As food technologies and cutting-edge food trends continue to emerge and evolve at an unprecedented pace, it’s an exciting time to be in the kitchen. By Meg Crawford
The food sector—whether retail or food service—is changing at a greater pace than it has done in the last 30 years. But who’s leading the charge? According to Mark Field, director of The Real Food Professor, a Melbourne-based boutique food consultancy business, the biggest disruptor in the market now is the consumer. “It’s the consumer driving change in terms of how they want to eat, what they want to eat and how they want to order food, balanced against the sustainability challenges that we all face,” Field says.
Technology pushing boundaries
Mark Field makes the point that consumer-led change is being facilitated by technological advancement, a prime example being 3D food printing. While edible printers are still prohibitively expensive for many establishments, they’re a boon for the Australian restaurants championing the technology. For instance, South Australia’s d’Arenberg Cube restaurant, which was the first to use 3D food printing in the country when it opened its doors in 2017, found the technology costly and time consuming initially but well worth the investment.
“My thinking is that if you’re going to use a 3D printer, you need to deliver something that the farmer hasn’t done or that is a completely different experience.”
Michael Lee, manager, Meat & Livestock Australia’s High Value Food Frontiers program
Now, with a few years’ experience under his belt, head chef Brendan Wessels is adamant that 3D food printing is no gimmick. “It broadens exponentially what you can offer on a menu,” he says. Of course, the technology has its downsides. “There’s no way of thermo-regulating an extrusion at the moment, you’re restricted by gravity and you can really only work on two planes. It’s not like 3D printing in other industries.”
To date, most 3D food printing has been confined to desserts and pastas, but a broader application isn’t far behind. Michael Lee, manager of Meat & Livestock Australia’s High Value Food Frontiers program is part of the group exploring this opportunity. “Nearly two years ago we did a study looking at two things: first, can you 3D print meat, and secondly, should you do it?,” he says.
“Technically, we proved that you can. We made different entrees and snacks using 100 per cent beef, with no fillers or binders. As for the second part, the drivers for us were the kitchen of the future—could jobs like rolling meat balls into intricate shapes and textures be something that a 3D printer could do? The answer is, ‘yes’. You might ask, ‘why would you want to print a steak when you can get a perfectly good one from an animal?’. My thinking is that if you’re going to use a 3D printer, you need to deliver something that the farmer hasn’t done or is a completely different experience. So, maybe you’re not making a steak, but a highly value-added snack.”
“It’s the consumer driving change in terms of how they want to eat, what they want to eat and how they want to order food, balanced against the sustainability challenges that we all face.”
Mark Field, director, The Real Food Professor
Wessels says, “You can liken it to sous vide cooking 20 years ago. When you think about its history, the Roux brothers experimented with the technology for use on trains. It’s grown to be a necessity in any modern kitchen now. 3D food printing will be the same.”
Another important consumer-led and emerging trend is the 360-degree approach to food. “People are looking to be assured of sustainability—it’s not just farm to fork, it’s farm to fork to bin to new product,” says Glen Bagnara, co-director of Bar & Restaurant Consultants.
Ethics and environmental factors weigh in too. “The consumer has a key connection to food today—where has it come from, what are the welfare standards associated with it, are people being paid the right money for their work, is there a lot of food waste, how is it being processed and what are my food miles?” adds Mark Field, director of The Real Food Professor.
Vegan: not just a hippy fad
A prime example of consumer-led change is the proliferation of plant-based options continuing to hit the market. Take for instance Hungry Jacks, which recently introduced a plant-based burger in partnership with the CSIRO.
“It doesn’t have to be alcoholic to taste great. Remember, you’re not comparing these drinks with a $2 bottle of soft drink, you’ll be comparing them to a good bottle of wine.”
Mark Field, director, The Real Food Professor
Melissa Pepers, founder of expert trend forecaster Bonbo and Glen Bagnara, co-director of Bar & Restaurant Consultants, refer to the phenomenon as “mainstream niche”, pointing to examples like Weirdoughs, a Melbourne laneway cafe which specialises in 100 per cent plant-based goods, including croissants, cookie doughs and ice creams.
“It’s in a prime, high-street location producing what was once considered a niche product,” notes Glen Bagnara.
“Larger business are now having to tap into these niche markets and create different sub-brands,” adds Pepers. “By sharing their big-food brand with a niche brand, they’re attracting niche-market kudos.”
Consumer demand is also evident in a continuing push for more sophisticated alternatives to alcoholic beverages. Take NON’s brand new lightly-carbonated, salted raspberry and chamomile beverage, which sells for $30 a pop and is available at liquor stores. “I think we will see some exciting work around non-alcoholic drinks,” notes Mark Field. “It doesn’t have to be alcoholic to taste great. Remember, you’re not comparing these drinks with a $2 bottle of soft drink, you’ll be comparing them to a good bottle of wine.”