It took many Americans a heck of a lot longer to wake up to what cultures around the world have long known: Eating a diet sourced primarily from plants is better for health and the environment. But now, stocking up on plant-based foods is the norm for many (Need proof? Try counting the number of alternative milks or plant-based meat substitute products at your local grocery store) and health-conscious eaters are increasingly setting up their kitchens specifically with plant-based eating in mind. Space devoted to growing produce and herbs at home, smart technology that makes them last longer, and a commitment to composting add up to one thing: In 2022, plant-based kitchen design is on the rise.
Instead of stashing all your produce at the bottom of your fridge in the crisper, imagine growing some of it right in your cabinets. According to Kara Nielsen, the director of food and drink at trend forecasting firm WGSN, Ikea is working right now on designing products that make this a reality, including for people with limited budgets and kitchen space. “Ikea has a model showing how kitchens in the future will be set up and microfarms growing plants like mushrooms and algae are integrated right into the space,” she says. “This isn’t something for the far out future; this is what they’re working on now.”
Instead of stashing all your produce at the bottom of your fridge in the crisper, imagine growing some of it right in your cabinets.
While Ikea’s grow cabinets are still a future prospect, new countertop gardening systems due for release in late 2021 and early 2022 mean consumers don’t need to wait years to start making their kitchens greener. “For many people, growing herbs at home is an easy way to have natural plants available year-round,” says interior designer Jane Lockart. Gardyn, an artificial-intelligence-powered vertical farm for growing produce and greens indoors, received a $5 million investment in September 2021 to put towards expansion in the coming year. And Ingarden’s fully automated indoor garden, launched in October 2021, takes the guesswork out of growing your own microgreens thanks to built-in lighting and watering technology. Rolling out in 2022 is Click & Grow 25’s “farmers’ market in a box,'' where eaters can grow their own greens year-round. The idea was so popular that it reached its Kickstarter funding goal of $35,000 in just 20 minutes, later raising over half a million dollars total.
Back to the Roots is another brand that’s bringing gardening inside and they’ve experienced a surge in sales during the pandemic. “Our sales doubled from 2019 to 2020, and doubled again from 2020 to 2021. We will likely double again in 2022,” says co-founder Nikhil Arora, adding that a large number of their customers were people who had never grown anything before. “Our products are a perfect starting place for new gardeners as we have kits that are designed for small spaces and come with everything included so you can take the guesswork out of growing,” he says. (One of the brand’s most popular products is the Mushroom Grow Kit.)
Whether you’re growing your own produce right in your kitchen or getting it from the grocery store, thanks to new smart technology there are more ways to make it last as long as possible. Cara Acker, senior brand manager at Bosch, says it’s something the brand has prioritized with its Fresh by Design refrigerator, which was released in 2019. “It’s designed to keep food fresh up to three times longer,” she says. Acker explains that this is accomplished through dual compressors and evaporators used for precise temperature control and Bosch’s FarmFresh System, which is the industry’s first pre-programmed temperature and humidity control. “The technology works by automatically adjusting discrete lids to control humidity levels while simultaneously managing temperature to ensure the optimal environment for the foods you choose to store in your drawers,” she says.
Don’t want to replace your entire fridge? Sarah Housley, the head of consumer technology at WGSN, says there are now smart food storage containers with Bluetooth-enabled tracking that will tell you when your food is going bad. One such brand is Ovie, which launched in 2019 and has smart tags that can clip on to any container you put in the fridge. Produce suppliers are starting to use similar technology—something to keep your eye out for so you can fill your fridge with fruits and veggies that will last longer than average. One company, Ryp Labs, makes stickers that can be applied to produce to extend its life to up to two weeks and will start rolling out in grocery stores across the country in 2022. The stickers have lab-made vapors that provide a protective layer to the produce and prevent mold from forming as quickly. This type of technology follows in the footsteps of produce company Apeel, launched back in 2012, which also uses stickers to make food last longer. In August 2021, the company received an additional $250 million in funding, which will help them expand to 10 more supply networks in 2022.40%
Innovations like these can significantly help cut down on the massive food waste generated in the U.S.—according to the waste management company RTS, an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted each year, or the equivalent of 219 pounds of waste per person. To that end, environmental mindfulness surrounding plant-based food doesn’t stop with how it’s stored; Frank Franciosi, the executive director at the U.S. Composting Council, says the number of people in the U.S. who have started composting is way up. “Our membership numbers have reached record levels [during the pandemic],” Franciosi says.
Lockhart and Sarah Housley, the head of consumer technology at WGSN, both say composting bins are being integrated into kitchen spaces more. “There is no question, composting and managing waste has become essential in the kitchen,” Lockhart says. One product she says she’s particularly excited about is a compost bin called Lomi by zero-waste brand Pela. The compost bin is available for pre-order now, shipping in January 2022, and uses heat and movement to churn waste into compost relatively quickly. “It's notable because alongside food waste, it can digest bioplastics and, soon, cardboard,” Housley says.
Clearly kitchens are being set up with every part of plant-based eating in mind, from growing and storing fresh produce to giving these foods new life through composting. The best part is, you don’t have to have an unlimited budget or tons of space to integrate these elements into your own kitchen. And with companies continuing to innovate, this is a trend with room to blossom.
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Pekic