I can be a bit jaded at time, but also become really excited about learning experiences…especially when I I’m offered new ways of thinking about a topic or when am introduced to a concept I had not considered before…especially when it helps me in my life or business.
I was privileged to attend Food Processing’s Food Leaders Summit 2015 in April in Chicago. While the niche of our Global Food Forums’ events generally focus on hands-on technical information for bench to mid-level technical staffs involved in the development of protein-enhanced, clean label or value-added/cost managed formulas, this event provided insights that explored the frontiers of food innovation. Speakers provided rare but important insights into factors impacting the future.
While there appears to be a plethora of conferences on innovation this day, the uniqueness of this event was exemplified by its Keynote speaker, Vance Crowe, Director of Millennial Engagement, Monsanto, who spoke on “Facing the Restless Generation” Finding what it Takes to Connect with Millennials.” Wow, whether you agree with that company’s tactics or not, being able to actually listen to what some would consider “the dark side,” was an unusual opportunity and perhaps innovative in itself!
Crowe said that while the company was good at talking with the farmers who trusted them, they were poor at communicating with Millennials with whom they have no direct contact. He indicated the desire for students to learn about farming and the difficulty they are having by noting that “there is standing room only at university lectures on how to communicate about the science of agriculture.”
A lively Q&A session ensued. One interesting question among many was “Why do people accept science in medicine and other fields, but not in food?” Crowe’s response was that people can more easily see the benefit. Farmers, for example, see the benefits of GMO Crops because they went from spraying with herbicides from 16 times a season down to two. However, consumers just know GMOs are in their foods but can’t see any benefits for themselves.
Continuing on that theme and next up on the podium was a panel consisting of Charlie Arnot, CEO, The Center for Food Integrity; Teresa Paulsen, VP Communication & External Relations, ConAgra Foods; Joe Berman, Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility, Price Chopper Supermarkets and Sue McCloskey, Co-founded, Fair Oaks Farms.
Arnot pointed out that the days when food companies took the attitude “We have nothing to hide and it’s none of your business” needs to be over. This doesn’t build trust. McCloskey concurred with “It is best just to explain to consumers what you are doing in a clear and honest way…including, for example, what happens to cows at the end of their ability to produce.”
In another presentation, Joel D. Warady, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Enjoy Life Foods, spoke on gluten free. He noted that while the U.S. has its Top 8 allergens, Canada has a Top 12 and Europe also includes lupin and celery as major allergens. He noted that in 1990 some 4 in 50 children had allergies and in 2010 it had risen to 1 in 10. One theory has been that as a culture, we have been too hygienic* (or as Warady said “over-Purelled”) however, he also felt that “something has changed in our food supply but we don’t know what it is.” [* To find a plethora of great discussions and research on this concept, just Google “hygiene hypothesis.”]
Barbara Stuckey, EVP Sales & Marketing, Matson, presented four fundamental trends among consumers today, as follows.
- Set it and Forget it. Consumers are increasingly subscribing to foods online where they arrange to have certain items regularly mailed to them without needing to reorder every month. Amazon has this system, for example.
- Scratch Cooking. It’s not just about the food, but about the experience and meant for special occasions. For example Blue Apron is a half a billion dollar company that sells a “subscription box” that contains a raw protein, produce, seasoning, pasta/grains, etc. that would be needed for a meal. Stuckey noted that it was neither convenient nor inexpensive (although economy was gained in that there was no waste in purchases).
- Breaking Down Silos. Retailer aisles are mattering less as more people shop online. For example, in order to make tacos, a consumer would have to get tomatoes, tacos shells, meat and so on from different aisles in a store. In contrast, Amazon Fresh allows consumers to click on a recipe and all the ingredients need are automatically added to your shopping cart (and Amazon likely will put in the items on which they get better margins).
- Food on Demand/ Digital Delivery. In the past, you had to go to a restaurant or order delivery from a restaurant over the phone. There are now a number of services that will shop or make the food for you and deliver the food. They are severing the relationship between the consumer and the retail store.
“What does this mean for manufacturers?” asked Stuckey. For one, your product must be “screen evident” as consumer review photos of products online that they are considering to purchase. This is opposed to “shelf evident” which was the requirement when shoppers cruised the grocery aisles.The above offers just a few comments on 3 days of excellent presentations.
When I asked Anju Holay, principal of NSM Research, which does a great deal of consulting on consumers and packaging, what she thought of the conference, she responded “I learned a lot. For me it was about things coming in the future, but it was more reality and more application than what I had thought it would be. For example, I sat in on a session on 3-D printing and was surprised how quickly the technology and its applications are advancing.”
Holay went on to detail how the event was useful for her own business. “Manufacturers have always struggled to get placement on grocery shelves. This may be less critical going into the future. A different set of challenges, such as “screen evident” versus “shelf evident” packaging needs to be considered.”
Opps! I almost forgot. Tthe venue in downtown Chicago was very pleasant and the food EXCELLENT!
Claudia Dziuk O’Donnell, Co-owner, Global Food Forums, Inc.