natural products,” explains Anders.

So, when do preferences tip for the majority? As Anders sees it, it’s all about weighing everything. Sometimes, perceived negatives like ethics can be outweighed by potential positive factors like cost, sustainability or health benefits.

And that brings us to Anders’ next point: How we talk about New Food. 

We need to stop talking about alternatives – and embrace the new normal 

Vocabulary is a key part of how we perceive things – including how we perceive new innovations and products. Just take tofu, which has become an alternative to meat for many. But Anders feels we should stop creating “alternative” products.

“Tofu has been around for a long time – and many people are happy to consume it for what it is. We risk tying ourselves to this “alternative” narrative. Maybe it’s necessary in the beginning, but is it really what is going to help convert the majority of people? I’m not sure,” says Anders.

Instead, he suggests, the industry should focus on getting the quality right, creating new products that can do something special and are so good that people can’t ignore them. That’s how habits change.

“If we continue down this “alternative” path, people have this expectation that they’re not getting the real thing. I think it’s more powerful to create a new real thing that is more sustainable, cheaper, healthier, whatever it might be,” he says.

A burger with a pink background

The uniquely human quest for pleasure and indulgence

Because what it really comes down to is taste. According to Johan Jörgensen, founder of Sweden Foodtech, “A good food system is good for you. It’s good for the planet. And it absolutely tastes good as well. Any type of change that we try to implement must be fuelled by taste.”

And Anders agrees, pointing to diet products. They need to have the same indulgence factor and good flavour as what they’re replacing, just with fewer calories. 

“Everything that’s been done in the diet industry has been aiming to give us the same pleasure we get from regular food,” says Anders. 

And isn’t that pleasure we get from food and drink one of the things that distinguishes us from other animals, asks Anders?

“That thing about sitting at a table and eating and dining and allowing the meal to take longer time than it has to is, for me, very human. The same goes for drinking when you're not thirsty,” he says.

And in a sense, that’s exactly what New Foods have to accomplish:

“We’re doing the same kind of dieting – we’re just dieting on Mother Earth instead. Whether you’re looking at carbon emissions or water or whatever other resource, we have to go on a diet. And most of us have a really hard time being on any diet,” Anders says.

We need to improve taste and quality – but how? We need to work together, according to Anders. And while that might sound simple at first, it gets a little more complex when you look at how the New Food and beverage sector is developing.

You can’t change the world – and feed 10 billion people – alone 

“New Food innovation is maturing, going from being almost university-based, focused on research and testing, openly sharing information and very enthusiastic about possibilities to being more formalised,” explains Anders.

And more standardised approaches are necessary to scale up new ideas and products, but the start-ups and companies at the heart of New Food innovation are often what Anders calls ‘philanthropists’.

“They have a lot of ideas that can change the world, but there’s not always one standard approach that fits each company. If we really want to change the world, we need to work closely together and learn from each other,” says Anders. “No one can do it alone. We all have different areas of expertise, and we need to support each other.”

Our Product and Food Development Centres play a crucial role here, functioning as miniature plants where customers can access all the necessary technologies and expertise that’s needed for a complete food production line. They can do tests to formulate ingredients and optimise both the process and recipe. 

“We support a lot of customers with their New Food innovations. And it goes beyond just technology. You need the right insights, resources and connections as well. Things happen so fast in the New Food space and we’re all learning as we go so we need to continue networking and push forward together as an industry,” says Anders.

Because ultimately, we’re all working towards the same goal – and every part of the industry is needed. Whether we all end up eating insects or cultivated meat, we need more food for more people. And we need to do it fast.

Find out more about our New Food solutions

Looking for support on your food innovation journey? Find out how we can help.

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