It’s hard to predict the future of food in a world that is changing faster and faster. Because economic instability, ecological fragility and the arrival of highly disruptive technologies make that exercise an increasingly arduous one. However, it is possible, by observing the evolution of dietary habits of the generations now entering adulthood, to interpret a few signs that speak for themselves.
Preference for natural products
According to Pascale Hebel, we are seeing a generation-based decline in budgets and in the time spent on food in the household. This trend is accompanied by an overall increase in expectations in terms of sustainable food, which is particularly strong among Generation Y, which grew up in an atmosphere of distrust after the mad cow disease scandal. “Young people born after 1997 were brought up with healthy messages, they are much more attentive to their health, which was not the case of their parents, who had never considered food to be a possible danger to them.” This concern can be seen in the recurrence of the words used in responses to surveys on the subject of food. Before 2007, the words most commonly associated with the idea of quality food were “taste” and “freshness”; since 2015, “organic” and “natural” have topped the list. A breakthrough that explains the success of labels and benchmarks. The highly-connected Generation Y is expressing a need for reassurance from brands and for transparency when it comes to the composition of their products.
Meals in France, a social ritual
The increasing presence of women in the workplace is another factor in this change, explains Thibaut de Saint Pol, a dietary sociologist, who referred to the success of frozen foods and meal delivery services that go hand in hand with the reduced time preparing meals at home. And yet, the ritual of three meals a day is still going strong in France, and people continue to spend an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes each day at the dining table, while that time is shrinking in neighboring countries. “This commensality is important to our cultural representations,” resumed Thibaut de Saint Pol, who reminded us of the profoundly social dimension of food and its role in building our collective identity. As time grows shorter under the pressure of days spent in front of a screen, and as snacking habits develop among young people, “meals seem to be a protected activity in France,” an occasion for coming together with family, friends and loved ones.
Challenges of food innovation
This attachment to traditional forms of meals makes France a country where it is still difficult to innovate, as we were reminded by Benoit Millet, professor of food design at EDN. “You can innovate for your hors d’oeuvres and your desserts, but the main course and the model for the typical French meal are hard to change.” Faced with the challenges of sustainable development, food design has a major role to play in changing people’s mindsets. For example, new ways can be found to incorporate insects into our diets through snack foods, like the Minussi project, which was launched by one of his students and offers brochettes that use vegetables and insect powders, designed to satisfy our daily protein requirements. Or waste can be fought like in a project led by Lea Rousse, another student who uses delicate, 3D-printed sugar lace to hide the defects in imperfect fruit. As a last example, the Kill Your Spots milkshake, developed using lactic ferment and microalgae, helps teenagers regulate their acne problems without skipping breakfast. “Consumers want to pay attention to their health, but they also want to enjoy themselves”: the whole strategy of eco-innovation is to convert this constraint into an opportunity for development.
Supporting the nutritional transition
It was finally the turn of Céline Laisney, head of the AlimAvenir monitoring tool, to take the floor. She started by focusing on the vegan movement. This trend is gaining ground, not only in developed countries, but also in fast-developing countries like China, which now seems to be beginning its own nutritional transition. In France, the proportion of vegetarians remains modest, at 4% in 2015, compared with 6% in Germany and 12% in the United Kingdom. There is a strong generational bias to this transition. For example, the number of flexitarians (who have reduced their consumption of meat) currently varies between 30-40% among young Europeans, driven by economic and ethical reasons linked to animal welfare (1). Here again, food innovation has a role to play, by exploring all of the prospects offered by plant proteins and by proposing protein-rich alternatives that imitate the texture and flavor of meat, like the company Beyond Meat, which has just launched an impressive line of plant-based steaks and chicken fillets.
 Mediaprims survey for Good Planet, 2015.