Insight from the experts, part 13

How is the catering industry likely to change in the future? Sue Parfett makes her predictions

On 21 October last year we passed the extraordinary landmark that is ‘Back to the Future’ Day. Aside from some film-nerdish excitement, it got me thinking: some people attempt to predict the future so often, and yet the predictions normally never see the light of day. For example, according to Isaac Asimov, by 2014 we should have been living underwater. However, we are now told driverless cars and deliveries by drones are nearer to being a reality. But in the face of hundreds of ill-fated predictions, I’m going to attempt to make a few of my own, this time for the food industry. So I’m sticking to what I know.

The iconic DeLorean

In recent years, we’ve seen a huge emphasis on multiculturalism and fusion within food. I fully expect this to carry on indefinitely. We often call our society ‘globalised’ as though the process is complete. But globalisation is a continuous process; it’s probably going to develop more and more. Our food is going to become more and more varied until Greenlandic-Peruvian fusion restaurants rub shoulders with Middle Eastern-Asian on our high streets. Street food and pop-ups are just the beginning and, as our young people travel or work on other continents, this will increasingly become the case.

A friend of mine’s eldest son finished university and started his working life in Spain. Since then he has been in Vietnam for the last six years. Yet there is nothing he likes more than returning home to roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. So it would be naïve of me to suggest that the future is going to be some culinary land of the weird and wonderful. I suggest that the extremes will abound and traditional dishes (who mentioned school dinners?) will continue to have an important place on our menus.

Agriculture worldwide faces some very real threats which show no signs of abating and will affect the way we eat enormously. Climate change and an increasing population are putting a huge strain on crops. We simply can’t produce enough to carry on farming as we are. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, thinks that, apart from the very wealthy, we will soon be eating “industrialised food produced as cheaply as possible”, and that this is only avoidable through “farm policy inextricably linked to health and environmental policy”. My word, it’s all sounding a bit bleak.

So to make food resources go further, controlling food waste will take on considerably more importance. We have experience that effective waste management can reduce food cost by 12 percent. As food becomes a rarer commodity, this will be essential to controlling costs.

Will the students of the future be ordering their lunch via an app?

We are told Generation Y is the generation to save the planet. However, according to some research undertaken since 1975 by the University of Michigan and UCLA, only 21 percent of Generation Y – or the Millennials – are willing to be involved in an environmental clean-up whereas a staggering 75 percent consider wealth a “very important attribute” in their lives. The reality is, this generation has mixed motivations and while some care about the environment, it’s probably not enough to make a real difference.

So those currently in preparatory and early senior years (Generation Z) will care more about the ethics of those who provide for them than those who have gone before. Growing up in a recession has had its impact and they recognise that the traditional routes to wealth may be preferable for them. So a kind of circle back to post-war principles is on the cards. And this will all need to be reflected in the way companies and organisations represent themselves to this generation.

If ‘Back to the Future’ has taught me anything, it’s that the future may not be what you expect. And while some aspects affecting our lives can change beyond recognition, there are trends that go in cycles. But if we are to make it through successfully we need to work out which belongs where.

Sue Parfett is managing partner of The Brookwood Partnership W: www.brookwoodpartnership.com    

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