Trends for the 2020s

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a decade makes. Smartphones, streaming TV, social media, influencers, memes and dating apps have completely changed the way we connect and consume information.


EXPECT PLANT-BASED FOOD to go mainstream, as more major food companies such as Tyson Foods, Kellogg and Nestle offer their own plant-based products to compete with those of Impossible Food and Beyond Meat. Observers say that one should expect non-meat-based proteins to be available in a supermarket near you in less than five years. Growing awareness of how the meat industry is a major source of water and air pollution is making consumers, especially millennials, shift away from traditional meat consumption.

Many top food establishments have already introduced alternative meat dishes in their menu. Vegan chef Damian Piedrahita says his plant-based menu at the Shangri-La Hotel Singapore is a hit: “Our most popular dish is the Battered Banana Blossom & Chips, which is our vegan version of fish and chips.” The banana blossom is cooked in lemon, seaweed and herbs, and battered with vegan beer and flour, to simulate the taste and texture of fish. “So you can eat this without worrying about the impact of the environment.”

When Grand Hyatt Singapore introduced the plant-based Beyond Burger in 2018, it sold 1,000 burgers on the first day. Even today, it continues to sell more Beyond Burgers than ordinary beef burgers at its mezza9 restaurant. Priced at S$26, the Beyond Burger is served as a classic cheese burger with dairy-free cheddar cheese and vegan mayonnaise.

While plant-based offerings can be more expensive than regular meat, observers say that prices will definitely come down in future: “As more companies get into the scene, competition will drive them to come up with tastier and more affordable options. Processes will become efficient, the products will become cheaper, and more people will be able to buy them,” says Kelvin Ng, the business development director of Green Monday, a global movement advocating a once-a-week plant-based diet.

“Think of it this way: If you’re going from plant to plate – instead of plant to animal to plate – how can it not be cheaper?”

Currently there are several types of alternative proteins: There’s the plant-based protein popularised by the likes of Beyond Burger (made from pea, mung bean and rice protein). There’s also insect protein (typically from crickets), mycoprotein (from fungus) and cultured meats (or meats grown in labs using tissue-culture technology).

But plant-based protein is the most popular option now, especially after Beyond Meat’s initially headline-grabbing IPO performance in 2019. (Its shares now trade at US$76 compared to its US$25 IPO price, after hitting a peak of US$234 in July 2019). Even Temasek Holdings and Bill Gates have invested in Impossible Foods, with the former noting that the the global protein industry is growing annually at 2 to 3 per cent.

There is some controversy over how healthy alternative protein really is. After all, the processing of some plant-based meats requires high amounts of added fat and sodium. But observers say red meat (such as beef and pork) are naturally high in saturated fats and the demand for them is causing significant environmental harm. On balance, plant-based meats still present a more palatable option for the next decade.


In one decade, the travel industry has been radically transformed by mobile phones, online booking sites, the proliferation of low-cost carriers, the rise of the holiday home rental industry, and blurring of lines between business and leisure – or “bleisure”.

Going forward, industry observers expect a greater digitalisation of the industry, with AI and predictive analytics helping to curate more personalised offerings for the traveller. In a report by Expedia and HomeAway, 68 per cent of travel brands had invested in predictive technologies in 2019. AI uses your personalised data from previous trips to generate shortlists of hotels, flights and destinations that you might prefer, increasing the chances of a successful booking.

Travel is expected to become much more intimate and digital, with your smartphone playing the role of guide, advisor, translator, compass, photographer, personal companion and much more. It would help you select which cultural experiences you’re more likely to enjoy, whether it is dressing up in period costumes for a Fetes Galantes fancy dress evening in France, rafting on the legendary Nestos river in Greece, or cleaning catfish with a home chef in Vietnam.

While France, Greece and Vietnam are already on many bucket lists, more travellers will also want to visit far-flung locations, second-tier cities and backwater beaches far removed from popular tourist spots. For this reason, Myanmar, Uganda, Colombia, the Caucasus and the Balkans are some of the locations tipped to be big in the next few years.

The biggest trend going in the 2020s, however, is responsible travel. Travel has always contained an inherent sustainability paradox: The more you travel, the more transportation fuel you use, the higher your carbon footprint. But then how else can you experience the big, amazing world if you don’t take that flight?

Travel operators have been tackling sustainability issues in earnest in recent years, opting for reusable water bottles, e-documentation and land travel where possible. According to Trafalgar CEO Gavin Tollman: “Travellers have evolved and have very different needs from before. Global warming is causing detrimental consequences, making it so important to choose companies taking direct action on sustainability.”

“According to our research, more than 70 per cent of our guests prefer e-documentation. And in honour of each guest that chooses e-doc, we plant a tree in their name.”

Like other leading tour operators, Trafalgar is also walking the talk by supporting sustainable tourism projects around the world. Past partners include the WWF, Conservation International and WildAid. Aware that their longevity as businesses depends on the survival of the world, travel agencies like it are buckling down to safeguard the environment.


Concern over climate change will continue to dominate design in the next decade. Ng San Son, director with DP Architects, says: “Accelerating global warming highlights an urgent need for architects to take action on climate change and to place a greater emphasis on sustainability within our built environment. Ideally, with an interdisciplinary approach, architects can play a pivotal role to educate and advocate the cause for sustainability.”

The emphasis on sustainability also relates to users’ well-being. “We can expect more amenities and features in buildings that promote health and wellness,” predicts Mr Ng.

Using computer programming and smart sensors, building managers would be able to collect data on carbon dioxide levels, frequency of usage, air quality and lighting. Each of these can contribute to the wellness quotient and provide the necessary data for users to make informed decisions on calibrating the built environment. “Ultimately, this translates into efficient usage of energy resources and benefits all parties,” says Mr Ng.

In an era where items are rapidly purchased and discarded, industrial designers such as Nathan Yong are finding ways to champion sustainability. His Folks line of wooden furniture, for instance, are made using farmed walnut and oak: “Compared to some tropical hardwood that can be hard to regulate by the relevant authorities, the supply of farmed wood is always sustainable,” says the founder of Nathan Yong Design. He expects new technology with better materials and eco-friendly production processes to become more accessible to designers in future.

Meanwhile, the average Singapore home will become more high-tech, as physical switches and keys are replaced by  “home automation systems that control lighting, window treatments, music/sound and audio-visual equipment through the mobile phone or tablet… That is definitely a common request these days and it is becoming increasingly complex,” says interior designer Cameron Woo, founder of Cameron Woo Design and president of the Interior Design Confederation Singapore.

The number of smaller apartments and tiny homes, as well as the trend of co-living, will grow. “Smaller apartments have increased in demand due to affordability. With the gig economy upon us, both Millennials and Generation Z will find it more challenging than previous generations to afford a home. This has given rise to the shared home and tiny home phenomenon emerging around the world,” says Mr Woo.

But smaller doesn’t mean less homey. Take the designs of Sachi Akita of Sekisui House, one of Japan’s most prolific home builders. The 484-square feet, one-bedroom apartments at Sereen in One Holland Village, developed in collaboration with Far East Organization and Sino Group, boast elements that help them look and feel more spacious – namely flexibility, seamless connection between the indoors and the outdoors, and plentiful storage.

For example, a sliding door separates the living and the bedroom, and when it is pushed back  the apartment instantly appears bigger. And when the bifold balcony doors are fully opened, the balcony with its deep eaves appears as an extension of the living room. The large balcony can also be used as an outdoor dining area. Storage space in the kitchen and bathrooms are also optimised.

“These features are all part of our proponent for slow living, which is about living comfortably in a calm and serene environment with less stress,” says Ms Akita. “We foresee slow living as the way for homes in the future to be.”

But while slow living is an emerging trend for city dwellers, more retirees are looking to spend their days living in luxury retirement villages, such as Otium Phuket opening in 2022. Developed by Otium Living, a specialist consultant, developer and operator of retirement villages, Otium Phuket will have 123 apartments and 26 villas, all luxuriously fitted. The properties can be leased out and there is no age limit on who can buy. But only those aged 50 and above can stay or live in the retirement village.

Its chief executive Daniel Holmes foresees such properties being popular among those aged 55 to 75: “They may have stopped working but are still healthy and fit, and want to lead active and engaged lives,” says Mr Holmes. Otium Phuket will offer a naturopathic wellness centre, spas and restaurants, as well as a 24-hour onsite medical care and security. It’s “about hospitality, not hospitals,” says Mr Holmes.


When it comes to Singapore’s retail outlook for the next decade, there’s good and bad news. “The retail scene is going to be much more competitive than before,” says Andrew Tan, founder of Japanese lifestyle store atomi and managing partner of atomi Consulting which advises retail businesses, government agencies, mall and property owners in Singapore and Japan. With the likes of shopping malls such as Jewel, PLQ and Funan opening in 2019, the retail scene is not going to fade anytime soon. “In fact, with more asset enhancement initiatives in place, we are going to see more malls sprucing up.”

The bad news is that competition is getting stiffer, with significant casualties along the way, such as Home-Fix (see amendment note). “Closures and openings, however, are part of a cycle… and people will still continue to shop,” says marketing professor Kapil Tuli, who is also the director of Retail Centre of Excellence at Singapore Management University.

The race between online and offline shopping will continue well into the next decade, although experts think brick-and-mortar stores will have an edge. Dr Tuli declares: “Brick-and-mortar retailers have to do more than just display products – they need to engage shoppers’ senses.” Retailers, for instance, can teach consumers how to use a product and allow them to test it on the spot. “An online store can showcase more items, but people still like to see and touch the product before buying.”

Mr Tan thinks online shopping is still in its early stages: “I do not see online shopping accounting for more than half of the sales for brands that offer both shopping options… When Singaporeans travel, they don’t shop online. Likewise, tourists coming to Singapore are going to be buying from physical stores.”

Technology, however, will make shopping a more curated experience, says Lynda Wee, adjunct associate professor, division of marketing at Nanyang Business School. “With data in hand, successful retailers will know their core customers, their lifestyles, key decisions and how to reach them, pushing to them only relevant information at the right time.” Technology allows smoother delivery, payment and returns/exchanges, making the shopping experience more hassle-free.

“The use of Augmented Reality (AR) technology will become more prevalent in the next decade – even down to smaller everyday items,” predicts Dr Tuli. For example, American eyewear retailer Warby Parker allows shoppers to virtually try on any eyewear using its app, before making a purchase. Commune furniture stores let users don goggles to see how a piece of furniture will look in their homes.

Technology aside, the future of malls may also look less ageist as Singapore’s greying population grows. Mr Tan says most malls today cater to sporty, youthful and tech-driven millennials and Gen Z. “However, there’s a neglected group of middle-aged and silver-aged shoppers with the ability to spend…. We are so millennial-centric, we forget that Singapore is an ageing society.”

5. ART

Heard of artainment? It’s a fashionable term to describe the combination of art and entertainment. Typically it requires active interaction, participation and/or immersion. And there’s usually a big element of technology involved. Many art lovers no longer wish to be passive observers seated and clapping during a live arts event. They want to roam in a well-designed digital art playground, engage in a high-tech fusion of cinema and live performance, and partake in a discussion that would determine how the story ends.

The evidence speaks for itself: When M1 Fringe Festival 2020 opened its ticket sales three months ago, the first shows to sell out were the immersive theatre ones. The most talked-about attraction at the ArtScience Museum is the Future World exhibition, where digital images on the walls constantly shift and transform in response to the visitors. And various museums frequently invite visitors to become part of large-scale art performances.

Melissa Lim, the M1 Fringe Festival’s executive producer, says the shift has to do with the technological revolution: “Technology has become so ubiquitous and accessible today – you could easily do a livestream on your cell phone, or pick up app-building skills online. Technology provides opportunities to break out of the tried-and-tested modes, as well as to play with other forms or manifestations of ‘realities’… Artists are naturally excited by the possibilities, while audiences are more accustomed to technology and willing to try out new things.”

In recent years, Ms Lim has seen a threefold increase in proposals from artists wanting to create immersive, interactive and participatory works for the festival. Some of them being staged this month are Café Sarajevo, a historical excavation which equips audiences with a headset and goggles so they can travel to Bosnia with the actor; and Secretive Thing 215 which sends you instructions on your cell phone to go out alone on the streets of Bras Basah-Bugis to discover the story embedded within the milling crowds.

Esplanade’s The Studios 2020 season similarly sees artists venturing into the realm of immersive theatre. Bryan Gothong Tan’s Lost Cinema 20/20 blends live action with several cinema screens as audiences roam the dream-like space to shape their own experience of the work. It resembles, in a way, our own habit of surfing the Internet and burrowing into information rabbit holes.

Esplanade’s programmer Lynn Yang says: “Art has always wanted to recreate and reflect the world in which it is situated, and often attempts to do so by captivating the audience in ways that make them perceive their surroundings differently… Immersive work is an extension of that artistic impulse to get audiences to suspend their disbelief and be transported to another world.”

In the next decade, expect your real-life art experiences to be as virtual, participatory and rich as your online experiences.

Amendment note: The original article included Metro as another retail casualty, but it has closed only its Centrepoint outlet when its lease ended. The article has since been revised to reflect this. 




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