Home-delivered fine dining, meat made from milk, sex dust, vitamin-enhanced cocktails ... the food world is changing fast. But not so fast that it can't be tracked, identified, picked apart and put together again by Martin Raymond and Chris Sanderson of London-based the Future Laboratory. Their annual trends briefings help many of the world's retailers, manufacturers and entrepreneurs future-proof their brands by anticipating and understanding the emerging trends influencing what and how we eat and drink.
According to their presentation in Melbourne, the overall themes for 2017 are health, convenience and speed, resulting in ever-more disruptive food delivery systems.
"Everyone is hacking Nespresso," says Raymond, suggesting the capsule delivery system pioneered for coffee will be exploited by the makers of alcohol, health drinks and even soup. "We're seeing the podification of food."
Here, in convenient capsule form, are more of the latest findings, some of which prove the future is already with us.
Meet Gen (hi)Viz
The term coined for the increasingly visual generation born post-1990, Gen Vizzers are hooked-up, wired and connected digital natives – and they want smart food to help them feel good and look good. Look out for more nutrition-based apps such as Noom and Calorie Counter Pro that give you the plain facts on fat, salt and sugar content.
Restaurants and cafes that don't adopt the same sort of transparency as food packaging may see a disconnect with their potential new audience, says Raymond. "For many people, restaurants are no longer about special occasions, they are everyday dining, so they feel the need to exercise more control over calorie, salt and sugar intake. If a restaurant isn't giving them that information, then they will go elsewhere."
Vegan 'Chorizo' tacos at Smith & Daughters in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Photo: Chris Hopkins
The rise and rise of vegan
The Future Laboratory notes Australia is ahead of the curve when it comes to vegan cuisine. There are lists of top 10 vegan restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney, says Martin Raymond. "How did that happen so fast?" He links this to what he calls the rise of the "flexitarian" lifestyle, which he describes as "Monday, I'm vegetarian, Tuesday I'm a meat-eater, Wednesday I'm vegan and Thursday I'm drunk". People are looking for different things at different times, he says, "and that's what restaurants should be giving them." High-end London restaurants the Ivy and Le Caprice, he notes, already offer fully vegan menus, matched to wine.
Do #cleaneating Insta posts influence our diets? Photo: Pat Scala
Millennials (born 1980-2000) are five times more likely to shoot their food than over-55s, who just get on with eating it. One unforeseen consequence is better health. "There is some evidence in the US to suggest that Instagram has contributed to healthier eating: that constantly seeing so many clean, healthy dishes in such a visual medium helps you make healthier choices than government food programs can," says Raymond.
Restaurants are jumping on board, with Israeli chef Meir Adoni's renowned Catit restaurant in Tel Aviv holding Instagram-optimised special events where the colourful food, specially commissioned plates and lighting are specifically designed to be Insta-friendly.
But not everyone loves the 'gram. Star chef Alexandre Gauthier of La Grenouillere in Northern France has introduced menus with symbols for "No Tweeting", and "No Facebooking", saying he would prefer his diners were "in the moment", not on their phones.
Healthy hedonism is on the rise as consumers care more about what they put in their bodies. The new alco-health trend (it's hard to believe that I am actually writing that term) sees wine bars reimagined as "wellness night-spas" such as Lois in New York, where there is not a single bottle in sight. Homeopathic mixologists (repeat bracket above) such as Dr Cocktail — US consultant Alex Ott — blend fruits, teas and vitamin-rich extracts to alleviate the negative effects of drinking way too much vodka.
Vegie-flavoured yoghurt from zero-waste chef Dan Barber. Photo: supplied
We love yoghurt, and we love veg-based smoothies, so it was only a matter of time before the savoury vegetable yoghurt arrived. US zero-waste chef Dan Barber has devised a range of carrot, sweet potato and even parsnip yoghurts under the Blue Hills label, the milk coming from the "all-grass, all-the-time" cows of Blue Hills farms. UK premium supermarket Waitrose also launched a range of vegetable yoghurts for those looking for low-sugar treats; butternut squash, pineapple and turmeric, or carrot, beetroot, apple and ginger.
Try it here: Make your own – add chopped spinach or grated beetroot to natural yoghurt, add salt, pepper or spice and blend.
Amazon Go promises to revolutionise grocery shopping. Photo: supplied
The end of the checkout chick
No more supermarket queues, no more waiting for that annoying person in front of you to go through their purse for small change. Online retail behemoth Amazon is currently testing its "Just Walk Out' technology at a prototype grocery store in Seattle.
Dubbed Amazon Go, it uses computer vision and sensor fusion to track what you take from the shelves; then sends the bill straight to your phone. When you're done shopping, you just walk out; your credit card automatically charged for the bread, milk and chocolate bikkies.
Try it here: Best not, or you could be arrested.
Sambal chilli paste is so hot right now. Photo: Quentin Jones
Next big thing
Surprisingly, the next-big-thing ingredients are not at all surprising. Fresh wasabi. Indonesian sambal (seriously the best chilli sauce on the planet). Peanuts. Fresh yeast. Fresh cheeses such as queso fresco. Peruvian tubers. Non-dairy milk, as in almond.
According to Martin Raymond, it's less about the ingredient, and more about how they are used. Corn, for instance, is the new cocktail star in New York, where it appears in the cult mescal-based cocktail Cornelia at Wallflower bar and restaurant, and in blue corn beer from Peerskill, USA.
And jackfruit, which is fast turning into the saviour of the meat-loving vegan. "Jackfruit's use in vegan cooking is on the rise because of its remarkable resemblance to meat when cooked," says Alexandra Pyke, founder of Melbourne vegan burger start-up the Alley. Cooked long and slow, the flesh of the tropical fruit looks and feels like pulled pork, and is being used as a meat substitute in tacos, burgers and steamed buns.
Try it here: Soul Burgers in Randwick and Glebe offer a pig-free "pulled pork" burger with barbecue jackfruit, vegie slaw, caramelised onions and chipotle aioli; The Alley in St Kilda Road, Melbourne, will have jackfruit and pineapple Hawaiian burgers when it opens on March 20.
Endulj delivers signature dishes from Melbourne restaurants along with matched wines. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
Virtual restaurant home delivery
Restaurant home-delivery was one of the hottest trends of 2016 – even if it may have cooled to lukewarm by the time Uber Eats got to your door. Next up is getting rid of the bricks-and-mortar restaurant altogether by way of virtual restaurants that exist only online, with smart branding and enticing menus. In New York, eight different "ghost restaurants" such as Leafage (salads) and Grind (meatballs), are all operated out of the same kitchen in Manhattan by start-up company Green Summit. Then there's the commissary kitchen model, in which existing (real) restaurants grant their recipes to a third party operation to cook and deliver. At Melbourne's Endulj, chef Matt Germanchis cooks specially curated dishes from leading restaurants such as Movida and Lee Ho Fook out of the one commissary kitchen, delivering within five kilometres of Windsor, complete with optional wine and cheese matchings.
Sex dust and adaptogenic drinks
The health and fitness movement is pushing beyond the use of everyday foods to nutraceuticals (functional foods held to have health benefits above and beyond their nutritional content). Moon Juice, the cult Los Angeles juice bar, sells Sex Dust, a powdery mix of Chinese herbs, roots, extracts and berries that it suggests adding to drinks "for athletic activity, injury, stressful times and cortisol reduction".
Moon Juice is also into adaptogenics – botanicals thought to help the body adapt to stress – designing Brain-Activating Adaptogenic Drinks for actress and GOOP lifestyle-arbiter Gwyneth Paltrow that involve vanilla mushroom protein, maca, "brain dust", almond butter and spring water. Yep, definitely hippy-dippy land.
Try it here: The Nutrition Bar, Melbourne, and Orchard St Elixir Bar, Sydney.
Hueso in Mexico City is bucking the trend of making restaurant interiors more homely. Photo: Jaime Navarro
Home away from home restaurants
The next trend in forward-thinking restaurant design is actually backward, with dining spaces aiming to be more homely than your home – which is probably Scandi-modern. Expect more intimate dining rooms and bars that take a new look at "hygge", the Danish concept of warm and cosy, such as the Old Tom & English bar in London designed by Lee Broom. As Christian McCabe, of Melbourne's woody, fire-fuelled Embla, says, "what we're really selling is a sense of belonging, as if our place is your place." But there's always a backlash to every trend, says Martin Raymond. In this case, it's Hueso in Mexico City, designed by Ignacio Cadena to incorporate dystopian dead tree trunks, and white walls lined by 10,000 collected animal bones.
Food on the run
Imagine having your pizza delivered not by car, or bike, but by foot. And not just by foot, but by fit young athletes who actually JOG to your door with it. London sourdough pizza company Sodo teamed up with local running club Run Dem Crew for an environment-friendly fund-raising initiative that saw the keen joggers delivering pizza to homes in the area. Let's see – they get fitter, and you get fatter. Please discuss.
Try it here: You can always jog to the pizza shop and back yourself.
Impossible Foods' meat-free burger. Photo: supplied
Convenience without death
You love meat but you love animals more, right? Plant-based burgers are already with us, based on a compound from the roots of leguminous plants that mimic haemoglobin, allowing the non-meat to "bleed". Impossible Food's meat-free burgers are on the menu at Dave Chang's Momofuku Nishi in NYC, and you can buy them ready-to-grill from Whole Foods stores across the US. Next on our plate, says Raymond, is meat grown in laboratories from a protein found in fresh milk, which is at least related to a real cow.
Juice-lovers often bemoan the shopping and chopping required to juice their own fruit and veg. Now Juicero does the job for you. It's the first at-home, cold-press, Wi-Fi-connected, industrial-strength, subscription-service juicer and juicing system – think Nespresso for the green smoothie market. They do the organic shopping and the chopping; you get your favourite ingredient combinations delivered, insert them into your Juicero machine and press the button. OK, so there are a lot of plastic pouches involved – but on the upside, no cleaning.
Try it here: US-based only, but with plans for expansion.