Monitor: Future of Food forum sparks discussion, debate

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, Aug. 18, 2022

 
As the world emerges, haltingly from COVID-19, new challenges emerge. In this feature, New Hope Network provides an ongoing update on those challenges and the opportunities they hold. Look for the Industry Health Monitor every other Friday to learn the major news that is affecting the natural products market immediately and the less obvious insights that could dictate where the market may struggle or thrive in the months to come.

More than 200 participants joined Wednesday’s virtual conversation during New Hope Network’s Future of Food Community Forum to share opinions and raise questions about food technology and how it fits in the natural food universe. 

Journalist Larissa Zimberoff, author of “Technically Food: Inside Silicon Valley’s Mission to Change What We Eat,” moderated the lively hour-long discussion.  Those who registered for the event were asked in advance to answer for questions:  

  • What about biotechnology do we need to understand better?
  • How can New Hope Network bring greater transparency to “future foods” for our community?
  • Are climate claims and the businesses that make them important to our planet’s future?
  • Do you know enough about how your food is made now? What do you want to know to help you feel more confident about our food future?

Some of the respondents were called on by Zimberoff to give a brief statement about their answers, and the audience was given the chance to share short responses as well. But many audience members posted their thoughts and observations in the concurrent online chat. The interactive dialogue represented both the traditional natural and organic foods supporters, as well as those who look to technology to serve the food of the future. In between were plenty of folks who acknowledge that science and tech have long been part of the natural foods industry—precision fermentation, it was noted several times, has been part of the process of manufacturing products from vitamins to cheese for decades. In one sense, the topics that are on people’s minds are not a surprise; they’ve been the talk of the industry for years.

But beyond precision fermentation, one thing’s for sure: The future of food as it relates to the coming wave of technology is already here, and we must deal with it for good or bad. Here are some takeaways from the forum, from listening to presenters and audience responses:

  • People want to understand the role and impact new food technologies will have on our food system, as well as the potential unintended consequences of these technologies.
  • Along with that, some speakers voiced strong ethical concerns of food tech.
  • The industry needs to focus on diversity—diversity of our food system and of the social and health impacts of food.  
  • Some people say we should focus on the plants we eat, because we only use a tiny fraction of the 20,000 edible plants available to us.
  • Transparency, transparency and more transparency was a constant drumbeat of the forum, especially for companies relying on technology to create food.
  • Many attendees championed environmental impact and climate change concerns and praised speakers who included them as important topics for the future of food.
  • Should these new food tech products require greater regulation?
  • There was awareness that food tech companies will need to answer hard questions about their products.
  • There are also proponents of science and technology to solve some of the challenges of feeding the world in the future.
  • At the same time, people understand this is not a one-dimensional issue with a cookie-cutter solution. 

The speakers and those in the audience who typed in the chat were a who’s who of the natural foods industry, representing brands, retailers, service providers and other food industry experts.

New Hope Network understands the importance of continuing this complex conversation about the future of food and giving all perspectives the space to convene and communicate. We’ll produce more content, including posting a recording of this forum and other articles online at newhope.com. Plus, Nutrition Business Journal in November will publish a Food Tech Report that provides a deep dive into the landscape of how consumers, retailers and manufacturers perceive and respond to food tech innovations.

Anyone interested in sharing their viewpoints on the future of food is invited to reach out to New Hope Network’s Vice President of Content Jessica Rubino at [email protected].

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