Peter Skarzynski is a managing director and Kelly Weikel is a senior research and insights consultant at Deloitte Consulting. They are part of Deloitte's Doblin operation that helps companies with innovation.
To create true differentiation and meaningful connections with customers, companies must share and celebrate the human stories behind food. Three key opportunity areas are emerging: connection and community, health and wellness, and sustainability and equity.
Today's consumers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from, how it's produced and what its environmental and social impacts are. Many food companies are taking technology-driven steps to address food system issues like sustainability, food justice and public health. However, because many of these actions aren’t rooted in consumer behavior with the intent of providing a better experience for the people they serve, the solutions all too often fall short.
Many companies working to address these issues take an approach strongly focused on technology solutions, often beginning and ending solely with digital initiatives. While robotics, AI and blockchain can be part of the solution, the ultimate goal should be on an approach that emerges from a deep understanding of human needs and behaviors.
In our work with clients, we engage customers through human-centered design techniques that allow us to better understand people and their behaviors and motivations. In grounding our research and insight in the holistic context of people’s live, we think of it as moving beyond just meeting consumer needs to elevating the human experience.
As the industry evolves, businesses may want to consider how they can elevate food experiences in three key respects:
Connection and Community – Connecting people to friends, family, and the community;
Health and Wellness – Offering nutritious, fresh options that make people feel good both physically and emotionally;
Sustainability and Equity – Giving people great eating experiences that align with their values.
Connection and Community
Food has always been an avenue of connection. The experiences, relationships, and stories we seek often take place at kitchen tables, grocery stores, restaurants, farmers markets, and home gardens.
Major food players have begun designing programs to meet the inherent need for community, belonging, and socialization. In recent years, there has been a palpable focus on curating fun, memorable, and unique experiences and using restaurants and cafes as social gathering places for people to come together.
Many restaurants are partnering with suppliers to offer local ingredients and products that convey a sense of place. In foodservice and CPG companies, an influx of global influences is helping people explore new foods, flavors and cuisines. In doing so, people learn about new places and cultures.
Companies are also shifting the narrative that tells the human story behind their brands. Sharing stories about the people who founded it, the purpose that led to its creation, and the food and drink it offers – whether those recipes were passed down through generations or based on emerging trends.
Health and Wellness
Consumers want to feel good about the foods and beverages they are putting into their bodies. They want to ensure it meets their personal approach on health, and they want the transparency and trust to believe product ingredient labels and menus.
In response, the industry has begun promoting healthier options and systems and working to accommodate a wide range of dietary preferences. Efforts to reformulate products and menu items to reduce calories, fat, salt, and sugar are widespread. Organic, natural, clean and non-GMO offerings have become commonplace even for major brands, as have gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan fare. And companies are doing a better job providing access to information about how food is grown and made.
As many companies are working to improve public health and combat obesity beyond their customer base, others are rolling out new policies and financial commitments to promote healthy lifestyles. Many are partnering with governmental or other non-profit organizations and startups both domestically and internationally.
Still, a problem persists: People want to eat healthier, but need help to do so. Using behavioral design, companies may be able to help consumers translate their aspirations into reality, while advanced technologies and research could be used to make nutritious food more craveable, accessible, and affordable.
Sustainability and Equity
Both small and large organizations are ramping up corporate social responsibility practices. There’s growing emphasis on everything from worker benefits, to animal welfare, to giving back to the community, to sustainability. Brands are proactively increasing wages, supporting small farms, and focusing on the environment. Plant-based alternatives are on the rise even among major protein suppliers. And a major food player recently became the largest certified B Corp in the world, joining a host of smaller food players by meeting high social, environmental, and public transparency standards.
Companies are also addressing the juxtaposition of dramatic food waste alongside widespread hunger. A host of California-based startups are making waves here; creating an edible coating that doubles the life of fresh produce, using deep learning to decrease food waste, and providing platforms for businesses so they can donate extra food that is safe to eat.
Thriving in Food Transformation
The ability to address system-wide challenges will be integral to the success of food companies large and small. And the way organizations address these issues will lay the foundation for the next food revolution, shaping both the food industry and food culture of the future.
To thrive in this new environment, companies can identify where they are best poised to contribute by asking three key questions, which form the basis of Deloitte’s Balanced Breakthrough model:
Do people want a solution to this problem?
Is our company uniquely suited to creating a solution to this problem?
Can we capture value as a result of solving for this problem?
At their core, food stories are human stories. To truly connect with the humans they serve, food companies can elevate the human experience by helping people discover, purchase, prepare, and enjoy food. In doing so, they can bring the act of eating back to what people know it can and should be – that deeply, meaningful universal human experience.