During the last few years, the relationship between food, health, and the environment (food care) and the networks surrounding the production, distribution, and consumption of food (foodservice) have shifted drastically. Multicultural society and technological transformations are quickly modifying the market and forcing organizations to discover new processes, products, strategies, and customers. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in many industries including food, made global connections easier to make than ever before, creating a new model of manufacturing supply chain based on platforms, and reducing the effectiveness of traditional modes of competition, increasing the importance of the experience itself.
These industry changes led Food Shapers to ask questions: Where are the best practices in the world and how can we learn from them? What do the visionary thought leaders have to say? Which entrepreneurs have already successfully applied solutions? What is the future of the foodservice industry?
During our 60-day journey around the world (Food Innovation Global Mission), we visited 12 food hubs to explore more questions and uncover needs and insights, in the hope of creating a forecast of the future of foodservice. We interviewed more than 200 inspiring individuals and organizations reshaping the food system and identified case studies to help understand foodservice from many angles.
Throughout all our interviews, there was one idea that continually came into view: food is a communicative practice that upholds and builds a connection with people, places, and culture. With that perspective in mind, and after months of in-depth research, our foodservice team concluded—the foodservice industry is evolving into the food care industry. This means that consumers want food, and, thus, the foodservice industry, to provide more than mere nutrition. Consumers want the experience and human connection that food can facilitate. We predict that such intangible and social preferences will grow in breadth, depth, and urgency, eventually transforming those preferences into demands in the food industry.
Using the grid analysis tool, we compared three scenarios (reconnection, customization, and food values) through the lenses of consumers, providers, and facilitators. In this context, reconnection is defined as the need for human relationships and interactions; customization as human’s personal needs (religious, dietary, and allergy-related); and food values as environmental, ethical, and social considerations when making decisions about food. Utilizing this framework, we highlighted various pioneers in their respected fields whose principles and practices we believe serve as models for future actors in food care.
During a visit to New York, we had the chance to participate in a “Portal Experience,” brought to life from Shared Studios, an interactive dinner hosted in two identical shipping containers set more than 4,000 kilometers apart. Thanks to Virtual Reality (VR) technology, the table that begins in New York extends to Mexico, allowing guests to share a meal, and more importantly, conversations, with foreigners far away. With the Portal Experience, food was a medium for human interaction: the meal was simple, but significantly enriched by technology that facilitated a previously unimaginable connection.
In contrast, the concept of Madrid’s La Sala de Despiece (Butcher’s Room in Spanish) is to reflect the reality of a butcher’s experience. Chef Javier Bonet conducted a careful study with the Academia de Despiece, recording dining experiences between strangers to study their reactions and interactions. In a white, spotless room, the customer enters the butcher’s world, with each detail carefully crafted to enhance the dining experience. Customers sit at a long cutting table and are served by friendly waiters in butcher’s aprons who poetically describe the food and its preparation. Handwritten menus explain each dish in detail, and orders are taken with iPads. The ingredients are fresh, and meals are served swiftly like at the market, encouraging customers to pass dishes to their neighbors. More than anything, Bonet, is serving the element of surprise. Food should aspire to facilitate this aspect and inspire interaction based on it, meeting human’s deepest needs.
“The moment you receive feedback you are just beginning to learn,” Bonet says. No matter how much we have and can advance in technology, people still want to keep the “human aspect” in the food experience, once again showing the importance of hospitality in the food industry.
It is clear that consumers are gaining power over the industry, having a central role in their dining experience. It is when upholding personal values that the crucial role of foodtelling (storytelling applied to food) came out in our research. In Petaluma, California, we visited one of our partners, Lexicon of Food, a nonprofit organization with a mission to illustrate the food system through innovative storytelling. “Everything must be in the language of people,” says the co-founder of Lexicon of Food, Douglas Gayeton. By merging pictures and words, the Lexicon of Food informs consumers about the people and practices behind the food they eat, helping them to shop more consciously. To help people make better choices, his team works with different actors in the food system, such as producers, chefs, scientists, and entrepreneurs, to share stories that “make a difference.” Together with the Future Food Institute, Lexicon of Food is working on a new project that creates global awareness of 25 crops that are transforming their communities by providing nutrient security, enhancing biodiversity, and increasing resilience to climate change.
Spreading knowledge through education and foodtelling, designing experiences around personal values, and creating connections among people and food, are all fundamental parts of food care. Foodservice worldwide is going through a transformation, upgrading to a better version of itself—one that thoughtfully considers the relationship between food, health, and our environment to care for human needs as a whole.
The world doesn’t change when scientists invent something new; rather, the world changes when consumers change their expectations as a result of those inventions. The food innovations that we identified during our journey will not change the world on their own: these innovations will change the world when consumers adjust their purchasing decisions to reflect the consequences of those innovations upon their understanding of food. The challenge is not so much to predict the future as it is to shape it.
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