What’s in store for food in 2022?
As 2021 draws to a close, Professor Chris Elliott gives his expert opinion into the challenges to come for the food and drink sector next year.
This is the time of year where all sorts of predictions appear. I’ve written a few of these previously and, thankfully, by the end of that year no-one has bothered to look back to tell me how wrong I was! Anyway, here I go again with some thoughts of what might be on the horizon for 2022. Read on for Elliott’s top six predictions.
It doesn’t take much reading to understand the price pressures on food will continue through much of next year. The impacts of Brexit and Covid will take most of the blame, but the ongoing and worsening climate crisis will increasingly impact food prices and food availability too. We will see more evidence of the negative impacts of droughts, floods, wildfires and heatwaves. This in turn will require greater focus on the additional use of legal and illegal pesticides, which may well occur as many farmers worldwide struggle to deal with increased attacks from pests due to climate change.
Both the United Nations (UN) Food Summit and the UN Climate Conference (COP26) brought a sharper focus on the sustainability of the global food system and the substantial contribution that agriculture and food industries make to the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere. The front of pack food labelling showing the credentials of many food products will appear in UK supermarkets and further afield across Europe. I am very proud that Foundation Earth, the organisation in which I act as Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board, will lead the way on this alongside many partner food manufacturers and retailers.
The rise in the drive to sell vegan offerings will continue with more ‘fake foods’ appearing on the shelves of our supermarkets. But, like the dotcom boom and bust of the 1990s, nearly as many products will disappear from the shelves, as consumers realise they are not particularly good for the planet or their health, and taste nothing like the real thing. I am, however, looking forward to the appearance next-generation vegan/veggie offerings that are made from a small number of locally sourced and nutritious ingredients. As someone very wise said once, you can fool some of the people some of the time…
I worry we might see the first serious outbreaks of foodborne illness due to the drive to replace plastic packaging. Plastics are a massive problem for our environment, but they are by far the best way to keep many foods fresh and safe. This is a major conundrum facing the food industry and if it goes wrong there could be catastrophic consequences.
I sincerely hope that the neglected human rights and inequalities of many smallholder farmers, particularly women, will keep the attention and action needed. The more I look into this subject, the more frustrated I become, as I realise how so many are mistreated in order to supply us with cheap food. As supply chains become more transparent and audits become tougher on this front, many food manufacturers and retailers are getting increasingly concerned that they might end up appearing on the front page of newspapers for the wrong reason.
I could not produce such a list without mentioning food fraud. I’ve written several articles on this subject for New Food and about the alternative proteins or ‘white powder markets’. A lack of regulation and understanding of the risks, combined with a booming marketplace are all helping the cheats to prosper. I therefore fully expect an exposé of some type to emerge, and who knows, it may come from me!
I have to finish on a positive note, however, and I wish all readers of New Food (and my column in particular!) a wonderful Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.