If the word of 2021 was unpredictable, the word of 2022 is impermanence.
From rising food prices to continued supply chain woes, decades-high inflation, worker shortages due to COVID and working conditions, and our climate, our food system is in crisis. McKinsey estimates that 73 million jobs will be eliminated due to automation by 2030, including the food production and manufacturing sectors.
To persevere through these converging crises, human rights and planetary health is moving center of plate. From food policy to innovation and investing, the considerations of these trends drove my top predictions for 2022.
Addressing Zero Food Waste Becomes Profitable
Creative solutions have been around for years, yet scale has been hard to come by for zero waste solutions. Often the economics have not worked out. That may change with new legislation in California, where according to the LA Times, “composting is the next climate crusade.” Methane emissions from landfill are a significant contributor to climate change. California Senate Bill 1383 requires Californian businesses and individuals to separate organic material, and those who don’t comply can face fines.
If this is the canary in the coal mine, it opens up opportunities for innovation. For instance, food rescue company Goodr uses proprietary technology and data to match food surplus to those in need. The company addresses the supply chain for surplus food, and they count the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as a client. “Over the past two years amid the global pandemic, we all have witnessed massive supply chain issues and the affects they have had on our society,” shares Goodr CEO Jasmine Crowe. “Now more than ever people recognize the value in every item and the importance of zero waste.”
The ‘Re-Regionalization’ of Food Systems
A growing number of consumers want to know where their food comes from, and ensure its provenance. Dovetailed with rising food and freight prices and food shortages, buying local becomes more attractive and economical. Farm subscription programs or “CSAs” for produce and meat saw record levels of growth in 2020 and 2021.
It’s good for the farmers, too. Meat prices up 20%, yet ranchers are taking home less than ever. The four largest meat packers — Tyson, Cargill, JBS, and National Meatpacking — control 85% of the industry. However, infrastructure is sorely needed to re-regionalize the food system. It is notoriously difficult for small scale farmers to gain access to processing capacity and to control more of their supply chain. President Biden recently announced a $1 billion investment in regional meat processors; this infrastructure bill could give a boost to start ups like the Southwest Black Ranchers and 99 Counties who are trying to address the market opportunity.
Nick Wallace, co-founder and COO of Iowa’s 99 Counties, shares, “If Covid has taught us anything it is that our health is paramount, and the long-distance food supply chain is far too vulnerable to disruption. The best way to feed people locally is to grow food locally.”
Worker Mobilization and Shortages Promote Alternative Solutions
Worker shortages continue due to a slow down in immigration, unions challenging workplace conditions and wages, and workers who are simply quitting. Business leaders and policymakers will be forced to address an environment that has fallen deeply short of providing workers with the safety and protections required to continue to produce food on the farm, in the factory, and in food service settings.
In 2021 there were a number of notable mobilizations in the food industry, including the Kellogg workers strike and the unionization of the first Starbucks workers in Buffalo, NY. It is well documented that minimum wage jobs do not provide for basic needs. Alternative solutions like the ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) offer workers a way to build intergenerational wealth by vesting ownership in their own company. Investors like Apis and Heritage, backed by Rockefeller and the Skoll Foundation, fund the transition to ESOP, largely for businesses with employees of color. This is a space to watch.
It Pays To Use Plastic Free Packaging
Americans annually produce 42 million tons of plastic waste – 2x that of China — and much it is littering our oceans. Just 2% of plastics are recycled into products of the same quality. The urgency to solve the packaging crisis is real. And, it can be profitable.
In fact, one plastic-free, plant-based packaging company was minted unicorn status in late 2021. Footprint works with the likes of McDonalds, Costco, and Conagra. Footprint co-Founder and CEO Troy Swope said, “We see tremendous demand for plant-based solutions to replace plastic and in 2022 this will continue to be driven by three factors – consumer demand, regulations cracking down on single-use plastic, and corporate sustainability goals on climate change where eliminating single- and short-term use plastic and finding alternatives, is a priority.”
You Will Eat Your Yogurt Cup
Over a decade ago Gary Hirshberg, the founder of Stonyfield Farm, shared that we would win the war on plastic when we could eat our yogurt cup. Well, 2022 is the year that this could come to fruition, and the New York Times agrees. The market for edible packaging is growing at nearly 5% CAGR; it will reach an estimated $2 billion by 2030.
Investor Milena Bursztyn has been watching this space closely. She shares, “As food companies look to ‘green’ their supply chains, they are turning to biodegradable and compostable packaging solutions. While this is a step in the right direction, unfortunately, these solutions require industrial processes in order to break down, leaving consumers confused about what they should do with these single-use products. Several startups are turning to nature-based materials, such as seaweed and other biopolymers, to offer edible packaging options.” Bursztyn highlights a plethora of companies working on edible packaging solutions, including Xampla, Decomer Technology, Notpla, and Loliware.
Latin America Rises As The Region For Food Tech Innovation
Venture capital investments in Latin America broke records in 2021. Crunchbase reports that the region experienced 300% YOY growth, nearing $19.6 billion in funding. Firms are expanding their presence; Softbank announced an additional $3 billion for the region, bringing its total commitment since 2019 to $8 billion. And Food Tech start ups NotCo and Daki were among the 18 Latin American unicorns of 2021.
Mexican-American investor Lolita Taub is spending 2022 touring the region, drawn by the hot investment landscape. She shares, “LATAM has a strong food culture. So, definitely watch out for food tech companies out here (and not just food delivery companies like Rappi). Right now, I’m keeping an eye out for Chile’s newest unicorn, NotCo, a food tech that produces plant-based meat and dairy substitutes for a global community of members, like me, who are thinking of sustainability and want alternatives.”
Beyond Plant Based And Towards Whole Plant Solutions
Alternative proteins had a moment in 2021 with record funding levels. Often called ‘plant-based,’ these foods are made using biotechnology. The technologies differ – some are cellular-based, some are fermentation based, and many are a combination of both. And while meat-free solutions are critical in contributing to combatting climate change and our public health crisis, according to nutritionists the Beyond Burger is nutritionally on par with a meat patty. The public is noticing. In fact, Mintel
A rising tide of entrepreneurs are focused on whole-plant solutions. Whole-plant foods use minimal processing, whole plants as an ingredient base, and can be nutritionally superior to the current animal protein alternatives. Jack & Annie’s founder and CEO Annie Ryu believes, “Many consumers are looking to consume plants when they explore this category, and they are not getting that. We fill the gap and offer a whole plant based meat alternative made from jackfruit. Jackfruit is the meatiest plant out there and its consistency makes it special; it is sinuous, just like meat. We are here to show that eating jackfruit can be as satisfying as chicken and pork.” Others include Akua, which makes a kelp-based burger. Adda Veggie makes it easy to cook center-of-plate whole vegetable dishes and collaborates Imperfect Foods.
A Continuation of 2021 Trends
Last year in Forbes I shared top 2021 Food Trends. Upon review it seems that these trends will continue to into 2022; the list included the growing digitalization and new consumer habits in grocery, the expansion and consumer acceptance of frozen foods, the expansion of culturally-rooted brands, and the increasing demand for plant-based foods.