Expert predicts edible packs on the cards for firms in the future

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Families here will be eating the packaging along with their meals in the future, according to food futurologist Dr Morgaine Gaye. And it’s a prospect that could have profound implications for food processing, Northern Ireland’s biggest single manufacturing industry.

“Packaging is going to become a much bigger consideration as we seek to reduce waste,” explains Dr Gaye. “We’re going to move away from what is now considered recyclable or biodegradable – where it takes about 25 years to break down in landfill. “We’ll also see a greater focus on compostable packaging. We’ll either be able to eat the packaging or leave it in the ground and it will dissolve within a few weeks,” she says.

“The high level of interest in food is reflected in the fact that it is the second most popular on the internet for searchers. We’re in a time when food is cool,” she adds.

Dr Gaye shared her vision for food in the future at last week’s Taste of Tourism Summit organised by the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation and held near Holywood. The event involved many of our smaller food and drink companies. These companies, she continues, could benefit in the future because of their flexibility and ability to respond faster than bigger enterprises to market trends. She is on record as suggesting that “we’ll see more local products in our supermarkets and we’ll chose to eat seasonally due to price”.

As a Food Futurologist, Dr Gaye, from London, says she explores “all the facets of food including future trends, why we eat what we eat, believe what we believe and what the future of food looks like”. She hates waste with a passion and believes that more people are becoming concerned about “abuse to our planet”. “We are paying now from over-indulgence in the past that was fuelled in part by relatively cheap food which led to waste and health challenges such as obesity and other conditions.”

Rising food prices would also help to reduce waste. Cheap food had previously led to waste. “The future of food is as much a part of our sustenance, a part of our aspirations,” she continues. In addition to edible packaging, she sees the developing focus on waste and concern over climate change and plastic in our oceans leading to an increase in recyclable/uncyclable and multi-purpose products. Another trend developing was towards towards refillable packaging, adds Dr Gaye.

Respected as a researcher and speaker, Dr Gaye is the author of several academic papers and a guest university lecturer in the UK and Sweden. She’s also advised companies and government on the future food trends. Dr Gaye describes herself as a “trend forecaster”. “People often assume that my job is all food related but I’m a forecaster who translates trends for the food business. Fashion and food sit side by side.” Her objective, she continues, is to sell ideas rather than opinions.

She’s also identified an opportunity for seaweed, a developing food sector in Northern Ireland. Seaweed, she describes, as “an amazing product”. “There’s lots of things we can do with it that we’re not doing right now,” she says. “And it is kind of free really. It’s growing in abundance right now around our coasts.”

She continues that there is fabulous food readily available around the country which is “free, wild, fresh, fantastic still to be harvested”.

Animal welfare is another issue. People consuming meat were increasingly wishing to know that the animal had had a good life, that “it’s free-range, grass pastured and had a good life”.

Vegan and vegetarianism would continue to shape new product development. Companies would also have to adapt to eating trends including changes in the structure of meals and the fragmentation of family dining.

“We are increasingly eating breakfast on-the-go or postponing breakfast to later in the morning in lieu of take away coffee. Lunch has moved to around 2.00pm and an afternoon snack keeps most people going until a makeshift dinner later in the evening around 8.00pm,” she continues.

The fragmentation of family meals impacted on the quality of cooking, the importance placed on sharing and the actual way in which “we define our day”. Another development likely to gather momentum was meal preparation at home by consumers concerned about what’s in their food and interested in the people producing it. Demand from home cooks, influenced by TV food programmes, for ingredients combining quality with convenience would continue to grow.

“Transparency will continue to grow in importance,” says Dr Gaye. “More people than ever before are now scrutinising labels, a development which companies have to recognise and respond to.”