What are the trends that will shape our food system in the nearby future? Is it climate change, digitisation, our increased awareness of health and environment? Perhaps the first question we should answer here is: ‘what is a trend?’. A trend, which only becomes visible after it happened, is a development or change over time that is likely to affect society after a few years, and which cannot be changed easily (see text box).
For the FIT4FOOD2030 project, which aims to support the European Commission in rolling out the FOOD 2030 initiative and transform the European food system to make it ‘future-proof’, it is essential to map out the trends that are affecting the complex food system. This trend analysis was chosen as the first of a series of analytical tools that will serve as instruments during the foreseen processes of vision development, system understanding, road-mapping and action planning in the FIT4FOOD2030 project.
Inventory of Trends
The inventory of trends was compiled through stakeholder interviews, desk research, a workshop and several rounds of online consultations with the project partners. Furthermore, a survey was used to direct questions on trends to stakeholders in the food system. Drivers and barriers behind the trends as well as consequences for society, challenges and needs for R&I strategies were included in the trends description. The document focuses on trends rather than megatrends and has to be considered as a living document, as trends emerge, disappear and change over time. The descriptions are kept short and may not be exhaustive, as the intention for it is to serve as resource for information and stimulate discussions within the instruments of FIT4FOOD2030. The descriptions focus primarily on the Food and Nutrition System but are also extended by relevant social and political trends as well as megatrends.
A trend is a development or change over a long time which is likely to affect society or parts of it after a few years. A trend cannot easily be influenced in a mechanic way by individual organizations, players, or nations. It is often a result of specific drivers or can be promoted by strong influencers. It becomes visible only in retrospective.
The OECD defines megatrends as ‘large-scale social, economic, political, environmental or technological changes that are slow to form but which, once they have taken root, exercise a profound and lasting influence on many if not most human activities, processes and perceptions’ (OECD 2016). For our purpose some of the megatrends defined by the OECD, which were considered relevant for the food system, were adopted. Climate change, scarcity of resources and demographic change for example will have direct influence on agriculture and food security potentially leading among other things to malnutrition and migration. Digitalisation as a megatrend will have direct influence on all aspects of life and food production, strongly intertwined with big data analysis and an increase in energy consumption. Megatrends can be seen as drivers behind new emerging trends. It is difficult to describe them as single items, as they also cause and influence one another.
Trends in agricultural production are strongly influenced and driven by megatrends like climate change, availability of natural resources and urbanisation. All this results in changes in farm structures, urban and indoor agricultural systems but also reaches out for new technologies in breeding, alternatives for pesticides, organic farming or permaculture. Digitalisation is likewise making its way into agriculture, leading to precision farming and other game-changing technologies. Recent discussions and an increased awareness for marine problems as well as for nutritional benefits from sea food stirs trends in development of new technologies in aquaculture and an increased demand for sea food production.
Trends in Food Processing are including new technological developments regarding food production itself, but also new raw materials as new resources become available. Novel foods are introduced, new protein sources are searched for taking into account environmental impacts but also increased nutritional awareness. Changes in life-style influence the development of high and ultra-processed food, while on the other hand we see trends going into the direction of minimal processing, natural preservatives and milder production conditions.
Increased awareness of health issues and consciousness for environment lead to a series of special diets and ‘free from’ or transparent products, but also in the long run to personalised food. Higher consumer engagement goes hand in hand with the possibilities of social media open up. Responsible consumers address their demands towards food companies and agriculture and may also put pressure on policy makers. Demographic changes, migration, globalisation and changes in life-style trigger trends like fast and convenient foods, but also lead towards the necessity to have cheap calories available.
Packaging, Waste and Markets
Globalisation is one of the causes leading to a concentration of food retail markets and chain clustering along the whole food supply chain. Digitalisation is beneficial for new shopping behaviour resulting to new logistical challenges. Contrasting this development, the trend towards local and regional products entails short supply chains. Logistics is supported by developments in digitalisation, such as physical internet concepts or smart and intelligent packaging 4.0. Packaging as one of the causes for the increase in plastic waste is focus of some trends that aim for example at reduction of packaging or biodegradability. An increased awareness for waste both from packaging and food stimulate a series of interesting developments, from waste cooking to up-cycling.
The FIT4FOOD2030 EU Think Tank, Policy- and City Labs will build on these results and use it as a basis for common understanding, discussion and integration into their visions, city planning, policy alignment and general project development. You can find the full report on trends including an exhaustive list of trends expected to affect the food system with our reports and publications.