International Forum Signals Change Ahead

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The International Forum on Food & Nutrition held in New York on 28 September, at the end of a week that saw the city host the UN General Assembly and the World Economic Forum, provided a platform for leaders shaping the future of food to share their vision, current challenges and recommended actions. 

Just like the global economy influences local investment decisions, remaining informed of global changes in food and nutrition research and policy, and connecting this information with local strategy is critical for those looking to remain well positioned for the future.

Of the many presentations throughout the day, the one that struck me the most was that by Dr Dariush Mozaffarian from Tufts University. Dr Mozzafarian is the researcher responsible for changing recommendations around saturated fat in recent years and is a leading thinker in the application of food and nutrition research to shaping policy and advice. 

He shared three insightful assertions that signal how the future of public health policy and food and nutrition advice will likely evolve.  Each of these has implications for local strategy in the marketing and production of food. Below is a top line summary: 

Insight 1: Stop talking about obesity and start referring to health.
It is common practise to refer to obesity as being the main public health problem facing the world today. However it's not obesity that's the downstream problem of a poor diet. Rather, it's poor health outcomes. Sub-optimal health that results in an inability to work productively while also drawing on public health services, imparts significant costs to governments.

What this means: 
This viewpoint is consistent with consumer trends research showing people are shifting from a focus on 'dieting' and calorie counting to lose weight toward a greater focus on lifestyle, general health and wellness.  This has been evidenced in a downward trend away from the use of 'diet' as a claim on food products and more toward the use of new brands or nutrient based claims instead.  'Diet' yoghurts for example, have all but disappeared in recent years with brand names shifting toward those that depict a healthy lifestyle.

Insight 2: Take the Blinkers Off 
When promoting healthy eating, and talking about trends, there can be a tendency to have blinkers on when spreading messages about what to eat. Dr Mozzafarian's recommendation is to stop and think about what we really mean before jumping in. He used the current focus on promoting "plant based diets" as an example, saying that much of what is wrong with the world's diet comes from plants (excessive intakes of refined starches and added sugar).

Taking care to fully understand the meaning behind the recommendation to eat a 'plant based diet' is important - even vegan and vegetarian are not necessarily the best way to communicate what's healthy.

What this means:
Don't just follow the latest vernacular. Understand what it means and be clear on how to interpret and apply the messages you use. 

Insight 3: People eat food, not numbers.
The reductionist way policy makers are defining foods as healthy has an historical root in the way governments addressed the prevention of scurvy and pellagra in the 1920's-1940's. However this approach, which involves targeting a nutrient or handful of nutrients to fix a problem, is not working well for the reduction of chronic disease. 

Dr Mozzafarian went as far to suggest that this method, applied most commonly in the form of front of pack interpretative nutrition labels, is flawed and potentially misleading. While reducing added sugar, added salt and added trans fat makes sense, total fat, saturated fat and even calories are misleading metrics to focus on.  

What this means:
Highlighting the nutritional profile of a food can be useful in the targeting of messages to particular consumer groups. However classifying foods as healthy or not based on the presence of a handful of negative or positive nutrients may not be the most effective way to exert positive change in eating habits. Consider complementing any nutrient based claims used in marketing, with additional information on the benefits of the whole food, a greater understanding about where the food comes from, who made or grew it, how to best prepare and serve it, or promoting eating together with others and the sharing of food around a table.

For a full transcript of the day see this link. Dr Mozzafarian's presentation (15 minutes of viewing time) starts at the 2 hour 07 minute mark.

Overall
Staying in touch with global thinking and connecting the insights to local actions helps create effective strategy. It can also save time by assisting with decision making. Often we are faced with many options when it comes to prioritising food and health related marketing messages and selecting those that align with global changes in research and policy direction can build a brand's reputation over the long term.  

What's Next After Clean Label?

It wasn’t that long ago that outside of letter writing, a phone call was the dominant way to communicate with distant relatives.  Today, this method of communication has been joined by a myriad of other choices.  It’s not that phone calls are irrelevant, it’s just that keeping in touch can now be achieved in many different ways.

This same evolution is occurring with the factors that consumers draw upon to determine their purchasing decisions.  While in the past it was primarily about taste, price and convenience, it is no longer that simple.  Today, consumers take into account multiple data points when deciding where to spend their dollars. One of the most important of these variables is health and wellness. However the way this is being defined is also changing and evolving. 

While the nutritional value remains an important consideration, it’s now joined by a myriad of other considerations.  For packaged foods, this has most recently been a focus on the nature of the ingredient list. In fact the ingredients list is now being scrutinized even more so than the nutrition information.  Research by Nielsen found while 66% of consumers evaluate the nutrition information on a product, 75% assess the ingredient list. Nutrients have now been pipped at the post by ingredients - much like texting has overtaken phone calls as a way of staying in touch.

However these changes gradually evolve and are not necessarily new. For those looking to be future ready, it’s timely to consider what comes next?

Last week I caught up with Justin Nel from Mintel to find out. Mintel will be well known to many for their Global New Products Database, along with their consumer insights and global trend tracking services.  Based on what they are seeing now, Justin’s viewpoint is that ‘safety’ is the next important area that food businesses must address to reassure consumers their products are 'good for them'.   

In an era of fake news, food fraud and product tampering, according to Mintel’s research, 29% of Australian consumers don’t trust the food and drink industry to provide food that is safe for consumption.  After the events of this week around tampering of fresh strawberries, and recent recalls of sprouts, salad kits and chocolate products, it's likely this issue has been further exacerbated.  

We clearly have a skeptical consumer base that needs convincing before purchasing and Justin’s advice is to get on the front foot.  Full disclosure and complete transparency are needed now more than ever.

“Consumers really want to know everything about the food they are buying. It’s not just what’s in it but how the product was made and where the ingredients have been sourced. They want to know everything they can about the product’s life cycle - from the start to the finish when it appears on the shelf at the retailer.  We refer to this trend as providing full disclosure”.   

According to Justin, social media is a great way to be at the forefront with this. Rather than waiting for a consumer to ask, use social media platforms to push the relevant information out.

As a result of this evolution in consumer values, there’s been a shift in the advice Mintel are providing to their clients . Previously the priority was to highlight provenance and legacy and to build a consumer connection that way. Just like nutrients and ingredients, while that is still important, there’s a swing now toward reassurance about a product’s safety.

And the way 'safety' is being defined is not simply an absence of contaminants.  It's about transparency, labeling, the nature and degree of processing, the ingredients and clarity around the connection between farm and fork.

Thinking full spectrum about how health & wellness is defined and incorporating many aspects of the food production process into communications, marketing and innovation is becoming less of an option, and more of an expectation for those looking to maintain future relevance. Just like phone calls have been joined by texting, social media and it's various applications, addressing consumer interest in health & wellness is about offering multiple platforms from which to reassure consumers about their choices.

To view the full interview with Justin, click here.

Why ‘Positive Rebellion’ Favours Food Brands

Between 2012-2016 McDonalds lost 500 million transactions to competitors. In an interview with Fast Company last week, CEO Steve Easterbrook said the reason was because the company had ‘lost a meaningful connection with customers’.  Rather than eating at McDonalds, people were going elsewhere, both to traditional rivals and to new fast-casual restaurants including Sweetgreen (est. 2007) and Shake Shack (est. 2004). 

The answer to the problem, according to Easterbrook, is to introduce a new Quarter Pounder made with a fresh beef pattie instead of a frozen one, and to have the meat cooked on the spot upon ordering.  For a company known for its predictability, this is a significant move and one that will involve major changes to its supply chain. 

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As I read this story last week, it made me reflect on whether the proposed change would be enough to fix the problem. 

There are two questions that came to mind. Firstly, does a fresh beef pattie cooked upon ordering create a more meaningful connection with consumers compared to offering a frozen one?  The answer is partly yes.  Research shows people are seeking to include more fresh foods more often and are looking for convenient ways to do this.

The second question was whether the potential uplift in meaning would be enough to shift behaviour and prompt consumers to choose McDonald’s over its competitors.  The answer to this question is likely not.  

Creating a meaningful connection with consumers that is strong enough to influence behaviour today requires more than a change from frozen to fresh. This is a good start, however more needs to be done.  It's an argument I put forward in my new book, Food for a Better Future, along with offering a potential solution.   

So, other than the fresh food, what is it about food chains such as Shake Shack and Sweetgreen that has these outlets maintain a meaningful connection with consumers, and as result experience growth rates of up to 41% in 2017? 

The answer may lie in the fact that they stand for something more than selling 'better for you' burgers and fresh, locally sourced salads.  In fact their brand personifies a sense of ‘positive rebellion’, and this connects them with the growing number of people who are seeking to ‘rebel’ for the greater good of society.  Food that is better for you is part of it.  But it's not the full picture. 

According to Larry Fink, head of the world’s largest investment firm Blackrock, the mood of society has changed and now demands that businesses, both public and private, serve a social purpose. This is a clear signal that doing more than simply selling goods and services is also good for business. 

For those in the food sector, the most congruent way to demonstrate this is to develop values that serve a purpose connected to food.  And these values often mean rebelling against the traditional, business as usual approach to food production, marketing and retailing. 

Shake Shack do this through their umbrella commitment to ‘stand for something good’.  This is demonstrated by the type of ingredients they use, their transparent supply chain and their environmental commitments.  For Sweetgreen it’s that they are always looking for ways the business and its customers can be a positive force in the world and on the food system. The company’s food ethos includes a commitment to scratch cooking, transparency through working with farmers who are doing the right thing and sustainability from store design to waste management, local sourcing and food safety. 

A key distinction is that by taking a stand and voicing their beliefs, both Shake Shack and Sweetgreens lead customers, rather simply following them.   

In the article in Fast Company, the Menu Chief at McDonald’s Corporation, responsible for keeping an eye on food trends and determining when to adopt them, states that a key insight she’s learned is that what consumers say they want and what they actually buy are two different things and that this is a challenge.  “That’s kind of the secret sauce,” she says. “What’s an emotional need you can answer?” 

When looking to create greater brand meaning, that emotional need could be the need to do good.  People are looking for a greater sense of meaning and are seeking ways to spend their dollars with companies that share their values. Creating greater brand meaning by developing values that are centred on your food, and which are supported by genuine actions over a long period of time, is a key way forward for brands looking to build and maintain future relevance. 

How Food + Tech Can Really Connect

How Food + Tech Can Really Connect
 

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At the Food SA Summit last month, I had the opportunity to hear Sarah Leo from Open Book Howden talk about the emerging application of augmented reality to the food sector. This technology has been around for a number of years, however it's application to food has been less well known - until now.

Sarah demonstrated how augmented reality is being used to connect purchasers with the story behind the food they are buying.  By scanning images of a product with a smart phone, the people responsible for producing the food are brought to life, speaking directly with the purchaser and providing information of relevance to the brand.  It's like having the producer or grower right there with you - a bit like Pokemon Go with an added layer of sophistication.

The ability to share more information with the consumer in a way that doesn't involve squeezing more copy onto a label, using more packaging or paper, or sending people to a website, is a clear advantage of this technology.  However where it may have the greatest impact for food producers is on creating and maintaining a human connection between the source of the food and the consumer.  

Humans have a primal connection with food and a critical part of this connection is knowing where food comes from. It is this point that may be more critical to creating trust and supporting food purchasing decisions than we previously realised.

Research by Elizabeth Redcay at the University of Maryland has found face to face contact, shaking hands with someone or even small but personal interactions such as giving someone a 'high five' can trigger the release of a whole cascade of neurotransmitters, including oxytocin, which increases levels of trust. With consumer trust in the food supply being a major barrier to purchasing decisions for many, maintaining human connectedness may be critical for future success. 

It may also facilitate better health through maintaining social interaction - something that was a natural part of the food shopping experience when purchasing food from the local butcher, baker or fruiterer was the norm of the day. However with 95% of the food consumed in Australia now purchased through supermarkets, it is more difficult to achieve human to human contact than it has been in the past. This is where augmented reality can provide a solution - bringing us one step closer to a local food shopping experience.

This video shows how the technology was used by The Barossa Valley Cheese Company to tell the story behind the production of their cheese and to talk about the relationship they have established with the local dairy farmers.  This is one example of how the technology can be used to elevate the role of the farmers, facilitate a connection with the source of the food, and provide a degree of education about how it is made.

As we head into an era of food + tech, where kitchen robots could be making our dinner while Google Home orders our coffee, many things about food will change. However, this vital relationship we have with food is a fundamental connection that will remain. Using technology to maintain and enhance this relationship, provides one innovative way to enhance consumer trust and in turn, support future growth.

I'm No Leadership Guru But...

I'm no leadership guru but I reckon Coles management made the wrong decision yesterday when they announced a black flip on their commitment to phase out plastic bags.

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Instead of following through with the removal of plastic bags from checkouts, Coles have decided to give out free re-usable plastic bags to their customers indefinitely. The rationale, according to the company, is that customers need more time to adjust to bringing their own re-usable bags. 

But we don't have more time.

It was 2005 when Melissa Etheridge sang 'I Need to Wake Up' the theme song to accompany Al Gore's documentary - 'An Inconvenient Truth'. At that point we already knew we needed to make big changes to address the growing threats to our planet. 

But the truth about the planet is inconvenient and it's hard to wake a business if it's pretending to be asleep.   

However, with the degree of attention being given to the environment currently, you could be virtually asleep and still be aware of the issues associated with plastics in our oceans, and the fact we use 1.7 times the planets natural resources to meet our current lifestyle. 

Our habits are eroding our environment and we have a responsibility to do something about it. Ignoring the problem by doing a doona dive won't make it go away.

The thing is - it's not just about saving the planet - given, some care about this and some don’t. It's also about business growth. It's hard to see how Coles will gain customers from this decision. Sure, some irate customers who could be inconvenienced when they forget, or don't bring enough re-usable bags will be appeased and Coles will keep these customers. 

But they'll lose those who care about the environment and want to do their bit to make a difference. And significant numbers of people want to make a difference - it's one of the drivers that gives our lives meaning.

 “The opposite of love is not hate, its indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, its indifference".

Elie Wiesel

In the research for my new book, Food for a Better Future, I interviewed Tristan Harris from Harris Farm Markets. Sitting at the core of their business is their belief in fairness. Fairness drives everything they do because that's what they believe. 

If you truly believe in something, you don't black flip - you find solutions. 

Backed by their values and beliefs around reducing plastic because 'it's the right thing to do' and is consistent with their commitment to the 'Greater Goodness', Harris Farm were well positioned to comment on this issue yesterday and to call on Woolworths not to follow suit.

Those in the business of food can make a significant difference to the future health of the planet, the health of our communities and to protecting our natural resources. They can also set themselves up for future growth by developing and committing to values around their food - how it's produced, distributed, sold and consumed. 

But we need leaders who understand and believe this to be the case. 

Food production accounts for 30% of the world's energy consumption and 22% of total greenhouse gas emissions. We use billions of plastic shopping bags a year. 

Food can be at the centre of providing significant solutions - from production, through to distribution, retailing and consumption. Now is the time for leaders in the business of food to lead customers to a better place, and to know when it's useful to follow consumer demands, but also when it's not.

 If your beliefs don't come from the core of your leadership team, then you're at risk of back flipping. Not only does that mean we're using up more time that we don't have, it also means from a business perspective, you risk losing more customers than you'll gain. And that's not good for the planet or for the shareholders.

The Evolving Definition of 'Healthy'

                                                                              The Food Re-evolution Model

The Food Re-evolution Model

When approaching food marketing and innovation, we talk a great deal about meeting demand for foods that are 'healthier'.  Throughout this process, we often refer to 'healthy' food with an underlying assumption that those we are communicating with share a mutual understanding about we mean.

But do they?  

Just as fashion changes over time (I no longer wear my leg warmers from the '80's as exercise gear, for example), so too do the beliefs consumers hold about what they perceive 'healthy food' to be. While changes associated with individual nutrients, ingredients or foods make up our year on year 'trends' these tend to come and go, What we are experiencing right now however is a fundamental shift in the elements that are influencing consumer perceptions about what healthy food really is.

Layer Upon Layer
While in the past we may have referred to healthy food as 'low in fat' or 'high in fibre', it's no longer that simple.  Consumers are smarter and Datamonitor expects single nutrient claims to all but disappear by 2020. 

We're moving from a nutrient focus, to one that is much broader in context. This is already evident in the shifting focus on ingredients, the desire for 'clean' labels, more real and natural foods, and the influence of the degree of processing a food has undergone over-riding its nutritional value as a deciding factor in how healthy it is perceived to be.  This evolution will continue to incorporate additional elements that will influence perceptions of health in the future. The various layers of influence are depicted in the above diagram.

To remain relevant and to create meaningful connections with consumers, it will be critical to understand how each of these layers influence perceptions of health across individual products and categories, and to strategically integrate each into marketing and innovation strategies.  

To develop a strategy that genuinely meets consumer demand for 'healthy' food, consider broadening your approach, becoming an expert in your category, and evaluating and understanding each layer.  Here are some starting considerations relevant to each layer:

Nutrients - Start here and Build
Does your product contain key nutritional elements that are yet to be highlighted? If you are unsure, the first step is to dig a little deeper and find out.  The next step is to consider how you can communicate these benefits in a meaningful way.

Ingredients - The Quality of the Recipe Counts
What ingredients are present that contribute to good health? Can these be highlighted? What targets may you set around ingredients to remove or replace?

Food - The Whole is Better than the Parts
If your product is a whole food, what unique benefits does it bring? If it is a mixed product, what whole food ingredients can be highlighted or added?

Food system - Look Back to Look Forwards
Can you communicate where your food comes from and how it is made? Are there opportunities for greater sharing and education that demonstrates how the food system sitting behind your product contributes to its health credentials?

Food and ecology - The Context Matters
How does the way your food is produced support a positive food environment, and how does it support social and cultural aspects of food and eating?


Thinking full circle and addressing each of the layers that contribute to consumer perceptions about how healthy a food is provides a significant number of opportunities for differentiation and the creation of a meaningful brand and an authentic and trusted corporate or industry voice.  The arrow to the right of the model indicates that if we continue to focus on just nutrients and ingredients, we are addressing just a fraction of what can be said about food.  For those looking for future relevance, the target is to hit 100%.

Further details around the above concepts and how they can assist your business prepare for the future, can be found in my new book Food for a Better Future. Pre-order your copy here

Hear me speak on this topic in September at Innovate & Excite: Acting Today to Advance Tomorrow, AIFST Convention 2018. For further details go here.

The Latest Global Food & Health Trends - what they mean for you

 Photo credit; Sven Owsianowski

Photo credit; Sven Owsianowski

The International Food Information Council’s 2018 Food & Health Survey* (IFIC), released on 16 May, provides valuable insights into the evolving consumer mindset while highlighting current and emerging influences of food purchasing decisions. The survey findings provide relevant insights for the Australian market and I've outlined my top 5 take outs below, along with considerations when applying these locally.

1. Food Values Influence.

If the nutrition information on two different products is the same, a consumers purchasing decision will be swayed by the values the product portrays. The drivers with the strongest influence are sustainable production, freshness and a shorter ingredient list.  
 
What this means:
Nutritional value is important to convey however may not provide the level of differentiation needed to influence purchasing decisions. It is becoming increasingly necessary to back up any nutritional features with values around how food is produced and the type and number of ingredients it contains.

2. Stressed and Confused

Eighty percent of shoppers say they often come across conflicting information and for 59% this makes them doubt their choices. This doubt is in turn creating stress when it comes to making decisions. Those who report being confused are more likely to stick with what they know and be influenced significantly by familiarity. 
 
What this means:
The idea that consumers are confused and are therefore struggling to make clear purchasing decisions further supports findings from Mintel in their APAC trends research reported here in April 2018. This highlights a growing need to seek out ways to help consumers make informed and clear decisions. Creating greater levels of trust, steering clear of fads and avoiding cluttering categories with choice are some considerations.  Finding ways to reassure consumers about their purchasing decisions will also be helpful. This could be through elevating the expertise of your brand, creating links with trusted external advisors or developing a more meaningful relationship by creating shared value in areas consumers care about.
 

3. Sustainability matters.

Sixty percent of survey respondents said it’s important that the food they buy and eat is produced in a sustainable way.The top considerations are reducing pesticide use, ensuring an affordable food supply and preserving natural habitats from which food is sourced. Respondents also indicated they are starting to think about ensuring a sufficient food supply for the growing population. 

What this means:
Sustainability is the next big issue in food and it means considering more than the end product produced or sold. Sustainability is a holistic approach to the way food is produced, its nutritional value, its environmental impact and its contribution to maintaining and preserving a positive food culture. This area provides significant opportunities for differentiation in marketing and innovation for those willing to invest in understanding the bigger picture issues and aligning their business accordingly.  For a good overview of this area and the implications and opportunities for food businesses in 2018, this article by Ben Cooper in Just Food earlier this year is a worthwhile read.
 

4. Artificial is the enemy

The desire for ‘real’ food remains strong with 70% of consumers stating they would give up a familiar food for one that contained fewer artificial ingredients. Forty percent of those who would switch brands state they would pay 50% more and 20% said they would pay double.
 
What this means:
The desire for fewer artificial ingredients and additives continues to grow. Commitments around reducing these in foods will be of ongoing appeal to consumers.  Growth in 'fresh' and 'real' food is complementary to this and seeking out ways to help consumers include more fresh foods in their daily diet is supportive of this trend.
 

5. Heart, Weight and Energy

The top three health benefits consumers are looking to obtain from their food are those linked with heart health, weight loss or management and energy. Brain functioning which includes memory, focus and cognition came in fourth indicating the area of 'food and mood' is also of growing interest.

What this means:
The regulatory framework in Australia provides good opportunities for linking foods to each of these areas, with some providing greater and lower cost opportunities than others. The key for food providers is to assess the nutritional profile of products and understand which nutrients and ingredients can be used to support which claims.  My perspective is that there are significant, untapped opportunities that exist in this area for those prepared to investigate a little more closely.
 
Other key findings outlined in the research include the ongoing desire to avoid too much sugar, the continuing concern about carbohydrate and weight gain, and the high numbers of people who are eating always or sometimes with distractions. While taste and price remain key drivers, price is continuing to loosen it's hold as an influencer and is coming in at a lower level than it did in 2017. When asked about online shopping, it seems take up is slow with the majority still feeling more comfortable going to the supermarket in person. 

Further details and a copy of the findings from the survey can be found here.

*The IFIC Food & Healthy Survey was conducted in March 2018. It was an online survey of 1,009 Americans aged 18-80 years.

Why culture eats regulation for breakfast

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Business management guru Peter Drucker coined the well known phrase 'culture eats strategy for breakfast'.  It implies the strength and nature of an organisation's culture is more powerful at influencing company operations than a highly developed strategy.

When it comes to effectively addressing and improving future food choices, this saying has equal applicability.

While watching the recent episode of Four Corners on the ABC on whether Australia should have a sugar tax, I found myself siding with the comments of a Queensland sugar cane farmer. When asked about his thoughts on the issue his reply was "I just am opposed to taxes upon taxes upon taxes. I just don't think it's the right way to get the message across. It's a cultural thing. We need to change the culture of people's eating habits, and education is the best way to do that".

The real problem he said, is not the fact he produces sugar, it's the cultural shift that has occurred in our eating habits.  

And herein lies the real challenge.  The population's intake of sugar and sugary drinks is already on the decline.  People know too much sugar is bad for them. So while a tax may, or may not, accelerate the current decline it could be seen as a distraction to the real problem - and that is, that our food culture is the issue that needs attention.   
 
Eating on the run, not stopping to appreciate food, over-consuming, eating alone and buying more than we need, are elements of our food culture that sit at the heart of the problem. It's bigger than micro-managing sugar -  what we really need to influence is our cultural appreciation of food and to work on elevating it's valuable role as a contributor to good physical and environmental health and as a facilitator of positive social connections.  

Major inroads into improving dietary intakes will be challenging unless efforts are made to address these issues.  Using the 'carrot' rather than the 'stick', promoting and embracing enjoyment of food and re-connecting with the source of our food, will likely lead us toward a better future for food, and one that supports genuinely good health.

Some considerations around how this can be done by those in the business of food:

  1. Create a culture within your own work place where food is elevated, valued and appreciated. Prioritise time to sit and eat lunch together or to celebrate achievements over a meal.

  2. Cultivate a love of food among the target markets you work with - incorporate marketing and communication activities that support growing, cooking and experimenting with food.

  3. Re-consider constant price promotions - aim to say more about your products than 'on special' this week. Provide more information about the production, distribution and origins of food.

  4. Highlight those who are involved in growing and producing food -  put them forward as expert voices and cultivate an appreciation for the resources and expertise that goes into food production

  5. Research and highlight the cultural connections that your food, or its ingredients, has with its origins.  Consider sharing stories that highlight its role in traditional eating patterns or stories around how it is sourced.

Focusing on how and why we eat, and not simply on what we eat, provides a great opportunity for food marketers to embrace a direction that supports consumers to eat well, to raise their consciousness around their choices and to start cultivating the idea that 'enough' is abundance.  This facilitates a positive food culture that will naturally include sugar in moderation, without a slap on the wrist for buying it.

Facing the Future - Why Responsibility Matters More Than Ever

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We’ve all had the experience of shirking responsibility - it wasn’t me, I didn’t know, it was their fault.  It starts in childhood and continues on - popping up when we want to avoid blame, think no-one will notice if we take short cuts, or stick our head in the sand as a strategy to avoid going the extra mile. 

However as expectations around how businesses conduct themselves evolve and change, taking greater responsibility is not only the right thing to do – it’s critical for consumer engagement and long term success.   

There’s been no more significant reminder of this in the past few weeks than the situation Facebook finds itself in as a result of its data sharing practises.   

While facing Congress, one of the comments that stood out for me was when Mark Zuckerburg admitted Facebook hadn't taken a broad enough view of their responsibility and that looking back, this was a big mistake.  

No doubt this is the case.  Since the issue arose, $45 billion has been wiped from Facebook's stock value and the industry now faces the real threat of greater regulation. Trust in Facebook has also taken a significant nosedive.   

This case has strong parallels with the history of food. Lack of responsibility in the past has been one factor that has contributed to the gradual erosion of consumer trust in the food supply.  Marketing practises that have over-emphasized one aspect of food, while ignoring others, or over-exaggerated the benefits that may be obtained by eating a certain food, have gradually eaten away at people’s confidence about what to believe and who to trust. 

In the past, it's been easier to get away with such approaches.  However consumers are getting smarter, scrutiny of food marketing and composition is higher, and access to information is easier. 

Food is under the microscope more than ever before so taking responsibility is critical to building and maintaining consumer trust and protecting brand reputation.  

Here are some ways to do that: 

  1. Think full circle:  It is now more important than ever to ensure marketing teams have a deep understanding of the production and composition of the foods they sell.  This includes understanding how the products are made, grown or produced, the nature of the ingredients, feed or growing conditions, where key ingredients come from, why they are used, and the nutritional value they provide. The ability to communicate more than the nutritional features of the end product, or the absence of an unwanted ingredient or substance, is critical to taking responsibility to meeting consumers growing interest in re-connecting with the source of their food.   
  2. Pay attention: monitoring regulatory changes, public health campaigns, emerging nutrition research and future mega-trends is critical.  This requires investment in looking outwards as well as looking inwards. Feeding the right information into your business and ensuring those who need to know are paying attention to things that matter in the macro-environment in which you operate is critical when the hustle and bustle of the day to day can otherwise take over. 
  3. Lead through values: developing values around authenticity, honesty and transparency and seeing them through with tangible actions is critical. A more mindful consumer is looking to brands to connect with them in a more meaningful way and one way to demonstrate this is through developing and implementing values, particularly those connected with your food.     

In a highly shared video on You Tube, actor Will Smith makes the point that taking responsibility is one way of taking your power back.  He has a point worth pursuing.  A good example is 7-Eleven's recent decision to take responsibility for its role in contributing to the 1 billion coffee cups that go into landfill in Australia each year. Teaming up with Simply Cup, they've introduced 200 special recycling units throughout their network.  There was no need for 7-Eleven to do this.  However as the second largest provider of takeaway coffee in Australia, the company saw it as their responsibility to be part of the solution.  This is one way 7-Eleven is returning  power to its brand after events in 2017 saw its reputation take a hit. 

It's worthwhile considering - what could you do to take greater responsibility, above and beyond the everyday, and add power and meaning to your brand?

Three Top Trends in APAC & What They Mean for You

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Last week, Mintel presented their top trends in the Asia Pacific region outlining current and emerging influences of consumers purchasing decisions.  Here I’ve pulled out those of greatest relevance for food marketers and innovators and provide my thoughts on their implications.
 
The emergence of ‘Supernannies’
The cost and consequences of human activity on the planet are becoming too big to ignore, driving not only governments, but brands to become ‘Supernannies’. This means companies are starting to take a more active role in influencing consumer behaviour toward more sustainable practices, in part a response to the threat of increased regulation.  

A ‘hand holding’ approach that guides consumers toward change and educates them on why it’s necessary is seen as a realistic way forward in this space.

My Thoughts: the idea of influencing consumer behaviour around environmental stewardship is one that fits a leadership brand positioning – it’s not about following, but being bold enough to elevate business values in this area, and bringing consumers with you.  Communicating your environmental values to consumers in turn provides an opportunity for differentiation.
 
Culture Matters
Maintaining a link between the future and the past is being reflected in greater use of traditions and culture as a means of enhancing integrity, trust and pride, while also contributing a sense of belonging.  This supports the finding that 1 in 4 Australians are willing to pay more for products that are locally grown while those travelling to new countries will happily spend more to experience a true sense of the local culture.  Counter to living in a global world, the opportunity to remain local and to highlight and draw on the uniqueness of local food and produce is of growing value.

My Thoughts: being true to your roots and what you stand for as a brand, tapping into your heritage and highlighting this to consumers provides a pathway toward greater trust and integrity, while also providing an opportunity for premium pricing. 
 
The Rise of the Bot
Greater consumer choice and less available time is increasing anxiety and stress associated with decision making. Consumers can now turn to apps, online platforms and even chatbots to get the advice they need to make decisions.

Decision making chatbots are enabling more precise information to be accessed with greater speed.  AI will quickly move from being an assistant to also being a personal advisor.  Data analytics that help consumers make choices they can trust will take the stress out of decision making.

My Thoughts: with around 20,000 products on supermarket shelves, consumers will expect food brands to help them make more informed decisions. This could either be through the use of smart technology, or through real human involvement. Either way, it will be necessary to be an expert in your products to enable the right information to be available to help consumers make the right choices.

The future is both exciting and complex. It's also about making choices - which path to follow dependent on your brand positioning and values. One thing that's clear is that consumers are becoming increasingly challenged with the myriad of choices they face daily - helping them make better and faster decisions is an emerging challenge and opportunity for food brands.

Create a Meaningful Voice in a Crowded Market

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We live in a crowded and noisy world. 

Everyday 60 billion messages are sent through Facebook, 500 million tweets are posted and 95 million photos and videos are shared on Instagram.  We are faced with tens of thousands of choices on supermarket shelves and multitudes within categories.

With all this information and stimulation, it's not surprising a recent survey found when it comes to making purchasing decisions, 60% of Australians suffer from analysis paralysis.

At the same time however, consumers are looking to connect with brands that demonstrate values they share. Shared values enhance the meaning of a brand and this can help you be heard in a crowded market, in turn being good for long term business performance.   

Research by the Havas Media Group found brands considered meaningful outperformed brands with lower levels of meaning by 206% over the 10 year period between 2006-2016. Meaningful brands were also 137% more likely to meet important KPI’s, including the ability to charge a premium price, a 9 times greater share of wallet and an increase in brand advocacy and repeat purchases.   

So what does it take to be meaningful?

When analysing this question, Havas found that to rise to the top of the meaningfulness scale, a brand needs to not only meet the functional needs consumers have, but also needs to demonstrate how it is contributing to the collective well being of society. 

Being meaningful therefore involves the ability to look both inwards, and outwards beyond the needs of the immediate consumer to also address the greater needs of society.   

This is in line with the changing mood of society that indicates long term business success will require not only the ability to make a profit, but to also serve a social purpose in a real and genuine way.

There's a whole buffet of options for addressing the greater needs of society however to operate with the greatest integrity, it makes sense for food brands to address the food related needs of society as a whole. 

There are plenty to consider and here are some thought starters:

1. Society's need to be educated about food.
What to do: Consider the adoption of values around food education, seasonality and transparency. Put your internal experts forward as educators. Example here - Brasserie's baker on how to make artisan bread.

2. Society's need to reduce the environmental footprint linked to food production.
What to do: Consider the adoption of values around the practises of your suppliers or the amount of plastic used in packaging. Communicate your commitments publicly. Example here - Harris Farm's #BanTheBag campaign promise to be the first major retailer to ban plastic bags from checkouts from 2018.

3. Society's need to preserve food culture.
What to do: Consider the adoption of values around preservation of seasonal eating, traditional harvesting and processing techniques, recipes or heirloom ingredients. Explain why this is valuable. Example here - Danone's now CEO Emmanuel Faber talks on the future of biodiversity

Overall, being meaningful provides a significant opportunity for brands to develop a stronger voice in the market, differentiate from competitors and contribute to a greater purpose, in turn engaging stakeholders, suppliers and consumers and contributing to a better world. 

State Your Values or Someone Else Will

Stacey Bingle, Consumer Trends Consultant at Mintel recently wrote that the number one lesson for businesses to create brand trust is to state their values. Today it’s clear that if you’re not defining yourself on social values as a business, someone else will do it for you.

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The financial and legal woes currently being experienced by Retail Food Group are a stark reminder of exactly what can go wrong. While likely not all attributable to a lack of social values, it’s clear that stagnating business formats, along with changing consumer expectations are making it tougher for long standing food businesses to survive.

Keeping up and steering effectively through the change is critical for business growth and longevity.

And building trust by stating your values is a key way forward.

There is no doubt global consciousness is rising around the role business plays in society, and for food businesses, the role they play in enhancing people’s health and in enhancing the environment around them. 

The idea that businesses can survive based on a profit goal alone has faded. This has been no more strongly indicated than by the head of BlackRock Investments, the world’s largest investment company, who announced in January this year that business cannot survive without doing more than simply making a profit. Referring to the fact that the mood of society has changed, Larry Fink, CEO said there is increasing demand that businesses, both public and private, serve a social purpose. 

What does this mean for food businesses? Developing your values is critical. But values that serve a social purpose must also have integrity. 

If you’re in a food business, the greatest level of integrity lies in developing values that centre around your food. Food is what you have expertise in – it’s likely you understand your food, your products and the system that sits behind it better than anyone else. You have the ability to leverage this expertise and to develop food values that serve a social purpose. There are plenty of opportunities to do this and we’re starting to this being taken on by businesses throughout the food system – from small, to medium, to large, to very large.

Finding a social purpose that can be linked to your food values and which will demonstrate integrity, provides your brand with the opportunity to differentiate, engage your teams and stakeholders, build your brand voice and create greater meaning with consumers.

Now is the time to act.

Supermarkets should focus on education not reformulation

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According to a report released this week by the Global Obesity Centre at Deakin University, supermarkets need to do more to promote healthy eating.

No doubt this is the case.

The long term consequences of rising levels of overweight and obesity, nutrient poor diets and associated lifestyle related health problems mean all those working in the business of food have a role to play.

However with limited resources, it's critical that attention is directed to areas where businesses, like supermarkets, can leverage their greatest strengths and therefore make the greatest difference.

As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker in the story of Spiderman 'with great power comes great responsibility'. Australia's supermarkets certainly have great power and therefore great responsibility around how they influence food purchasing decisions. They have a significant opportunity to play an active role in this area and, as the report acknowledges, are starting to make some moves.

The Deakin report provides some useful recommendations for supermarkets to consider, including influencing the placement of products within the shopping environment, and elevating the importance of nutrition and health as part of the company's overall strategy.

However, it overlooks opportunities that exist to leverage the real strengths of supermarkets and that is, their ability to educate.

Supermarkets are masters at understanding consumer shopping behaviour. They know how to influence decision making and sway people's purchasing habits. They also have access to an environment that provides the space and opportunity to interact one on one with their customers.

Rather than prioritising nutrition labeling and product reformulations (which are OK but not really enough and maybe not even effective), the greatest opportunity for supermarkets is in education.

Supermarkets are the ideal environment for educating people on how to select healthier foods, how to create quick and easy meals and how to plan meals for the week ahead. They have the opportunity to influence purchasing decisions right there at point of sale through effective educational strategies.

By elevating the role of food experts within their stores, including dietitians and chefs, and developing and implementing their own food philosophy, supermarkets have the opportunity to inspire and influence.

People need help to choose well and wisely, they need encouragement to cook, and they need inspiration to create a vision for themselves that makes everyday healthy eating possible and achievable.

Supermarkets can do this - they just need to focus where it matters most.

From generalised to personalised - the future of food is all about 'me'

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When it comes to encouraging people to follow population based dietary guidelines two things are clear. First is the general vagueness about what they are, and second is that even if they were clear, there is a common feeling that general dietary guidelines don't apply to them – 'they’re for the average person and I’m not average’ is many people’s reaction. 

This means that if broad based dietary guidelines are for the average healthy person, and no-one really thinks they’re 'average', the perception is they lack relevance.  This presents a major problem with getting cut through to encourage people to actually follow them and is a key reason behind the fact that few people do (97% of the population for example, don’t eat the recommended number of serves of fruit and veg). 

However following broad based dietary guidelines may not be a problem we need to worry about in the future.

A trilogy of influences are facilitating a power shift from institutions to individuals that will see rising numbers of people seeking out personalised eating advice. This in turn will create major change in the way we tailor messages about healthy eating in the future and provides both opportunities and implications for food marketers and innovators. 

Here are three of the key emerging technologies already available and which will continue to grow in uptake and influence:

1. Genetic testing
The cost of whole genome testing has plummeted from $100 million in the year 2000 to  $1,000 in 2018. Within 5 years it will be available for $150 and you'll probably take your genetic map home with you after birth. In the meantime, you can now order a genetic test that will identify whether you carry certain genes known to influence how the body responds to various nutrients in food, and find out if you have a higher risk of certain diseases or risk factors, for as little as $99.  Dietary recommendations can be tailored to these profiles to maximise health and wellbeing while reducing risk of future disease.  These results will have a significantly greater influence on the motivation to buy particular foods than general population based healthy eating messages and will impact the nature of our shopping list.


2. Microbiome mapping. 
Research on the influence of gut bacteria on health has exploded in recent years. As a result, for about $350 and a stool sample, a testing company can now map your microbiome giving you a picture of the types and amounts of bacteria that live in your gut and the influence they may be having on your health.  With this profile in hand, tailored dietary recommendations aimed at bringing your gut bacteria back into balance can be provided. Advancements in this area will drive opportunities for companies with probiotic and prebiotic products and those marketing foods that provide particular types of fibres and starches.
 

3. Food on demand. Our ability to make and access food on demand is growing and it's not just about UberEATS. The future may see 3D food printers sitting on kitchen benches, enabling meals to be made to a specific recipe that incorporates the good stuff you need while leaving out the bad stuff you don’t.  3D printing lends itself to aged care settings but is also currently a source of 'food-utainment'. The world's first fully 3D printed restaurant, Food Ink, opened in London in August 2016, complete with 3D printed chairs, plates and utensils and claiming to 'provide the world's most futuristic gourmet experience in the known universe'.  Complimentary to this will be growth in urban gardens and vertical farms that will enable community input and access to the type and amount of produce available at specific times of year.

Many food businesses are already well invested in the personalised eating space. Barilla has long invested in the development of a 3D pasta printer while Campbell Soup in the US invested $32 million in Habit, a nutrition-tech start up launched in January last year that develops personalised eating plans based on a series of tests which analyse a persons genetic, metabolic and blood markers.  The investment is a long term bet for Campbell’s with future potential lying in the possibility that customized meals can be developed and delivered as an easy solution for the individual.

With the emergence of new technologies coinciding with parallel growth in the desire to take control of our own health, the days of applying broad based messages about healthy eating may well be numbered.  The role that science plays in people's food choices will increase as an influencer of purchasing decisions and food marketers will benefit from working together with the appropriate scientists to remain relevant in this area.

Additional considerations for food marketers and innovators arising from these emerging technologies include:

  • Maintain awareness of the implications of personalised nutrition as a future influencer of marketing messages linked to particular products, and opportunities for innovation in this space.
  • Consider the creation of new networks of collaborators and advisors including experts in technology. genetics, gastroenterology, medical and fitness technologies to name a few. 
  • Gain greater awareness and understanding of the role of food in health and disease prevention and how this can support your marketing and innovation efforts.

The future is likely to see a need for those in the business of food to be well informed about its role in personal health.  Doing this may require the creation of new connections to ensure you have access to the necessary skills and knowledge that will ensure you are well prepared as the future unfolds.