In September, FutureFood2050.com, the website of IFT’s FutureFood 2050 initiative, featured three futurists with interesting perspectives on the future of food. These articles continue our publishing efforts to highlight the importance of scientific innovation and its promise to help us solve some of the world’s most challenging food problems. The futurists offer a variety of solutions that range from low-tech to high-tech.
• Mehmood Khan, M.D., is chief scientific officer at PepsiCo, the second-largest food and beverage company in the world. His job is to figure out what the 1.3 billion consumers who eat or drink a product made by PepsiCo each year will want in the future. He sat down with Food Technology Editor-in-Chief Bob Swientek to discuss what’s on the horizon for his company and the food and beverage industry. He explains mega trends that will shape consumer consumption patterns, such as population shifts and cultural influences on the perception of health and wellness. Included with Khan’s interview are three video clips that you can watch. He talks about how PepsiCo built a cohesive global team so that technology and knowledge could be leveraged across divisions of the company. He also discusses how the company added talented new team members with skills in areas such as computational mathematics and physiology.
• Stewart Brand, a pioneer in the environmental movement in California and president of the Long Now Foundation, embraces biotechnology as a means to feed the world’s growing population. Brand says advances in biotechnology will spark a second green revolution, and he sees GMOs as a big part of it. He envisions omega-3 fatty acids being added to soybeans for heart health and genetically modifying peanuts to make them hypoallergenic. Brand believes transparency and openness are key to gaining consumers’ trust in technology.
• Ramez Naam is a Microsoft computer scientist turned futurist and author. He says the problems we face creating a secure food future are serious but similar to those we’ve faced for most of the last 200 years. Naam sees low-tech solutions such as modern fertilizers, better irrigation systems, and access to farm equipment as the best ways to increase food production. New tools and technologies such as drones and tractors equipped with infrared cameras that are now becoming available to farmers will also be helpful, according to Naam.
In another new initiative called the Anticipatory Foresight Project, IFT is working with members and stakeholders to forecast how key trends in the food technology profession may develop over the next 10 to 15 years. The goal is to help IFT members learn how to use new tools to understand the future in order to make better decisions for their careers and the organizations in which they work.
In the first phase, the discovery phase completed last spring, members were interviewed to establish a “baseline expected future.” Next, in the forecasting phase this fall and next year, members and stakeholders will take part in face-to-face meetings and online exercises as part of the process of developing four scenarios that may evolve over time into alternate futures. In this phase, we are creating a massive open online game or MOOG to engage thousands of IFT members in formulating solutions to the challenges faced in these scenarios. They will be detailed in a Scenarios Report with system maps and narratives of potential futures. The final phase of the project will involve developing a Strategy and Innovation Report for dealing with these alternate futures with potential actions and innovations for the profession.
Emerging trends or “weak signals” that this project has identified already include the following: the coming era of women; the sharing economy; social capitalism; the informated farm; augmented and virtual sensing; and ambient intelligence. These trends have been outlined in Weak Signals and Future Audit Reports available to IFT members. Also, IFT has made available a series of videos to explain these new trends in the context of food technology. Members can watch these videos in the “About Us” section of IFT.org and learn more about the Anticipatory Foresight Project.
On the occasion of IFT’s 75th anniversary, the Board of Directors chose to look to the future, rather than focus on past accomplishments in food science and technology. Large corporations, including PepsiCo, are using Anticipatory Foresight to help plan for the future. I am pleased that we can share this tool with our members to use in their work. At my own university, we are facing financial uncertainties and a smaller pool of college students aged 18–22 years. My experience with Anticipatory Foresight is helping me see opportunities to envision future trends and develop teaching and research programs suitable for future conditions. I invite you to view the videos and take part in our online Anticipatory Foresight activities. We will share our findings at IFT15, July 11–14, 2015, in Chicago.
Mary Ellen Camire, Ph.D., CFS,
IFT President, 2014–2015
Professor, Univ. of Maine, Orono, Maine