By 2050, global food systems will need to meet the dietary demands of more than 10 bn. people who on average will be wealthier than people today and will aspire to the type of food choices currently available only in high‑income countries.
This food will have to be produced sustainably in ways that contribute to reducing climate change, and that address other environmental challenges. At the same time, human health is influenced more by food than by any other single factor, and facilitating healthy diets is critical both for individual well‑being and containing the costs of treating illnesses.
It is widely recognized that the current trajectory of the food system will not allow us to meet these goals. The food system needs to change radically to address these challenges, and a very important part of this will be the adoption of new technologies, including the opportunities provided by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The food sector has been relatively slow at capitalizing on recent technological advances: for example, the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Innovation with a Purpose report showed that cumulative start‑up investments since 2010 are more than ten times greater for healthcare than for food. However, this does now seem to be changing and one of the areas attracting the greatest attention and investment is alternative proteins and meat substitutes.
How this sector will develop is far from clear, but there is a possibility of genuine disruption in the near future.
Alternative proteins that can act as substitutes for traditional animal‑based food are attracting considerable financial investment, research attention and interest in the media as a pathway to meeting the nutritional needs and food demands in a healthy and sustainable manner.
Many of these potentially disruptive alternatives are enabled by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and come with big promises – from reducing greenhouse‑gas emissions to transforming nutrition and health.