In 25 years, the items in your grocery basket could be as high-tech as the smartphone in your pocket.
Alpha Food Labs, a New York-based company that makes prototypes of future supermarket staples, has a new list of “concept foods” its team is incubating — some in partnership with existing food companies, some purely theoretical for now. If Alpha is successful, we’ll soon be munching on lab-grown burgers, genetically modified chips, and 30 other sci-fi inspired snacks.
“The Future Market,” as Alpha’s prototyping lab is called, is helmed by Mike Lee, a food industry veteran who once led product development at Chobani. We asked Lee to break down five ideas he’s using to shake up traditional (read: unsustainable) means of production, and to spark systemic change.
“People are gravitating toward a number of new ideas,” he says. “We’re working at how to commercialize and make them a reality.”
The following five foods are all conceptual for now, but also totally feasible, says Lee, whose team has assigned a likely price and a possible tagline for each item. Here’s what could be on your plate by 2043.
• Likely price: $6.99
• Potential tagline: “Polyculture Polenta Flavored by Nature”
American farmers typically plant the same one or two crops every year — a process that robs soil of precious nutrients. Soon, Lee predicts, more farmers will switch to biodiverse agricultural techniques like “companion planting,” coupling certain vegetables for efficiency and pest control, and will be rewarded with tastier, fuller harvests.
This polenta product uses beans, squash, and corn that were all grown in the same patch. “The idea,” Lee says, “is a tasty consumer proposition that’s better for soil health, and farmers along the supply chain.”
Faux Fin Soup
• Likely price: $88.88
• Potential tagline: “Celebrate with Cell Ag”
Shark fin soup is a controversial delicacy. It’s a staple at Chinese weddings and holiday meals — but critics say the dish’s popularity incentivizes brutal fishing practices, and has led to dwindling shark populations around the world.
“Cellular agriculture” — a technique scientists are already using to grow meat from animal cells — offers a mind-blowing alternative: PETA-friendly fin soup grown in a petri dish.
Having a concrete illustration helps potential consumers understand what’s actually a fairly simple solution to traditional meat production, Lee says. “The idea of lab-grown meat is technically and conceptually difficult,” he says. “The depiction of a commercial product makes it more tangible.”
• Likely price:$2.75
• Potential tagline: “The perfect potato”
It’s got the food world hyped too: Scientists are already using CRISPR to create mushrooms that don’t brown, and drought-tolerant soybeans. In the case of chips, CRISPR could help companies produce potatoes with specific textures or tastes.
“CRISPR is a very efficient way to go in and turn different genes on and off,” Lee says. “It can be used on foods that have super mass appeal … like the ideal potato chip.”
• Likely price: $36.79
• Potential tagline: “Explore what’s inside”
Personalized health and genetic reporting is huge right now. (We’re looking at you, 23andMe.)
“AnalyzeMe,” a pill that can record the bacteria in a person’s digestive system and offer personalized nutritional recommendations, takes fitness tracking up a notch (or 20).
“We’re definitely pushing deeper in the future with this one,” Lee admits. “But we think it’s important … and a vision of where things might go.”
• Likely price: $10.99
• Potential tagline: “The world’s most transparent chicken”
Blockchain technology, invented a decade ago to publicly track bitcoin, could soon revolutionize food production, Lee says.
Alpha’s “Block Bird’s” product centers on the idea that the life cycle, sourcing, and handling of a single animal could be tracked via electronic sensors, rendering paper records obsolete. From an accountability standpoint, this “precision tracking” could hold farmers to the high standards they claim to abide by, Lee says. It also has public health applications, he argues: It could isolate food safety emergencies like salmonella contamination “in seconds.”
“Tracing the food supply chain is really complex,” he says. “Blockchain can give us a better handle on where your food comes from.”