26 January 2022

IP trends for 2022: Food innovation – from edible containers to potato milk and CBD-infused wine

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and spending increased time at home, many of us have taken a greater interest in what we eat, which has continued even beyond the banana bread craze of 2020. Consumers have become ever more scrupulous when considering what benefits and harms the food we eat can have, not only to ourselves, but also our planet. It is therefore unsurprising that the biggest food trends we see emerging in 2022 are focused around health benefits and reducing damage to our environment.

Reinventing the coffee cup

If coffee is not only your drink of choice, but also an essential to get you through the working day, you are not alone! In the UK, around 2.5 billion coffees in disposable cups are sold each year. However, only 0.25% of these cups are recycled. Such low levels of recycling are mainly due to the fact that most disposable cups cannot be disposed of in mixed or paper recycling bins. Specialist equipment is required to remove the thin plastic or wax layer present in many cups (providing a waterproof/temperature controlling barrier) before recycling is possible. This process is both costly and time-consuming, meaning that the vast majority of disposable cups end up in landfill sites.

Given the amount of disposable coffee cups used each year and the length of time each cup requires to decompose – for example coffee cups containing polyethylene can take around 30 years to fully decompose – a solution to this problem is urgently needed if we are to continue to enjoy our morning beverage (and for some of us, continue to function like a normal human being!). We anticipate developments in the structure and manufacturing of coffee cups, as well as their recycling, in 2022 as the problem only becomes more pressing.

Biodegradable plastics

Cleantech companies are seeking to tackle this problem by developing biodegradable plastics which degrade in a much shorter timeframe than traditionally used materials. One company looking to provide such a solution is London-based Polymateria Ltd, through the development of a ‘drop-in’ additive containing catalysts and co-catalysts which can be included during the plastic manufacturing process. Following a specified dormant period, the catalysts act to break down both the crystalline and amorphous regions of the plastic, such that the material will degrade to form a wax-like substance without any harmful microplastics being produced. Fungi and bacteria can then fully consume the wax-like material.

Ploymateria Ltd states that its long service life plastic degrades in six months to three years, whereas the short life service plastic will degrade in less than six months – a significant improvement on the materials currently being used.

Edible containers

As an alternative, rather than looking at ways of reducing the degradation time of materials for containers, some companies have focused on developing containers that produce zero waste following their use: enter the edible container. Many startup companies are developing edible packaging and containers from foodstuffs such as rice flour, wheat, potato starch and milk proteins.

London-based startup Notpla has created Ooho, a liquid encapsulated in a waterproof and edible film made from seaweed. Users can eat the film if they wish, or – if that doesn’t appeal – the film will simply biodegrade in four to six weeks.

Notpla’s patent application (WO 2018/172781) states that these edible membranes are formed from alginate, a water soluble biopolymer extracted from seaweed. In particular, alginate is blended with a thickening material, such as starch or cellulose, to form a paste. The paste can then be extruded to form a membrane and a calcium rich ion solution is then added to produce a cross-linked matrix suitable for storing liquids. Of course, multiple layers of the edible membrane can be produced, allowing the consumer to simply remove the outermost layer before consumption, thereby overcoming the need for additional storage containers for hygiene reasons.

Whilst this invention represents an exciting step forward, for such containers to become fully integrated into everyday life, it may be necessary to develop resealable containers which can store greater quantities of fluids.

One particular product which has been immediately integrated into our everyday life is the edible coffee cup. Many startup companies are developing such products, including Scottish startup Biobite, Bulgarian based Cupffee, Ukrainian company Lekorna and Moldova-based Wayris. These edible coffee cups typically comprise a wafer or biscuit based cup which has been developed to prevent the immediate absorption of the liquid they contain. Depending on the brand selected, the edible cups reportedly stay crispy for between 20 and 60 minutes and can remain leakproof for up to 12 hours.

It has been estimated by a transparency market research company that the demand for edible packaging could increase on average by 6.9% yearly until 2024, at which time the edible packaging market would be worth almost $2 billion worldwide. On this basis, and the fact it is always nice to have an extra snack, we are expecting to see many more edible containers emerging over the next year.

Potato milk

Over the last few years, there has been a sustained increase in the number of people turning to vegetarian and vegan diets, or simply reducing the amount of animal-based products they consume. The main drivers for these lifestyle changes include health, environmental and economic reasons. Food and drink manufactures have responded to the increased demand by developing a range of exciting plant-based products. Amongst these are the plant-based alternatives to milk, including rice, oat, almond, soya and pea. However, there have been some reports suggesting that these plant-based alternatives may still be damaging to the environment. For example, almond production requires high water consumption which can lead to droughting effects, as well as carbon emissions resulting from the need to transport these drupes from the countries in which they are grown. Similarly, rice production requires large volumes of water and can be associated with the production of greenhouse gases due to the presence of methane-producing bacteria, which grows in the waterlogged soil of rice paddies. In addition, some of the dairy-free milk products produced are not suitable for those with allergies.

To address some of these issues, a new plant-based milk is expected to gain momentum in 2022: potato milk. Considered to be more environmentally friendly as it requires less land to grow the product, potato milk also produces less CO2 (thanks to the ability to grow these vegetables locally), and requires significantly less water than some other milk alternatives. Potato milk does not contain any added sugar, gluten, lactose or soya and can provide health benefits in the form of vitamin D, B12 and folic acid.

In February 2022, Waitrose is set to begin selling the potato milk brand ‘Dug’, owned by Swedish company Veg of Lund. According to a patent application of Veg of Lund (WO 2020/112009), the milk alterative is a potato emulsion comprising of (unsurprisingly) potatoes, sugar, a vegetable emulsifier, oil, vegetable protein and water. Whilst we always encourage the development of new food and drink products, only time will tell if this new product will take a significant share of a market which has been reported to be worth nearly £400 million a year in the UK alone.

CBD wine

The demand for CBD-based products has been growing in recent years as a result of a change in consumer perception (cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound found in the flower of the cannabis plant). This compound has now become associated with numerous health benefits including treating medical aliments, such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, pain, stress and anxiety. This shift in consumer perception of CBD-based products is due, at least in part, to the increasing amounts of medical research on the effects of CBD and the rising publicity of the health benefits associated with the compound.

In the UK alone, the CBD market is estimated as being worth £300 million and is expected to increase up to as much as £1 billion by 2025. As a result, companies in the food and drink industry have been quick to provide a variety of CBD-infused products in order to meet this new demand. The latest product to emerge from this trend is CBD-infused wine, which is expected to be popular with consumers this year. CBD wines typically have a lower alcohol content, meaning that consumers generally intake lower amounts of alcohol, providing further health benefits.

Chewable toothpaste

Although not strictly within the food and drink category, chewable toothpaste is set to be a big trend in the next year. As it turns out, recycling toothpaste tubes is actually quite tricky due to the fact that the tubes are often made out of different types of plastic and contain a metal liner to keep the toothpaste fresh. These waste containers are therefore often too complex to recycle at present. A further concern related to the currently manufactured toothpaste tubes is that they form microplastics during degradation, which can be damaging to the environment. Due to growing awareness of the pressures on landfill sites, consumers are now looking to alternative containers or products that will enable them to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced.

An emerging alternative to traditional toothpaste tubes are chewable toothpaste tablets. These solid tablets can be chewed into a paste before the user brushes their teeth with a damp toothbrush in a similar manner to that of traditional toothpaste. According to some reports, the global toothpaste tablet market could be worth US$152.3 million by 2026. The main selling point of these products is that they can be provided in glass or recyclable plastic bottles, and therefore are more environmentally friendly. Chewable toothpaste tablets typically comprise common ingredients found in toothpaste, such as xylitol, calcium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, tartaric acid derivatives and fluoride.