Food in a minute

Why the food in­dus­try may be shaken up

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - FRONT PAGE - By pro­fes­sor Richard Archer

Pre­dict­ing the fu­ture of food tech­nol­ogy is not easy. Who could have thought in 2004 that so many kitchens would sport a cof­fee ma­chine in 2014?

The fu­ture of food and the tech­nol­ogy that makes it are in­ex­tri­ca­ble. In today’s ur­ban world tech­nol­ogy maketh the food and the tech­nolo­gies to come next de­pend on what we the con­sumer want next.

One thing has be­come clear about mod­ern con­sumer trends though – they bi­fur­cate, they split, they con­tra­dict. More peo­ple want con­ve­nience, fast prepa­ra­tion time; but those same peo­ple are spend­ing more time in the week­end at “real” cook­ing.

More peo­ple want food that is healthy, high fi­bre and good for you; but those same peo­ple are driv­ing higher sales in gourmet ice-cream, cof­fee and cho­co­late.

And trends fool you. More voices are raised against sug­ary soft drinks, but co­las have been in near-ter­mi­nal de­cline for a decade. We see cof­fee and en­ergy drink con­sump­tion ris­ing yet the to­tal con­sump­tion of caf­feine is in de­cline.

We worry about pro­cessed foods and long lists of E-num­bers but for 10 years new su­per­mar­ket prod­uct list­ings in the United States have been dom­i­nated by cleaner la­bels, lighter this, less that and free of the other.

The in­dus­try has pulled huge amounts of salt and sugar out of food but un­der-the-radar they are fear­ful that con­sumers will see “low-salt” or “re­duced sugar” as mean­ing “re­duced f lavour”. But at the same time the con­fec­tionery aisles are get­ting larger. Our most trusted brands are con­fec­tionery brands. Healthy food of­fer­ings are there and grow­ing so why do we put so much sugar and fat in our trol­leys?

The big­gest sin­gle driver in the fu­ture is pop­u­la­tion. There will be bil­lions more peo­ple on the planet in a gen­er­a­tion or two. And they will largely be liv­ing in cities, so their food will need to be pre­served and trans­ported to them – it will be pro­cessed.

An­i­mal pro­tein, so in­ef­fi­cient to pro­duce, will be ex­pen­sive as agri­cul­tural land and wa­ter get scarce. Places such as New Zealand, if we are smart, won’t be sell­ing bulk dairy and meat pro­tein but the means by which oth­ers can ex­tend their vegetable pro­teins. We will sell them nutri­tion and f lavour and bind­ing prop­er­ties.

I hope that in 25 years’ time we don’t sell just red meat but ‘New World Meats’ in just the way we de­vel­oped a whole in­dus­try around “New World Wines” (wines pro­duced out­side the tra­di­tional wine-grow­ing ar­eas of Europe and Mid­dle East).

It will take a group of peo­ple like today’s wine­mak­ers to fo­ment this rev­o­lu­tion. Our New World Meats would have the f lavour in­ten­sity and tex­tures of French char­cu­terie, Ibe­rian or Parma ham, Bul­gar­ian salami, Ger­man wurst but be lower in sodium and ni­trite. It will use new tech­nolo­gies and great ‘NZ Inc’ mar­ket­ing – just like we did with wine.

New World Meats will be celebrations of New Zealand, meat grown in park-like farms and forests, pro­cessed in mod­ern fac­to­ries yet with an ar­ti­san im­age. To­mor­row’s healthy diner will have smaller amounts of red meat but more richly f lavoured by mix­tures of old­fash­ioned fer­men­ta­tion and mod­ern treat­ments. Ki­wis will be­come con­nois­seurs of pre­served meats loved across Asia.

But don’t ex­pect to see test-tube grown steaks any time soon. Large scale cell cul­ture still needs vat­loads of growth fac­tors and hor­mones many of which only come from killing an­i­mals. Un­til a large syn­thetic growth fac­tor in­dus­try grows to sup­port phar­ma­ceu­tics I can’t see mus­cle tis­sue cul­ture for food be­ing more than ex­pen­sive nov­elty for the rich.

And will we see 3D food print­ing in our kitchens? One day in­evitably yes – no tech­nol­ogy as sim­ple and ubiq­ui­tous as 3D print­ing es­capes be­ing re­cruited to food man­u­fac­ture. This one is per­fectly suited to the home kitchen.

But the se­cret: don’t ex­pect in­side 100 years that you can make a good ana­logue of a fa­mil­iar food. In­stead, the prin­ter will make foods that don’t ex­ist yet, that don’t have names yet. And it will make food that you de­sign, con­ceive, name and per­haps sell.

So here are some of my pre­dic­tions for food tech­nol­ogy:

More of our food will be pro­cessed but the pro­cess­ing will be gen­tler with fewer ingredients.

More ready-to-eat, fac­to­rypre­pared meals, some shipped round the world for in­sti­tu­tional meals. New Zealand will have 5% of the world mar­ket us­ing ro­botic as­sem­bly in near ster­ile rooms.

More plant pro­tein will be used to sim­u­late the meats we love but with meat used to round out nutri­tion and pro­vide f lavour. We have the tech­nolo­gies half de­vel­oped al­ready.

In­sects and al­gae in­dus­tri­ally-grown on waste streams as food for fish and chicken.

Tech­nolo­gies to make non-calorific ingredients to re­duce the fat­ten­ing power of foods for the rich.

Tech­nolo­gies to en­cap­su­late, coat, pro­tect and ul­ti­mately re­lease valu­able nu­tri­ents and bioac­tive food com­pounds.

More of our in­dus­trial ingredients will be un­re­fined, com­plex, and richer in mi­cronu­tri­ent but this will take se­ri­ous food science and tech­nol­ogy to re­gain the pre­dictabil­ity that re­fined ingredients give us today. Pro­fes­sor Richard Archer is head of Massey Univer­sity’s In­sti­tute of Food, Nutri­tion

and Hu­man Health and will be speak­ing on these pre­dic­tions at a sym­po­sium cel­e­brat­ing Massey’s 50th year of food tech­nol­ogy

ed­u­ca­tion on June 30.

Pro­fes­sor Richard Archer pre­dicts peo­ple will one day print their food, but not in our life­time, and it won’t look like the food we eat today.

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