Aqua Cull fish sticks cost $6.99 a box. They have the same crunchy coating as ordinary fish sticks, but underneath is an invasive species such as lionfish. The actual fish inside depends on which species is wreaking ecological havoc in your region.
You can’t actually get Aqua Cull in the frozen food aisle yet — but Mike Lee thinks you’ll find something like it soon.
Lee founded The Future Market, a small group that comes up with concept products to predict what we’ll be eating five to 25 years in the future. Lee also co-founded Alpha Food Labs, Future Market’s parent company, which consults with major food brands on product development. That consulting work, combined with insights from a sister company called Food+Tech Connect that tracks food industry news and innovations, helps the Future Market team identify trends. Based on what they see, they create ambitious fantasy foods that they hope will inspire the industry.
Lee stresses that the concepts are grounded in the real world. “I don’t think there’s any product where we simply made something up and said, ‘Oh, in the future people are just going to be vaporizing their food and eating it,’” Lee says. “We don’t really do sci-fi stuff.” The imagined products reveal four main themes about the food of the future:
1. It will be all about experiences.
Food will reflect the “flattening and shrinking of the world,” Lee says, with more opportunities to try foods that were once exotic. But there will also be a focus on regional flavors and terroir, the local environmental factors such as soil and sunshine that give some foods a distinctive flavor. Food will be more personalized, and it will have the ethos of the maker movement. A concept product called Digital Degustation lets users choose a fancy restaurant and download its menu items to their home 3-D food printer. A product called Nanobrew captures wild, airborne yeast from a person’s home to brew hyperlocal beer.
2. It will be tailored for your health.
With the rise of the quantified-self movement and precision nutrition, and awareness of how important our microbiomes may be to our health, Lee expects the food of the future to be customized and highly functional. A concept food called Precision Bar offers on-demand energy bars targeted to an individual’s energy needs and fitness goals. Custom Culture is yogurt made to work with a person’s microbiome.
3. It will be sustainable.
Lee thinks food manufacturers will soon focus more on Earth-friendly practices like reducing food waste, preserving biodiversity, and making packaging that’s biodegradable. Concept products like Trim Snack and Offal Good make use of vegetable and meat scraps. Crop Crisps are crackers based on a different grain or legume each year in a four-year cycle, as source crops are rotated.
4. It will come from new kinds of farms.
Food growers will embrace technologies like sensors, drones, vertical farming, and genetic engineering, Lee says. A concept product called Block Bird’s lets customers see their chicken’s entire supply chain, verified by blockchain.
Other farms will look less like cattle standing in a pen, and more like microbes stewing in a vat. So-called cellular agriculture startups are already engineering yeast and bacteria to make animal products like dairy protein or lab-grown meat. Heritage Culture is a concept product that uses cellular agriculture to recreate “luxury proteins” like Wagyu beef. The technology could also recreate foods that Lee calls “delicious yet taboo,” like shark-fin soup, which is illegal in several states because of its reliance on unsustainable and cruel fishing practices. The Future Market imagines a cultured version called Faux Fin.
Lee thinks these foods are among the furthest away, but they’re also the dishes he looks forward to most. “I really am excited to sit down in the near future and dig into a full steak that was cell ag,” he says.