Trends in food science and technology continue to move toward innovation as people seek healthier foods with less environmental impact.
Because 30-40% of the food grown in the United States is wasted, food producers and technologists seek to increase product shelf-life and quality. They also seek more sustainable production methods. In fact, 67% of food decision-makers want to improve the environment rather than simply not harming it.
As a result, the food industry moves away from outdated farming, packaging, and dispensing methods and into the world of robots, sensors, and kiosks. Let’s look at the trends.
- Consumer trends indicate a demand for healthy, convenient, minimally processed, and varied food products.
- Food innovations are using robots, GPS technology, and smartphone apps to improve food production processes.
- New technologies in various food industries improve and enhance customer experience.
A Look into Consumer Food Spending Trends in the U.S.
To understand where science and technology need to go, you must first understand what consumers want. Nowadays, more consumers look for:
Healthy and Local Food
Consumer trends like health and wellness, plant-based foods, and convenience continue to grow as people lead busy lives and want on-the-go solutions while remaining healthy. Food products for weight loss and immune system support increased significantly in 2020.
Consumers also lean toward foods that meet their lifestyles. Some consumers want gluten-free, paleo, or minimally processed options. Others seek vegan or vegetarian fare.
Whichever option they choose, people want to know their foods’ origin. Products with the claims “made in the USA,” “artisanal,” and “local” made the highest sales in 2020.
Ready-to-Cook Frozen Side Dishes
People’s fast-paced lives also contribute to consumer food trends. Pre-seasoned and pre-cooked meal sales are on the rise, especially side dishes. Over 55% of U.S. households bought frozen side dishes at least twice a week in 2020.
However, these people also look for healthy options. Many adults say they want more frozen meal choices that are fruit and vegetable-based or a blend of vegetables and meat.
With the world growing smaller through increased travel and global awareness, people look to other cultures and tastes for a new dining experience. As a result, unique food and seasoning combinations have grown in popularity in 2021.
This trend doesn’t just mean cultural foods. It includes interesting mashups, like waffles made of egg and cheese called chaffles.
Trends in Food Science and Technology
Many of the current food trends and innovations in food science and technology relate to sustainability. Adopting them also increases crop productivity and the safety of workers who are no longer needlessly exposed to harmful chemicals.
The following technologies are currently used in agriculture to lessen the environmental impact:
- Robots: Help track the health of crops by monitoring sensors and precise locations of problems.
- Moisture and temperature sensors: Monitor the soil so farmers can make the best decisions on when to water and plant.
- Aerial images: Monitor the health of the crops from above to find areas of concern.
- GPS: Provides accurate locations and measurements of problem areas.
- Smartphone apps: Allow farmers to track crop data from their phones with real-time updates.
The Future of Food Technology, Innovation, and Sustainability
Consumers want unique food choices that easily fit into their fast-paced lifestyles. They also want to know where their food comes from and if it is sustainably produced. Finding new technologies lies at the heart of solving these problems.
New disciplines become involved in food as their technologies become more applicable to the industry. Here are some of them:
You can find the suffix “omics” attached to many disciplines. The fields of study shown below apply to agriculture.
These fields of study can perform the following and more for the food industry:
- Enhance foods’ nutrition
- Teach more about genes and biochemical pathways
- Preserve and remediate the environment
- Reduce allergens
- Develop medicinal foods
- Produce drought-resistant plants
- Transform inedible plants into healthy, edible ones
Food Process Engineering and Material Science
Material sciences and engineering also play a part in transforming the food industry using the following technologies:
- Ohmic heating
- Pulsed light
- High pressure
These technologies improve food processing and packaging and offer a range of benefits, including:
- Improved produce quality
- Smaller environmental footprint
- Reduced energy usage
Nanotechnology also contributes to improved food safety. Hydroponic gardens may soon grow in your store to provide the freshest produce, or plant-based coatings could extend produce shelf-life.
A new trend in food science and technology is 3D printing. Singapore University of Technology and Design researchers have developed a method of 3D printing room-temperature milk products with all the nutritional benefits of cold milk.
This video provides even more future food trends and innovations:
Common Problems and Solutions for Each Industry
The food industry doesn’t only affect production. Each food industry branch has incorporated technology into its processes.
Retail stores face food waste, keeping shelves stocked, helpful customer service, and long check-out lines.
To streamline the process of getting food on the shelves, companies like Walmart use robots to check for missing labels and out-of-stock or misplaced items. In addition, stores use artificial intelligence to calculate how much to order to avoid waste, and scan and go check-out keep long lines from forming.
More technological advances are in the works as robotics and smart cameras continue to develop. Self-driving cars may soon deliver groceries to your door. Cameras and robots that can distinguish between valid customer concerns and fake requests may dominate customer service lines.
While companies try to balance human interaction, they believe faster service using technology will win in the end.
In some restaurants, the server doesn’t always assist with every step of ordering and payment. When customers abound, the following technologies help restaurants serve customers quicker and with fewer errors:
- Order and pay at the table terminals
- Handheld payment scanners
- Self-order kiosks
- Kitchen display screens
The following chart shows the highest-ranking problems in food distribution:
The chart shows that driver shortages have the greatest negative impact on distribution. Driver tracking streamlines driving routes, making drivers more efficient and cutting down on staffing needs.
In addition, monitoring sensors follow goods throughout the distribution process, find errors, and recognize shortages. Sensors also monitor food temperature and humidity to ensure safe conditions.
Visit SIAL America Events for the Latest Trends in Food Science and Technology
Find out how you can network, influence others, and learn more about the food industry at the next SIAL America food conference.