Climate Action Strikes Clarity - Change is a Competitive Advantage

Global Table opening session, Melbourne Sept 2019

Global Table opening session, Melbourne Sept 2019

If you work in the business of food you already know this to be true.

Business as usual is a risk for the future.

If you had any doubts, they were surely challenged by last Friday’s Climate Strike.

The key message for business from last week’s event?

Change is a competitive advantage.

With food the major driver of environmental change and a significant contributor to personal and population health, the opportunity for those looking to create future leadership, is to commit to and demonstrate, change.

Last Friday, the voices of the future were sending a clear message. 

This generation won’t stand for inaction when it comes to the issues they really care about.

They’re not prepared to wait for government, or business, to be ready. They know power no long belongs to institutions and organisations – it belongs to them.

If you’re with me on this, the key question becomes not whether you need to change but when will you?

In the food sector, many are making change and becoming future ready.

For others, business as usual is slowing them down. 

If you’re unsure where you stand, here are some symptoms you may be stuck:

  • You continue to develop line extensions of existing products without considering where the ingredients come from, how they were made or whether suppliers are being paid a fair price.

  • You’re cutting corners to save costs then telling stories about authenticity that aren’t quite true.

  • You’re waiting for the market to tell you what they want.

  • You’re not investing in new technology to reduce the environmental impact of production.

  • You’re participating in marketing promotions that encourage over-consumption.

And there's more.

But challenging the status quo takes courage.

It takes someone within the business to stand up, press pause and present a new direction.

If that's not you, then who?

So what are you going to do?

What story are you telling right now?

What story do you want to tell?

Stand for it.

Act on it.

Communicate it.

Do it now.

Future prosperity relies on leaders like you.


#ClimateStrike #ClimateAction #FutureofFood #leadchange

Global Table Inspires Change Toward a Better Future

Global Table opening session, Melbourne Sept 2019

Global Table opening session, Melbourne Sept 2019

There was new tech, new products, innovations, teenovators, panels, discussions, plenty of high fives, pitches and presentations at Global Table in Melbourne earlier this month.

The event attracted more than 3,000 attendees from 29 countries all converging to discuss the future of food and the role of business, tech and innovation in achieving a better future for people and the planet.

Global Table, an event run by Seeds & Chips, Food & Wine Victoria and the Victorian Government, is primarily about aligning business and innovation in the food sector with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) - a shift that represents a $12 trillion business opportunity by 2030.

It was encouraging to see the high level of engagement in the event, by government, policy makers, start ups, multi-nationals, RDC’s and investors, indicating the time is right to do just that.


Consumers want change.
Market trends show people are turning away from many traditional brands and categories that no longer meet their changing values.  Local, sustainable, fresh, healthier and premium are what's driving growth in Australian supermarkets. 

Research also shows that two thirds of people will pay more for products from brands committed to environmentally friendly practices.

Government wants change.
Food is the greatest driver of environmental change and the climate emergency is in the news daily.  One of the greatest threats to future national security is food security.  If governments don’t adequately address food systems change, there is a risk that agricultural yields will decline 30% by 2050 and communities will be competing for access to natural resources. 

Business wants change.
Businesses across the food sector are accustomed to the need to innovate, however with increasing competition and crowded retail shelves, differentiation is becoming more difficult.  Big business in particular faces declining relevance if it doesn’t move fast enough to meet consumers changing values.
The desire for change converges with the emergence of the Sustainable Development Goals as a solution and a road map for the future, assisting businesses to take actions that lead to meaningful change.  Below are my top 5 take outs from the event. 

1. The pace of change is faster than what we can keep up with.
According to Howard Yana-Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer from Mars, and day 2 keynote speaker, our environment and knowledge base are changing so rapidly that 'uncommon collaboration' is needed to keep up. This means partnering with organisations, businesses and experts that we may not have partnered with in the past and sharing IP, rather than holding onto it, as a means of accelerating the pace at which we can move.

2. Doing innovation differently
Traditionally, innovation has come from following and responding to consumer trends. The innovation showcased at Global Table however was centred around solving environmental and population health problems – less driven by short term trends and more focused on making a difference to the collective wellbeing of society. Big business is now learning from small business, forming new teams around innovation and approaching product development and marketing through a new lense.

3. Challenging the status quo
According to John Kerry, 68th US Secretary of State and day 1 keynote speaker, putting up with the status quo is slowing down progress . “We need new ways of producing, distributing and talking about food”, he said and suggested the future needs leaders willing to deal with reality, who can make better choices, and shift and inspire people in a way that moves us faster toward achieving necessary change.

4. Opportunity for business
For some, working toward achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals is a ‘tick the box’ exercise. However, it was highlighted regularly throughout the 3 day event, that producing food in a way that is better for people and the planet represents a $12 trillion business opportunity between now and 2030. To realise this, it will be up to the private sector to lead the way, and government to create the framework.

5. Long term thinking
Many business functions are driven by short term demands however achieving change relies on the ability to balance this with long term thinking. It was highlighted in a panel session on day 1, that the sooner business can move away from requirements such as quarterly reporting the better. Having a long term vision that translates back to day to day business activities and areas of investment is critical for working effectively toward achievement of the Sustinable Development Goals.

If a business has a purpose that talks about tomorrow - more than today - this can also be a way to inspire teams and stakeholders, in turn contributing further to long term business resilience, and growing future readiness.   

Global Table will be running again in September 2020. To stay informed, sign up to receive updates.

If you would like a more detailed overview of the Sustainable Development Goals and the opportunities they represent for your food business, please get in touch.  

Interview with Marco Gualtieri - Founder of Seeds & Chips

On the eve of the inaugural Global Table event in Melbourne, I had the opportunity to interview Marco Gualtieri, Founder of Seeds & Chips about the event, and what was in store for those participating. Seeds & Chips are inspiring change across the food system, linking food innovation, technology and industry to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For more on Seeds & Chips

Interview with Matt Boyce, the founder of Your Prep.

As part of the on-boarding process for the 6 final start-ups selected in the Seeds of Change Accelerator program conducted by Mars Australia, I had the opportunity to talk with one of the entrepreneurs, Matt Boyce. Matt is the founder of Your Prep who's social enterprise business is making it easier for families to reconnect over healthy, nutritious meals.

Looking forward to following the journey of this cohort as they contribute to creating a better future through food!

Telling Food Stories that Connect


One of my favourite family movies is Ratatouille, a story with a central theme close to my heart and that is that ‘anyone can cook’. There’s a pivotal scene in the movie where food-critic Anton Ego, asks the chef to bring him his best dish and the meal he is served is Ratatouille.

At the taste of the first mouthful Anton is transported back to his childhood, a time where his mother would serve him this simple dish as a means of comfort and an expression of love.

The imagery and memories flood back and the scene is a relatable reminder of the power of food to create an emotional connection... so strong that it can turn even the harshest food critic back into a little boy, one who is prepared to wait for hours to meet the chef (Remy the Rat) that produced the dish.

The ability of food and the associated stories we all carry with us are a bit like music - they have the ability to remind us, and to immediately connect us, to people and to places from the past.

And this often under-recognised aspect of food is relevant as we consider the future.

When thinking and planning ahead, our focus and attention is commonly drawn toward keeping up with what's changing. We want to understand new trends, research and advances in technology and as a result, invest a significant amount of time and energy in these areas.

This is of course important however to develop a comprehensive future ready strategy, keeping up with what's changing is only one plate that we need to keep spinning.

Another is to pay attention to what’s on the plate that’s already in front of us – what star ingredients do we have that would be worthwhile bringing with us into the future?

Uncovering the stories that already exist about our food and our brand is one such ingredient.

Stories about food connect people in an emotional way and as we move from the knowledge economy into the human economy, building more ‘humanness’ into communications represents a competitive advantage.

In her book Stories for Work, author Gabrielle Dolan outlines the science that sits behind the power of story telling as a strategy for creating connection. Research shows story telling stimulates all of the different parts and areas of our brain, creating emotions that elicit feelings towards the person telling the story. The outcome is that a connection is created, and trust, credibility, influence and impact are all enhanced.

Story telling has also been shown to have clear commercial value, as highlighted in the Significant Objects project. During the project, an experiment was run where items were purchased on e-Bay for an average of $1.25 each. They were then re-auctioned at a later date with the addition of a creative story and achieved a sales price 28 times their original value! 

While story telling is commonly used in advertising, it’s use is relatively limited when it comes to food labels and packaging and this represents an opportunity.

As Jane Bennett, CEO of TasFoods Ltd said at the recent AIFST Feeding our Future Convention:

"Today, you’re either cheap food or story food’.

If you’re ‘story food’, telling your story where consumers can see it – at the point of sale – supports the ability to charge a premium price.

The key is to tell stories that inspire, connect and build respect.

A brief review of popular supermarket items indicates that currently, the majority of on pack communications focus on ‘what’ a product does and ‘what’ is in it. An opportunity exists to allocate more space to telling better food stories that in turn enhance the connection between the brand and the consumer.

Here are some thought starters:

Tell stories about ‘why’ – not why your brand is so great (that’s bragging) but why you create the products you do, why your business commenced and why we should care more about your brand than simply seeing it as a way of meeting our daily calorie needs.

Tell stories about the future – outline your beliefs, what sort of future you would like to see, the future you are working towards as a brand and how you are currently moving toward that future.

Tell stories about change – the latest Millenium Monitor by Colmar Brunton shows we are moving from an era of 'conformity' into one of 'rebellion' where individuals are looking to create their own better way. This signals that now is a good time to tell stories about the type of change you want to see in the world, why it’s important to you, and how you are going about creating it.

Story telling is a powerful way to connect and has always played a valuable role in how we communicate about food. As well as providing a point of difference on pack, it's also a platform for content creation that in turn builds brand meaning, grows trust and supports long term customer loyalty.

For more on this area, join my upcoming webinar. Further details and registration

Are Front of Pack Labeling Schemes Future Ready?


Rates of overweight and obesity have tripled in the past 25 years and with diet related diseases on the rise, governments have been compelled to act. Amongst a suite of strategies on trial, one approach has been the adoption of front of pack labeling schemes like the Health Star Rating in Australia, Nutri-Score in France and Traffic Lights in the UK, as a means of encouraging people to buy 'healthier' foods.

Much has been written, researched and debated about the value of these schemes and when speaking with my clients in the food sector, there is often uncertainty about the value of giving over limited on pack real estate to a symbol that is shrouded in controversy.

Outside of these short term considerations however, there's also the key question about how well these schemes are set up for the future - in particular, how well positioned they are to drive behaviour change and, from a marketing and innovation perspective, to support and elevate brand positioning.

For those thinking long term, here are a few of my thoughts in this area:

Labeling Schemes May Struggle to Keep Pace with Change
Being based on an algorithm or a number and the fact that once adopted these schemes affect many products across the supply chain, it's challenging for them to be updated and to evolve.

At the recent AIFST Feeding the Future Convention held in Sydney, one of our major retailers presented data showing that Australians consider healthy food as being fresh, natural and minimally processed. Locally, our Health Star Rating (HSR) Scheme doesn't consider any of these factors when assessing how healthy a food is. The problem here is that this creates a trust gap between consumer perceptions of healthy food, and the fact that highly processed foods can receive a five star rating.

Why is this important? Because, outside of price, trust is the greatest currency a brand holds as a means of influencing food purchasing decisions.

If consumers do not believe that the way a brand communicates its health credentials is trustworthy, this not only fails to meet the public health objective of the system, it hurts the reputation of the brand.

A reductionist way of assessing food is out of touch with emerging science.
Presenting at the International Forum on Food and Nutrition in New York last September, leading nutrition researcher Dr Dariush Mozaffarian from Tufts University highlighted that 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 kilojoules are misleading metrics to focus on.

Keeping up with nutrition science is critical and so is the ability to challenge the status quo.

Focusing on behaviour change may be better
Given that people eat food, not numbers, it could be that directing our attention to behaviour change strategies may be a better and more effective way forward. In fact, we are now starting to see movement in this direction.

Canada’s recently released and revised dietary guidelines include recommendations around enhancing food skills, the importance of promoting cooking and food preparation, celebrating cultural food practises and eating with others and McCain Foods recently released advertising campaign puts the family meal at the centre of social gatherings, supporting cooking at home and eating together.

Building and maintaining meaningful connections with consumers that not only support brand reputation, but guide consumers toward making better choices for their own health, the health of their families, and the health of the planet requires leading food businesses to challenge the status quo, to think more critically than they may have in the past and to develop their own thought leadership in this important and growing area for the future.

If you would like to discuss these thoughts further, please get in touch.

This article is a excerpt from an article I wrote for Inside FMCG on the Health Star Rating Scheme which appeared online this week. For the full article go here.

Is the Health Star Rating Future Ready?

Here is a copy of my opinion piece in today’s online edition of Inside FMCG.

Since its inception in 2014 the marketing, public health and consumer benefits of the Health Star Rating (HSR) system have been hotly debated. Now in its fifth year, with 31 per cent of eligible products carrying the symbol, the nature of these debates has not subsided.

Common areas vigorously discussed include whether the HSR should be voluntary rather than mandatory, whether the algorithm needs reviewing and whether government promotion has been sufficient enough to position the system adequately within a suite of other healthy eating strategies.

These are just some of the issues addressed in a 123 page draft five year review document due to be discussed at the next Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation. After considering hundreds of submissions and undertaking numerous stakeholder workshops, the overall recommendation is that the system be continued.

However, nutrition research and consumer’s definition of what constitutes healthy food is evolving and changing. Given this, it is timely for food manufacturers, innovators and marketers to reflect on how well the HSR system is positioned as a tool for communicating the health credentials of foods in the future.

My view is that it falls short.

A star rating doesn’t align with consumer’s evolving definition of what constitutes healthy food. Discussions about the validity of the HSR system inevitably turn to the case of yoghurt, breakfast cereals or Milo. One common example is the astonishment expressed that natural, full fat yoghurt which contains only two ingredients get 1.5 stars while a low fat yoghurt with 15 ingredients gets 5 stars. This point of disbelief reflects the difference in outcomes that can occur when the ‘healthiness’ of food is defined primarily on nutrient content and not on the degree of processing or nature of the ingredients.

At the recent Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology Convention held in Sydney, Woolworths presented data showing that Australians consider healthy food as being fresh, natural and minimally processed. Outside of fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content, none of these factors are considered in the way the HSR system works. This point alone creates a gap between consumer perceptions of healthy food, and the ratings given by the HSR, in turn increasing levels of mis-trust in the system, and in the brands that carry the star symbol.

This growing disconnect between how government is defining ‘healthy’ food and how consumers are defining it is a major consideration for food companies. Trust is the greatest currency a brand holds as a means of influencing food purchasing. If consumers do not believe that the way a brand communicates its health credentials is trustworthy, this not only fails to meet the public health objective of the system, it hurts the reputation of the brand. For food businesses looking ahead, and those formulating future ready strategies, this is a key point for reflection and consideration.

Reductionist way is out of touch

Presenting at the International Forum on Food and Nutrition in New York last September, leading nutrition researcher Dr Dariush Mozaffarian from Tufts University highlighted that 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 Mozaffarian went as far to suggest that this method, applied most commonly in the form of front of pack interpretative nutrition labels, such as the HSR system, is flawed and potentially misleading.

While reducing added sugar, added salt and added trans fat makes sense, total fat, saturated fat and even kilojoules are misleading metrics to focus on. This evolving point of view is another key consideration for brands looking to remain future relevant, and that are seeking to play an active and more responsible role in guiding consumers toward healthier eating habits.

Behaviour change is the way forward
It’s the variety of foods that are eaten together to create an overall healthy eating pattern that is most important for achieving better health than the ‘healthiness’ of individual foods within the diet. Behaviour change directed at achieving healthy eating patterns is therefore more important for improving public health than evaluating individual foods.

People often argue that any change is good change however attention is a finite resource.  When we pay attention to one thing, it’s not just that we focus on advancing that particular thing, it’s that we also give something else up.  Something that may have otherwise received our attention does not.

Given that people eat food, not numbers, it could be that directing our attention to behaviour change strategies may be a better and more effective way forward. In fact, we are now starting to see movement in this direction.

Canada’s recently released and revised dietary guidelines include recommendations around enhancing food skills, the importance of promoting cooking and food preparation, celebrating cultural food practises and eating with others.

The Sustainable Food Policy Alliance, an initiative of Unilever, Nestle, Mars and Danone in North America, has put forward recommendations to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in the USA stating it is their belief that incremental, nutrient-based recommendations have not kept pace with changing dietary patterns and eating styles, nor have they been enough to turn the tide on food- and nutrition-related public health concerns.

This group have recommended that the next iteration of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans consider “Food as Medicine”, link to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and recognize culture as a key driver of the foods and beverages people buy and eat.

Given these changes, it may be that the HSR will struggle to keep up as a future relevant strategy for improving public health. For food businesses seeking to build consumer trust, and to create and implement future ready strategies in this area, assessing how well the HSR fits with these plans will be critical.

Building and maintaining meaningful connections with consumers that not only build brand reputation, but guide consumers toward making better choices for their own health, the health of their families, and the health of the planet requires leading food businesses to think more critically than they have in the past and to develop their own thought leadership in this important and growing area for the future.

Sharon Natoli is a speaker, author, mentor, and director of Food & Nutrition Australia.

Podcast interview: Talking with Ben Whyatt from Retail Ready on the future of food marketing and how to connect with customers in a meaningful way


I recently had the opportunity to talk with Ben Whyatt from the Retail Ready podcast about the ever changing landscape of the food world and the role health plays in this. We also discussed the future of food marketing and I shared some of my thoughts on what food businesses can do today to be future ready.

To listen to the full interview:

Subscribe to Ben’s podcast for regular news, views and happenings in the world of food retail.

It May Be a Trend but How Well Does It Connect?


Last week I visited the Naturally Good Expo, a showcase of newly released products targeting those with an interest in health and wellbeing.

Unlike recent years where tumeric and coconut were dominant, this year it was plant based foods that took centre stage. For anyone interested in food trends, this is no surprise.

'Power to the plants' was identified as one of the industries fastest growing trends by Mintel in 2017 and this high level of interest is now reaching a peak. It's being incorporated into products from alternative burgers to plant based beverages, snacks, children's shakes and ready meals.

I even found cashew nuts carrying a claim on the pack that they were 'plant based'. The plant based food trend is now so popular that even plant foods are claiming they are plant based!

It got me thinking about whether cashew nuts carrying a claim they are plant based is helpful for consumers, or whether it simply adds to the clutter on the label.

When it comes to claims, just because you can say something, doesn't always mean you should.

Incorporating new trends into messaging ideally serves to create a point of difference, or to enhance what is already there, rather than simply adding to the clutter. We are now bombarded with so many messages, that simplicity is becoming increasingly attractive.

As Confucious said:

"Life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated".

To assist in determining whether a trend creates a connection with your brand that serves to elevate it and not detract, here are three filters that may be useful to consider:

1. Is this trend the right fit? Just because a shoe might be in fashion, doesn't mean it's going to be the right fit, look good on your feet or most importantly, be comfortable to wear.

It's the same with trends – assessing whether a trend is a good fit and naturally comfortable for your brand is worthwhile. This is particularly relevant for those looking to build brand reputation on quality and integrity over the long term, rather than falling for the temptation of looking good in the short term.

Questions to ask include:

  • Will this trend elevate my product compared to competitors?

  • Does it make nutritional sense to associate this trend with my product?

  • Will messages associated with this trend create clutter or clarity around the positioning of my product?

2. What can you say about it? It's important to be clear about what you can and can't say about a trend in advertising and on pack, but also what you could say if you put more work in.

Always check the food regulations first. If a key message can't be used this can be a real barrier to investment. You may have alternative avenues to turn to and in Australia, these include developing a systematic review of the scientific evidence to support a key message and submitting this to the regulatory body to enable you to make your own unique claim that would otherwise not be allowed.

3. How strong is it? When investing in innovation, labelling, packaging and communications you want to make sure a trend not only has popularity, but also has credibility.

Consumer research will give you an idea of popularity but where relevant, checking for any scientific research to support the trend will provide an idea of credibility. This means doing your due diligence and putting more time and effort into understanding a trend before applying it in practise.

Overall, awareness of trends is just the beginning. Investing time and energy into gaining a deeper understanding of what they mean, their relevance to your brand or product, the degree of research to support them and the impact of the regulations on your ability to talk about them, are all important factors to consider before applying trends to marketing and innovation.

In this way, we will continue to enhance our ability to create and market foods in a way that contributes to a better future and that connects in a meaningful way with the growing, more conscious consumer.

For further details, join my upcoming webinar.

How Do We Best Produce The Foods Of The Future?

world globe.jpg

On display at the Seeds & Chips Global Food Innovation Summit in Milan earlier this month were a broad range of food innovations. From urban farms to sustainable food production systems, to foods made from 100% renewable energy and waste material.

All were different but all had one thing in common.

These innovations all shared the ideals and intentions of the UN Sustainable Development Goals - an umbrella under which food innovation aimed at transforming our food system toward a healthier and more sustainable future can sit.  Examples of these goals include moving toward more responsible production and consumption, climate action, good health and wellbeing and better use of land, water and energy.

Along with being inspired with the momentum that is building in this area, throughout the course of the 4 day event, we also heard repeatedly how far behind we are in making an impact to both climate change and to the quality of people's diets.

Food production continues to contribute to a number of unsustainable environmental issues while food consumption habits are now resulting in a rising prevalence of malnutrition co-existing with overweight and obesity. 

With the ready availability of cheap, nutrient poor foods, it's not only becoming harder to manage our weight, its becoming harder to get the nutrients we need to live well in the short term and to maintain optimal health in the long term.

When we talk about food and sustainability, equal weighting therefore needs to be given to both environmental and nutritional impact.  Solving both of these issues is how food businesses can most effectively prepare for the future and be best positioned to obtain greater returns from investment in innovation. 

Getting 'more from less' means not only getting more food using fewer resources, it also means getting more nutrients from less food.

To do this, the following diagram provides a simple strategy for auditing where your products currently sit, and the key strategy to adopt to be future ready. The aim is to move up and to the right.  

The key questions are: where do my products currently sit and what can I do to move forward? 


The Biodiverse Supermarket Shelf - an interview with Mike Lee

At the Seeds&Chips Global Food Innovation Summit last week I had the opportunity to speak with one of the world’s leading thinkers on the future of food - Mike Lee from The Future Market and Alpha Food Labs.

One of Mike’s current projects is to reinvent the supermarket shelf of the future in a way that tackles the problem of biodiversity, while making it easier for people to make choices that support this aim. Here he points out that the approach taken by many packaged goods companies is the opposite to what chefs do. Chefs will look at the produce that’s available, then take that and make a recipe from it. This generally means preparing food from what’s seasonal and available.

Packaged goods companies approach this the other way around. “With packaged goods, in a boardroom somewhere someone comes up with an idea and then you make the farmer grow that one thing over and over again. It’s liberating with our stand for farmers to go to them without such a rigid agenda. We just want them to grow what’s right for the soil and then we’ll do the hard work.”

In this video interview, Mike Lee explains how Alpha Foods is developing products from what’s available, highlighting one way that food companies can tackle the issue of monocultures.

Creating Currency in 'Better'


At the moment I'm reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, a book about building good habits and breaking bad ones.

The book puts forward the argument that the accumulation of our daily habits is what determines our future.  This means that if we want to get somewhere, its the things we repeat regularly that matter most. 

This idea is somewhat counter to our tendency to consider achievement of the outcome we’re going for as the measure of our success. What Clear is asserting is that it's not actually the goal that matters – it’s the system, or habits we create to reach the goal, that matters more.

"If the system is working, then the outcome will take care of itself" - James Clear.

This thought prompted me to consider how it may apply to food marketing and innovation.   One of the ways we often look to create differentiation in the market is to focus on an outcome. This is frequently linked to a goal such as creating or marketing products as containing ‘the most probiotics’ or ‘the least amount of sugar’ or ‘the highest amount of fibre’.

The Problem with Being the 'Best'

While these outcomes can provide a point of difference in the market, the problem is that eventually we discover there's a floor or a ceiling we can’t get past anymore and at which point such goals become redundant. For example, there is only so much fibre you can put into a product before the amount causes digestive discomfort, rather than contributing positively to good health. 

Similarly with whole foods. There are only so many ways we can influence the natural nutritional profile of a food before we run out of options.

So what would it look like if we focused on creating better habits associated with food consumption, or on setting up better systems associated with food production, packaging and distribution, and started marketing that, rather than focusing on being the 'best', or the 'greatest', the 'lowest' or the 'highest'?

This perspective may be a useful way to help re-direct our thinking, open new avenues for innovation and provide the opportunity to tell better stories about our brands and our products to consumers.

Invest in 'Better'

Investing in encouraging better habits or in creating better food systems can stretch from food production and distribution through to retailing and consumption. There are many options that if adopted, provide infinite ways to differentiate and communicate better stories about our food.

Food reformulation targets are one well known way to invest in 'better', by providing guidelines for food production that result in healthier foods. This in turn creates currency for brands and consumers by providing evidence that a company is meeting consumers desire for 'better for you' foods. 

Other ways to create currency in 'better' include looking for ways to improve methods for farming that reduce environmental inputs, using renewable resources in production, using electric powered vehicles in distribution or encouraging more mindful snacking and consumption habits.

The Benefits of 'Better'

At a time when trust in the food system and trust in the food industry in particular is low, striving for 'better', rather than being the 'best', has a number of advantages:

It can help connect in a more authentic way with the growing, more conscious consumer.  Being perfect or already being the ‘best’ leaves little room for improvement.

It's a clear indicator of transparency – if you are not perfect, and not ‘there’ yet it indicates an openness and honest way of being.

It indicates a commitment to continuous improvement.  Just like a commitment to life long learning is one of the keys to happiness and growth, a commitment to continuous improvement for a business can have a significantly positive influence on company culture.

It may have benefits for teams.  As James Clear outlines, "the problem with a goals first mentality is that you are continually putting happiness off until the next milestone is achieved. A systems first mentality provides the antidote. When you fall in love with the process, rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied every time your system is running".  

If the system and habits we adopt keep getting better and better, team satisfaction and contentedness also has the potential to keep on improving.

If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your systems and habits instead.  Solve problems at this level and the outputs will look after themselves.

It's Not What You Know That Matters - It's How You Tell the Story


Over the past two months the EAT-Lancet Commission report on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems was launched across 25 countries, including a local launch in Melbourne in February. 

This detailed scientific report (which also has a useful summary paper) was put together by 37 scientists from 16 countries with expertise in health, agriculture and the environment with the aim of establishing global targets for healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The group of experts set out to answer:

“What would the world’s food consumption and production need to look like by 2050 to help ensure the Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals are achieved?”

This is important work given food production is the largest cause of global environmental change and a major contributor to population and personal health - areas that people are increasingly worrying about, as indicated in this years consumer trends research

The opportunity that global targets provide for food and beverage brands is two fold. Firstly, they provide a potential framework to audit current processes and practices and align company wide commitments for improvements with these targets, providing the groundwork for credibility and serving to build trust.

Secondly, and equally as important, is the opportunity to use this work as the basis for telling better food stories to consumers about how businesses are taking action toward improving the food system for the future.

Reflecting on my work with clients over the years, I believe we're well versed in setting targets, brand guardrails and commitments around ingredients or creating benchmarks for nutrient content, but we could be doing better at turning this work into meaningful stories that resonate with consumers. 

It's one way to provide greater levels of transparency, grow trust and create more insightful ways of communicating with an increasingly knowledgeable and informed consumer base. 

It's not what you know that matters - it's how you tell the story.

One company aligned with global targets and telling their story well is Schulz's Dairy - a family owned and run organic dairy farm in Timboon Victoria. 

Operating by a set of principles including sustainability, animal welfare, purity and community engagement, the company has developed a tribe of loyal followers by sharing their story in a meaningful way. In fact, people love the brand so much, they are paying for their innovation!

As an example of how they approach their business, when realizing the contribution they were making to the 2 billion 1-litre single-use plastic milk bottles that are used and discarded in Australia each year, the company set out to bring back reusable glass bottles.

After trialing returnable glass bottles at the local farmers markets and receiving an overwhelmingly positive response, they decided to press ahead with a change from plastic to glass.

To fund their glass bottle operation, they ran a crowdfunding campaign and after just 4 weeks, had raised over $106K from 1182 supporters! A record for this type of fund raising.

The lesson?

People want companies to lead the way when it comes to sustainability and they appreciate the efforts that go into making positive change happen – so much so they’re prepared to contribute to the cause.

Opportunities for innovation exist across the entire food system and the EAT-Lancet report provides specific targets outlining where change is required, and where it is backed by scientific evidence. It also provides an insight into the way government and public health policy may go in the near future. 

Taking responsibility for making change, where change is required in the food system, provides the basis for decision making and for telling better stories about food, brands and corporate responsibility that will resonate with consumers. This in turn is good for business, has customers feel great about purchasing your product, builds trust and is good for future generations.

EAT-Lancet Commission Report - implications for food businesses

The EAT-Lancet Commission report on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems provides global targets around food consumption and production to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Climate Agreement. For those in the business of food, it provides an insight into the issues that will influence future government and public health policies so is worthwhile being familiar with.

Good Foodies Podcast Interview - Inspiring a New Direction for the Global Business of Food

This interview aired on The Good Foodies Podcast in January this year. The podcast is all about people doing good in the world of food is a great addition to your podcast subscriptions! For more info click here.

Show Notes

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What does the future of food look like? How can brands keep up with changing consumer consciousness and build a food system that’s based on strong physical, social, environmental and cultural values? That’s the topic of today’s show with author, speaker and industry expert, Sharon Natoli.  

Sharon was a founding director of Food and Nutrition Australia back in 1997. She has qualifications in nutrition and business marketing and has worked with a range of clients – both big and small – over the last 25 years. She also maintains regular contact with individuals looking to change their eating habits. Her work revolves around preparing brands for the future by developing food centred values and leveraging these values to create a meaningful and genuine voice that facilitates trust and connection with consumers in the market.

Today’s episode should really get you thinking about your brand, your customers and the changing landscape of the business of food. One to listen back to, for sure!

In This Episode You’ll Learn

●      The approaches and values of the traditional food industry

●      The global patterns of change from old world to new world values and way of thinking

●      How consumers are becoming more conscientious and demanding more from food

●      The three traditional consumer values that are losing favour

●      The five new values that are driving change

●      Why price is a challenge and sticking point for brands producing high quality food

●      Why making positive change is good for business

●      How to balance the needs of people, planet and profit in your business

Food Businesses as Leaders of Change in 2019

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Over the long weekend I found myself distracted by a video circulating on social media aimed at encouraging people to boycott toothpaste that comes in a box. According to the statistics, 900,000,000 toothpaste boxes are thrown out each year in the USA alone and the only real purpose they serve is to make the product look better.  

The problem raised was that this is contributing to excessive waste. So the questions posed were 'why do we need it?' and ‘who can change this?’
The story goes that in Iceland, consumer concern about the impact of excessive packaging on the environment ultimately lead to a change in people’s toothpaste buying habits.  Now, 90% of toothpaste tubes bought in Iceland come without a box.
While toothpaste may not have much to do with food –  although it is good practise to follow your dentists advice and clean your teeth after eating -  the point is that the campaign to boycott toothpaste in a box is symbolic of rising consumer consciousness about the impact our habits are having on the planet. 

It also highlights how this rising consciousness affects consumer buying habits and if we can predict change, it opens up the opportunity to lead it, rather than to simply follow.

Currently there is a shift from a place of awareness about previously unconscious but unhelpful habits, to one of action.  This action in turn is leading to change.  Packaging is just one example. 

In the area of food, the rise of a more mindful consumer is also driving change in ingredient labeling, product sourcing, food delivery, communications and marketing practises to name a few.

As we head into 2019 and consider the issues on consumers minds, the theme of change will feature highly and the ability to lead change will provide future focused food businesses with the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. 

In fact research by Deloitte assessing the characteristics of leaders making progress today, found "Social Supers" - those leading businesses that are doing well by doing good - were one of the top four personas confident in their ability to handle the challenges that lay ahead.

Mobilised by an innate desire to do good, consumers will be attracted to businesses that can demonstrate a social conscious when it comes to food production and consumption. 

The desire to align ourselves with businesses that are seen as contributing to the greater good is highlighted by Robert Greene in his new book The Laws of Human Nature.  Greene points out that it is natural human behaviour to comfort ourselves daily about the moral nature of our actions. 

We like to think we are good citizens - that we are good team members, we treat people well, we help the right causes and that others will see us in a good light. 

It is this law of human nature that highlights the business opportunity for leading change in 2019.

To build on our desire to feel good about ourselves and to take actions that reinforce this, the opportunity exists to review business practises through a lens of doing good - of looking for opportunities to make changes that will improve the health and nutritional quality of our products, and/or the food system that sits behind and beyond it.  

Contributing to the greater good draws consumers toward us. It reinforces their own self perceptions about doing good, and being part of a larger cause that is easy to participate in.

Food is a major contributor to personal and planetary health, it plays a role in social connection and the preservation of cultural identity.  There are many avenues for brands and businesses to tackle, providing significant opportunity to lead change, and build closer and more meaningful connections with consumers throughout 2019.
To leverage this merging of evolving consumer consciousness with the laws of human nature, useful questions to consider are:

  • Am I aware of the food related issues consumers really care about?

  • Do I feel well equipped to lead change and not simply follow trends?

  • Which areas make sense for me to target?

  • If I am to lead change what would that look like?

  • Do I know how consumer consciousness about food and health is evolving?

The timing is right for food businesses to lead change in 2019.  The key question is...are you up for the challenge?  

The Cream Cheese Distraction

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In a recent meeting, a dilemma arose about cream cheese.  But before you start thinking cream cheese is a food of little significance, the issue discussed is symbolic, and one that sits at the heart of the future of food.

The point raised at the meeting centred around the classification of cream cheese within the Health Star Rating system.  Depending on how it is classified (as a dairy food, a non-dairy food, or a spread) it’s Health Star rating ranges from 1 up to 3.5. 

Hours of attention have been spent by cream cheese makers deciding how best to categorise cream cheese to ensure it carries an accurate rating, according to the Health Star system. The same issue will have been addressed by other food businesses across other food categories, and in other countries with similar systems, taking hours, days and weeks of attentional resources.  

This may seem trivial until we consider that attention is a finite resource.  When we pay attention to one thing, it’s not just that we focus on advancing that particular thing, it’s that we also give something else up.  Something that may have otherwise received our attention does not.

“When you ‘pay attention’ you pay with all the things you could have attended to, but didn’t; all the goals you didn’t pursue…had you attended to those other things.  Attention is paid in possible futures foregone.”

- James Wilson Williams

The question this raises is that if we have limited amounts of attention, is contemplating whether cream cheese is a cheese, a spread or belongs in another category altogether, the best way to be directing that attention? Is the future of food about getting the right number of Stars or traffic lights on a label, or is there something else that we are giving up that could represent a better way forward?

The validity of the Health Star system to improve public health is yet to be proven, and despite decades of effort to reformulate foods, we consistently hear that more needs to be done. If the tonnes of salt, fat and sugar that have been removed from the food supply to date are yet to make the population healthier, how far do we need to go before we start to make an impact?

Perhaps there is an alternative - one that has not received enough of our attention. And that alternative could be to give more attention to the adoption of eating habits that improve our food culture, putting more focus on how we eat, rather than simply on what we eat.

Directing our attention toward the French way of eating is one useful place to start.

A recent study assessed elements of the French way of eating and their association with rates of overweight and obesity. After reviewing the habits of 47,219 participants, the researchers found that those who followed traditional French eating habits, such as sitting at a table with other people, eating three meals a day at set times, and considering meals as a moment of pleasure, were 11% less likely to be overweight and 24% less likely to be obese.

From a public health perspective, a change of this magnitude would be considered a highly effective step forward.  It raises the question - if we are seeking strategies to address overweight and obesity in Australia and globally, an equally effective, and perhaps less complex way to inspire change may be to divert some of our attention away from contemplating how to classify foods, and encouraging people to take time out to sit and eat, preferably with others and to eat with pleasure.

It could be that encouraging the development of a food culture where we eat less, and take more time doing it, is a positive pathway toward a better future, where inspiration trumps regulation and food is recognised for more than its physical attributes.

As we head toward 2019, some questions to consider are:

  1. What type of food culture do you believe will be best for the future and what can you do to contribute to this vision?

  2. How do you want the next generation to think about what it means for food to be 'healthy'? 

  3. What values about food are driving your product development and marketing efforts?  Do these values need review to be relevant to today, and to lead you well into the future?

If you would like a sounding board to help answer the above questions, please get in touch. And for five tips on how to eat like the French, check out this short video.

Mindset Matters More than Product


Growing up, my son's favourite super hero was Spiderman. He spent many hours in his well worn Spiderman outfit shooting pretend web at the walls and jumping off the couch catching imaginary villains. So when the movie came out in 2002 starring Tobey Maguire, it was a must-see occasion.

The story line sees Spiderman defeat Green Goblin - the alter-ego of billionaire Harry Osborn who is plotting to kill off his board members as revenge for their plan to fire him. Good defeats evil and the streets (and board rooms) are safe again.  But it's the advice that Uncle Ben gives Peter Parker  when he first learns of the powers he has acquired after being bitten by a radioactive spider that  stands out for me - “With great power comes great responsibility”.

I was reminded of this quote recently when hearing the news arising out of the Royal Commission into banking. The nature of the findings meant the commissioner himself came out blasting the Australian financial services sector for putting greed and the pursuit of short term profits ahead of honesty, ethics and integrity.  If Uncle Ben were alive today, perhaps his mentoring may well be in demand!

As a result of past behaviour, the finance industry is now struggling with low levels of trust, a battle that is familiar to those of us working in the food sector.  Given this common ground, I was interested to review the recommendations outlined in the Deloitte Trust Index for banking which was released a fortnight ago.  From my perspective, one of the most noteworthy findings was this:

"Customers consider the mindset of the seller far more important in rebuilding trust than the detailed characteristics of what is being sold. The companies that get this, at the deepest level, are exhibiting the kinds of behaviours that genuinely build trust".

Demonstrating values such as respect, following through on commitments (integrity), and proactively disclosing mistakes (honesty), were shown to be aspects of an organisation's mindset that were important elements for re-building trust.

So if we consider how the learnings from the banking sector can be applied in the food sector, it is clear there are opportunities for building on current efforts around being more transparent, a common way that we aim to address trust. An opportunity also exists to focus on how we can adopt a cultural mindset of honesty and care, of making sure we follow through on commitments, and of being humble and open when we make mistakes.  These are all ways to indicate that relationships matter more than transactions, and that a company shares the same values as consumers.

In a practical sense, some ways to do this include:

  • A business purpose that includes a vision for the food system

  • An ethical management team aligned to a core set of food centred values

  • A clear set of commitments linked to implementing these values in practise, with accountability through regular reporting of progress

  • Communicating honestly

  • Implementation of robust quality systems linked to production and regulation 

  • A commitment to responsible marketing and a consciousness not to mislead

If we can expand our focus beyond the everyday need to sell products, and aim to build long term relationships with consumers by indicating an honest, open, humble, responsible and caring mindset, we will be well placed to build trust, create greater customer loyalty, develop greater resilience for our organisations and place the food industry as a whole in a better place for the future.

Overall, we could do well to acknowledge and implement Uncle Ben's timeless advice.

P.S. Stan Lee, creator of the Spiderman character and many other superheroes, sadly passed away earlier this month at the age of 95. He will be well remembered for his contribution to turning comics into a legitimate form of story telling and sparking the imagination of children everywhere that they can turn themselves into everyday superheroes.