From Food Fictions to Food Facts? The Future Tastes Good
I like the occasional glass of wine. I suppose whether I can say it is good for me depends on the color. Whether my consumption goes up or down week by week, on average, I do try to stay below the healthy limit. For a woman, that’s 12.3-units of alcohol each week. But only when I’m in the U.S. Visit the U.K., and the experts there say I’m ok to have 14 units. Pop over to Denmark and my healthy max falls to 10.5 units. Depending on how things are going I might have more of an affinity for Danes or Brits!
If I want to eat some snacks with my glass of wine, what’s a healthy alternative? (I know: snacking can go very badly off a cliff fast. Stay with me…)
In most of Europe, the snack packaging will tell me the approximate amount of calories, fat, saturated fat, sugars, and sodium in the product, and the Guideline Daily Amount of each one for a "healthy adult.” Same in North America if you can read the fine print.
Nobody is average
The problem is all these health recommendations are based on ‘the average healthy woman’. But I’m not the average woman; nobody is. She only exists in an equation.
My point is that much of what we eat today is shrouded by uncertainty. We don’t really know what’s in our food, where it has come from, how it was made, what it’s doing to our specific bodies, and how our decision to buy it is affecting the environment. We can put our faith in regulations and guidelines. As an aside, I wonder if people really do anymore.
We can also rely on the brands we trust to deliver what they promise. For my part, I’ve tried to introduce insect protein into my diet. It doesn’t always taste great, but it’s good for me and for the environment. At least I think it is because that is what I’ve been told. But right now, I can never really know.
From fictions to facts
In the future, things will be different. There will be a fundamental shift from “food fictions” to “food facts.” New data technologies will give us a completely transparent food system. We’ll be able to see the environmental impact of every food choice we make, at the point of purchase. We’ll know much more about personal nutrition and how to achieve personal, optimum wellness.
With accurate data about how our bodies are performing at any moment in time, we’ll be able to eat and drink products that are personalized to satisfy our precise needs. Today, most of us have to choose between taste, convenience and wellness. For future consumers, this trade-off will disappear. We’ll be able to eat and drink things that are great for our health, are quick and convenient, taste fantastic, and reflect our ethical values.
How are consumers changing?
This move away from food fictions to food facts is one of eight hypotheses EY has developed as part of our FutureConsumer.Now program.
Each one relates to a key aspect of the future consumer: from how people will eat, shop and stay healthy to how they will use technology, play and work. We’ve been exploring them to see what kind of different future worlds they might create, and what those worlds might mean for businesses now.
At our hackathon in Berlin a team of business leaders, futurists and EYers played with this shift from food fictions to facts. They modeled a future world in which people knew how all their personal choices were connected to the well-being of the ‘tribes’ they felt part of, and the wider welfare of the planet.
These consumers ate only plant-based foods. Most of what they consumed, not just their food, was produced where they lived. Supply chains were 100% transparent, and super short. As consumers in that world, technology allowed them to understand the direct impact on the environment of every food and drink choice made. Very difficult to feign ignorance in this future scenario.
At our hackathon in Los Angeles a different team used the same idea to develop a very different world. In their model of the future, consumers tried to sustain an optimal balance between what they need – in the fullest sense – and how much they consume, so they can prosper in a gig economy.
In this version of the future, AI helps people to balance nutritional needs against lifestyles and incomes. I can buy a nutritional drink from a vending machine that accesses my live data and uses it to create a hyper-personalized, uniquely affordable nutrition shot – something that tastes good and gives me exactly what I needed.
These worlds are different from each other and imply different actions by businesses to win with the consumer.
When food meets pharma
In both of these future worlds, I wouldn’t have to trust or just hope that my cricket-protein snacks were doing me good: I’d know for sure that for me personally, I was getting ‘x’ benefit in terms of nourishment and energy and wouldn’t have to think about it again. And, I’d know exactly how many glasses of Malbec I should drink to maintain my personal, optimum well-being even if I chose to ignore that knowledge.
That would make some aspects of life more convenient. But it’s just the start. When super-personalized data collides with total product transparency, a whole new world of products, services and business ideas becomes possible. With these possibilities I will surely come to expect that a company knows me and my unique wellness needs and will deliver on them. What seems like fantasy today will become table stakes.
Imagine what we could achieve when food converges with pharma, when transparency about what we eat meets personalized medicine, smarter disease prevention, and early-stage diagnostics. “Food” brands would have a very different role to the one they perform today. Clearly, our relationship with what we eat and drink is about to change dramatically. How will you shape a future that works for your business? #futureconsumernow
You can learn more about the 8 factors that will shape future consumers here.
About the Author
Kristina Rogers is a partner at EY and the global leader responsible for the Consumer Products & Retail (CP&R) sector. She is responsible for defining and implementing EY's strategy for CP&R and for ensuring that its global clients are well served across geographies. Areas of focus include new concept and offer development, market entry strategy, strategic category management, profitable growth planning, strategic marketing, and market evolution planning in both the B2C and B2B marketplaces in developed and emerging economies.