Innovation That Matters

7 Food and Drink Trends to Look For in 2021


As technology develops and the opportunities for creative applications grow swiftly, we expect the food industry to find ways of incorporating the flexible use and germ-free benefits of innovation into their current offerings.

With many countries spending time in a state of lockdown, the food and beverage industry has had to adapt apace. Retailers and brands are introducing customers to recipe and nutrition-driven shopping, personalised product recommendations, and step-by-step cooking assistance to replicate their favourite restaurant meals. 

Likewise, amidst a critical period of environmental concern, we have seen a variety of responses, including a decrease in the intake of ingredients with high carbon footprints, meat-alternative sources of protein, and initiatives to consume seasonal and locally available produce.

With this in mind, here are the top seven food and drink trends set to grow in 2021.

1. At-home dining

Since consumers are spending less time travelling and going to restaurants, they are compensating with more adventurous food experiences at home. Data technology company, SPINS, recently partnered with Innit, a leading food tech innovator, to launch a nutrition-driven eCommerce experience. SPINS’ algorithms work by analysing the relevance of products to issues regarding health and lifestyle, diet preferences and allergies.

As people continue to work from home into 2021, there is no end in sight to the home cooking trend. A Californian bakery that was put out of business during the coronavirus lockdown has reopened as an eCommerce site, selling bread-making kits to legions of new home bakers. Customers can order the bread kits, which include everything needed to make a sourdough starter and bake a Mr. Holmes Bakehouse-style bread at home. 

2. Virtual 3D grocery shopping and touchless food ordering

Holograms and virtual reality are starting to appear in a wider variety of locations and industries. As knowledge and understanding of the innovation increases, the opportunities for creative applications will follow suit, particularly as the food industry finds ways to incorporate the flexible use and germ-free benefits into their current offerings. For example, Holo Industries has developed holographic menus and pay points for safe, contactless food ordering. Users press buttons as they would on a normal touchscreen, but avoid skin-to-screen contact by interacting with a beam of light. 

With shoppers forced to stay at home, Canadian grocery delivery service, Inabuggy, has developed a 3D virtual shopping experience that allows customers to “walk” the aisles of an upscale grocery store. This is not the first time a store has attempted to merge online shopping with virtual reality, but the COVID-19 pandemic has given new momentum to the idea.

On a larger scale, the eCommerce platform, Streetify, is bringing entire high streets to shoppers across the U.K., U.S., Canada, India, and Australia. Launched last year in late March, the company hopes that its website and free app will connect consumers with local stores and cafés to help keep them afloat. Their streets can be shared on social media, and shoppers can even follow famous celebrities, who can share their code with followers.

3. Food grown in new places –  Vertical and Urban Farming 

The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 and agriculture as we know it today will need to almost double in size to serve this rising population. However, most of the planet’s land has already been claimed and the remaining arable land is quickly degrading. Farming startup Vertical Field has recently partnered with four Israeli supermarkets to install hyper-local urban gardens outside their supermarkets. This will allow shoppers to buy pesticide-free greens and herbs grown just feet away.

The pandemic is also accelerating a change in the way we both grow and buy food. The widespread interest in personal and community gardens is indicative of where people want to invest their time and energy with regards to food production. New York and Bergen-based architecture and technology innovation studio, Framlab, has designed a tree-shaped urban farming solution to provide urban neighbourhoods with affordable, local produce year-round.

At Springwise, we have seen significant growth in innovations aimed at creating urban farms. These farms not only use space that would otherwise be wasted in order to preserve resources but also allow urban residents to get closer to nature. 

Other innovations we have covered recently include repurposing disused office space. Finnish ag-tech company, iFarm, created a service platform named Growtune to assist with smart, remote management of vertical farms. As countries grapple with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, vast swathes of city-centre real estate lie empty. Growtune actively promotes networks of sustainable food-related businesses and provides support in a range of ways, from technology solutions to investment and retail opportunities.

4. More plant-based and alternative meat protein

Our diets represent the single-largest carbon footprint we have on earth. Although the veganism trend has slowly gained momentum over the past years, the planet is reaching a critical period and therefore a more serious collaborative approach is required to tackle this urgent issue.

We have seen a decrease in the intake of ingredients with high carbon footprints, and greater encouragement to eat foods that are seasonal and locally available. For example, Eat the Change™ is a platform which educates and empowers consumers to make dietary choices consistent with their concerns around climate change. To do so, they aim to support organizations and initiatives that promote climate-friendly eating, with a particular focus on those that serve and represent historically marginalised communities.

According to the U.N.’s Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, livestock accounts for 14.5 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gasses, more than all our cars, trucks, trains, and aeroplanes combined. With most experts agreeing that one of the best ways of reducing our carbon footprints is to eat less meat, we expect to see a greater focus on food like insects, invasive plant species, seaweed and algae. Food startup, Akua, which currently markets kelp jerky, has recently announced the release of its first kelp-based burger.

Other “older” plant-based food companies also continue to develop. Impossible Foods has released two new products: Impossible Pork Made from Plants and Impossible Sausage Made from Plants, with plant-based substitutes for lamb, goat, fish and dairy on the way. Israeli-based Aleph Farms has announced a platform to allow the mass production of cultivated steaks, grown directly from the non-GMO cells of a living cow.

5. Dark stores and ‘ghost kitchens’

Whole Foods recently converted stores in Los Angeles and New York to dark stores. Whilst the big supermarket chains have been investing in this for a while, COVID-19 has inspired a similar movement across restaurants known as “ghost kitchens”. These are food establishments that prepare meals solely for delivery. 

Ghost kitchens can accommodate extensions of existing restaurants or new brands, and several of them can exist within the same physical kitchen. This arrangement means sharing ingredients, equipment, and cooking staff to supply multiple restaurant brands.  A popular example is Bowlila, which will be based out of the Colony ghost kitchen in West Los Angeles, together with 25 other kitchens and various brands providing delivery and pick up.

6. Anti-food waste initiatives

Food waste is a major global problem, with about forty per cent of production wasted annually. This accounts for eight per cent of greenhouse gases. However, many solutions are being developed to address this problem.

The Pairish app has two product lines that offer pickling and smoothie-making mixes, providing people with the option of reinventing their leftover produce. Users of the app simply scan their supermarket receipts, which will direct them to Pairish ingredients that are getting old. 

A team from Rice University researchers have discovered a way to use the 200 million eggs that go to waste each year in the United States. Using both yolks and egg whites, the scientists created an edible, water-soluble protein coating that keeps food fresh for longer. The proteins have health benefits, which means the new preservative is not only better for the environment but better for the human body as well.

In Taiwan, Taipei Tech students have been awarded National Runner-up in this year’s Dyson Awards for their new conception: Barcodiscount. The concept consists of colour-changing stickers which display different discounts based on their expiration dates. For example, when a packet of meat is 48 hours from expiration, the words “20 per cent off” appear on the label, and when the meat is 24 hours from expiration, this is automatically replaced with the discount “40 per cent off”.

7. 3D-printed food

While 3D Printing was originally designed for use in rapid prototyping, this technique is now widespread. At Springwise, we have covered the use of 3D Printing in a diverse array of innovations, from chicken nuggets to gourmet meals. 

KFC is partnering with the Russian bio-printing firm, Bioprinting Solutions, to create 3D-printed chicken meat. The project aims to create a laboratory-produced chicken nugget that looks and tastes like the real thing but is more environmentally friendly to produce than ordinary meat.

At home, Foodini offers a way for both professional and amateur chefs to replicate many convenient foods using fresh ingredients. Developed by Barcelona-based Natural Machine, Foodini prints using “ink” capsules that can be filled with a range of ingredients. The printer comes with an app with pre-loaded designs and can be updated with more designs, or users can develop their own. Users prepare the ingredients, fill the capsule, and Foodini prints the designs. 

Written By: Katrina Lane