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

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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 https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_B6Of6KfKTbS480RNDXDH_g

Are Front of Pack Labeling Schemes Future Ready?

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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.

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

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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: https://retailready.libsyn.com/talking-to-sharon-natoli-on-connecting-with-customers-ep-15

Subscribe to Ben’s podcast for regular news, views and happenings in the world of food retail. https://retailready.libsyn.com/

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

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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. https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_B8hgnKWkSheAEtW1mBrLkg

Creating Currency in 'Better'

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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.