Product Development & Innovation in the Food Industry

Talia Pinzari

What’s hot in food and dining? A lot – but maybe a sense of mindful innovation rises to the top.

In 2016, innovators and brands developed products and concepts with flavor and overall good taste in mind. In a world where the temperature is rising, waste remains a big issue, and people are starving, many food-focused businesses pushed forward by reassessing their own eco impact to meet the demand of a growingly conscious consumer (or inspire consumers to eat smarter). The result – which will continue to snowball with force into 2017 – has provided consumers with smartly designed choices that will benefit both personal and global health.

A (very) small snapshot of the movement in 2016:

  • Nine people changing the future of food: From the makers of cricket flour to a healthy soda alternative, these companies are worth watching.
  • Updated nutrition facts: Michelle Obama revealed updated label amid industry controversy – and four food categories that will need to make the steepest changes.
  • Restructuring sugar: Nestlé is using science to cut the sugar in its candy and still keep it sweet.
  • A new war over GMOs: This new technology makes it possible to quickly and easily edit DNA—and could eventually be used to make agriculture more environmentally sustainable and productive, or the resulting food healthier.
  • A preschool that doubles as an urban farm: Kids learn among plants and animals in this design for a radically different education environment – influencing their understanding of energy, sustainability, and future food choices.
  • Fast casual and sustainability: This popular chain, known for “mindfully sourced” meals, plans to take its brand a step further.  
  • Love your veggies: At the end of the day, eating better yields better personal health – and perhaps better chances in romance.

As we can surmise from innovation seen in the space – and as summed up by food trend-watcher, Phil Lempert, “[2017] promises to be one of the most exciting in the history of food and retailing as technology takes a bigger role in food production, retail environments and consumer communication…”

As he reported for Forbes this month, here’s a look at some of the food trends to shape 2017:

Startups & Food: CB Insights estimates that over $1 billion has been invested in food startups and projects in 2016 alone. Food meets the sustainability portfolio requirements for investing – and has the potential to make a positive impact on the world. Co-founder of The Kitchen Community, Kimbal Musk, has pointed out that the food opportunity is ten times bigger than the global software market.

Generation Z: For this 50 million strong group – now 5 to 20 years old and the most ethnically diverse generation, ethnic foods are the norm. Gen Z is more likely to eat fresh home-cooked meals, healthier QSR offerings, and think that cooking is cool than their Millennial counterparts. Like Millennials, they are financially cautious, demand good value from the foods they consume, hate corporate greed, and demand transparency from brands.

Sustainability: While the food industry teases out the root definition of sustainability, consumers are making their food decisions based on where and how their food is made, grown, raised, and by whom – becoming more educated and attune to brand stories and transparency at every turn.

Microbrands to Megabrands: Smaller, nimble brands are growing and using new media to connect and build trust and authenticity with their customers. As they grow, they may be acquired by larger food companies - causing loyalists to question whether they’ve lost what once made them special. Two-thirds of the top CPG brands saw sales decline in 2015 and the top 5 lost $13 billion in sales. Consumers are not eating less – they’re choosing the brands that mirror their needs and values. Smart CPG companies are acquiring for the talent that understands today’s consumer and the information age.

Augmented Transparency: Allowing for deep dives into nutritional information, ingredients, and sourcing across supply chains, AT will aim to answer consumers’ questions. From customized recipes, nutrition tours, and educational events, AT will offer expert level knowledge on demand, filtered to one’s personal interests, to move the perspective of the food world toward a 3600 view.

Cellular Agriculture: Brands like Beyond MeatImpossible FoodsRipplePerfect Day and CellPod are moving into mainstream markets and challenging the norm – producing foods that are better for the environment, and have a longer shelf life and better food safety – all while changing the landscape of animal welfare.

For more on 2016-2017 food trends: