Think of futuristic kitchens, and a robot is most likely the first thing that comes to mind. Ideally, one that prepares all your food and serves it up without hassle. So, yes, a ‘robotic kitchen arm’ is one of the predictions in Mintel’s latest report, which looks at how cooking will have evolved by 2040. These could whip up a meal without the need for human effort – and in fact, an early iteration is available from London company Moley.

But the steep cost – Moley’s machine comes in at £248k – means these arms are unlikely to ever go mainstream, says Mintel. What’s more, consumers are set to become more involved in their food, not less. Instead, Mintel believes AR glasses, kitchen farms and metaverse cooking games are the real future. Here are its top predictions for UK kitchens in 2040.

1. AR glasses

So far, AR glasses have remained a techie niche. But by 2040, they may well be a vital accessory for cooking. Mintel predicts young people in particular will use them as a tool to guide through the cooking process. Step-by-step cooking instructions will be displayed on the glasses, as a high-tech replacement for the classic recipe book.

There will be an added benefit to the tech, too. The AR glasses will be able to record the cooking process and capture the final result – making social media posts easier than ever. A brag about your scratch-cooked pad thai will be ready to post at the click of a button.

Ayisha Koyenikan, food & drink associate director at Mintel, bases this prediction on the attitudes towards AR versus VR tech. “We’re looking at the VR we’re seeing at the moment, the metaverse and completely immersing yourself in this digital world. I don’t think it’s got longevity for most people,” she says. As an alternative to that “discombobulating” experience, AR glasses will offer a “layering of realities on top of reality”.

There are many positives to that development – notably, the tech can help engage young people more with cooking. But there is also a danger of younger generations becoming “spoon-fed” and lacking intuition in the kitchen, she warns.

2. Gamification

Gaming is already a hot trend. And food and drink is increasingly playing a role in this sphere; see the growing number of cooking games or even metaverse restaurants. Koyenikan believes this momentum is due to pick up. “There are a lot of food and drink brands making their way into games, and I definitely think that’s an area that’s going to grow in the future,” she says.

By 2040, though, this will involve real-life dishes. Koyenikan imagines we will see games such as a MetaChef Cookoff, sponsored by food and drink brands, in which contestants battle to recreate virtual products in the real world.

This will appeal to the growing number of young people who like to cook with friends, she says. “This will be an evolution of socialising online. Cooking is a great way to build those communities.”

3. End of the oven

Air fryers have enjoyed a boom in popularity thanks to rising energy prices. Koyenikan expects this effect will last well beyond the financial squeeze. “If you think of the lessons we learned in the 2008 financial crisis, we learned how to shop in a savvy way and that has embedded itself in our psyche.”

For her, energy-efficient cooking methods will become equally embedded. “I have a bold statement that the air fryer in the years to come will be as ubiquitous as the microwave,” she says.

As cooking habits change, so will kitchens. Mintel forecasts most new homes will come without an oven by 2040, as they are replaced by air fryers, electric hotplates, microwaves and countertop smart ovens.

4. Mainstream cultivated meat 

The hype around cultivated meat is yet to translate into a reality – in the UK, at least. By 2040, the story could be very different. Mintel forecasts many more people will be switching to a plant-based or vegetarian diet. And those who don’t will likely get a taste for cultivated meat.

“What could really push this over the edge is if there were a meat tax,” says Koyenikan. This could put an end to lab-grown meat being a more expensive option. “You can imagine a future in which animal meat is at price parity with cultivated meat, while having less satfat, being better for you and offering environmental benefits.”

Young people are likely to be especially open to this option, she says, having grown up fully aware of the environmental crisis. “They will be more malleable to solutions older generations might find abhorrent,” she concludes.

5. Gardens in the kitchen

We’ve already seen mini vertical farms make their way into supermarkets. In 2040, these installations could be a regular feature in British kitchens. This will stem from a growing consumer desire to grow their own produce, says Koyenikan. 

“I think that whole self-sufficiency part, going back to the land, getting your hands dirty, is something we’re going to see more of. It’s the local element – people wanting to know where their food comes from – as well as the environmental crisis.”

Koyenikan believes vertical farms will be particularly popular among households without gardens. “If you’re in a high-rise flat, you’re going to dedicate your kitchen to growing crops,” she adds.

This all forms part of a wider move towards vertical farming. Mintel forecasts vertical farms and local micro-farms will supply the majority of the UK’s fresh food by 2030.

6. Cooking for mental health

Mental wellbeing is a ”defining issue” for Gen Z, says Koyenikan. For that reason, she expects food and drink brands to be much more involved in mental health by 2040. She envisages brands offering “a range of destressing tools to be used while cooking”, such as guided meditations, playlists and positive affirmations.

This is already starting to happen, she points out. In 2021, Barilla partnered with Spotify to create timed playlists to be enjoyed while boiling pasta. Gousto offers various Spotify playlists designed to get cooks buzzing. And WW partnered with Headspace as it looked to position itself as a holistic wellness brand, rather than just a weight loss organisation.

So robotic arms aside, these developments may well become a reality sooner than we think.