I recently had the opportunity to attend the Future of Food—a salon hosted by Restauranteur Tyler Florence, and part of the great Inforum Series put on by the San Francisco Commonwealth Club It was a great salon session, that brought together the likes of:
Megan Miller, Co-Founder, Bitty Foods (alternative protein sources)
Adam Zbar, CEO, Sun Basket (alternative food choices and distribution channels)
Dr. Lauren Shimek, Food Scientist, IDEO (food scientist)
Douglas Gayeton (architect of local food systems)
Janet Hayes, President, Williams-Sonoma (gourmet food and kitchen essentials retailer)
As the topic was the Future of Food, you can imagine that there was a lot of interesting conversation around sustainability, business models, and trends.
However, the key takeaway from all of it was:
At no other time in history have we asked the consumer to not only know so much about their food, but to educate themselves.
This has three big innovation implications:
The role of sustainability
Sustainability was a hot topic through out the conversation. And considering the fact that the US wastes 40% of its available food supply ($165 billion dollars worth of food), and we use 2500 gal of water for every pound of beef we grow, you can see why. While many companies may be doing something to help promote sustainability it’s either unnoticed or not enough (see the petition vs. Nestle).
This begs the question—what role does sustainability have in the future of labeling and claims? Could it be the new organic/natural?
Consumer education in food
Because consumers are asked to take such a big role in educating themselves on food, (Douglas Gayeton had a great anecdote about a young student who couldn’t recognize what an organic carrot looks like out of the ground) it’s created a lot of consumer needs.
- Adam Zbar claims much of the success of Sun Basket (ingredient delivery, much like Blue Apron) to the fact that people just don’t know HOW to cook a great meal, not just the fact that they’re time crunched.
- Janet Hayes made a great point that the big opportunity that grocers keep missing has nothing to do with product, but service. Having some mechanism to help people actually know what to do with everything they’re buying (another big factor in food waste).
- Lauren Shimek discussed the potential implications of smart packaging—a simple concept where your packaging would help inform you of when food is about to go bad.
All of this leads us to one big opportunity—how do we get not just more information into the hands of consumers, but useful information in the hands of consumers? If they can’t do anything practical with what you’re telling them, it doesn’t matter.
More solutions, not more things
The future of food doesn’t necessarily need more “things”, it needs more solutions. The forum talked a lot about the great new innovations in food—however none of them were necessarily new products, but creative/scrappy solutions to challenges facing the industry, a couple of good examples.
- Megan Miller (one of the speakers) created Bitty Foods in response to the need for a more sustainable protein source (again…2500 gal of water for a pound of beef, 250 gal for a pound of soy, but only 1 gal for a pound of cricket protein). While the thought of cricket flour might seem off putting at first, Tyler Florence made a point that in the foreseeable future beef will be a luxury item (we’re already seeing the rise of the $60 fillet in restaurants)
- Beelocal is a company that everyone seemed to love. It’s a sustainable honey company that plants and maintains beehives on the rooftops of ordinary houses and businesses in the community. In return the house gets free honey, and Bee Local creates a sustainable colony.
- Alternate (to restaurants) food options like meal delivery, CSAs, and of course food trucks have created a new business model that, as the cost of starting a restaurant becomes more prohibitive, keep us flush with great food. And, beyond that, they also solve a real need in sustainability by creating easier avenues to connect smaller farms with consumers.
- Tyler and co also sang the praises of Ben Jacobsen, founder of Jacobsen Salt Company in Portland. Self-taught salt maker Jacobsen started his company in harvesting salt by collecting sea water in buckets, and literally built an empire by hand. Jacobsen Salt Company is sustainable, and a great alternative to the salt from overseas, notablyvbeing the first to harvest salt in the Northwest of USA since Lewis and Clark.
So, as we think about the future of food, we have to ask ourselves—what are the big needs that are starting to arise in the creation, distribution, and consumption of food, and what are the creative ways that we can create real solutions?