From space to microchip implants: Sainsbury’s predicts the future of food for the next 150 years

The supermarket has floated ideas for how health, technology, sustainability and unusual ingredients will change the way we eat.

15 May 2019
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image credit: Getty Images

Algae milk, jellyfish snacks and dinners delivered via a patch are just some of the predictions for the future of food in the next 150 years, according to a new report commissioned by Sainsbury’s.

Compiled by futurologists Department 22, food historian Dr Polly Russell and plant scientist James Wong, it explores what, when and how people will be eating in 2025, 2050 and 2169 – and the answers include some pretty extreme ideas, including space farms and personal microchip implants that notify supermarkets about customer delivery needs.

“In 30 years, jellyfish and other invasive species could be found on the fish counter as recent research has found them to be full of nutrients and vitamins. And we could even be introducing a ‘lab-grown’ aisle, where people can pick up cultured meats and kits to grow meat at home. Meat, as we know it today, could instead start to become a luxury product,” said Claire Hughes, head of quality and innovation at Sainsbury’s.

“We could start to see a very different food landscape in 150 years, as scientists may well be farming in space and sending back their learnings to us on Earth. This would be instrumental to us being able to farm on land which was previously barren – providing us with seasonal produce all year round.”

Hughes added that developments in technology are creating endless possibilities for how people will be consuming food in the future. “It’s likely that we’ll be consuming our key nutrients through implants,” she commented. “While nutrition patches and drips could replace our day-to-day intake, traditional celebrations – birthdays, family occasions – could be bigger and better than ever before, with the aesthetics of food strengthening the bonds of community.”

Here are the food trends that could blossom and some we are unlikely to be alive to see – unless scientists crack the code for living forever.

Coming soon: 2025

Food as medicine

Bio-fortified foods such as chestnut super mushrooms – which are boosted with vitamin D and B12 – are already on the shelves of Sainsbury’s, but this method is predicted to become widespread by 2025, at a time when nutrition could be a recognised tool used to proactively prevent chronic diseases.

Planet-friendly food 

Vegetarians and vegans look set to make up a quarter of British people in 2025 and half will be flexitarians. Not only could banana blossom regularly replace the likes of cod, but changes in the way food is farmed is expected with the rise of hydroponic systems – where plants are cultivated without soil. Ikea has already announced a pilot to cultivate hydroponic lettuce on site to supply its restaurants in Germany and Sweden. By 2025 we could begin to see on-site cultivation of herbs, micro-greens, salads and shoots – be they vertical or rooftop grown – regularly featuring in homes, restaurants, canteens and supermarkets.

The consolidation of environmental footprint apps will also help make our food planet-friendly in 2025 by providing more clarity to customers. Integration of these apps into ones more widely used, such as Google Maps, will provide accurate, tailored information to customers – whether they are interested in carbon, calories or chemicals – cutting through the complexity and delivering personalised information.

Algae milk lattes

The alternative proteins market is set to soar by 25%, with algae milk predicted to become the next plant milk to take over from the popular nut-based versions. Plus, caviar will be created using seaweed.

Insect carbonara

Insects will finally shake their ‘ick’ factor and we’ll start stocking up on cricket flour for our bakes and grasshopper pasta for carbonara. Moringa, kedondong and the bambara groundnut will also be found in more of our cupboards.

 

Looking forward: 2050

Jellyfish suppers

In February last year, Food Spark floated the news that jellyfish could be turned into crisps. Thought the idea was pie in the sky? Well, jellyfish is available in abundance and full of vitamin B12, magnesium and iron, as well as being low in calories. The Sainsbury's report predicts the sea creature won’t only feature as a tasty snack, but will be the basis for many dried ingredients and sauce mixes found on the supermarket shelves.

Cultured meat

Watch out meat producers: a shift is expected that will turn lab-grown steaks and minces from expensive experiment to everyday items. Sainsbury’s could even be selling home lab-grown meat kits which can be picked up from the ‘lab-grown’ aisle. While beef and fish are currently major areas of development, other applications expected include eggs, milk and gelatine.

Customised crops

People will be able to pick up a carrot from the shelf and know exactly when it was planted, when was plucked from the ground (to the second) and even its individual taste profile. Sensors built into the mirrored display will identify the item and present detailed information on price, nutritional value, presence of allergens, pesticides or fertilisers used in production, journey to the supermarket and waste disposal instructions.

New technological systems, such as blockchain, and personalisation could mean people will be selecting mangoes at their exact desired stage of ripeness or even 3D printed snacks according to their exact spice tolerance.

Gen Alpha

Following in the footsteps of Gen Z, this generation will be less concerned with more and instead use their spending power to attain lifestyles with more positive social and environmental benefits.

 

Future generations: 2169

Space farms

Barren landscapes, such as parts of the desert, could be transformed into sustainable, fertile farmland, thanks to food-growing experiments and technologies used on other planets, such as Mars.

Offering hope for the future, technologies involving growing crops with seawater, desalination, vertical farming, big data, climatology and agronomy may give the tools for the Earth to be restored through regenerative farming and scaling up greening efforts globally.

Implant food deliveries 

Privacy concerns aside, personal microchip implants will become the norm – it’s already happening in Sweden with 4,000 people using chips to access buildings, make payments and use public transport. But in the future, the microchip will be developed to store and analyse all the genetic health and situational data recorded from our bodies. We’ll know exactly what we should be eating and drinking at any point. Retailers could play a critical role, arranging automatic drone deliveries of the required food item or vitamin patch as soon as energy or nutrient levels dip.

Patch dinners

Advances in artificial intelligence could mean we will have the option of consuming all the nutrients and vitamins we need through a patch or pill.

Such methods are already being tested by start-ups such as Get A Drip and even the US military is developing a Transdermal Nutrient Delivery System that will transmit vitamins and other micronutrients, enhancing physical and mental performance.

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