Speculating about the future can be a risky occupation, especially where food retailing is concerned. Things change so fast in our world that the revolutionary can quickly seem commonplace.
Having said that, with the end of the 21st century’s first decade in sight, a little crystal ball gazing wouldn’t be amiss. And because the past always influences things to come, I’m going to start by looking back at the eventful decade from which we’re emerging.
Without a doubt, the noughties was the decade of the celebrity chef. From Jamie to Hugh and from Delia to Heston, these food icons made food into mainstream TV entertainment. Yes, we can trace the lineage of the star-struck cook right back to Mrs Beeton, but this was the decade when chefs emerged from the kitchen to become bone fide superstars in their own right, driving a scratch cooking revolution.
Along with that, people began to look more closely at where their food came from and we saw increased demand for high-quality, locally sourced, seasonal British products; some people even began to grow their own.
We also saw the rise of organic food while, happily, fairly traded products from the Fairtrade Foundation itself moved from niche to mainstream, throwing a lifeline to growers and communities in the developing world.
There was a revolution in the coffee and tea market after Frasier and Friends took the idea of going for coffee from the streets of Seattle and New York to British shores. It is now hard to remember when we didn’t have a CostaBucks on every corner.
But what of the next decade? I think we’re going to see food and politics become even more irrevocably intertwined. We will need to source more food from our own farmers as pressures on water use and the effects of global warming tighten their grip.
We will also experience increased competition in the foreign wholesale markets as emerging economies battle to satisfy the demands of their new middle classes. However, these countries will also become interesting suppliers in their own rights. A great example is China, which is seeing something of a rice wine to red wine revolution. The economic powerhouse already has three vineyards of note and, as quality improves, we can only speculate on the effect this could have on the palates of wine lovers.
Finally, I think some of the trends that have emerged in the recession will stick, even as the economy improves. The appreciation of more frugal foods such as forgotten cuts of meat will sit happily alongside the renewed desire for more indulgent treats.
What is certain, however, is that this business of ours is bound to have some surprises up its sleeve for the years to come.
- Mark Price is managing director of Waitrose