The megatrend neo-ecology is in the process of rearranging the coordinates of our economic and social system. The food industry in particular will present itself as a sustainability pioneer rethinking old familiar production and consumption patterns. Welcome to the “age of beyond”!
The past year 2019 represents a social turning point. A new global environmental movement has catapulted the issues of climate protection and sustainability to the top of the political, economic and overall social agenda. And after a period of grand words, discussions and disputes, the coming years will be marked by action. Simply because they have to. Sustainability will becoe – no, better is – entrepreneurial business case, political vision and social paradigm.
“The food industry as a seismograph for social change is an exciting arena for future trends.”
In this context, the food industry as a seismograph for social change is an extremely exciting future arena for future trends. For it is here in particular that new lifestyles and, with them, new products, services and business models can be observed, which, starting from avant-gardists and innovators, are making their way into the social mainstream.
For some time now, and not least since #FridaysForFuture, the issues of sustainability, regionality and transparency have been of particular importance to consumers when buying food. As a result companies, above all large corporations, have their backs to the wall.
With the current year 2020, demand will rise again and thus become the central factor in the purchasing decision – whether in the supermarket, on the farm or on the laptop at home. More than two thirds of Germans are buying more sustainable products today than five years ago and almost 80 percent intend to make their consumption increasingly sustainable within the next five years. Companies active in the food industry should therefore adapt to these needs today in order to be able to successfully compete in the market tomorrow.
Against the background of big social challenges, such as climate change, three central food trends in terms of sustainability can already be identified today.
Beyond Meat & Milk: Food is becoming more and more plant-based
Especially in the German-speaking world, food is particularly at the crossroads of enjoyment, ethics and health. According to the latest Ernährungsreport, 63 percent of the German population would eat significantly less meat to protect the environment. “Plant-based” is the word of the hour after vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian and brings together the megatrends sustainability and health – nutrition for the good of the planet and for oneself. Not only start-ups, but now also many large corporations are completely rethinking animal products such as meat, fish and milk and are bringing plant-based alternatives to market.
- After Beyond Meat went through the roof in Germany with its plant-based burger patties, various companies are following suit – be it Nestlé (soon to be followed by “Bratwurst”), Unilever or Iglo
- As a traditional sausage company, Rügenwalder Mühle already generates more than 40% of its revenues with meat replacement products; and thanks to Rügenwalder, the self-service bakery Backwerk has recently introduced a vegetarian hot dog for the first time in Germany
- IKEA is bringing a vegan version of its classic Swedish meatball Kotbullar to stores this year
- Planted from Switzerland produces meat from plants, but with a significantly reduced list of ingredients – only pea protein, pea fibre, rapeseed oil and Swiss water are used
- Veganz experiments with a vegan smoked salmon based on seaweed and shows that after meat, fish can now also be produced plant-based
- Frosta launches a plant-based frozen range for the mass catering industry – meatballs, fried fish and crispy fillets “fresh from the field”
- Good Catch goes further and creates vegan fish and seafood alternatives based on six legumes with algae extracts for the umami taste
- Starbucks wants to reduce its milk consumption in the future in favor of plant-based milk alternatives
Beyond Plastic: Packaging is becoming more and more plastic free
Plastic has become an elementary part of our everyday life, especially when handling food. But since it has become clear that tiny plastic particles enter our bodies through our food, voices for alternatives have become louder and louder. The huge amounts of packaging waste and the realisation that we are far from collecting and recycling all the plastic we produce and use, not only increases the social, but also the political pressure on companies. As a result, research into and the introduction of bio-based, biodegradable, 1:1 reusable or completely avoidable packaging continues to progress.
- Frosta says goodbye to the plastic bag and has brought out a paper bag for the freezer that does not require any plastic coating or film
- Ritter Sport launches a prototype and packed one of its chocolates in a specially developed paper
- Carlsberg has been experimenting with its “Green Fibre Bottle” with paper-based beer bottles for some time now and also abolished the plastic six-pack holder with the “Snap Pack” (special glue)
- Rewe, Penny and Edeka use the so-called “coating” technology and make packaging of fruits and vegetables completely unnecessary; the reason: an odourless, tasteless, invisible, protective layer made of sugar residues, cellulose and vegetable oils slows down the ripening process
- MakeGrowLab is developing an alternative called “Scoby” (short for “Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast”), which is obtained from agro-industrial by-products by fermentation and can be eaten after use or completely composted
- Loop as a platform of the recycling company Terracycle offers branded products from numerous manufacturers via the online shop, which are delivered in reusable containers and are collected after use, hygienically cleaned and refilled
Beyond Waste: Food production & trade are becoming more and more circular
It is now also clear that the topic of “zero waste” is much more comprehensive than the sole focus on packaging. Our affluent society has led to us throwing away 40-50 percent of the food we produce, although the absolute majority of it is still edible. As a result, supposed food waste becomes the starting point for innovative business models that bring the approach of the circular economy to the food industry as well.
- I myself have founded the food start-up Knärzje, with which I rescue surplus organic bread to brew a zero waste beer
- Banabooms, a project by two students from the University of Hohenheim, rescues discarded bananas and recycles them into a crispy, delicious breakfast cereal
- ZestUp is a soft drink that extracts its entire fruit content from the peel of organic fruits that are by-products of juice production
- Rettergut has launched a mixed chocolate, which gives the batch separating mass (when changing the type of chocolate during production) a second chance
- Dörrwerk catches fruit and vegetables that are too crooked and misshapen for retail and uses them to produce fruit paper and chips for snacking
- Sirplus rescues surplus or expired food from retailers and sells it much cheaper in four stores in Berlin, its own online shop and soon as a franchise also stationary beyond Berlin
- Too Good To Go is the app against food waste and saves unsold food with its users through cooperation with gastronomy and retail businesses
Even if at the end of the day all these stories are just small islands of rethinking in a big ocean of the further-as-yet, one can inevitably notice: something is happening in the food industry. The signs of entrepreneurial activity are shifting towards a more sustainable business ethic. However, the motives are now fundamentally different: Where the eco-pioneers of the last millennium were intrinsically motivated, today it is mainly for external reasons – because sustainability by now is a business case, which increasingly reconciles economic success with social and ecological factors.