Between climate concerns and an exploding global population, the food industry faces a future of massive transformations. At this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show, an annual trade show from the Specialty Food Association, one exhibition tackled these challenges head-on: A conceptual grocery store from futurist food lab The Future Market.

The Future Market was founded by Mike Lee, a food industry veteran who previously worked in product development at Chobani, to explore how society will produce and shop for food over the next 25 years. The Future Market creates futurist dining experiences and brand workshops, in addition to conceptual grocery products.

“What we’re doing with these packaging illustrations is to make them feel a little bit more real,” Lee told JWT Intelligence. “That way, people can assess them as if they were an actual product they would want to buy, rather than just thinking about it in the abstract.”

WEB Interaction 2017 06 23 23 48 13

Some of Lee’s conceptual products are intensely future-facing. The system is designed around AnalyzeMe, a pill that measures gut bacteria in the microbiome and transmits personalized recommendations. Refuel creates “consumeables” for $49.99 that meet a consumer’s specific dietary needs, based on those recommendations. “Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all food printing,” reads the product description. “Now you can make whatever you want, exactly how you want it.”

But other products seem more accessible. The Puree ($2.79) is a soup made from waste products, such as vegetable trimmings. Alga Marina is a pasta made from seaweed, an ingredient recognized by JWT Intelligence and others as an upcoming eco-friendly superfood. Crop Crisps ($7.99) are packed much like Wheat Thins, but use polyculture farming to rotate crops and refresh the soil; a different grain is used to make the crackers each year.

Crop Crisps Front
Crop Crisps Back

“When you’re showing something really new, you have to anchor it in something very familiar,” Lee explains. “Most of our package design is very ‘mainstream’ looking. Maybe the concept behind the product is very hard to understand, but at the end of the day, it’s a cracker. It’s not hard to understand…To introduce the future, you have to meet people at the present.”

This is the first time that the Fancy Food Show has included an experimental, interactive look at the future of food, as well as The Future Market’s first time setting up as a conceptual grocery store. By staging a concept market in the middle of a trade show, The Future Market had access to some of the biggest names in food manufacturing and distribution.

“I really wanted people to steal these ideas and implement them,” says Lee. “I wanted everybody to say, ‘That’s a great idea, and we have resources to make that happen. I’m going to go back and make that happen.’ I relished when some retailers and manufacturers came by and snapped pictures of the concept products, saying ‘I’m taking this back to my team.’ That’s exactly what I wanted to happen.”

WEB Exterior 2017 06 23 22 28 32

At the entry to The Future Market, users could fill out a questionnaire to determine their “food personality,” based on the metrics most important to them: health, value, sustainability, etc. A scan through the digital product lineup would explain not only what each product was, but what Future of Food concept it addressed, including food waste reduction, single-organism foods, the microbiome, the quantified self and more.

“Part of what we’re doing is not just following what the trends are today, but also putting out what we think should be trends,” says Lee. “A lot of our themes are centered around sustainability at scale. Blue Hill or Stone Barns are some of the most sustainable, best ways to farm food possible. However, it’s so not scalable to the rest of the world. So we’re saying, how do you take that high-minded ideal and insert that into a Kraft or a General Mills? How do you scale those big ideas for everybody?”

As the pressure on the food industry increases, look for consumer awareness of sustainability issues to ratchet up. Consumers are already experiencing a shift towards organic and sustainable products, with millennials leading the charge: 36% of millennial consumers are embracing meat alternatives, according to Mintel’s 2017 Protein Report, versus just 14% of boomers. Food brands should have these burgeoning challenges on their radar; The Future Market offers a creative look at some solutions.

For more on the future of the food, download our Food and Drink: Trends and Futures 2017 report.

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