Food has always been a part of the DNA of Zeus Jones.
It’s in our clients, our internal food-centric cultural rituals, and our personal passions for cooking, eating, and discussing the newest foodie hot spots. Combine that food focus with our penchant for business innovation and it’s no surprise that we’ve spent some serious time thinking about what the future of food could be.
To bring the future of food to life, we wanted to take a different approach than the usual 50-page trend report. We wanted to create something that felt like it was putting ideas into action, even if only in theory. That’s why we set out to create a future-forward food company, from start to finish.
Our simple but powerful brief was to imagine what could disrupt the food companies of today. The prototype we created to do it is fueled by months of research and decades of expertise in the food business world.
Our vision for the future of food
We believe the future of food lies in its coming together with both health and technology. As consumers demand healthier food tailored to their needs, farmers are faced with environmental limitations, and technology allows for a new on-demand infrastructure, our entire food supply chain is going to shift.
How food will shift:
Annual Product Updates
“Clean” Outsourced Ingredients
Taste and Proactive Health Focus
Constant Product Iteration
Better “Owned” Ingredients
Entire Supply Chain Disruption
Open Food OS
Four of these shifts hold the keys to thinking about the future of food.
1. From “One-size-fits-all” to “Hyper-personalized”
The Cleveland Clinic listed “Using the microbiome to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease” as their number one health care innovation for 2017. And a healthy microbiome demands that food becomes hyper-personal. The brand that helps people get in touch with what's going on in their gut and delivers delicious, personalized food that meets their needs will be at a huge advantage in the market. But in order to get there, that brand is going to require access to personal health data.
This personal health data could come through a partnership with an existing business like uBiome or 23andMe. But there’s more to it than that. Because your personal microbiome tends to evolve over time, especially as you make changes to your diet, it will also be necessary to own the means to help people track their overall health and gut health over time.
The promise of food, then, could be the brand that delivers an understanding of personal health AND simple, delicious food that improves it over time.
2. From “Annual Product Updates” to “Constant Product Iteration”
Today’s food innovation cycle is slow, because it depends on gathering months of consumer trend and perception data. But current technology has the power to gather information on human needs at an unprecedented pace. With this kind of data, it’s possible to shorten the innovation cycle and respond quickly to what people want — and what they don’t want.
We can see how it’s already possible in food, with meal delivery and cooking subscription programs like Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and Plated. Because they’re not tethered to pre-existing production facilities and infrastructure, they’re able to create products adaptively and respond to seasonal trends and demands. For example, this week’s Hello Fresh menu offers a Cinco De Mayo Special.
Chobani is also an example of a food company that constantly iterates. In the last year alone, they’ve released several new products that capitalize on the latest trends. In addition, they’re not afraid to discontinue unpopular products or even shift the company mission and design only a decade in.
But the real key to creating products adaptively is to control your own supply chain.
Change is going to happen; it’s just a matter of when, how, and who will lead the way.
3. From “End-product Disruption” to “Entire Food Supply Chain Disruption”
Current food disruptors are mostly focused on differentiating product. But successful, long-term disruption is going to have to reach much further than just the end product. In fact, vertical integration is the only way forward. And that’s because, in order to respond to consumers’ needs by dramatically improving the quality of what they produce, food companies will need to own much more (if not all) of their supply chains.
But, with the current stressors on our food systems only getting more intense, this disruptive supply chain is unlikely to look like what we know today. Things like vertical farming, lab-grown meat, alternate protein sources, aquaponics, and autonomous delivery are going to begin reshaping food as we know it.
And if, as discussed above, owning consumer health data becomes essential to delivering personalized food, a diagnostics lab might also become an important part of the food supply chain. Like Tesla reinventing the automotive landscape with superchargers and home energy, whoever invents the new food supply chain will create new experiences and relationships with consumers — and leave everyone else scrambling to catch up.
4. From “Profit Growth” to “Impact Growth”
Many of the biggest food companies in the world started their businesses by creating better products. But in the future, it won’t be enough just to BE better — you’ll have to DO better.
Doing better starts with a clear mission that pushes the company to set ambitious goals that go beyond profit. Unilever, one of the biggest food companies in the world, is already on the path to bigger impact. Unilever’s vision is to “Grow our business, while decoupling our environmental footprint from our growth and increasing our positive social impact.” To deliver on this vision, Unilever has publicly stated their intent to become a Benefit Corporation (B-Corp) — a company officially dedicated to meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
These four shifts are only scratching the surface of what food can be in the future.
But there’s one thing that’s clear, no matter how you look at it — in the future, the food system can’t exist the way it does now. Change is going to happen; it’s just a matter of when, how, and who will lead the way.