Last week we attended, exhibited, and presented at the American Food Innovate Summit in Chicago. Here’s what we heard and our takeaways.
“Innovation is risk management. We innovate to avoid risk; we innovate to take risk.”
- Who said it: Dan Howell, Director R&D, La Terra Fina.
- What he meant: Standing still will set you back.
- Our take: How true. Risk = Opportunity. Therefore, Risk Management = Opportunity Management.
“Who comes up with the AI that becomes the first Michelin-starred AI chef?”
- Who said it: Clifton Lyles, VP of Culinary Excellence & Product, Revolution Foods.
- What he meant: Given the proliferation of data, what new combinations of flavor profiles are out there that we haven’t discovered but that consumers would love?
- Our take: It’s only a question of time.
“The most important thing about open innovation is to start doing it. Stop using paper.”
- Who said it: Caroline Miron, Director Innovation, Architecture, and Strategy, Agropur.
- What she meant: You need to become agile and uncomfortable if you want to keep up with the accelerating rate of change.
- Our take: Get out of your own way.
“What our consumers want first is someone to listen to them.”
- Who said it: Joel Warady, GM, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Enjoy Life Foods.
- What he meant: Incorporate your community into your brand.
- Our take: It’s not just delivering on promises that matters, but turning wishes into promises, and delivering on those.
“Companies have to start thinking about incorporating the concept of [brand]-change into the brand itself.”
- Who said it: Natalie Shmulik, CEO, The Hatchery Chicago.
- What she meant: Stoic brands won’t survive. You need to have an overarching brand architecture that adapts to change.
- Our take: Find a meta-theme for your brand.
“95 percent of consumers no longer have three square meals a day.”
- Who said it: Reggie Moore, SVP, Sales, Marketing & Innovation, Land O’Frost.
- What he meant: Snacking has won.
- Our take: Food occasions will continue to change, and this is just a current snapshot.
What We Really Heard…
This place is a mess, and consumers have chosen food to solve it. The keyword throughout the entire event was “convenience.” Everything must be convenient: discovery, purchase, and consumption. Convenience must match up with personal values: saving the planet, rain forest, orangutans, bees, etc. And convenience also must deliver on wellness: whether it's gluten-free, non-GMO, organic, vegan, microbiome, FODMAP, etc.
So, what’s the larger trend here? People want to feel good about themselves, but they want it to be easy and convenient. One of these symptoms is something I call “click-through activism.” You can sit on your couch, sign an online petition and feel good about yourself. You don’t really get involved, but you can brag about it. You also believe that your Prius is helping the planet, when in fact it also pollutes, and the sourcing of the raw materials for the battery and its disposal are tremendous environmental challenges. And the switch to convenience creates more garbage than ever.
But these are all symptoms; what is the real issue? We—humans—are under attack. The middle class is eroding; people need to work two jobs to survive; graduates carry $1.5 trillion of debt and believe they’ll never be able to retire. We need little wins to get us through the day. And since everyone needs to eat, we, the consumer, have ordained food with giving us that brief mental relief.
So, the food industry isn’t being judged by flavor, but by greater measures. Can we develop truly sustainable supply chains? Can we make “from scratch” convenient? Can we develop closed-loop recycling systems? Can we feed the world?
Can you? Because that’s what’s selling.