From functional and convenience to health and wellness and transparency, this year’s trends continue to disrupt the food and beverage marketplace.

In fact, what’s in store for the food industry is “disruptive innovation,” which will “shake up years of subtle stagnation in the mature food industry and spur growth over the foreseeable future,” according to a report published by Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md.

Disruption comes in many forms. From new market entrants and go-to-market models to technology advancements. IRI, Chicago, collaborated with Chicago-based Retail Leader magazine to discover the Top 5 disruptors impacting the retail industry, which include cross-category penetration, increasing generational pull, digital growth, door-to-door fulfillment and more.

Here’s a lineup of other trends set to disrupt the way the industry views, produces, ships and buys cold food and beverages.

See the charts here!

Technology takes over

Gone are the days of the pen and paper. The spreadsheets. The manual logs. New are the technological advances designed to make food processing easier, safer and more efficient.

Blockchain, robotics, IoT, digitalization, AI, cloud-based solutions, augmented reality and 3D design-build are just some of the features disrupting the cold food and beverage industry. Imagine forklifts equipped with telematics and voice-directed solutions. (For more, check out the special report on forklifts in Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ May 2019 issue).

In 2018, Clear Seas Research conducted a study among decision makers in the food and beverage industry. This research found that the leading long-term drivers of new technology implementation was increasing accuracy/overall quality (54%), improving work environment/safety (54%), reducing waste (52%) and reducing labor and overhead costs (52%).  The study also revealed the top challenges in integrating new technology, including the lack of initial funding (31%), lack of skilled personnel (26%) and overcoming internal skepticism about benefits vs. investment (23%).

The report also details findings among current users of robotics, with 64% reporting current use in palletizing, 63% in packaging and 45% in pick-and-place equipment.

Among current users of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), 45% report currently using IIoT to monitor data in real-time, 37% to monitor control factors (pH, temperature, weight, etc.), 35% to optimize production settings and 33% to identify system or equipment malfunctions.

For additional information or to download the complete report, go to

Meanwhile, supply chain innovation experienced a 95% increase in projected spending for 2019, according to a report released by MHI, Charlotte, N.C. Eight in 10 survey respondents believe digital, next-generation supply chains will be the predominant model within just 5 years. The top technologies for disruption entail robotics and automation (64%), predictive analytics (59%), AI (55%), IoT (52%) and driverless vehicles and drones (51%). The Top 3 barriers to adoption however include hiring qualified workers (65%), customer demands for lower pricing (56%) and customer demands for faster response times (54%). The top skills to remain competitive are analytics/modeling/visualization (40%), strategic problem solving (37%) and general business/cross-functional knowledge (31%).

By 2025, over 4 million commercial robots will be installed in over 50,000 warehouses, up from just under 4,000 robotic warehouses in 2018, according to study produced by ABI Research, New York.

And, close to 48% of robots shipped in 2018 were for the food and beverage industry, according to a study released by Robotic Industries Association, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Forrester Research, Inc., Cambridge, Mass., forecasts that cognitive technologies such as robots, AI, machine learning and automation will replace 7% of U.S. jobs by 2025.

Additionally, Gartner, Inc., Chicago, predicts that by 2025, 20% of the Top 10 global grocers by revenue will be using blockchain for food safety and traceability to create visibility to production, quality and freshness. Gartner also calculates that within the next 5 years, these technologies will disrupt people, business objectives and IT systems. And, by 2030, 80% of the work of today’s project management (PM) discipline will be eliminated as AI takes on traditional PM functions such as data collection, tracking and reporting.

It’s these statistics that encourage cold food and beverage processors to develop their own blockchain arms.

For example, Walmart, Bentonville, Ark., developed an end-to-end supply chain for Angus beef.

FoodLogiQ, Durham, N.C.; AgBiome Innovations, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; Subway/Independent Purchasing Cooperative, Miami, Fla.; Testo North America, West Chester, Pa.; and Tyson Foods, Springdale, Ark., launched a blockchain pilot designed to raise transparency within their supply chains.   

And, Romana Food Brands Corp., Canada, developed the next-generation blockchain food traceability and control application to include information on conditions at the production facilities, tracking of food items and volumes in the supply chain, to name a few features. Then, it changed its company name to Romana Food Blockchain Corp.

On the other hand, the transportation and logistics industry is experiencing a slow rate of blockchain adoption, according to a survey released by Boston Consulting Group, Boston, Mass. The vast majority of respondents (88%) believe that blockchain will disrupt the industry at least somewhat, and most (59%) believe that the disruptions will take place within the next 2-5 years.

And, by 2023, 90% of blockchain-based supply chain initiatives will suffer “blockchain fatigue” due to a lack of strong use cases, according to a study released by Gartner.

Incubators and accelerators provide innovation

Ten years ago, the Specialty Food Association (SFA), New York, began working with food incubators. Then, several of those incubators and their emerging companies evolved into Incubator Alley.

Today, these incubators take on an expanded footprint to become Incubator Village, which features 11 U.S. incubators, showcasing 80 companies SFA has helped launch or grow.

One of those incubators entails the Chobani Food Incubator program from Chobani, LLC, Norwich, N.Y., which has helped startups such as Grainful, Ithaca, N.Y.; LoveTheWild, Boulder, Colo.; and Snow Monkey, Santa Monica, Calif., break into the food industry.

In 2016, Tyson Foods, Springdale, Ark., broke ground on the future site of a new incubation center that will deliver hatching operations for the company’s northwest Arkansas broiler chicken business. Then, last year, Tyson announced an agreement with Plug and Play, Sunnyvale, Calif., and 1871, Chicago, to combine Tyson’s expertise with the energy, innovation and entrepreneurialism of startup culture.

Meanwhile, The Kraft Heinz Co., Pittsburgh, Pa., launched Springboard, a platform dedicated to nurturing, scaling and accelerating growth of disruptive U.S. brands within the food and beverage space, including Origin Almond, a Philadelphia-based beverage startup that produces cold-pressed almond juices.

Nursery, a new purpose-built food and beverage incubator by Chew Innovation, Boston, Mass., re-opened its commercial cooking facility and consumer packaged goods (CPG) incubator space in New York, which has to date, created over 1,400 products in 25 different categories.

Chicago-based Cultivian Sandbox Ventures closed its third venture capital fund, Cultivian Sandbox Food & Agriculture Fund III, which invests in food and agriculture technology companies to address global megatrends, including increasing demand for protein, food safety, traceability, nutrition and resource efficiency.

Nestlé S.A., Switzerland, created the Nestlé R&D Accelerator based in Lausanne, Switzerland, which brings together Nestlé scientists, students and start-ups to advance science and technology to accelerate the development of innovative products and systems.

Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Kansas City, Kan., selected companies to participate in the 2019 DFA Accelerator program to create strategic, long-term partnerships with other industry experts and mentors.

And, Mars, Inc., McLean, Va., launched SEEDS of CHANGE accelerator to help early stage food-focused companies fast-track growth to build a healthier and more sustainable future.

Meal kit mania

According to the latest data from Nielsen, Chicago, 187 new meal kit items were introduced within in-store retail outlets alone during the 52 weeks ended Dec. 29, 2018. Likewise, meal kit users have increased 36% over the past year, and panel data shows that 14.3 million households purchased meal kits in the last six months of 2018, reflecting a marked increase of 3.8 million households from the end of 2017.

At the same time, in-store meal kit users jumped by 2.2 million households in less than a year, accounting for 60% of growth in meal kit users. While the majority of meal kit sales did still occur online in 2018, growth occurred both exclusively in-store and within the combined online/offline space.

What’s more is, mail-order meal kits have a lower overall carbon footprint than the same meals purchased at a grocery store, despite having more packaging, according to a study from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich. Researchers found that average greenhouse gas emissions were one-third lower for meal kit dinners than the store-bought meals when every step in the process—from farm to landfill—was considered. By skipping brick-and-mortar retail altogether, the direct-to-consumer meal kit model avoids the food losses that occur in grocery stores. Also in the study, last-mile emissions accounted for 11% of the average grocery meal emissions compared to 4% for meal kit dinners.

Despite all the hype around mail-order meal kits though, 93% surveyed said they currently don’t subscribe to any mail-order meal kit service, and 23% once subscribed to meal kits but no longer do, according to a survey produced by Good Eggs, Oakland, Calif. Overall, the Top 3 key frustrations consumers have with mail-order meal kits include they are too expensive (66%), the portion sizes are too small for their family (41%) and the hassle of having to manage the subscription every week (41%). Additionally, when it comes to meal kits that serve four people, 51% only want to spend $15-20 for the meal, and 65% say they are only willing to spend 30 minutes or less preparing the meal.

Cannabis lights up new product development

The cannabis market size is expected to grow from $10.3 billion in 2018 to $39.4 billion by 2023, at a CAGR of 30.7% during the forecast period, according to market research from Report Linker, France, with North America projected to be the dominant market.

That’s why Nielsen and Headset, Seattle, Wash., formed a U.S.-specific strategic alliance to deliver a read into the U.S. legal cannabis market for CPG companies.

The latest data shows consumer interest in purchasing legal cannabis exists across gender and age groups in the United States. Of adults 21-plus years old surveyed, 34% indicated that they were interested in consuming cannabis legally.

Likewise, roughly 40% of U.S. adults age 21 and over indicated a willingness to explore CBD under the right conditions, according to a new study by High Yield Insights, Chicago.

Baked goods such as brownies and cookies reigned supreme as the most popular cannabis-infused product among consumers of all ages, as revealed in a new study from Culinary Visions, Chicago. The study also indicated that further educating consumers on the potential benefits of these products may be the best way to reach an expanded demographic, with 50% of all consumers agreeing that they would feel more comfortable buying cannabis-infused products if they could speak to a knowledgeable sales representative.

Plant-based in position for progress

From plant-based food and beverages to plant-based packaging, the plant-based movement is moving the industry forward into a more sustainable future.

Plant-based consumption, for example, is up 300% over the last year, according to a study produced by Foodable Labs, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Likewise, registered dieticians predict that consumers will be more concerned about the healthfulness of food products when making purchasing decisions vs. the cost and taste, as presented in a survey conducted by Pollock Communications, New York, and Today’s Dietitian magazine, Spring City, Pa.,

About three-quarters (73%) of shoppers say they’ve heard of plant-based diets, and about half (51%) are interested in learning more. Consumers who have tried any diet in the past year are far more likely to have heard of plant-based diets than those who have not tried a diet in the past year (82% vs. 68%), as outlined in a study presented by the International Food Information Council Foundation, Washington, D.C.,

And, eight in 10 U.S. consumers have changed their own or their family’s diets to try to be healthier, with over 39% of them increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, according to a survey conducted by Innova Market Insights, The Netherlands.

Furthermore, a survey conducted by Kite Hill, Hayward, Calif., and commissioned by YouGov, Redwood City, Calif., revealed that roughly a third (34%) of Americans would consider incorporating plant-based foods into their diet as a viable option for achieving health goals.

On the foodservice side, a higher demand for plant-based proteins is evidenced by the 19% growth in cases shipped of these proteins from broadline foodservice distributors to independent (1-2 units) and micro-chain (3-19 units) restaurant operators compared to same period one year ago, according to The NPD Group, Chicago. In-home consumption trends are also showing an increase in consumer demand with a 24% increase since 2015. Beef alternatives make up 44% of the plant-based categories being shipped to independent and micro-chain restaurant operators, and are the primary contributor to the total category’s growth.

Then, the Plant Based Foods Association, San Francisco, launched a new Certified Plant Based program, what is said to be the first and only plant-based food certification that focuses on plant-based alternatives to animal-based foods.     

See the charts here!