The Lotato (a low-carb potato), a vegan Magnum ice-cream and flexitarianism. Herald on Sunday food columnist Niki Bezzant predicts how we will change how we eat this year.

Once upon a time, visions of the future were space-age. There was a time when we thought that in the far-distant year 2000, we'd be using flying cars and popping pills instead of real food.

As a child I had my heart set on a Star Trek-style machine where we could order up whatever food we wanted and have it magically appear.

As it turns out, although flying cars may be on the horizon - and Uber Eats is almost as good as that Star Trek machine - the future of food has turned out to be somewhat different.

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But it appears we're trending more towards the pastoral than the futuristic.

People in the business of tracking food and eating trends say we're looking for natural, whole foods; we're looking for provenance: where and how our food was produced.

Millennials - those born between the mid-80s and early 2000s - are increasingly driving what we're eating and shopping for.

So what's on the menu this year?

Going flexitarian

If we follow global supermarket trends, we can expect to see smuggled vegetables in foods like ice-cream, pizza crust and biscuits. Stay tuned for the Vegan Magnum icecream - on sale now in Sweden and Finland.

Vegan Almond Magnum.
Vegan Almond Magnum.

Globally, about 6 to 8 per cent of us are vegetarian, and it's reflected in New Zealand. But many more - about 27 per cent and growing say we're "flexitarian" - trying to eat less meat.

And meat-free meats are not just being marketed at vegetarians and vegans, but those of us wanting to dip a toe in to vegetarian eating.

They have the potential to seriously disrupt dinner tables around the country - a point that hasn't gone unnoticed by our meat producers.

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With red meat consumption trending down here in the past ten years, Beef & Lamb New Zealand commissioned a report in 2018 on how the industry should respond to the meat-free meat trend. In Future of Meat, the authors note "Consumers are choosing to make what they feel is an ideological decision to eat alternative protein. In part, this can be linked to the backlash against broken food systems e.g. factory farming and 'big' food." They also cite growing health and environmental concerns about meat.

Beef & Lamb NZ says that in the future we're likely to look for less meat, but better. In the US, they report, "Health conscious consumers are increasingly seeing meat as either a comfort food or an indulgence, reserved for special occasions".

Would you be able to tell the real thing from the plant-based version?
Would you be able to tell the real thing from the plant-based version?

Countdown's general manager of merchandise, Scott Davidson, says the chain is seeing a growing trend for plant-based meat alternatives such as a meat-free mince alternative made from soy and wheat protein. It sits alongside the real meat in the chiller and adds to a range of meat-free meats already enjoying runaway success, including Sunfed's "chicken-free-chicken".

"We think the level of interest in vegan and vegetarian diets will continue to influence and create even more new product development in this category", says Davidson.

International food trend expert Julian Mellentin, whose job it is to predict what and how we'll be eating in the future, says plant-based foods are in big demand, but it's not because we're all turning vegetarian.

"If consumers can be described as flexitarian that's largely because good new product development is making it easier for people to choose more plant-based meals and snacks, such as mini-beets and cauliflower rice and spiralised courgette", he says.

Spiralised beetroot, zucchini and carrot are packed into The Whole Mix medley pack at Speirs Foods' Marton factory. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle
Spiralised beetroot, zucchini and carrot are packed into The Whole Mix medley pack at Speirs Foods' Marton factory. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

The supreme winner at 2018's NZ Food Awards demonstrates that point neatly: The Whole Mix spiralised vege range offers pre-cut fresh vegetables in noodle-like form, ready to use as the base of a meal. In a meat-loving nation - and in awards where previous winners have all been animal products - this feels like a small revolution.

The lotato and green banana flour

Lotatoes - the new low carbohydrate potato
Lotatoes - the new low carbohydrate potato

We can buy ready-made cauliflower "rice", and 'low-carb' is a breakout claim on many packaged foods. It's a global trend; even the rice-loving Japanese are in the middle of what they call a "lo-ca-bo" craze.

But despite the hype, most of us are never going to ditch carbohydrate foods altogether. What's more likely is we'll head towards a more discerning approach.

"[People] will adopt a personalised approach to low carb, for example, making trade-offs – dropping something they find easier to give up, to make room for carbs they find it harder to do without," says Mellentin.

"So someone may cut cakes and cookies and bread from their diet so they can still enjoy a glass of wine or beer. Others will cut back on potatoes so that they can occasionally enjoy an indulgent pasta."

Burgerfuel's low carb burger.
Burgerfuel's low carb burger.

New and improved carbohydrate foods are already having an impact. While potatoes still top the charts of Kiwis' favourite vegetable, the lower-carb Lotato has been a hit. The T&G Global product has just 10.8gm of carbohydrates per 100gm. The company reports that demand is outstripping supply.

The experts predict this year we're likely to try new and interesting grains - think quinoa, teff and farro - along with lower-carb varieties of foods such as wraps, cereals and crackers.

Resistant starch is a type of fibre that's useful for gut health, and as we learn more about it we can expect to see it being promoted in our foods. Also, keep an eye out for green banana flour.

Monk fruit sweetener

Monk fruit Photo / 123RF
Monk fruit Photo / 123RF

We're likely to become even more savvy about sugar, as the conversation continues about sugar taxes and more shows like Sugar-free Farm appear on screen.

We may get some help with our sugar detection on food labels soon. Food Standards NZ and Australia (FSANZ) is reviewing whether added sugars should be listed separately in nutrition panels, alongside tweaked ingredients lists to show all the sugars together. That would mean manufacturers couldn't "hide" sugars in foods as easily as they can now by using lots of different sweet ingredients (there are more than 30 types of sugars). We can expect to see a scramble as manufacturers improve their recipes.

Coke No Sugar is popular. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
Coke No Sugar is popular. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

Trends suggest we'll be drinking less sugary fizz, with Coca-Cola NZ reporting close to half of its Coke sales now low or no-sugar varieties, a proportion it expects to grow.

There's a backlash against some foods that have been previously seen as healthy, such as juice, cereal and flavoured yoghurts and milks. So we can expect to see more lower-sugar varieties of these, too. We'll probably see more confusing claims such as "no refined sugar" aiming to tap into our desire for a low-sugar life.

Monk fruit is the latest natural sweetener to get the green light from FSANZ, so expect to see food and drink sweetened with this popping up soon.

Pre-mashed and convenient

Pre-mashed food will be on the rise. Photo / Doug Sherring
Pre-mashed food will be on the rise. Photo / Doug Sherring

Even though we want our food to be natural and whole, we also want it to be convenient. If overseas trends hold true for New Zealand, there will be many new foods catering to this.

Mash Direct is a UK range of pre-mashed vegetables launched by a family of farmers looking to rescue their low-value commodity business. It's been a runaway success with shoppers. That's because, says Mellentin, they've solved a problem: "Vegetables need to be washed, peeled, chopped or cooked". Millennials, it seems, don't have time to mash potatoes.

Whether Kiwis would embrace ready-mashed veges remains to be seen, but we've certainly taken to other convenience-oriented ingredients, such as ready-steamed rice and pre-cooked beetroot, so we can expect to see more of these types of foods.

Nadia Lim with her meal delivery service kit. Photo / Supplied
Nadia Lim with her meal delivery service kit. Photo / Supplied

At home we've embraced the food kit revolution, with My Food Bag proving a massive hit with Kiwis who like the convenience of not having to plan or shop for their meals. With others such a WOOP (which plays to convenience with its pre-prepped ingredients) and Hello Fresh in the market, it's likely in 2019 that more of us will give the food box life a try.

We're also probably going to eat out more - whether we go to a restaurant or the restaurant comes to us. According to The Restaurant Association's annual hospitality report, nationwide sales of food "to go" recorded the highest growth of any category at 5.7 per cent last year. Delivery apps Uber Eats and Menulog both report huge growth in demand.

Uber has now launched a walking delivery service for central city dwellers in a bid to decrease delivery times.

Uber has now launched a walking delivery service for central city dwellers in a bid to decrease delivery times. Photo / Doug Sherring
Uber has now launched a walking delivery service for central city dwellers in a bid to decrease delivery times. Photo / Doug Sherring

If you haven't tried ordering dinner on your phone screen, chances are you will have by the time next year rolls around.

Look for even more food kit companies launching and plant-based ready meals hitting the shelves.

Snackification

Snacks are another thing we want to be quick and easy. What Countdown's Davidson describes as "snackification" is a growing trend, he says.

"Millennials tend to have smaller meals throughout the day and healthy snacks along the way. Now it's all about the right protein bars, roasted seaweed, chickpea snacks, bliss balls, vegetable chips - all packaged up into small snackable options."

Bliss Balls.
Bliss Balls.

Look for, as is popular in the Netherlands, vending machines featuring ready-made fresh vegetable snacks.

Catering to keto dieters, snacks made up of 80 per cent fat or more are proving popular overseas, in the form of balls and bars packed with coconut, palm and other oils.

Habitual Fix sell a hemp smoothie. Photo / Michael Craig
Habitual Fix sell a hemp smoothie. Photo / Michael Craig

And now that hemp foods are legal, expect to see an explosion of balls, cookies, smoothie powders and oils with hemp at their heart.

Habitual Fix already sells a hemp smoothie.

Collagen foods

Millennials, apparently, are driving a trend for foods with beauty benefits - the latest "superfood" ingredient is collagen protein for beautiful skin.

It already comes naturally in things like eggs, beans, fish, garlic, oysters and berries.

Collagen comes in berries.
Collagen comes in berries.

But it's also in products like bone broth and added to protein bars and powder and coffee creamers but it expected to be added to more mainstream products.

Collagen is a multi-million-dollar industry in the US. Google Trends tracked it at an all-time high this year.

Gut busters

Kombucha is everywhere. Photo / Northern Advocate
Kombucha is everywhere. Photo / Northern Advocate

You'd have to have been living under a rock not to have noticed kombucha popping up in the drinks chiller lately, and on tap in bars and cafes. The fermented tea is the latest category to explode on to the scene servicing our interest in the health of our guts. Where once we would've been horrified to talk about what goes on in our bowels, now looking after them is a major trend.

In the world of digestive wellness, according to Mellentin, nothing should be dismissed as too weird.

"Wacky works", he says. In gut health, there's a long history of apparently strange products and ideas being embraced by consumers. He cites A2 milk, with its gut-friendly claims, as an example.

"It was long dismissed as weird, but A2 Milk now outsells plant milks in Australia, and it's in mainstream stores from the US to the UK to Singapore. Its success comes from delivering a 'feel the benefit' effect."

Trevor Craig of Mount Maunganui's Bin Inn. We're likely to see more bulk bins appearing. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times
Trevor Craig of Mount Maunganui's Bin Inn. We're likely to see more bulk bins appearing. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times

This year we can expect to see more gut-friendly goodies such as kimchi and sauerkraut hitting our shelves. And Mellentin predicts the next product to take off will be Kefir, a fermented probiotic beverage made from milk or water. Keep an eye out, also, for more lactose-free milks and yoghurts.

Low-FODMAP foods are starting to become more visible in our supermarkets; this is an example of a niche trend that's set to go mainstream, according to Mellentin. FODMAPs are types of carbohydrates that are poorly tolerated by people with IBS; a low-FODMAP diet can help alleviate symptoms.

Bulk bin bonanza

Sara Fredrickson of Mindzye Fashions, a business making reusable bags. Photo / Whanganui Chronicle
Sara Fredrickson of Mindzye Fashions, a business making reusable bags. Photo / Whanganui Chronicle

Plastic bags are out; Kiwis are paying more attention to all the other plastic packaging on their food. We'll see more bulk-bin suppliers popping up as we strive to be plastic packaging-free.