Food innovation expert shares his vision of the future

Ask the average factory manager what they think the future of food manufacturing will look like and robotics and automation are likely to feature prominently.

But, according to one visionary thinker, consumer demands are evolving and changing so rapidly that these technologies will be barely scratching the surface. The man in question is Marius Robles, chief executive and co-founder of Reimagine Food.

Claimed to be the world’s “first disruptive centre committed to the future of food​”, Reimagine connects start-ups, entrepreneurs, investors, foodies, chefs and the food and beverage industry with technologies that are transforming how the public selects, purchases and consumes food.

And to keep with the pace of change, Robles believes the typical food manufacturer will also have to evolve – and fast.

Now in its fourth year since launch, the company’s aim is to promote initiatives to rethink the world of food, the industry and the modern kitchen, and how to solve food needs in the 21st century, taking into consideration demands around sustainability, emerging technologies, health, and society in general.

The company has already attracted a slew of multinational clients, including Danone, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Bimbo, Carrefour, GB Foods and IBM.

Robles himself has a broad background in innovation and future strategy, having previously worked as an innovation consultant and analyst for a number of multinationals. In 2007, he launched the first consultancy in Europe specialising in new business innovation models and management, helping companies detect market trends and build strategies to “disrupt” ​rather than “be disrupted”.

Creating an ecosystem with investors

Then, about five years ago, he decided to focus on creating an ecosystem with investors, start-ups, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, universities, technology centres and breakthrough ideas seeking to anticipate the future of food. And Reimagine Food was born.

At the time, says Robles, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization was already starting to voice concerns over the need for a 75% increase in agricultural production to feed the 10 billion people forecast to inhabit the planet by 2050.

“It was time to join this great challenge for humanity,”​ suggests Robles, who believes we are already on the verge of “significant change in consumer behaviour​”.

For him, the main trend is what he calls “the birth of a new ideology of food”,​ which will alter practically every aspect, from large-scale distribution to manufacturing processes.

Consumers, he argues, have already understood that we are living through an “absolutely critical” ​moment in our history, with terms such as sustainability, climate change, food uncertainty, plastic-free, traceability, natural, post-animal era and plant-based already ingrained in mindsets.

Reimagine Food has devised the term ‘Eatnomics’ as its “attempt to give a name to the new economy of food that began around two years ago and which we have projected up to 2026,”​ says Robles.

This is the result of four years of analysis of the food and beverage sector from all angles (present and future) in different countries, during which it has spoken with more than 500 companies in the sector and analysed data from 4,000 food start-ups.

Start-ups the main driver

Of these, he says, start-ups are the main driver in the new economy of food and they are advancing in the direction of removing animals from the equation. And there are some powerful economic agendas going on behind the scenes.

Robles refers to the “vegan mafia”,​ which he describes as “a secretive group of investors aiming to shape the future of food by investing in companies that seek to remove animals from the supply chain. The members of this group are powerful financiers, businessmen and biotechnology investors.”

The tip of the iceberg, Robles argues, is the current “substitution of all meat derivatives”​ which he predicts will “soon be followed by seafood and dairy products – in approximately 10 years”.

Furthermore, he says it’s no longer a movement driven by some Silicon Valley luminaries, with plant-based foods finding an omnivorous customer base.

Up to 86% of people who eat vegetable protein products are also carnivores​,” Robles claims.  He is convinced that the reimagining of the protein industry “will be the great food business of our time”.

“If I had to summarise all the key trends for the next decade in a single sentence, it would be, ‘we will see the end of food as we know it’.”

As part of that revolution, Robles predicts that the act of cooking will be dramatically reduced, noting the already clear rise in the consumption of prepared meals and restaurant expenditure.

Origin and sustainability of products

Furthermore, he believes consumer sensitivity towards the origin and sustainability of products will increase, and that people will “differentiate between eating for pleasure and eating to obtain what our bodies need​”, altering their cultural emotional, experiential and social relationships with food.

There will be an evolution of foodstuffs linked to health, while existing flavours will be reinvented and new ones discovered, he adds. “This will enable us to create precise flavours and flavour enhancers – sensory shots with mouthful containing 10 or 20 simultaneous and changing flavours​.

“In future, the combination of smell, touch and virtual reality will be used in different ways, some more dystopian than others. For example, imagine a world where salmon has become extinct. Maybe we could consume virtual pieces of salmon sushi, with the smell of salmon and a real piece of a different kind of fish, to give people a feeling of what salmon tastes like.

“Or perhaps adding flavour to virtual reality would help us eat a healthier diet while enjoying favourite dishes. It will be possible to smell a juicy cheeseburger while chewing on a pie made from plants.”

While this may all stretch the imagination, Robles has already made predictions that are turning into a reality. And for food manufacturers, dystopian or not, the world of food possibilities, increasingly dictated by the consumer, will have a major impact on technology.

To find out more, look out for the second part of the interview in the November issue of Food Manufacture.

Eatnomics: what it means

  • Changing consumer behaviours​ – greater convenience, healthiness, transparency, personalisation.
  • New players and tech companies entering the scene​ – Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures, Google Ventures, Richard Branson, Alibaba.
  • New business models​ – the rise of the sharing economy or the ‘Uberisation’ of food, which is driving new models of interaction with food.
  • Greater impact of technology​ – the application of technology throughout the entire value chain, including consumer experience.
  • High-impact protein boom​ – food substitutes, insects, superfoods, and plant-based and meat alternatives.