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The All-Natural, High Tech Future of Food

By Steve Bryant, Director, Food & Beverage Marketing; Managing Director, MSLGROUP Seattle

The present paradox is that food consumers are reverting to the simplicity and trustworthiness of naturally grown foods fresh from the farm while at the same time benefitting from rapidly developing technologies that address the demands of urban living and the values of highly informed food and beverage consumers. The resulting tensions will require nuanced communications that help consumers navigate this new world and its unprecedented range of choices.

In reality, these are not opposing movements.

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Technology holds incredible promise and consumers are excited about it. Still, effective communications will be required to explain new technologies, cultivate trust in unseen innovations, and popularize new ways of eating.

When it goes right, everyone wins. But in a time when knowledge of, and trust in, science has ebbed, this task is not without complications.

Take, for example, the genetic modification of food. Most scientists and policy makers agree that it is highly beneficial and in fact essential to our future food supply, yet consumers remain suspicious. Some say that’s because the introduction of the technology largely left them out of the conversation, and its early benefits – tomatoes that would not go bad, crops that could fight weeds – seemed to favor industry more than consumers.

For another example, turn to baby food, a category that was revolutionized by the introduction of pouch packaging, a technical solution that made mom’s life easier and empowered babies to feed themselves. The pouches are plastic, and not recyclable, yet moms are voting in huge numbers for this technology, which was introduced with an emphasis on organic ingredients from smaller-scale producers.

In each case, storytelling was a key determinant in the acceptance of the technology. And storytelling will be pivotal to the adoption of new technologies that will fuel our food futures.

The wide range of global insights shared in this report look closely at emerging food and communications technology, with an emphasis on how various factors influence consumer consumption and behaviors.

For communicators and marketers looking to leverage this trend to capture share of mouth, some key storytelling lessons emerge:

Transparency

The escalating pace of change, and the growing scale of global food enterprises can spawn consumer suspicion, making transparency essential for winning acceptance. Food makers who embrace transparency will win share through enhanced reputations, heightened demand and more rapid adoption.

Personalization

The more consumers know and the more choices they have, the more likely they are to prefer, even demand personal solutions that are the closest possible match for their tastes, values, health needs, and sensory desires. This phenomenon can fuel a high degree of market segmentation, but it also opens up opportunities for food makers and retailers who can closely personalize their offers – and stories.

Innovation

It’s essential to sustain a brand and company, whether that means taking a brand like Oreo and evolving it endlessly, offering an endless parade of varieties, or in some cases more and new ways to enjoy a beloved brand. Winning brands will innovate faster over time as options proliferate for consumers. Communications will tell those innovation stories, but also contribute engaging content and media innovations.

Mobility

Food and beverage consumption is going mobile at roughly the same pace as communications technology. Consumers on the move require food on the move, as well as positioned or delivered everywhere they might need it. This heightens the value of mobility in food and beverage communications, and requires smart storytelling to highlight food mobility innovations.

This article is a part of MSLGROUP’s report The Future of Food Communications: Winning Share of Mouth in the Conversation Age.

Steve Bryant_newWhen it comes to food communications, Steve’s the author of the modern playbook. His three decades of experience are full of notable achievements including increasing the popularity of the veggie burger. Steve is a food crisis authority and has helped manage the Pepsi syringe crisis among others. He recently led the agency’s study with The Hartman Group on how social media is transforming food culture for consumers. Connect with him on Twitter @SteveBryantLive

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