Who is the 21st-century eater and what does he/she want?
Isn’t that a critical question for produce marketers?
At the 2020 Potato Expo, futurist Mike Lee, co-founder, and co-CEO of Alpha Food Labs and founder of The Future Market, spoke about the future of food and consumer demands.
I covered part of Lee’s talk, and his comments on food tribes, in this story.
Lee also talked about fickle human behavior and seemingly impossible expectations from consumers.
Lee said the 21st century eater is driven by food trends, including the idea that food is medicine, and the desire for sustainability in food products, But he said determining how desire for sustainable products plays out in the market place is difficult.
“I think if you ask (consumers), ‘Do you support sustainable causes and food?’ Most people will say yes; you’re hard pressed to find someone that will tell you to your face that they don’t care about the planet and they want to see it burn,” he said.“You’re not going to really see anybody like that. So you would think that everybody purchases their food, based off of Sustainability choices. And that’s simply actually not the case.”
While consumers care about sustainability, they may have trouble incorporating it in the way they purchase food, he said. Consumers have always shopped for food based taste, freshness and nutrition, he said.
“The problem is that sustainability and food has become such a big daunting, abstract concept that people don’t actually know what to do about it,” he said. “So even though I might ask you to support sustainable causes, when it’s 7:30 p.m. and you’ve got two kids at home and an empty fridge, and you’re running up and down the grocery aisle trying to fill that fridge, are you really trying to solve climate change right now? Probably not.”
Still, food marketers must work on unifying the desire for sustainability with the traditional characteristics of taste, freshness and nutrition.
Experience speaks to the emotional relationship that consumers have with food, Lee said, and much of it revolves around the principle of transparency.
For example, there could two sets of consumers with different opinions about GMOs, he said.
“When did we get to a point where the average consumer has an opinion about the genetic makeup of the seeds that their food is grown? This is to me suggests that people are caring about the process, and they can stand on one side of this fence or another and neither one is going to win per se,” Lee said.
The pro-GMO and no-GMO tribes will co-exist.
“There’ll be a market for either of these tribes, but the fact is that people want to understand more and more about where their food comes from,” he said.
Rising expectations by consumers will continue to be a reality in the years ahead, Lee said, and .
“This this whole movement is really underscoring this idea, this expectation that anyone can get fresh, high quality food anywhere, and you don’t have to kind of not be without that for too long, because the choices to get all this food are huge,” lee said.
“This idea is basically around this – that convenience is eventually going to be completely commoditized after the dust settles and we’ve optimized all that we can with self driving vehicles and online grocery,” he said. “We made it truly easy to get food the same way you would order up a movie on Netflix. can eat convenience will be not even a competitive advantage anymore” Lee said.
With convenience the expectation, Lee said the market place will be demanding.’
“(Marketers) that don’t kind of meet the kind of standards of this increasingly demanding consumer can fall by the wayside,” he said.
Lee urged the potato industry to continue to change and introduce new items, to signal to consumers that the category is interesting and active.
“The costs of not innovating greatly outweigh the costs of any sort of small failures you might have with this,” he said. “You have to keep continuing to innovate the product that you’re delivering the consumer and trying to improve it,” he said.
Innovate or die. Not a comforting message, but that’s reality for you.