GDI: Which food innovations are we not talking about enough?
Chris Muller: Packaging will be a major concern as we will increasingly need to figure out a way to put food in shelf-stable and sustainable containers. Refrigeration and frozen goods will not be the best solution, because of climate change, challenges in our energy systems, and the fact that not every global household has affordable electricity. Packaging is not sexy, but it is so incredibly important. It is the first thing you touch when you pick up a product and probably the last thing you touch before throwing it away. New packaging will be the greatest breakthrough that nobody expects because it is very incremental. Packaging is evolutionary, not revolutionary.
Then there are GMOs. We have had handmade GMOs forever, but we will soon need to see GMOs in an organic mindset. One example might be GMO Light: An organic farming methodology using only GMO food products. Climate change is going to fundamentally alter the whole food system over the next twenty years. How are we going to adapt to it? By creating crops with higher yields and nutritional value, e.g. yellow rice. We are all going to demand more stable and climate-resistant GMO crops.
In city centers, urban farming and aquaculture are going to explode. We are going to see much more micro farming on rooftops and alleyways and buildings that are repurposed: Inner cities have been challenged by Covid and there will be many conversions of old warehouses and unused office buildings that are adaptable to urban farming. This form of food production will be economically viable, especially because of sustainable transportation, distribution, and logistics. Aquaculture and large fish protein farms will not only be found in coastal areas but also move closer to land-locked urban centers.
What developments in the food world will have a bigger impact on the future than we are expecting today?
There will be an acceleration of mass migration. Politics and climate change are going to be the main reasons why people are migrating. Weather extremes like heat, storms, fires, cold, floods, droughts, or hail are going to move the production of food and people are going to follow the food. This will result in massive south-to-north movement. The positive side of this migration: We are going to be introduced to many more foods, new flavors, and textures.
Unfortunately, mass migration and globalization will also accelerate the spreading of pathogens – not just human diseases like COVID, but also zoonotic animal diseases like mad cow’s disease, swine flu, or bird flu. This will especially be a big challenge for the large animal protein production system. In the near-term most people will not want to adopt a totally vegetarian diet, so proteins will still be mostly animal-based.
What developments happening around you are you deliberately choosing to ignore? Why?
Food and home delivery. The business is well established today. It could grow another few percentage points but it is in its consolidation stage. The delivery business is all about technology. Amazon knows how to do „the last mile“ better than anybody, figuring out the technology of „the magic square meter“ of personal service means the entire industry will continue to try to catch up to customer expectations.
An easily overlooked, very subtle move of the restaurant industry into a multiverse, =omnichannel business is happening in front of our eyes. There are dine-in options, takeout/curbside, branded packaged goods to cook at home, and delivery services. As a player in the foodservice industry, you will have to participate across the portfolio of consumer purchase options. To add to the complexity, everything will be mobile and app-based.
Which companies, startups, or chefs are the most promising newcomers or game changers?
I would say bartaco,, which is a young and fresh upscale street food-style chain restaurant. that was very successful before Covid. They changed the full-service restaurant and modified it: tablet-ordering at the tables, no waiters, only floor managers who walk around to make sure people are happy, different payment methods, and tips are distributed equally among the whole team. It is no longer about experience versus convenience. bartaco established the first fully thought-out hybrid model that merges experience and convenience and many will follow their example.
Celebrity chefs are not the dominant thing anymore. Of course, there will still be some three-star Michelin chefs. But it is such a small part of the business that they are not as influential as they were before the global lockdown. There will not be another generation of celebrity chefs like we saw for the last two decades because we will not come back to chef-driven restaurants as the arbiter of taste the way we used to. And the people who do go back will have different desires than they did before. Social media has leveled the knowledge acquisition and expertise of the entire dining public.
And then, of course, two companies to watch will continue to be Domino’s Pizza with its tech-focus and McDonald’s continual adaptation of others’ ideas. McDonald’s is an innovation company, not an invention or creative company. They are never the first to do something, they were not even the first to come out with hamburgers, but they learn from other people and do the right thing. McDonald’s was not the first chain restaurant to open a coffee shop, but they adapted their McCafé very well to their business model. And the company still has a big influence. When they switched from their styrofoam packaging to cardboard and paper, they had a huge impact on packaging solutions in fast food. Watch now as they move from beef to a chicken focus, and transform into a green market leader.
Chris Muller will be speaking at the European Foodservice Summit 2022 which takes place from 20 to 22 September 2022. Industry experts will discuss on the theme Time to Act! Getting ahead of the transformation.