The scariest part of my work day is hitting the “Publish” button on a story. Did I get all the facts right? Was I fair? Was my analysis thoughtful and unique? Did I misspell “its”?
This type of anxiety is compounded when making predictions. Putting your prognostications in stark black and white can be a nail biter that lasts all year as you wait to see if you were right.
Just about this time last year I noted six trends to watch for in 2018. With the year pretty much wrapped up — let’s check in and see how I did.
1. Alterna-Products Will Get More Mainstream.
Did they? Yes!
When we look back, 2018 will probably be seen as a watershed year for alternative products. Plant-based “meats” that look and feel like the real thing really took off this year. Beyond Meat struggled to keep up with demand, brought on a second production facility and filed to go public next year. For its part, Impossible Foods saw its meat-free patties adopted by a number of restaurant chains (White Castle eating contest, anyone?), had to hire a second shift to boost production, and is set to go into retail next year.
Seeing the heat from all that alterna-meat, Nestlé is perhaps starting up a beef with these upstarts with its forthcoming plant-based
Impossible Incredible Burger.
And it’s not just protein. Alterna-milks are growing like alterna-weeds. In addition to soy, almond, cashew, flax there is also Ripple’s Pea milk (but avoid the pea yogurt), Perfect Day partnered with Archer Daniels Midland to scale up production of its milk-made-from-fermentation, and good luck if you want to buy any Oatly oat milk.
And that doesn’t even include lab-grown meat! Though that’s still probably several years away from truly hitting the market in a big way. There’s such a buzz around alternate products that the FDA is getting involved. Perhaps playing the incumbent protectionist card, the government agency has held public forums and is making moves to determine what can and cannot be labeled “milk” and “meat.”
2. Virtual Restaurants Will Pop Up Everywhere (and Nowhere).
Did they? Kind of!
While virtual restaurants aren’t everywhere, we did see a number of industry moves to make this phenomenon more common. Kitchen United, which offers commercial kitchen space for delivery-only restaurant concepts, launched, raised funding and started expanding. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick got into ghost kitchens in LA. And companies like KitchenPodular are making ghost kitchens modular.
I may have been a bit premature in this prediction, but my colleague, Jenn Marston assures me that ghost kitchens are going to be a big thing in 2019.
3. Meal Kit Shakeup.
Was there one? Yes!
It was a tumultuous year for meal kit companies that saw meal kits migrate from mail order to grocery aisles. Kroger bought Home Chef. Chef’d shut down abruptly (only to be re-born with a focus on retail). And Blue Apron continued to go through its own travails. We even saw traditional CPG companies like Stouffer’s and Tyson get into (frozen) meal kits.
Expect more shakeup and thinning of the meal kit herd next year as retail gets data on what people want and adjust accordingly.
4. The Further Instagrammification of Food.
Did it? Ehhhhh, not really.
I thought there would be a wave of restaurants re-architecting themselves with better lighting and booths that facilitated great camera-phone photography. This hasn’t really happened, and it didn’t seem like that much of a priority when I spoke with restaurateur Richard Blais at our Smart Kitchen Summit this past fall. There are chefs like Eric Rivera at Addo that like Instagram for marketing purposes, but the social media platform remained more of a constant rather than a new, driving force.
5. Artificial Intelligence and Robots Rise Up for Real.
Did they? Yes!
I went through a pretty exhaustive rundown of the food robot news from the past year, when I predicted (once again) that 2019 will be a breakthrough year for robots. That may be a bit of a cheat to make the same prediction two years in a row — but I stand by it! A lot of food robots were introduced this year, and next year will bring the scaling.
Meanwhile, artificial intelligence (AI) continues to transform our meal journey. Farming, the supply chain, and truly personalized food recommendations are all getting better thanks to data and artificial intelligence.
6. Amazon, Amazon, Amazon.
Here’s the thing. After Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017, predicting that we’d write about Amazon was kind of a gimme. But the sheer number of different ways we wrote about Bezos and Co. was a surprise. From the cashierless Amazon Go stores spurring an entirely new kind of retail arms race to its variety of patents to in-trunk delivery to its own Alexa-powered microwave — Amazon has its fingers (tentacles) in just about everything, including, possibly, your next house!
All-in-all, I think those predictions turned out alright. One easy predictiion that doesn’t make me nervous at all? Food Tech is only going to get better, more mainstream, and more fun to write about.