Food Report 2023 – Hanni Rützler was in town


The Austrian trend scout Hanni Rützler delivered her annual food report on food trends for the tenth time. The presentation took place for the second time in Switzerland under the Soil to Soul banner at Zurich Sihlcity's Papiersaal venue. Numerous gastronomic and culinary experts were delighted to be on the receiving end of such high-quality input.

If one thing is clear from Hanni Rützler's latest report, it is this: The food industry is a rich and complex tapestry of issues and trends that can be utterly contradictory. This has to do with the fact that human beings are themselves contradictory creatures – we all want to preserve the planet for future generations, but convenience and enjoyable nutrition are just as important to us.

Retail is the pivotal player
Because developments in the food industry move far too fast to warrant dwelling on the past for long, the Vienna-based observer of zeitgeist and markets devoted just a short time to reviewing the first ten years of her work in trend research. What has really changed visibly and fundamentally in a relatively short time, however, is the balance of power in value chains. The landowner was once the person with most influence over human nutrition, a position of power that later shifted to the food-producing industry. And today? Hanni Rützler notes with regard to the coming year that the retail sector, i.e. supermarkets, has become the most important player. Retail uses its highly perceptive sensorium to root out which trends are important for us consumers and tests products by myriad start-ups for their true market suitability. Retailers are beyond reproach – they can pretend to accept their responsibility for the environment and put on a convincing customer-friendly face. Reality check: Because competition in the retail sector is incredibly brutal, crucial developments (e.g. abandoning single-use plastic) often take an unnecessarily long time – meanwhile, politicians sit around ignoring the fact that it is their job to urge these players to accept their responsibilities.

Traditional recipes go vegan
Manufacturers like Plantedwhich began several years ago as an offshoot of the ETH Zurich, for example, could never have grown as quickly as they have without the cooperation of major Swiss distributors. Shares in Planted are now a coveted investment. A large team produces the pea protein-based imitation chicken meat at "The Valley" food cluster in Kempthal.
Thanks to manufacturers like Planted, or the comprehensive Green Mountain range of meat substitutes, Swiss family cooks and professional chefs can now prepare their dishes entirely without meat. "Veganising Recipes" was, therefore, one of the first important topics that Hanni Rützler explored in detail during her presentation. In other words, instead of "Zürcher Geschnetzeltes" made with chicken meat, a growing number of communal catering establishments are now preparing and serving this traditional Swiss dish with Planted Chicken instead. A fact that seems not to trouble anybody at the moment is that in the course of this "veganisation", the terroir character of many ingredients is lost and, rather than cooking with the produce of a local farmer, a faceless marketing concept is employed instead.
In contrast to the industrial character of Planted, Hanni Rützler sees a small counter-trend developing towards regenerative food. Here "regeneration of the soil and diversity are the focus", and this mode of production is the agricultural economy's next step in making the planet healthier again. At the moment, regenerative food is still the preserve of high-end gastronomy. But we all know by now how it works: Anything successful there is, in many cases, reproduced and made available a couple of years later to the (usually more privileged) consumer.

New Glocal – supply chains are getting shorter
Hanni Rützler knows her limits and is fully aware that the effects of the war in the Ukraine, which has been going on now for three months, are still far from being assessable. The fact that supply chains are under great tension or have already broken became apparent during the gloomy two years of Corona. This was also included in her report. Indeed, production capacities for complex goods (such as glass) or personnel (in the food service industry) are low and lacking everywhere. In particularly bad cases, insufficient capacities accompanied by a lack of labour causes prices for all kinds of products to rise rapidly. The result of all this is that local production of certain goods becomes worthwhile again. Hanni Rützler, who calls this trend "New Glocal", sees a global reorganisation of the food trade on the horizon.

Meat from the laboratory becomes reality
In a further inspection of the world map, Hanni Rützler explained that almost 100 start-ups are now working on growing meat under laboratory conditions in order to bring animal-free steaks to market. Large amounts of money are being invested in this development, and it is highly likely that meat from the bioreactor will be available on supermarket shelves in the very near future. But do we need it? As the trend scout rightly stated, and we should remind ourselves of this daily, we will never need the large amount of protein that the industry plans to make available to us. The sense of constructing meat factories in the Israeli desert, therefore, remains a mystery to everyone. But in the words of Jules Verne, "Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real". Thus, meat will indeed be at least partially produced by machines. In parallel, however, gourmets and idealists will continue to be even more passionate about ensuring that the meat they eat comes from animals that lived in a species-appropriate manner and were killed without unnecessary suffering.

Full details available in the new report
If you're interested in trends and future problems in the food world, then you should get to know Hanni Rützler and her work. The current report covering the coming year, and naturally all back issues, can be ordered via her webseite.