WFIS Takeaways blog article - Euromonitor International
Euromonitor International presented once again this year at World Food Innovate Summit on “What's Next for Snackification in the COVID-19 Era”?, this time of course in a fully virtual setting. Something we are all used to now, and which I don’t believe has reduced the profile of this event at European and global levels. Nestlé, Danone, Mondelez, Coca-Cola, AB InBev, Kraft Heinz, Barilla, Natural Balance Foods, Illycaffè and Forbes all contributed content at this year’s event which drew several hundreds of attendees.
A key takeaway from this year’s conference is the necessity to sustain a level of innovation as a means to, in a Darwinian fashion, adapt to ever-changing circumstances (think Coronavirus (COVID-19)). Embedding technology and AI in the inception of a consumer experience and conveying purpose behind a brand will also give its owner the best chances to thrive in the long term.
Innovation still pivotal despite COVID-19
Firstly, the WFIS was no doubt a rallying call for resilience and boldness through continued innovation amid COVID-19. The pandemic has certainly pulled the rug from under numerous food businesses when it comes to product development. In order to cope with heightened demand through e-commerce for essential and familiar food items, 2020 saw major brand owners shifting resources away from research and development towards the supply and delivery of core product ranges. Meanwhile, smaller manufacturers and start-ups that had not (yet) gained financial stability have suffered from losing much potential to be noticed in store. In spite of the greater uncertainty characterising 2020, now is the time to capitalise on what we have learnt and invest in new opportunities brought along by the pandemic and the prospects of its “new normal”.
Alongside Euromonitor’s presentation, other talks highlighted what some of these opportunities are; such as new eating occasions at home, greater concerns around gut and immunity health or new ways of reaching consumers through the digital world. Coca-Cola’s message that a brand should seek to connect with consumers on a deep, contextual and cultural level still feels as relevant as ever; with concerns mounting around viral contamination and job security but also inequalities amid socio-political developments such as the Black Lives Matter movement. Simmons Pet Food advocated the key role of innovation in adapting to changing consumer priorities and behaviours. Meanwhile, UK-based wholegrain bakery start-up Griddle, with its unique ready-to-eat pancakes and waffles, proved that building a food business from scratch and innovating through the pandemic were not only possible but also the way to learn and secure a future in a constantly evolving food landscape.
Technology - artificial intelligence (AI) particularly - at top of mind
Technology also featured as a strong recurring theme among speakers and panel discussions in its ability to raise efficiencies throughout processes; be it for new product design, more sustainable farming, quality control, delivery and consumer experience or traceability. On the innovation front, technology is a major force behind the immense, ongoing expansion of plant-based foods particularly as alternatives to meat and dairy products. Alberts, a manufacturer of vending solutions for foods and beverages, spoke of its necessary transition from robotics to artificial intelligence as the company aims to help clients such as Sodexo deliver more personalised, healthy snacks and meals to consumers.
Among other things, the use of AI can create more meaningful interactions with consumers; the type that informs the company on how to best meet consumers’ specific demands. However, a joint presentation given by Tata Global Beverages and Hult Business School also warned of the dangers of digitisation in alienating the consumer; for example, if an AI support platform fails to deliver consumers’ expectations or strips a brand of its relatability and/or human traits.
Purpose speaks volumes
If technology is the means, conveying a sense of purpose should remain the end. A brand’s purpose should aim to coherently combine good taste, health benefits and ethical responsibility. The Good Food Institute reiterated the sustainability goals and benefits of alternative proteins such as plant-based meat and seafood but also fermented proteins (utilising microbes) and cultivated proteins (lab-grown meat); before highlighting a USD1.5 billion investment made into these products in 2020 and the vast remaining need for further capital in this space to reach these sustainability goals. We know that the second generation of alternative proteins that are emerging also aim to achieve better mouthfeel.
The growing need for purpose also transpires through consumers increasingly favouring more premium food products; in spite of the current pandemic-tainted economic context. This is particularly obvious in pet food where the premium segment has globally maintained its faster growth level compared to lower price tiers; but also in various categories of fresh and packaged food. While Milan-based fresh food distributor Cortilia spoke of the potential of delivering consumers with quality, low carbon footprint fresh foods directly from local farmers, Barilla Group shone a light on the premiumisation of table sauces in the US. The pasta and sauce brand manufacturer is contributing to this trend with its latest Vero Gusto tomato pasta sauce range where the quality and authenticity of ingredients is clearly conveyed by their Italian regional origin.
The winning recipes of the 2020-2025 forecast period do not lie in established, seemingly comforting product propositions. Rather they lie in the ability of a food business to incorporate in its offering the emerging features of food shopping and consumption under the “new normal”. While technology is increasingly vital in gaining efficiencies, reaching more sustainability and developing the consumer experience, conveying that ultimate purpose behind a brand - ideally a compelling taste, health and ethical proposition - will remain major drivers for success.
Author: Karine Dussimon, Senior Analyst at Euromonitor International