The world of food is changing in front of our eyes. Just 10 years ago, companies had total freedom from consumer oversight to create whatever would sell. Ingredients mattered only as a cost item. For many companies, cheaper meant better.
The results have been disastrous. More than 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Especially among our poor. Companies put artificial ingredients and preservatives in their products almost without any basis. No one cared.
Now that is no longer the case. In 2017, we care, and we care a lot.
Many people — especially our most underserved communities — are at the mercy of industrial food. The industrial food system ships in high-calorie, low-nutrient processed food from thousands of miles away. It leaves us disconnected from our food and the people who grow it. The results are awful, from obesity and diabetes to a total loss of community in our food system. And it tastes terrible! No wonder people are turning against this system en masse.
Food is a gift we give each other three times a day. Millions of Americans are starting to realize the need for real food. That also comes with the need for more real-food farmers. One is not possible without the other.
In 2017, we saw massive investments in food. Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods Market. Agtech investing literally tripled in 2017 over 2016. A $17 million investment round helped propel Memphis Meats, a clean-meat company that develops animal proteins that are delicious, harm no animals, and use no antibiotics or growth hormones. (I invested in this round.)
In 2017, our restaurant company, the Kitchen, purchased $7.4 million worth of real food from American farmers and served more than 1 million guests. Our affordable, urban casual concept, Next Door, opened locations in Colorado and Memphis, meeting the demand for real food. We kicked off season two of Square Roots, and, yes again, we received more than 500 applications from young entrepreneurs interested in becoming real-food farmers; we had just 10 spots to fill. Our learning gardens grew to 450 schools across America’s heartland, reaching 250,000 kids every school day.
Here are a few 2018 food predictions for fun:
- Land prices farming corn for ethanol will take a nosedive. Ethanol from corn was never a good technology, but with electric cars coming online, we simply don’t need it anymore. Ethanol from sugar is eight times more efficient to produce and will replace any need in the short term for ethanol in cars.
- Restaurants and food companies will move toward total transparency. (I like to think we are leading the way with our Next Door concept joining the Good Food 100). In today’s world, hiding what you do from consumers is a losing strategy. Trust is the currency of our generation. In the age of the internet, everything you do will eventually be public. Transparency from the beginning is the only path forward to building a great food company.
- Thousands of millennials will quit their jobs in other sectors for jobs in food. Thousands more will become real-food farmers. The demand for farming among our youth is bright. As the real-food industry grows, the farms they’ll take on will be urban as well as soil based. No more corn and soybeans!
- There will be an avalanche of supply of farmland in the heartland. More than 25 million acres of land is set aside for corn to produce ethanol. It takes a gallon of oil to produce a gallon of corn ethanol. Every acre loses money for the farmer. You couldn’t invent a worse technology or business if you tried. This combined with the age of the typical corn farmer will open up millions of acres to our youth across the heartland.
- Restaurants will join the connected world. Automation in the back end connecting to chefs in the home office, digital front ends that connect a guest directly to the chef, and on-demand delivery of any food to your family within 20 minutes will change the way we think about restaurants today.
- Large U.S. companies will focus their philanthropic support on getting real food to underserved Americans. Obesity and diabetes are the epidemics of our day. Companies will have an amazing and powerful impact on their communities by focusing their philanthropy on creating healthy, thriving communities through food.
- Sales of processed, low-nutrient food will continue to crater. The business of real food—food you trust to nourish your body, your farmer, and the planet—will thrive in 2018.