The food industry is in the midst of a true revolution,” said Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison during a presentation to analysts in New York last year. No doubt this is the case as shifts in purchasing habits and consumer preferences drive sales growth for some and unprecedented market share declines for others.

A key driver of this revolution is changing consumer food values. A 2016 Deloitte report found that the traditional value drivers of taste, price and convenience no longer dominant consumer purchasing decisions. While still relevant, evolving values related to health and wellness, safety, social impact, experience and transparency have become much more meaningful for around half of consumers. The number of people who say their purchasing decisions are significantly influenced by these evolving value drivers no longer reflects a niche portion of the market but rather is pervasive across region, age and income. This means that every consumer targeted by food manufacturers and retailers has changed in a fundamental and impactful way.

Of this set of evolving value drivers, health and wellness is the most important and the most complex. All food businesses, no matter their product ranges, should have health and wellness on their agenda, either as part of corporate or brand positioning, product or portfolio range improvements, communication and
marketing, issues management or corporate social responsibility. It is now clear that while profit may have come at the expense of health in the past, in the future profit will increasingly come from embracing health. Many food businesses need to do more to embrace changes in this area as while some have managed to keep up, many have been slow to act. This slowness to act has contributed to the erosion of consumer confidence and trust in the food supply due to frequent negative media reports often driven by health and nutrition issues that have been around for many years.

Some of the problems that food businesses face such as declining market share, threats of increased regulation and lack of consumer trust cannot be solved with the same thinking used in the past. A new approach is needed to create a better future for food businesses, consumers and public health.

The keys to gaining traction in this area and shifting from a dawdler to a leadership position are three-fold:


1. TRANSFORM YOUR THINKING.

Consumers are redefining what it means for a food to be “healthy”. They are moving from a focus on single nutrients or the absence of certain ingredients to a more informed understanding of the whole food system, a demand for naturally functional foods, and a concern that stretches beyond personal health to incorporate the health of the planet.

It’s clear that “being less bad” is no longer good enough and to resonate with consumers in the future, food businesses must do more when it comes to health and nutrition.

A shift in thinking to incorporate elements outlined in the “next” column in the table “The evolution of how consumers are defining what’s good for them” will benefit food businesses looking to take a leadership position in health and wellness.

Another way of encouraging more forward thinking is to shift from a traditional mindset of “how can we use health and nutrition to sell more of our products?” to “how can our products help solve food and nutrition problems?”. This way of thinking is in line with the move toward businesses taking on a greater social consciousness and moving from profit to purpose. According to Michael Porter, Director of the Institute of Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School, there is a fundamental opportunity for businesses to solve social problems. It makes sense for food businesses to solve social Another way of encouraging more forward thinking is to shift from a traditional mindset of “how can we use health and nutrition to sell more of our products?” to “how can our products help solve food and nutrition problems?”

This way of thinking is in line with the move toward businesses taking on a greater social consciousness and moving from profit to purpose. According to Michael Porter, Director of the Institute of Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School, there is a fundamental opportunity for businesses to solve social problems. It makes sense for food businesses to solve social problems connected to food or for which food can be a solution – such as social isolation, poor diets and obesity – as a means of creating shared value with consumers.


2. GENERATE TRUST

While much attention is given to transparency as a driver of consumer trust, and this is an important element, the consumer trust model developed by The Center for Food Integrity shows that communicating with values is three to five times more effective in generating trust than communicating facts alone.

This means that providing more information about what’s in food, where it comes from and how it is made, which is primarily a fact-based exercise, can be complemented by developing food-related values and communicating with consumers through these values. A good example are the values and commitments outlined by Whole Foods Market in the USA, which was recently purchased by Amazon for $14 billion.

3. LEAD YOUR TRIBES

Following can have its benefits such as cost saving from risk reduction and a greater level of confidence when launching something new. But when it comes to health and nutrition, following without understanding carries a high degree of risk.

For example, the significant number of health-related claims attributed to coconut oil over recent years have being nullified by a review undertaken by the American Heart Association in June this year. Eventually the hype that surrounds health-related trends that lack substantiation dies down and leaves companies looking for the next “big thing”.

Rather than following what consumers say they want or what competitors are doing, in the future more companies will take on leadership roles to genuinely help consumers improve their eating habits. This is in line with the corporate social responsibility of food businesses that operate in an environment where two in three adults are overweight or obese and 30-40 per cent of daily kilojoule intake in children and adolescents comes from discretionary foods.

Mike Lee, founder of The Future Market, a futurist food project based in New York that explores how we will produce and shop for food over the next 25 years, said that people want better food not better marketing.

Now more than ever the product matters more than the packaging, and to get it right product developers may need to collaborate with food designers, chefs, farmers, and dietitians to create food that’s genuinely better for people and the planet, and contributes to company profit.

A real opportunity exists for food businesses to lead the way toward better health and better nutrition for the population. Of all the stakeholders who play in this space – government, NGOs, public health organisations and health professionals – the food industry has the greatest power and therefore potential to make the biggest difference.

People rely on the industry, and increasingly on food service and catering, to provide most of their day-to-day food and nutritional needs. Now is a pivotal time to focus on what really makes a difference to people’s health, and to make commitments in the areas that lead to the greatest changes. By doing this, we have the potential to look forward to a better future for our own health and wellbeing and that of future generations.

To request a copy of my white paper on Health & Nutrition Insights and the Future Consumer please visit www.sharonnatoli.com/books-white-papers/.
Sharon Natoli is the Founding Director of Food & Nutrition Australia. References for this article can be found on the AIFST website.