Food is something that unites us all and as a basic human need the essential nature of food consumption remains unchanged, as it has done for millions of years. However, almost everything else about our food – how it is produced, how it is sold and delivered and the setting in which it is consumed- could be facing some of the biggest shake-ups in its history.
The food industry is irrevocably linked with environmental issues, politics, economics, culture and science around the world. We must understand that the forces determining what eventually arrives on our plate are now truly global. Seasonal fruit and vegetables from far-off places are now generally available in our shops and restaurants all year round, every day. But our expectations to have exotic foods out of season and our growing demand for taste and variety, is putting massive strain on the worldwide food chain. New solutions, in the form of innovation and disruptive ideas and technology, are desperately needed.
At the same time as consumers are demanding greater choice and variety at affordable prices, they are also more aware of the problems faced in poorer nations where much of their food is produced. Issues of sustainability and human rights are at the forefront of any discussion on global food production. Food procurement companies must try to balance meeting consumer demand with maintaining a rigorous ethical and environmental stance that extends all the way along their supply chain.
Speed of life
Cafes, restaurants and canteens are facing new challenges in the form of changing dining habits and new models of fine dining. The increasing pace of life is leading to more people relying on eating convenience food, on the go, instead of sitting down to a traditional meal; however, the public are becoming more health conscious in their food choices. Governments too are stepping in with public health campaigns to combat growing rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease across the Western World.
Offering an alternative
Two main options present themselves. Restaurants can compete with convenience food culture head on, positioning their outlet as a healthy and nutritious but still affordable alternative to eating pre-packaged food on the go. Another approach is to concentrate on the experience of eating out, offering good food and excellent service in a rewarding environment that is more than just functional – and for which the public may be prepared to pay premium prices.
The future will require radical responses to the global food crisis and the problem of feeding a rapidly growing population from rapidly diminishing resources. Some of these will inevitably be controversial, such as continuing work in the field of genetic modification and developing laboratory grown meat. Just as far-reaching could be improvements in computer technology to better manage water and energy use, as well as to reduce the variables that affect any given harvest.
From farming methods to front of house service in UK restaurants, the rate of innovation and disruption in food cultures is huge and truly global. Keeping on top of these changes is the main challenge facing all aspects of the industry.