From the C-Suite: The Future of Big Food
At the WSJ Global Food Forum held recently in NYC, top executives gave the audience insight into the challenges, opportunities, and excitement into “what” and “how” we are going to eat today and tomorrow.
“Don’t Mess With My Oreos”
Dirk Van de Put, Chairman and CEO of Mondelez International drew a clear line between “indulgent snack foods” and “health and wellness” brands. The volume may be in indulgent snacks (80% vs 20%), but the growth is in “health and wellness” (67% vs 5%).
The evidence is clear that when consumers make purchasing decisions in the “indulgent” category, taste remains primary. And no one wants to mess with those iconic brands that have been enjoyed for generations.
In the “health and wellness” category, natural, clean labels, smaller portions, “free from” and functional are the key drivers.
However, everyone got a lesson in “mass balance” with the reminder that if you take something out, you have to put something back in. In the case of Mondelez, they found that fiber is more expensive than sugar, and so they had to take those cost increases into consideration as they reformulated some selective brands to make them less “indulgent” and more “healthy”. It was also noted that sugar has functional attributes such as mouth-feel and texture that are not so easily replaced.
The disparity between market research data and actual sales data was noted. Consumers don’t always do as they say and the millennials remain as fickle as ever making it necessary to constantly innovate and get to the market quickly with fresh offerings.
“Monsanto vs the Plant Tinkerers”
A new generation of start-ups are harnessing gene-editing technologies to take on the likes of Monsanto.
Unlike the millions of dollars and several years it takes to genetically engineer a seed and bring it to market, gene-editing techniques can create a new plant in weeks. The process basically accelerates changes that would occur naturally over a period of time. Additionally, as these plants do not contain foreign DNA (unlike gene splicing) and they can exist naturally in nature, the speakers declared them as non-GMO. The CEO’s of Cibus and Calyxt shared their successes with hi-fiber, lo carb wheat as an example.
No doubt these new techniques will keep the conversations about what is and isn't a genetically engineered food alive and well for years to come.
The questions remains: “Will consumers buy in?”
Global trade and new technologies on the farm, in the factory and in food service dominated much of the conversation that day, proving once again that the only constant is change.
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