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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Could Healthy Vending Machines, Powdered Meals Be the Next Big Thing in Sustainable Food?

The future is uncertain — especially when it comes to food. As the need to transition to a more sustainable food system becomes apparent, many have speculated on what the future of food will hold. Will we consume crickets for protein, or stick with something more familiar, like drought-resistant beans and plant-based burgers?

The future is uncertain — especially when it comes to food. As the need to transition to a more sustainable food system becomes apparent, many have speculated on what the future of food will hold. Will we consume crickets for protein, or stick with something more familiar, like drought-resistant beans and plant-based burgers? Last month, WRAP released a report assessing food risks and opportunities, and Target began working with MIT Media Lab and IDEO in October to explore the possibilities.

For its part, PepsiCo has announcd it will launch new Hello Goodness™ food and beverage vending machines in 2016 with “good- and better-for-you product choices.”

PepsiCo announced that several of its products will carry a non-GMO certification, and new Better For You (BFY) products will be released in the new year. Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice and four of its brand siblings will bear the butterfly seal conferred by the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit group that verifies products are free of genetically engineered ingredients, according to The New York Times.

PepsiCo’s pursuit of the certification may be more about following consumer trends than support of the cause and concern over product ingredients, however. PepsiCo has been quick to clarify that the benefits of organic and non-GMO foods are still the subject of debate. The company will not have to make any changes to the products to meet the verification requirements, and explained that the labeling is to reassure customers who are concerned about GMOs.

“Some consumers are expressing a desire to get beyond what brands are actually telling them, and we felt having external verification would give our customers assurance,” said Bjorn Bernemann, VP and general manager of Tropicana in North America.

“We’ve got products on the market today that are not GMO,” PepsiCo Vice Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Mehmood Khan told brandchannel. “Potatoes are not GMO. So if someone has the desire for that type of product, we have that. It’s all about choice.”

“There is no scientific basis to think GMOs are more or less safe than anything else,” Khan said. “The federal government and the American Medical Association have said that.”

The new BFY products are also due to consumer demand. They will include a zero-to-low-calorie black iced coffee drinks under its Starbucks partnership, Naked Juice “Pressed,” zero calorie flavored unsweetened tea, and even an organic version of Gatorade.

“It’s a consumer interest,” PepsiCo North America Beverages CEO Al Carey said about organic Gatorade. “They’re very invested in non-GMO and organic, and to the degree you can make [it] meaningful for the consumer, do it.”

The Hello Goodness vending machines will complement the new and newly certified products. Several thousand of the machines will be installed throughout the US, and will feature products from PepsiCo brands such as Tropicana Pure Premium, Naked Juice, Smartfood Delight popcorn, Lay’s Oven Baked potato chips, Quaker Real Medleys bars, Pure Leaf iced tea, Propel Electrolyte Water, and Sabra Ready-to-Eat Hummus cups.

The vending machines will also feature digital point-of-sale touch screens with product nutritional information, suggest food and beverage pairing ideas for different eating occasions throughout the day, give PepsiCo real-time consumer preference insights to inform future offerings, contain dual climate-control shelving to allow both perishable and non-perishable items to be vended together at the right temperature, and will allow for cashless and digital vending.

Meanwhile, Finnish startup Ambronite and UK-based startup Huel are also capitalizing on the increasing desire for convenient, healthy alternative food options — by offering powdered meals. These vegan options, much like Solazyme’s algae-based protein powder, eliminate the environmental impact of meat-based proteins, and generate less waste than many other options because they require less packaging and have a longer shelf life.

“The future of food must be one that both takes our planet into account and serves humans better,” Ambronite co-founder Simo Suoheimo told The Guardian. “We believe food as a system is broken and ripe for disruption. Up to 40 percent of food in the US is wasted on its way from the farm to the fork and half of the population is pre-diabetic or diabetic.”

Ambronite, which is now based in San Francisco, Calif., produces a powdered mix of berries, nuts, seeds and greens that contains a meal’s worth of nutrients, vitamins, proteins and carbohydrates. When combined with water, “Ambronite Supermeals” provide a 500-calorie, drinkable meal with a nutty, earthy taste, which retail at $59 for 5 or up to $99 for 10. The startup says it sources organic ingredients where possible, and sources ingredients from around the globe: The Brazil nuts are from Bolivia, the coconut flour is from the Philippines, the almonds are from Spain, and the berries are handpicked in Finland.

“The goal isn’t to replace traditional food altogether,” Suoheimo says. “It’s to create a real option of enjoying a full meal where people typically resort to poor fast food, snack bars, skipping meals and synthetic options, like sports supplements, that come nowhere near the nutritional completeness of real food.”

Huel is considerably cheaper at £45 (about $67) for 28 meals' worth, but it does not currently ship to North America (see their product information for the list of countries where international shipping is available). It comes in two base blends, with additional flavor powders which can be added for extra taste. Huel Unflavoured & Unsweetened is a blend of vegan protein (rice and pea), oats, flaxseed, sunflower lecithin, MCT fatty acid from coconut, vitamins and minerals. Huel Vanilla comes with added vanilla and a sweetener.

“Home-cooked wholesome food is great for taste and texture, but some people don’t like the extra work of creating a meal plan, shopping, preparing, cooking and washing up,” said Huel cofounder James Collier, who expects Huel to replace 50 to 80 percent of customers’ food intake. “Normal food can, of course, be good, but creating a well-balanced meal that contains all the right elements in the right amounts isn’t easy. Huel can supply everything the body needs without the rubbish that’s in most diets.”