The holiday season in America has long been referred to as the “season of excess” – a period of rapid accumulation and consumption stretching from Halloween through New Year’s Eve. Judging by the recently bulging refrigerators and cupboards, boxes piling up on doorsteps and waste bins overflowing at the ends of driveways, we might consider renaming it the “season of excess packaging”. But the crackdown has begun, courtesy of Amazon’s new $1.99 per item surcharge to CPG manufacturers not meeting their standards for waste reduction.
Fortunately, the next decade is expected to bring solutions that help both brands and consumers meaningfully minimize packaging waste. While we touched on a shift to a waste-centric, circular economy in a prior issue, here we are proposing 3 considerations for evolving your package design:
In the War on Plastic, are you Friend or Foe?
Consumers have heard the predictions – that by 2050, there will be more
plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. They know that the foods and beverages
they buy are often packaged, wrapped and/or stored in plastic. According to a
recent study by Nestle, 9 in 10 Americans say society produces too much plastic
scrap, and 7 in 10 expect companies that use it, to address it. But current
press reveals that even behemoths like Unilever and Pepsico are struggling to use
less – at the same time countries and cities are proposing single-use plastic
bans. Brands poised for the future will look to alternative substrates like
aluminum, natural polymers, beeswax-coated fabric wrap, shrinking pack size
through concentrates or waterless formulations and reusable “forever bottles” a
Can it be eaten? Analysts predict
a not-so-distant future where package – not just product – is edible, citing
future artifacts like edible boxes dissolved into soups and recent experiments by
Starbucks, Air New Zealand and Loliware with edible cups, straws and wrappers.
In addition, scientists in the field of synthetic biology are looking to
introduce plastic-eating enzymes into the packaging life cycle.
Can you extend shelf life? Waste can also be addressed through freshness and expiry, as consumers lament their part in food waste by throwing out unused products that are seemingly past their prime. There’s plenty of inspiration from airless packaging, as well as recent developments like Aptar’s Standcap silicone dispensing valve, and Unilever’s new “often good after x date” labeling that will be placed directly after “best before” text.
Personalized nutrition is gaining momentum as informative tests and tools become more readily accessible. We touched on this topic last year and from what we can tell, the attention it receives reflects the estimated projected growth to over $17B in the next 4 years.1 I recently embarked on my own initial screening: the simple, quick, painless process provided some pretty helpful insights that are shaping the way I structure my plate.
“Personalizing is in our DNA” – we have come to expect the flexibility to request things exactly as we like them.1 Whether it’s the specific way our coffee is prepared or Christmas cards that showcase the highlights of the past year of life, it’s hardly seen as a “perk”.
WHY IS IT HAPPENING?
The Hartman group hypothesizes that America’s hyper-personalized eating culture “is a way of resisting the standardization and homogeneity of modern life by imbuing a sense of fun and premiumization”. While this may sound like a theoretical stretch, the plethora of products and services that allow consumers to tinker with health optimization are an indication of the 80% of consumers who believe their emotional and mental well-being is just as important as physical health. And, it seems that more of us are looking for ways to tailor our intake to our gaps. Take Four Sigmatic for example – they make superfood drinking mushrooms to address a range of “transformative magic” for consumers to choose from.
SO, HOW DOES IT WORK?
Personalizing dietary choices based on genetics is certainly “next level” but becoming increasingly accessible. I heard Yi Sherry Zhang speak to how they approach testing at GenoPalate (“eat for your genes”), and she broke down their approach in an…approachable format.
My own experience was pretty simple – in less than two
minutes, a nutritionist trimmed a few strands of my hair and had me swipe the
inside of my mouth with a Qtip. From those samples, I had a comprehensive
report on: vitamin deficiencies, a scan of exposure to molds and parasites, a
review of my system’s performances (think: respiratory, nervous system, blood,
cardio, endocrine, immune).
This is most certainly a momentum that is continuing down the path of more: personalization, information, interest, access and questions. Consumers on the forefront of this trend will look to food and beverage products to solve for specific needs they identify to improve their overall health and wellness.
Consumers are talking more and more about waste reduction these days, looking even more closely at product and food labels, technology & devices, and nearly anything that is part of our daily lives and routines. Because of this, brands are having to act fast and join the movement if they want to stay relevant in the minds of consumers—and in a way that’s also authentic to their own brand and mission. Otherwise, consumers will likely see right through their efforts. Food producers and manufacturers are especially under pressure to find ways to reduce both plastic packaging and food waste.The USDA estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the country’s food supply ends up in landfills.And the amount of packaging waste in the United States surged 185% from 1960 to 2015, from 27 million tons to nearly 78 million tons.
So it doesn’t come as a surprise that more and more brands are integrating reduce, reuse, recycle principles into their business models, products, packaging and beyond—resulting in crafty solutions that squeeze out the most value from materials and ingredients. All the while not compromising on design or overall product experience. Quite the opposite, actually—refining a product’s attributes can provide an ideal opportunity to also enhance its presentation.
While waste-conscious items are becoming increasingly available to consumers on shelves of common shopping destinations like Target and Whole Foods (think boxed water or bar shampoo), one independent brick and mortar is taking the concept one step further. Meet Tare Market. Situated right in our very own backyard of Minneapolis, Tare is Minnesota’s first zero-waste shop—a concept that’s been popular and successful outside of the US for years, and just starting to see some traction here. You won’t find any packaging here as this refill shop has one mission—to provide eco-friendly products and educational resources that will help you live a more sustainable, zero-waste lifestyle. In addition to shopping for household items, makeup, food and supplements, Tare offers educational classes and resources — from Indoor Worm Composting to Cloth Diapering — to help shoppers adopt their mission outside of its store walls.
In a similar spirit of bringing brands together under one roof, only on a larger scale, is a 2019 collaboration called Loop. Loop is a partnership between grocery giant Kroger, Walgreens, UPS and TerraCycle, a waste management firm. It brings consumers a more innovative, waste free grocery experience. Think Haagen-Dazs ice cream in metal containers and Nature’s Path granola in glass jars. Most items cost roughly the same as they would in a store. They come in less traditional packaging—and all purchases flow through their online site. True to its name, Loop sanitizes and ships reusable containers back to the brands after use and the cycle starts over again. Now that’s what we call a waste win!
Other big brands are embracing waste reduction in their own ways. In October of 2018, Dunkin’ Donuts released its experiential tiny house that runs completely on Dunkin’ coffee grounds, via a partnership with Airbnb. In contrast to physical products for purchase, Dunkin’ brought “waste-conscious” to life through a memorable and engaging social media rich experience. Fun fact: Every 170 pounds of spent coffee grounds yields about one gallon of fuel and is used in a standard biofuel generator to power the tiny house.
According to New Hope Network’s 2019 Informa Study, Waste Reduction is ranked as the #1 leading trend across all consumer segments.
The global cost of food waste is estimated to be nearly $1 trillion a year, with up to 25% of residential waste arising from inadequate packaging.
It’s clear waste reduction-minded produce and products are no longer something you see solely at your local co-op or independently-run stores and niche websites. Big players, like those involved in Loop, are on the rise, making it clear any brand or business, big or small, is eligible to join the conversation. Whether it’s a physical product tweak or experience like the tiny house, tapping into the fact that 84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services, is key to success.
They’ve been around for years and there’s no end in sight. Serving as an integral part of the overall mobile food movement, food trucks (mobile vehicles where food and beverage is cooked and sold), are more alive than ever before. With 62% of consumers seeking out new/unique dining experiences and nearly 80% of people willing to try a new food or beverage once—it may be a better time than ever if you’re a business or chef looking to offer an experimental, labor light, social media rich experience to grow your brand. And gone are the days when the end game for a food truck was to land a brick and mortar presence on the side of a busy, hungry street. While still a worthy pursuit, today’s food trucks are leaning into growing consumer appetites for new dining experiences by serving up innovative ways to keep their trucks more relevant than ever. Moving beyond the role of feeding crowds of fair-goers and office workers—we highlight 3 food trucks that embrace all a food truck can be in 2019. But first, let’s dive into the data behind where the industry is headed.
Food trucks reached an estimated $2.7 billion in revenue in 2017, a 24-percent increase from 2014. Source: According to a December 2017 report produced by Food Truck Nation under the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Food truck industry revenues have grown 7.3 percent at an annualized rate from 2012 to 2017. Source: IBISWorld
Food Truck Showcase
Farmers and Foragers Bringing more awareness to your plate.
Once upon a time, a food truck was known as a one-stop indulgent spot, where you may have thought little about where the food came from. You just wanted it to taste really good and be on your way, right? (It’s OK if that’s still the case, too). Founded in 2014, Burlington, Vt.-based Farmers and Foragers brought a new perspective to the table, literally. Partnering with local farms to source the ingredients for a diverse menu of American comfort food—form Goi Ga, a Vietnamese Chicken Salad to Duck Wontons and Crispy Squash Blossoms. Some of the menu even features foraged produce from Vermont’s very own backyard. “When you go to a food truck rally, everything tastes amazing, but you don’t know where the food comes from,” he said. “I think we brought some level of consciousness to that.” This truck proves the care and quality you may typically expect only in a restaurant can be embraced by food on the move as well.
Hot Indian Building a better, brighter brand.
Founded in 2013, this brightly hued, highly Instagrammable food truck (and now in multiple brick and mortar locations across the Twin Cities including a residence at Midtown Global Market), Hot Indian plays a role in changing the dining experience by providing memorable branding moments at every touch point — enticing consumers to enjoy more than just delicious food like their famous Indurrito: An Indian burrito made with house made roti, a round Indian flatbread. From showing consumers how to give a proper high five to big, bold graphics, Hot Indian has proven its sustainability in the mobile food space by embracing a truly Instagrammable, shareable experience.
Finnegan’s Reverse Food Truck No food served here.
It may look like an ordinary food truck, but there’s no food served here. The (501(c)3) Minnesota-based brewery Finnegan’s Brewery has been doing good by its community since day one, with 100% of its profits going directly back to serving areas in need. So in true local-oriented fashion, their Reverse Food Truck (RFT) follows suit. Launched with one simple mission—We Don’t Make Food. We Take Food—The donation-based menu positions it as an innovative twist on the classic truck that’s in the business of cooking and serving up food. Through a partnership with The Food Group’s Harvest for the Hungry program, the RFT allows events to activate this giving back program where food is accepted and loaded into the truck to be donated to food shelves in the community. Their website even offers a contact to help others start their own RFT or volunteer with this one. A beautiful blend of entrepreneurship and philanthropy, this mission-based truck stands for a lot more than driving sales.
While there is no single roadmap for mobile food success, it’s clear there is a nearly endless runway for what a food truck can be—and stand for—today. When rooted in a solid business plan and a lens of sustainable thinking — chances of launch, engagement and a shot at longevity are favorable. Regardless of how a truck comes to be, it always starts with a focused business strategy and clear objectives – in order to create a solution that makes sense for your business and the needs of consumers or in many of these cases, an entire entity or community. Through it all, one cannot underestimate the role of a strong brand at every touch point – from your logo, look and feel, voice and tone, website and social efforts, community outreach and beyond. Working with partners that share and foster a holistic view of your brand experience — that is always key to success.
We’re wrapping up the summer Scale Series with a recap of this years’ MN Cup Food Ag & Beverage Pitch Slam. The Scale Series has focused on the food and beverage start-up scene, with a look at how entrepreneurs are impacting this innovative industry. And the pitch slam was a perfect place to see it all in action.
The Food, Ag & Beverage division of the MN Cup held this years’ pitch slam on August 22 and included a full evening of events and awards. Prior to the program itself, more than 20 local MN food and beverage companies set up booths to showcase their brands and provide samples for the attendees (it’s open to the public!). There was a wide range of “start-ups” represented, from Toom, a Lebanese Garlic Dip to GroShed, a pre-fabricated hydroponic gardening system.
The program kicked off with a message around connectivity from Carla Vernon, President of the Natural & Organic unit at General Mills. Working with brands like Annie’s and Epic Provisions, there are so many examples of how the ecosystem of food continues to become more intertwined.
The ten semifinalists showed up ready to pitch. Having seen these companies up close from a “business plan” perspective over the past few months, it was incredible to see how each of the semifinalists brought their story to life in such a compelling way. With just three minutes on the timer, the semifinalists pitched their business to an engaged audience. Sharing their story, the state of their business and progress made to date, and their vision for the future, it was an inspiring evening that truly showcased the innovation happening “in our own backyard”.
JTM Scale Award
This year, our team vetted the semifinalists with rigor to determine who would receive the JTM Scale Award of $25K of in-kind agency services. We knew that winner would be a highly sought-after account here at the agency – our team will likely battle a bit for who gets to work on the business. We were thrilled to award Atlas Provisions as this year’s winner! In the words of the team, the company is “nailing it with a terrific story and great product at the intersection of amplifying consumer trends in snacking”. And, we absolutely love the story that this entrepreneur, Sarah Pritzker, is solving for and her dedication to the entire process. Atlas Provisions is a snacking brand that aims to bring global flavors with a story and a mission to local consumers. The lotus seed pops are high in magnesium and potassium, made with only ingredients you would find in your pantry, and are delicious in our experience of all four flavors!
The event concluded with a number of other awards from enablers like the Department of Agriculture who awarded funds to Hoyo and Planet Princess, as the “Most Ready to Grow”. The “Powered by the Crowd” winner was Atlas Provisions, for additional funding support. And of course, the finale included the announcment of the three semifinalists that are continuing on to the next phase of the MN Cup. A big congratulations to Nutraphagia (the EAT bar), Nexyst360 and Sanos Nutrition!
It has been another exciting season to date with the MN Cup and we can’t wait to get work underway with Atlas Provisions. As we get the chance to work closely with the founder, we know that there will be exciting work ahead. As for the broader competition, one of the three semi-finalists will make it to the final round of MN Cup, scheduled to take place on October 14th at the Carlson School of Business.
This month we continue with the JTM Scale Series – a monthly post dedicated to sharing some of what we’re seeing in the local food and beverage start-up scene. Last time, we covered the beginning of this season of the MN Cup. While we anxiously await the second round of applications, we take a look at how “thinking small” is put into action to get closer to the consumer.
Innovation is the primary driver for many of the accelerators, incubators and venture arms that have been created in recent years. Now that these programs have been established, it’s been especially interesting in the past few months to see how they are being brought to life to bring real learnings and change.
Voice of Customer. If you’re familiar with Kickstarter, it’s likely you associate it with start-up brands or perhaps mission-based projects or causes. It is currently being utilized by Mondelez as a tool for testing different methodologies as they refine new product launch plans. In a recent campaign, Kickstarter backers are required to select which product they would prefer to receive in exchange for a pledge, which provides Mondelez with real-time feedback and a less traditional research method. Ultimately, the goal being to launch products on a timeline more reflective of a start-up.
Real-Life Food Labs. Food brand themed restaurants are nothing new – and have often been leveraged as a real-life lab for testing new innovative products and partnerships. A unique take on this concept is Edwards Dessert Kitchen, a beautifully designed space in the North Loop of Minneapolis with sophisticated dessert items and a craft cocktail menu curated by Tattersall Distillery. The concept is backed by Schwan’s (Edwards is the name of the frozen pies division), a collaboration between its corporate entity and a very talented pastry chef. With an intentional lack of corporate branding, it’s an opportunity to innovate, create and learn.
As incubators and venture arms become more prolific, the creativity in approach and execution are what will truly create a competitive advantage. The impact of these efforts on speed-to-market and innovation will take time to measure – but it’s exciting to see how “thinking small” is taking on its own meaning within organizations.
“With Dirt Kitchen & CaPao, Mondelez Tests New Launch Strategies.” Nosh. Ortenberg, Carol. July 1, 2019.
We have been on the road a fair amount in 2019 to industry events and trade shows. A new one for us, Sweets and Snacks Expo, took place in Chicago May 21-23 at McCormick Place with an estimated 15,000 people in attendance. Snacking has continued to carve out its own daypart as consumers of all ages (yes, younger generations at a more significant pace) are turning toward a more frequent and convenient eating lifestyle. We saw how this is playing out in the $86 billion market of snack ($51 billion) and confectionary ($35 billion) first-hand.
STAND OUT BOOTHS
A colleague with prior Sweets and Snacks Expo experience dubbed the show “like Trick or Treating for adults”. I have to agree. I also have to admit that in many cases, I’d take the “trick” over the treat if that’s what the booths were intended to deliver. The quality of the booths at this food show stood out more than any I’ve been to when it came to experience and creativity.
It isn’t too surprising that many of the same trends we shared from Natural Products Expo West the past couple of years are making their way into mainstream CPG products. Plant-Based, Adventurous Flavors, and Fats + Fads (think: anti-sugar, and proliferation of Keto-friendly) were all prominent themes throughout the show. It was interesting to see how these themes showed up in both legacy products and newer formats.
We’ll continue to expect rapid innovation from this category. Not only due to the fact that it’s quickly becoming a dominant daypart but also because it’s inherently a factor required for brands to remain relevant. When new products account for nearly 5% of sales in snacks and over 6% in confectionary as compared to 3% in overall consumer packaged goods, it’s a great place to turn for inspiration in product, format and overall brand experiences.
“Top Trends at Sweets & Snacks 2019.” Watrous, Monica. Food Business News. May 21, 2019.
Last month we kicked off the JTM Scale Series – a monthly post dedicated to sharing some of what we’re seeing in the local food and beverage start-up scene. This is the start of the 15th season of the Minnesota Cup, the largest and most impactful statewide start-up competition in the country. Connecting emerging entrepreneurs with tools, resources and support to further new ventures, there is a lot of momentum going into this year’s competition.
SO, WHAT’S HAPPENING?
At the end of May, the semi-finalists for each of the nine divisions were announced. A total of 88 teams will continue on the path to compete for their share of $500,000 in prize money – not to mention incredible mentorship, connections and in-kind sponsorships along the way. As active participants in the Food, Agriculture and Beverage division, we were excited to meet the entrepreneurs and see elevator pitches from each of the teams this past Thursday, June 6th.
The turnout to the event itself was strong – the auditorium at the Carlson School of Management was packed with an engaged audience. A combination of judges, mentors, other entrepreneurs, and general enthusiasts filled the seats which made for a high-energy platform. With just one minute each, the live pitches were a perfect glimpse into the story behind the business and a quick opportunity to “give a face to the name” of the entrepreneur. The semi-finalists in our division represent a wide range of products and solutions and they maximized their 60 seconds. I have to say, I walked away pretty excited about what I saw within the top 10!
Over the next 60 days, the semi-finalists will be in the thick of the season – getting paired with local mentors (one of the benefits most highly spoken of by past participants), working on their next round of submission materials and taking part in education seminars offered through the program. The next milestone is August 22, where the the top 10 semi-finalists will compete in a division-wide “Pitch Slam”. During the event, JTM will announce the recipient for this years’ JTM Scale award, $25,000 of advertising expertise and brand development resources in an effort to help propel one of these great brands forward. We’re excited to see how this season shapes up – so far, it’s looking like it will be pretty fierce!
“2019 Semifinalists.” MN Cup. University of Minnesota. May 30, 2019.
Do you know what you’re having for dinner tonight? Do you know where you’d like to go out to lunch for that birthday celebration coming up in February? How about what new and exciting menu item you might venture out on a limb to try at a restaurant next summer? I honestly can’t answer a single one of these questions and of course, that’s not really the point. What matters is that our hyper-personal flavor preferences are changing at a rapid rate and food manufacturers could benefit from understanding not just what they are today, but to have some indicators of what they might be in the future. That is just one of many – slightly unexpected – ways that artificial intelligence (AI) may come into play in the industry.
We recently heard from Jason Cohen, the founder of Gastrograph AI, about how artificial intelligence can not only uncover, but also predict consumer preferences when it comes to flavor, aroma, and texture.1 An AI platform driven by consumer data, it analyzes individual’s sensitivities and biases to different flavors and informs how those flavors may need to be tweaked based on age, ethnicity and gender of a target audience.
AI is making its way into the food industry in a number of ways. While this industry is not always on the forefront when it comes to technology, the solutions coming forward address areas of tension like labor, supply chain, food safety, and food production.2
WHAT WE THINK
AI has the potential to aid manufacturers and retailers in not only understanding but predicting human behavior when it comes to their flavor preferences. Resources like Gastrograph AI could have real, immediate impact on business decisions like new product development and launch plans.1
The reality is that AI doesn’t take the human out of the equation, though. In fact, in ways, it puts more onus on decision-makers to effectively understand and use it to positively impact business.
This is just the start. We know that consumers expect more from the food industry when it comes to transparency and personalization. Couple that with significant gaps when it comes to food management (both production and waste) and it’s clear why testing and adoption of these technologies is increasing. We’ll keep our finger on the pulse as success stories and learnings come forward.
 “52 Things We Learned & Experienced at Foodscape 2.” Datassential. Datassential: Issue 57. September 2018.  “6 Examples of Artificial Intelligence in the Food Industry.” Garver, Krista. Food Industry Executive. April 2018.
SIAL 2018 is a 5-day food innovation exhibition that took place last week in Paris, France. The largest international food and beverage innovation show, there were over 7,200 exhibitors from 119 countries around the world. And in a space that spanned the equivalent of more than 100 supermarkets end to end, there were more than 400,000 products shared across the 300,000 stakeholders from the industry.
WHY WE WERE THERE
Aside from the sheer scale itself, this show is not to be missed when it comes to understanding food trends at a global scale. We’ve attended a number of North American-based shows like Expo West and Fancy Foods, and we’ve seen that innovation in food and beverage is occurring across nearly every category—rapidly. SIAL provided a unique EU and global viewpoint. It showcased trends that align with what is happening in different markets around the world – a combination of innovation and representation of high-demand consumer products in familiar categories.
SIAL had specific tracks dedicated to sharing these trends in an organized fashion – innovation, culinary, and country/region representation—in an atmosphere that was inspiring and interactive. A “Future Lab” captured what may be the biggest influencers on the industry by the year 2030. And by gathering producers, distributors, brands (both large and small), restaurateurs and ingredient providers, this was truly a show that brought the global food industry together for a productive week.
We came back with a lot to share – including what we saw on the show floor, the seminars we attended hosted by leading research firms, trends and innovations, and the many conversations with industry stakeholders around the world. Over the upcoming issues of Thought for Food, we will be sharing our thoughts and experiences with you.