Following a tumultuous 2021 for the food and drink industry, Nick Mosley looks into his culinary crystal ball as to the trends to look out for in the new year.
Reductionism and the ‘Greta Effect’
Without doubt meat consumption is falling in the UK and is currently at its lowest level since 2000 with an average weekly consumption at 924 grammes according government statistics.
Whether people are choosing to become vegetarian, vegan or simply eating less meat as a ‘flexitarian’, its clear that more and more of us are considering the negative impacts of factory farmed produce on our health, the environment and animal welfare. Younger demographics in particular have been influenced by the ‘Greta Effect’, coined after young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s call for the reduction of our carbon footprint.
“Having been a vegetarian for over 40 years, I’ve seen a dramatic shift to the mainstream of non-meat eaters”, said Nathalie Gomez de Vera of BITE Sussex. “I stopped eating meat because I didn’t like the taste or fancy eating animals but I think now there are so many valid reasons now for moving away from meat, it can only be a positive”.
“The quality and variety of vegetarian and vegan food has also improved no end. It’s no longer a second – or third – rate option on restaurant menus. In fact, its now often at the fore”.
Nowadays there is a lot more choice when it comes to vegetarian and vegan foods with entire aisles dedicated to them at supermarkets. And entire restaurants are dedicated to plant-based food. You certainly know that the the tide is turning when fast food monoliths such as McDonalds and KFC introduce vegan burgers.
For those of us who want to be more ethical but aren’t convinced pea protein burgers replicate the taste and mouthfeel of meat, keep an eye out for lab-grown meats created from stem cells. It all sounds rather sci-fi and unpalatable but we’ll soon be munching on animal protein that hasn’t been part of an actual animal.
The White Stuff
Just as we’re eating less meat, our consumption of dairy has also decreased. Gone are the days when your choice of milk was full fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed; grocery stores and coffee shops are packed with a plethora of cow’s milk alternatives.
Without doubt, dairy milk has by far the largest environmental impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water use. Milk produced from rice, soy, oat and almond are all much better options for environmentally conscious consumers, although both rice and almond milk require high levels of water. A single glass of almond milk takes 130 pints of water to produce.
Potato milk is the latest vegan ‘milk’ to hit supermarket shelves. Originally developed in Sweden, the production process involves heating up potatoes then emulsifying with rapeseed oil. It’s free from common allergens including lactose, gluten and nuts; low in sugar and saturated fats. Having taken part in a taste test, I can confirm that it tastes creamy and is a good dairy substitute. And the UK isn’t short of potatoes growers…
Seb Cole of Boho Gelato in Pool Valley has been using milk alternatives including almond, oat, coconut, rice, soya and even hemp in his gelatos and sorbets. In fact around 30% of his annual production is dairy free.
“My favourite texture comes from coconut milk, but we only use that for coconut-ty or tropical style flavours as its downfall for other flavours is that it makes everything tastes of coconut”, said Seb.
“Flavour-wise there is very little difference between dairy and non-dairy milk when included in our ice cream. However, I think the body of non-dairy feels a little fresher than dairy and also feels a little colder in the mouth due to the lower fat content. Some of our flavours work so much better as non-dairy due to this!"
Home Sweet Home
Just as we thought we were turning a corner with the pandemic it appears we’re going back to square one. Retail and hospitality are always at the fore of the economic impacts of Covid and whilst there are many losers there are also entrepreneurs who have seen opportunity in adversity.
In-home dining where a chef takes over your kitchen for a night – or supplies a pre-prepared restaurant box with step-by-step instructions – has seen a surge across the UK.
Following a collective 25 years working at the pinnacle of the fine dining scene in Sussex – and 18 months in top kitchens in Asia and Australia exploring fusion dishes and techniques – Maria Chilton and Jimmy Gray launched their own business, Angelica Food, in autumn 2021 to provide private dining and events catering to clients in South East England and London.
“We saw a great opportunity to provide premium private chef services in Sussex”, said Maria. “It’s definitely a growth area with consumers and also provides us with a better life-work balance. We’ve worked with local farmers and fishers for many years so its great for us to be able to include their seasonal food to our menus”.
Home delivery from restaurants by the likes of Deliveroo and Uber Eats is now a commonplace dining choice rather than a weekend treat. ‘Ghost kitchens’ – production facilities with no consumer-facing restaurant attached – are offering start-up caterers opportunities to build their businesses with very little up-front investment.
2021 saw an explosion of on-demand grocery delivery companies, offering supermarket priced food and drink delivered to your door in as little as ten minutes.
What’s next for 2022? Well keep an eye in the sky for drone deliveries. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority recently authorised a trial here in Sussex.
Metal Mickey gets real
Automation, artificial intelligence and augmented reality are all slowly but surely taking over the world. From shopping mall info-bots to technology packed ‘wearables’, the future is here.
Service robots were once an entertaining gimmick but now they’re starting to become part of the fabric of the food and drink industry and not just hidden away in factories but on the shop floor.
With the hospitality industry struggling to attract employees, the benefits of an automated short-order robot rustling up fast food dishes 24 hours a day is clear to see for business owners.
“I can easily see the fast food chains moving to this concept in the next few years”, said chef Simon Mckenzie who has worked in the restaurant industry for 30 years.
“If you think about it, we’ve seen the step towards it decades ago with automated fryers telling McDonald's cooks when to shake baskets”.
It really won’t be long before an elaborate vending system is in place. I can see McDonald’s customers placing orders on the already existing huge smart screens then in the back your burger being automatically being dispensed onto a Toyota like production line where it is cooked, loaded and packaged with no human contact”.
“We are still a little way off replicators such as those seen on Star Trek!”.
Cruise lines – notably Royal Caribbean and their ‘Bionic Bar’ concept – have been quick to pick up on automated cocktail mixologist robots, creating great theatre and the perfect serve every time.
A Win or a Whine
The drinks industry is already being burdened by the impacts of Brexit with shipping and duties becoming a real barrier for importing, particularly for smaller vintners. We’ll be seeing less Europeans wines – particularly from warmer Mediterranean climes – on the shelves and probably more New World wines shipped from the US and Australia, at an increased environmental impact.
Looking around the corner, the wine industry is due for a shake-up when new UK excise duties come into play, adding additional costs on higher alcohol red wines and fortified wines. This will hit the pockets of consumers who’ve developed a taste for Sherry and Port.
“I imagine next year is going to be tough for certain parts of the market”, said Henry Butler of Butlers Wine Cellar in St Georges Road, Brighton.
The combination of choosing lighter alcohol drinks in the first quarter, followed by the new impending duty rates punishing higher alcohol wines, could result in a shift of purchases to cooler climate wines. English, German and northern French wines could benefit as these wines are often 12% so may suddenly look cost effective”.
In the meantime, home grown craft spirit is on the rise with new distilleries popping up each month. DedBest Distillery near Lewes joins the line-up of artisanal gin production here in Sussex.
Co-owner Damian Best said despite entering a crowded market, there is still room of innovative new gins with strong brand differentials.
“Our Contractor’s Classic dry gin has a unique flavour combination”, said Damian.
“We also considered our bottle design which is tall and dark. Although we’re a gin we think the branding appears to whiskey drinkers; not in taste but in image”.