Today's food landscape looks a lot different than it did 10 years ago. Fast casual—not fast food—dominates. Your next meal is just a tap of the iPhone away. McDonald's is toying with the idea of kale. These trends are just the beginning of completely new ways Americans have started to view the dinner plate.
For a look at how things will look as we approach the next decade, we asked leaders from Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies in Food to predict the most significant trends of the next five years.
On-demand eating will go healthy and mainstream; Seamless will no longer be reserved for nights on the couch with a heaping bowl of Indian food.
Advances in technology have already redefined the way we get our food. "Technology is creating new opportunities for customers to access their meals: mobile ordering, delivery services, kiosks, order for pickup, order to your table," says Panera Bread's head chef, Dan Kish. Services like Munchery, Plated, and Blue Apron that deliver fresh ingredients to your doorstep will become more common, says Hampton Creek's Morgan Oliveira. "I think in the now culture we have created, services like these that make it easier to eat and cook with ease will see an increase in popularity."
And since we will get more of our meals delivered to our doorstep, that means bringing meals back into the home. Family dinner time will be big, and Valentine's Day will become known as the biggest dine-in event of the year, predicts Munchery.
An interest in knowing what's actually in your food is on the rise. "Increasingly, there is an awareness of the prevalence of artificial additives, and a movement to 'unengineer' the food we eat," said Kish. "Major food and restaurant companies are responding." Last year, for example, Panera made a commitment to remove all artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, and sweeteners from its menu by the end of 2016.
Meanwhile, the science of pre- and probiotics has already found the benefits of adding certain bacteria to foods. "The gut is a hugely important organ that has been too long overlooked," says Exo's Greg Sewitz. "Products will become stuffed with bacteria (the good kind!) to help alleviate everything from digestion to skin ailments."
Remember when fat was enemy number one for health freaks? "Fat is back," says Sewitz. "The pendulum has swung back in favor of this misunderstood macronutrient, and most are now recognizing fat as nutrient-dense fuel that does not, in fact, make us fat."
In 10 years, our understanding of health, ingredients, and food will further dispel misconceptions about what is and isn't good for us. Restaurants will have to cater to a consumer with more information. "With a revolving door of diet fads and definitions of 'healthy' courting the spotlight, people are looking for restaurants that empower them with a wide variety of options and the ability to customize their plate," says Panera's Kish. "As diets change year after year, people will be looking for restaurants that provide the options necessary to live out their own definition of health and wellness."
Many of the most important advances in food will happen on the farm, from new sensors on equipment to smarter soil. "Understanding the composition of the soil is critical to developing insights and realizing better outcomes on the farm," said a representative from The Climate Corporation (which recently acquired the agriculture startup 640 Labs). "During the growing season, remote sensing systems in equipment can enable real-time monitoring of actual field conditions."
The folks from WISErg added: "The science of the soil, specifically microbial life, will have an increasing impact on our knowledge of soil fertility, crop production, and the nutrient quality of the food we grow/eat." In fact, WISErg thinks that the new green revolution "will depend on improvement to marginal soils, as opposed to the 'original green revolution,' which depended on higher rates of fertilizer and dedication to selected mono-crops."
At the same time, more restaurants will follow in the footsteps of Chipotle, using more sustainable ingredients. "Changing just a few ingredients to more sustainable options can have a big (positive) impact on the environment as well as health factors," says Oliveira.