News publications making predictions for the coming year is as much a holiday tradition as eggnog, mistletoe and avoiding awkward political fights at the dinner table. As we put 2017 to bed, let’s take a look at trends that we might see in food tech in 2018. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is filled with topics we returned to time and time again throughout the year.
1. Alterna-Products Will Get More Mainstream. With growing concerns over how meat and dairy impact our planet, there are a ton of alternative products coming to mass market:pea-based burger patties that “bleed,” plant-based shrimp, and coconut milk ice cream, to name just a few. And with investment from accelerators, the whole alterna-space is just going to get better and cheaper.
2. Virtual Restaurants Will Pop Up Everywhere (and Nowhere). Data driven food delivery services such as UberEATS have convinced some real world restaurants to open up virtual ones. These delivery only offshoots can experiment with new cuisines and menu items without the cost of adding additional square footage.
3. Meal Kit Shakeup. The prepared meal kit delivery market is going through an evolution as one of its pioneers, Blue Apron, had a rough year, and more focused services are blossoming around specific markets such as kids, or just sending proteins. Then there are hardware players like Nomiku and Tovala looking to bring their full stack food solutions that can be paired with sous vide machines or smart ovens into more houses. Oh, and then there is Amazon, which may make same day customizable meal kits a thing this year.
4. The Further Instagrammification of Food. The meals you eat can no longer just be tasty, they also have to pop off the plate to impress all your Instagram followers. As Restaurant Business points out, look for “rainbow colors, vertical deserts, smoking cocktails” to be on the menu next year.
5. Artificial Intelligence and Robots Rise Up for Real. Robots are already flipping burgers and now even your face can help you order (both at CaliBurger in Pasadena, FWIW). But robots and artificial intelligence will become more mainstream throughout the food stack next year. From agriculture to reducing food waste, and from food aisles to food delivery, the immediate future is about to get way more high-tech.
6. Amazon, Amazon, Amazon. No company had a bigger impact on the food space this year than Amazon. It bought Whole Foods, giving the e-commerce giant an instant, nationwide, physical presence to better facilitate grocery delivery. It partnered with AllRecipes for shoppable grocery lists and launched an in-home delivery service. And, oh by the way, it just sold tens of millions of Alexa devices this past holiday to make ordering that much easier. But the interesting thing won’t be what existing markets Jeff Bezos and company will exert its influence over, but entirely new categories Amazon will create (visual recognition in your garden!).