The future of the food industry is closer than ever

The future of the food industry seems very, very close. The world's first test tube burger was unveiled Monday at an event in London. The lab-grown burger is the brainchild of a Dutch scientist and cost about $332,000 to create, according to Reuters.

Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands wanted to create the burger because "current meat production is at its maximum — we need to come up with an alternative."

The burger experiment has been five years in the making. The finished product features "20,000 strands of laboratory-grown protein" (muscle tissue grown in incubators) combined with staple ingredients such as salt, breadcrumbs and egg powder. To give it color, red beet juice and saffron were added.

If the Petri dish alternative doesn't pan out, there's always the 3-D food solution. In May, NASA announced a grant to Anjan Contractor, head of Systems & Materials Research Corporation, to develop a 3-D food printer. The objective? To print out an edible pizza made out of powders sourced from insects, grass and algae, and mixed with water and oil.

An engineer with Systems & Materials Research Corp. said this technology could eventually end up in every kitchen, creating meals from a base of powders.

According to MSN.com, "as the world's population grows and food becomes scarcer, perhaps a plan to mix powders into something edible isn't so crazy."

The impetus behind these types of experiments is to keep up with global population growth. Current demand and production trends, as well as climate change, are expected to lead to a global shortfall of wheat, rice and soybeans by 2030. According to Lux Research, new, disruptive technologies such as crop genomics and precision agriculture will help surmount these challenges.

"Technologies that achieved food security in the 20th century will prove inadequate in the 21st," said Aditya Ranade, Lux Research senior analyst and the lead author of the report titled, "Combating Malthus: Technologies to Feed 9 Billion by 2050." "However, advances such as precision agriculture and genomics-enabled modified crops will help dispel Malthusian fears, at least for the two major food grains — wheat and rice."

Among Lux's findings:

  • Agriculture will need to go high-tech. Higher yields derived from better agricultural technologies are key to the future. Promising technologies include crops that can incorporate genes from other organisms; precision agriculture using information technology, geo-positioning and sensing technologies; and high-throughput breeding.
  • Higher yields are key to wheat and rice. Transgenic C4 wheat and C4 rice, the best prospects for yield growth, can help close the supply-demand gap by 2040 and 2030, respectively. However, regulations on transgenic crops may hinder this potential.
  • Rich nations well endowed in agricultural resources will gain. Rich countries such as the U.S. and Canada stand to gain the most in the emerging environment, notably from modified crops with specific nutritional benefits such as low glycemic index and higher linoleic acid content.

Marketing and operations advancements

Production is certainly not the only future-minded segment within the broader food industry. Operational and marketing advancements have also been made that put "The Jetsons" to shame.

For example, have you heard about Momentum Machines? This San Francisco-based robotics company has come up with an automated burger machine. According to Business Insider, the company hopes to launch the first "smart restaurant," where all of the cooking is done by robots.

Momentum Machines' website claims its product replaces hamburger line cooks and can do their job "better," producing about 360 burgers an hour, including customized orders. The company also estimates a one-year ROI because of labor savings.

Talk about labor (and time) savings, there's also the drone-like pizza delivery device, prototyped by Domino's Pizza in the UK in June. The "DomiCopter" debuted with a 4-mile flight (carrying two large pepperoni pizzas) that took 10 minutes.

Domino's has also been cutting edge with some of its marketing ideas, particularly in Brazil, where the company and its agency came up with DVDs that smell like pizza when they're played.

Dunkin' Donuts has also experimented with olfactory marketing — last year, it debuted radio ads in South Korea that emitted the aroma of coffee whenever they played.

The campaign was first installed on commuter buses in Seoul, South Korea. Whenever a Dunkin' Donuts radio ad played, a light coffee aroma was released using atomizers installed on the buses. The number of visitors at Dunkin' Donuts stores rose 16 percent during the original campaign.

Most of these ideas are money- and potentially life-saving. Others simply embrace innovative creativity. Whether or not they'll hit the masses down the road isn't as important as the reason behind their creations in the first place: Foodservice leaders aren't afraid to push the envelope. Because of that, the future will always be near. 

Alicia Kelso is senior editor of QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com.

Read more about food trends.

Photo courtesy of Domino's UK Facebook page.

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