Good Thyme

Hunger will set new standards

Perspective by:
Research Squad
Moxi Ventures

Policy and public sentiment will reset the table.

Food reform is on the menu. Across all levels of government, and from the global to the local scale, rising obesity rates in industrialized nations and a demand for clean eating are creating new appetites for rethinking our approaches to diet.

A heightened awareness of the risk of sugar has prompted the World Health Organization to set new standards for both adults and children.[1] Many countries, from Denmark to South Africa to Mexico are imposing taxes on sugary drinks. Mexico thinks 20,000 lives and $980 million can be saved over ten years through lower consumption.[2] In the US, too, several leading cities have seen campaigns to start taxing sodas.[3]

A growing recognition of the environmental cost of eating meat is prompting governments around the world to cut consumption, whether through central diktat or behavioral nudges. By changing its government-issued dietary regulations, China has pledged to cut meat consumption by an ambitious 50 percent by 2050. Less keen on centralized regulation, European countries like the UK are looking to achieve the same ends by encouraging individuals to make different choices in their diets.[4]

And people are responding by changing their consumption habits on their own. Consumers increasingly crave fresh, clean, and healthy eating. Nearly a third of Millennials prefer organic foods – with the vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatories that do more than simply fill your stomach.[5] They’re buying ever more authentic, locally sourced products amid a boom in the number of farmers’ markets.[6] And they want much greater clarity about what they’re eating, spawning a huge shift in the way brands disclose their food products’ ingredients.[7]

It all adds up to a clear message: a growing appetite for change in our food.


Functional food becomes the focus.

The days of restrictive diets may be numbered. Consumers are increasingly forgoing the idea of limiting their intake of certain food types. Instead, they’re looking to add foods with targeted health benefits to their diets. This is the age of ‘functional food’. So, whether its manuka honey, avocado oil, or powdered turmeric, we’re getting a taste for what’s good for us. [8]

That’s changing our drinking habits too. Consumers are wising up to supposedly healthy beverages, and are switching to functional drinks in ever greater numbers. So it’s out with sugar-laden vitamin drinks and iced teas, and in with vinegar or charcoal infusions and Kombucha floats.[9]

When the healthy eating trend intersects with the digital economy, interesting things happen. Take PlateJoy, for instance. This recent startup has joined the meals-on-demand revolution with a menu service so finely customized to a subscriber’s food and lifestyle preferences it can feel like having a personal chef for every meal. Using a comprehensive questionnaire, the company can match menus to individual dietary requirements with remarkable precision.[10]

Technology is also finding ways of cutting the carbon footprint of the world’s appetite for meat. And cellular agriculture is set to be the next big thing. A blend of medical science and food production is helping create meat-like foods that stay fresh longer and are safer to eat – and have a smaller environmental impact to boot. They can even be tailored to individual nutritional requirements.[11]

Impossible Burger, for example, is creating burgers with all the sights, sounds, aromas, textures, and flavors of real beef – but made entirely from plant materials. The result: 95 percent less land used, 75 percent less water required, and 87 percent fewer greenhouse gases emitted.[12]

So, what’s at the top of the menu for the food industry in 2018? It’s the healthy option of course.

On demand is still in demand.

Food retail is about to get the Amazon treatment. With its acquisition of Whole Foods, the global tech giant is getting a direct line of sight into the food buying habits and behaviors of millions of Americans. And if the company’s past form is any guide, that means we should expect new levels of hyper-customization and real-time on-demand fulfillment in our day-to-day food purchasing.[13]

The personalization that digital enables will change our thinking about diet and general fitness. We’re all individuals, after all. And we’re looking for the right nutrition for our own particular lifestyle and genetic makeup. DNAFit is one of a growing number of businesses that are meeting this need through tailored fitness and nutrition advice based on a DNA analysis of each individual customer.[14]

This era of real-time digital food retail calls for an approach to food production that can meet 24/7/365 demand without harming the planet. And with their 69,000 square foot vertical farm in Newark, New Jersey, startup AeroFarms might be on to something. The company grows greens on trays stacked 30 feet high, supplying the plants with LED lighting and nutrient-dense water. They monitor tens of thousands of data points to find the perfect balance of growing conditions.[15]

[1] World Health Organization; “Sugars intake for adults and children – Guideline;” published 2015

[2] Los Angeles Times; “Mexico's soda tax will save 18,900 lives and more than $983 million over 10 years, study says;” posted November 2, 2016

[3] Bloomberg; “The Anti-Sugar Fad Is Now a Trend;” posted August 18, 2017

[4] Phys Org; “Changing our diet to save the planet;” posted May 26, 2017

[5] Inc.; “A Look at What's Ahead for The Food Business In 2017;” posted December 14, 2016

[6] USDA news release; “New Data Reflects the Continued Demand for Farmers Markets;” posted August 4, 2014

[7] Chicago Tribune; “How millennials are driving movement for clean labels on our food;” posted February 16, 2016

[8] Caroline Halter; “What Google Can Tell Us About This Year’s Biggest Food Trends;” posted August 31, 2016

[9] MyDomaine; “The 8 Major Health and Wellness Trends of 2017 (and What's Out);” posted September 4, 2017

[10] Business Insider UK; “This new meal service sent me recipes that were so customized I felt like was consulting a personal chef;” posted August 3, 2016

[11] Forbes; “Ten Food Trends That Will Shape 2017;” posted December 14, 2016


[13] Forbes; “Amazon's Acquisition of Whole Foods Is About Two Things: Data and Product;” posted August 2, 2017

[14] MindBodyGreen; “11 Wellness Trends to Watch In 2017;” posted December 8, 2016

[15] Business Insider UK; “7 food startups that could change the way you eat;” posted July 10, 2017