The Packaging Pitch: Going off piste with some thoughts on the future of food

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The Packaging Pitch: Going off piste with some thoughts on the future of food

By Fresh Produce Marketing founder Lisa Cork

I’ve been writing editorial columns for a long time. One of my favorite times of year is December, when I get to write a column that looks at trends and what’s on the radar for the new year. All I can say is bring on 2018 because the future of food is getting exciting.

In past years when I wrote about trends, they were more micro-trends. For example, I remember when the phrase ‘high fiber’ was replaced in packaging lingo by ‘digestive health’.

This started with CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies looking to move beyond specific product benefit statements to the growing trend of broader health and well-being statements. At the time, I flagged if you were produce grower and were promoting your fruit or veg as ‘high fiber’, you were missing out on a powerful trend that could position you ahead of the pack.

I remember writing a column the year when cauliflower started trending. It was riding an unforeseen wave of popularity – thanks to the Paleo diet craze and the fact cauli was a great carb-substitute. Remember the stories of there being no cauliflower on the shelves of supermarkets in New York? Definitely a trend, but more a micro or product trend.

What about the year when ‘hiding’ veggies was on-trend? Remember the debate sparked by Jerry Seinfeld’s wife Jessica when her ‘Deceptively Delicious’ cookbook was launched? The industry cringed when she advocated hiding vegetables in foods to get kids to eat more veggies. Hard to believe that was 10 years ago.

No doubt a lot has changed over the past decade, but those changes felt more like small things – preference things. Looking ahead, I am seeing big things, seismic things that will alter the food industry…and our industry…forever.

Phil Lempert, in a recent column for Forbes Magazine, kicked off his article on food trends with the word ‘mindfulness’. In its simplest definition, mindfulness is the ‘quality or state of being conscious and aware of something.’ It is a great word to describe the current food culture we are marketing into.

Today’s consumers have a growing awareness and consciousness towards food. It is not only about the origin of food and the transparency of source, but there is a tidal wave of synaptic connections being made about the role of food in the overall health of the planet…and the individual. It is like a global lightbulb has turned on and people are now truly questioning and wanting to understand how what they eat affects their life and the lives of others.

For the first time in my lifetime, it feels like people are understanding that every bite matters – that the food they choose to put into their mouths has far reaching implications.

One of the books I read recently was a book on bio-individuality and how to develop a better understanding of the impact of specific foods on your own body. The book is called The Metabolic Plan by Lyn-Genet Recitas. In this book, she specifically explores inflammation as a root cause for a range of individual health and disease issues. She then provides ideas on testing foods…and testing your own body’s reaction to specific foods, so you can better understand what foods work best for your body.

Partner bio-individuality with bio-feedback from personal health management tools like a Fitbit and the rise of the individual becoming mindful about their diet and their health is easy to understand.

Mindfulness is also driving transparency and consumers need to understand ‘whose hands are in the dough.’ It is interesting in my work with companies on creating high impact brands and brand stories, I tell clients there is no more ‘gray’ area.

A brand’s story can no longer be over-embellished because consumers are seeking truthfulness, authenticity and congruency more than ever. In my business, this is creating fantastic discussions with the companies I work with as we have to dig deep and find the essence of their brand and their brand story…and then bring it to life. Branding is a powerful strategy to tap into more mindful consumers.

Nowhere more am I seeing authentic brand stories come out than in the new breed of food companies that I call ‘millennial start-ups.’ At the recent PMA Fresh Summit in New Orleans, there were plenty of examples of these ambitious young, start-ups – all involved in creating new products using our fresh fruit and veggies.

What this new generation of foodie start-ups is bringing to the table is mindfulness by the bucketful. It is just in their DNA. Most of the Millennial start-ups I met were socially invested. Most were donating a percentage of their profits or sales to just causes. Many were organic – all were mindful of their ingredient sourcing story and their production credentials in terms of the planet…and people. I spent time talking with several of the companies I met…and they simply think differently than I do – which is very exciting for the future of our industry.

Change is afoot my friends. For companies to thrive in this new mindfulness marketplace, you must ensure your consumer, both current and future, is center stage in all you do. You’ll also need to be more innovative than you’ve ever been before…and be ready to drive change in ways you may not yet foresee.

It is not often we get to be part of revolutionary change…but it is here and it will be guiding our futures for a long time to come. Embrace it and hold on for the ride.

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