This is a great time to be innovating in the dairy industry. In order to survive and thrive today, and well into the future, the industry needs to be cognisant of a number of new trends that are likely to impact on the future production and consumption of dairy products.

As part of our futures work at Forum for the Future, we constantly scan the horizon for key trends that are going to impact businesses in the years to come. We use these insights to help businesses and industries future-proof themselves by adopting the right long-term strategies. Here are my pick of the top five trends that will be particularly pertinent to the dairy industry over the next 5–10 years.

Sustainable nutrition

How can we optimise health and nutritional outcomes, while reducing environmental impacts, for a global population that will reach 9–10 billion people by 2050? This is perhaps the biggest challenge.

Today, 2.1 billion people – nearly 30% of the world’s population – are either obese or overweight. A further 1.5 billion suffer from hunger and malnutrition.

A number of dairy companies are starting to use sustainable nutrition – feeding people healthy food that has been produced in an environmentally friendly way – as a powerful guiding principle to better understand and act on the connections between agriculture, environment, food, nutrition and health. This is vital for accelerating progress towards a sustainable food system – and towards the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Dairy innovation for millennials

There is a significant trend to seek natural foods that enable active and healthy lives for this new generation. This is driven by millennials in both the developed and developing world.

Some intriguing insights thrown up by this trend include, for example, research into the role of the gut microbiome in health. Innovation in this area is evolving rapidly with an emphasis on the study of probiotics and how they can help with weight management, improve wellbeing, and reduce the incidence of heart disease and other degenerative illnesses.

Traceability and transparency

We’re seeing a rapidly growing call for transparency across food chains and consumer access to information about the companies they buy from. Consumers also increasingly expect businesses to provide access to everything from their sourcing policies and product nutritional information, to their human rights policies.

At the same time, technologies such as sensors, data analytics and digital technology are empowering companies to employ data at unprecedented levels to make better decisions. There is an opportunity for organisations to improve their supply chain traceability, logistical efficiency, and visibility of supply chain risks.

A circular economy

Globally a third of all food grown is wasted. Thanks to profile-raising efforts by the likes of Love Food Hate Waste, Waste Not and Wrap UK, consumers and businesses alike are increasingly aware of the impacts of waste.

Food waste has risen up the political agenda and governments are taking action to tackle the issue. The US government has for example, recently committed to a first-ever national food waste reduction goal, calling for a 50% reduction by 2030.

As land becomes scarcer, there is increasing competition for the by-products of the food and drink industry, as more people recognise that repurposing waste opens up opportunities for new revenue streams. This all results in growing interest in creating a more circular economy within the food sector, through the application of innovation and policy.

A net positive approach to dairy agriculture

There is increasing pressure on land to provide enough food, fuel and fibres for a growing population. At the same time key ecosystems, many of which underpin a health dairy industry, continue to decline, partly due to climate change impacts. We are reaching “peak everything” – from depletion of soil quality, to water stress, to rapid rates of extinction.

Moving from beyond a farm-by-farm-based approach to agricultural sustainability to a more holistic landscape approach – the “beyond certification” concept – is gaining momentum. Within a landscape approach, we look at how businesses can restore local ecosystems within a specific location whilst also improving livelihood and community outcomes. Progressive businesses are now recognising the need to be “net positive” (creating a positive impact and overall shared value), rather than “doing less bad”.

It’s a challenging landscape, but also an exciting one. New technologies are pushing our horizons further than ever before, and the need for creative approaches and rapid scaling is more urgent than ever if we’re to collectively achieve a 1.5°C world. We’re now looking to today’s innovators to empower the dairy industry to face the trends and challenges of the future.

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