Dr James Bellini is a leading futurologist and author with a considerable reputation as a thought-provoking speaker and moderator at top-level management conferences and business schools around the world. James has spent more than twenty-five years as a respected TV broadcaster, futures analyst and writer with a strong focus on social, economic and technological trends up to Horizon 2025. Here, he anticipates what the kitchen of the future will look like...
The compact ‘smart’ kitchen of the future will be hooked up to the Internet of Things – everything will talk to everything else, saving precious time, effort, water, energy -- and food waste. Every appliance and device will be controlled and monitored via a smart grid and supervised by self-organising robots, who will look after everything from minimising electricity consumption and running appliances to checking household food and drink inventories and ordering up new supplies online when they are running low. Advances such as wireless electricity will cut down on the clutter of cables and wall sockets of today’s kitchen environment.
Remarkable new materials such as graphene, willow glass and carbon nano-tubes will bring amazing new possibilities to kitchen equipment. And there will be other remarkable kitchen marvels: waterless washing machines and dishwashers, ‘smart pots’, talking oven mitts and interactive, ‘intelligent’ countertops that sense batches of ingredients and dream up healthy, innovative and high-flavour meals while minimising food waste. Molecular cookers will bring the ‘science cuisine’ of the world’s top chefs to the average household. Or you might opt for pressurised steam ovens that will cook food much faster than a regular oven, while more of the nutrients and flavours are retained.
Given the crucial importance of food issues over the coming decades, the current level of general awareness and concern is surprisingly low. A recent study revealed that more than half of all food waste across the EU arises in households. In the UK it is far higher, at around 70 per cent; more than half this figure relates to ‘avoidable’ waste – food and drink thrown away because it is no longer wanted or has been allowed to go past its best. There are many and varied reasons for this dire household track record. One is the growth in eating out; another is over-zealous following of ‘best before’ dates, which only refer to quality, not food safety. Then there are broader economic factors – whether people have more or less money to spend.
To help the fight against food waste, the kitchen of the future will be an eco-conscious kitchen. There will be much greater emphasis in gadget and appliance design on conserving scarce resources like water and reducing food waste. Smart, Internet-connected fridges enhanced with artificial intelligence will keep a keen eye on temperature, humidity and food expiry dates; smartphone apps will enable you to check out contents and avoid over-buying.
Other apps will mean consumers can connect with neighbours who have leftover food to give away, while an award-winning new food labelling system features a tactile bump that tells when perishable food has gone off. Clever rubbish bins will help reduce food waste in landfills by converting it into fertiliser. And by the late 2020s domestic kitchens will have adopted sophisticated waste measurement systems from large and busy commercial kitchens, using smart meter technology and smart scales on waste bins to track how and what food is being thrown away and at what cost so as to promote behaviour change.
Brands such as Grundig are already working on new global technologies set to revolutionise the home and help the fight against food waste, starting in the kitchen. Recently announced is Grundig’s brand new FreshMeter® technology, which assesses the freshness of meat within a fridge by detecting the odour level present and then displaying the condition of the food via an LED indicator: blue (analysing), green (fresh), yellow (going off) or red (dispose).
Grundig has also just revealed its Realtime Inventory Tracking technology, which monitors each food item in your fridge to provide alerts when items are approaching their use-by date. Users will be able to remotely check the expiry dates of their fridge contents while shopping, in order to see exactly what they need to buy.
And a further additional to the future kitchen could be the Grundig Cooling Oven. Through its advanced technology, you’ll be able to simply put your dish in before you leave for work, set to chiller and then later on, operate the oven via a smart connected device on your way home to cook your food. Et voila – dinner piping hot on your return.
So looking ahead to the 2020s and beyond, it seems clear that emerging technologies and changing attitudes could spark a new era for food in which tackling waste and providing healthy and wholesome eating for all in a sustainable way will move significantly up the agenda.