The future of food production: key insights revealed

By Ellie Woollven

- Last updated on GMT

Catigani: ‘It will be fascinating to see if the personalised diet will combine with the drive for convenience and take the form of a pill or shake’
Catigani: ‘It will be fascinating to see if the personalised diet will combine with the drive for convenience and take the form of a pill or shake’
Treatt research and development manager Charlotte Catignani talks trends, flavours and the future vision for food.

Key points​ 

 “It’s safe to say the world of food production will be very different in 2050, when you consider how much we have moved on in the last 30 years.”

So says Charlotte Catignani, research and development manager at UK ingredients company Treatt and one of the players involved in Project Gastronomía, a global network of individuals, manufacturers and organisations that care about a sustainable food future (see panel, below).

“The personalised nutrition trend is a very compelling concept as consumers are demanding more from their food, whether that’s having your name on food and drink packaging to the possibility of 3D printing pasta in the shape you desire.

“What will be fascinating to watch is how this personalisation is designed and delivered, what technology will exist to measure an individual’s health…​ [and whether] the personalised diet will combine with the drive for convenience and take the form of a pill or shake, as we’re seeing with some products already on the market.

“It’s possible that, in the future, we will have more distinction between these two streams of food intake, and multisensory ​[design] will play a vital role in food for occasion-driven consumption.”

Future of food and drink design (back to top)

Catignani is in a relative position of authority to discuss the future of food and drink design and production. She has worked in food and drink research for 13 years, amassing a broad knowledge, including flavour chemistry, processing techniques, sensory analysis, flavour perception and citrus and other essential oils.

Her path into a career in food and drink research was, as she puts it, “serendipitous”. ​A degree in chemistry and postgraduate research in anti-cancer medicinal chemistry was followed by entry into the flavour industry, which she came upon “during the search for a job after university”. “I realised I could do chemistry research in the context of food and I’ve not looked back since,”​ she says.

Her current employer Treatt, an ingredients manufacturer and solutions provider to the global fragrance and consumer goods industries, is in a strong position to respond to market challenges, whether industry- or government-driven.

“Treatt has been working with its customers to provide flavours that work as part of their reformulation packages for some time. Regulation​ [such as the recently imposed sugar levy] is just part of the drive to cut sugar as consumer demand is a big influencer in what ingredients our customers need.

Pledges to reduce calories (back to top)

“Many of the large beverage manufacturers published pledges to reduce calories in their products before taxation became as prevalent as it is now and they are committed to achieving them.”

Catignani acknowledges that many countries are implementing taxes as a way of reducing sugar and says that interest in the health agenda is growing at a faster pace with increased taxation. “We​ [Treatt] can respond well to this as we’ve been working in this area for some time and have a proven range of products that perform,”​ she says.

“The biggest challenge is replicating the flavour, sweetness profile and functionality of sugar, as reducing or eliminating sugar changes many more factors than just sweetness. Our customers may use our products alongside sweeteners and other functional ingredients to bridge the gap created by removing sugar.”

Continuing on the health vein, Catignani says there is a “strong demand for clean-label from certain manufacturers”​, adding that, due to this, some customers do not wish to engage with “sweetness modulators and enhancers to help reinstate the sweetness lost when sugar is reduced”,​ despite the fact that these products “can work very well​”. As such they rely on natural flavours via a multisensory mechanism to fill the gap, she explains.

“In the western market, the demand for natural flavours over synthetic is increasing as consumers are more concerned than ever about what they eat and drink,”​ she adds. “[At Treatt], we specialise in natural flavours such as citrus, tea and fruit and vegetable essences to support this demand.”

Clean-label (back to top)

However, she notes that clean-label only accounts for “a proportion​” of the global market. “While most of our work is focused on natural flavours, our key driver is to develop products that taste great and meet customer need.”

As consumers’ taste for new experiences grows, they are continuing to explore unknown and exotic flavours, she notes. “We’re seeing an increase in blended tropical fruits and spices across a number of beverage categories, but expect to see a real surge in the sparkling water space​,” she reveals.

Catignani has worked extensively with beverage firms and Treatt’s projects are covered by confidentiality agreements, but it is clear she enjoys her input. “It’s gratifying to see a product on the supermarket shelf that contains something we have worked on … even more so in someone’s shopping trolley. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in getting something to market that tastes amazing and that customers buy.”

As for the future, new flavours that fall under the health and wellbeing movement will continue to emerge, she says, adding: “We’re also seeing rapid shifts in consumer attitudes towards beverage brands’ ethical credentials, especially when it comes to packaging and the use of plastic.

“David Attenborough’s final episode of Blue Planet II​, showing the impact of plastic in our oceans, immediately elicited a call to action from viewers the world over. Several leading beverage manufacturers, consumer brands and retailers have recently pledged to reduce plastic packaging waste in the UK by 2025. This response will have a long-reaching impact on the flavour industry, as all those in the supply chain will need to adjust practices to stay aligned to the concerns of our customers.”

Project Gastronomía

In 2016, representatives from IDEO, the Basque Culinary Center, Azurmendi and Open Agriculture from MIT Media Lab created Project Gastronomía, a collaborative scheme aimed at facing future food challenges through gastronomy and addressing them in ways that are humanitarian, sustainable, healthy and delicious.

Networking and practical actions aim to empower stakeholders, from the worlds of research, academia, and business, as well as consumers, to reflect on those challenges and enact change.

A recent event in London, ‘Gastronomy & Multisensory Design 2050’, saw Charlotte Catignani join the panellists.

She says: “Some amazing innovation is being undertaken to develop farming, growing, waste reduction, preparation and safety in food, which will be of huge benefit in the future. Collaboration on this project means awareness of these initiatives is increased and implementation will be faster.”

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