“What happens next?” keynote at Austrian Retail Summit 2020

October 1, 2020 at Tag des Handels (Austrian Retail Summit), Gmunden, Austria

Thanks to a small bit of contagious RNA we are all now unwilling participants in a seismic experiment that is shaking the foundations of society, technology, economics, healthcare and more.

Is it a message from the future? Microsoft’s Satya Nadella describes it as a shift “from hierarchies to wirearchies”. Danone’s Emmanuel Faber says “now is the moment to be bold for our consumers and our future.”

What next for retail?

In many ways, the global pandemic has simply accelerated many shifts that were already emerging – shifting economic power, changing consumer priorities, digitalisation of our lives, new distribution models, rising social and environmental issues, and much more.

What’s changed?

  • The 5 global megatrends, what’s changed, what’s still relevant, long-term?
  • Local and social, sustainability and health, convenience and trust
  • The post-Covid consumer trends, the new priorities, short-term? (including new McKinsey report):

How could we innovate?

  • Aerofarms to Bytedance, Impossible to Danone, Glossier to Mikkeler
  • What can we learn from other markets, other sectors, other companies?
  • Going beyond digital, to reimagined experiences and liquid business models

What’s next for food retailers?

  • How did Covid change food retail, and how did the best food retailers innovate?
  • Eataly to DNA Sushi, Instacart to Magalu, Meituan Dingping to Pinduoduo
  • The leadership challenge, to survive and thrive in a post-Covid world.

For leaders, this is a time to refocus on priorities, and reimagine the future. While the essential principles of marketing have not changed, some of the ways in which we achieve most impact, and deliver business success, are changing.

How can retail brands do more for people, be more of their lives? What drives trust and influence? How can we connect with consumers, and help them connect together? What are the new opportunities to innovate, beyond products and point of sale? Who are the most important influencers to different audiences, younger and older? How can new business models change the way markets work?

Inspiration to do better, and different, comes from everywhere – consider the rapidly changing world of beauty and fashion, from personalisation to upcycling – learn from the disruptive impact of technologies in media and entertainment –  and changing priorities in lifestyles and entertainment.

Specifically consider how the pandemic is shaping business around the world:

  • Inspired by purpose and new priorities … Airbnb have adapted, but now plan fundamental change; Starbucks has become outspoken on social issues, and are also planning a fundamental shift from sit-down to pick-up experiences.
  • Creating more positive impact … Nestle has refocused around healthy living, redefining every brand with a insight-driven manifesto; Adidas has shifted to a circular design model, with a mission to create change in society.
  • Engaging people in new ways … Fortnite is now the world played game, with physical and virtual experiences, built around interactive sponsors and spectator experiences; similarly Peleton have built community through home workouts.
  • Disrupting sectors … Netflix has continued to transform the home entertainment space with big data, unique content and business model; Impossible is transforming food by imitating real meat and fish with just as good experiences, better for you.
  • Reimagining future experiences … Pinduoduo brings fun, gamification and community to the purchase experiences; while Singularity Sushi harnesses genetic profiling to customise your food and drink.

What can we learn from Emily Weiss’ community-based approach to brand building at Glossier, from Patrick Brown’s positioning of Impossible Foods as “alternative meat”, from Katrina Lake’s use of AI and personalisation in fashion with Stitch Fix, from Ilkka Paananen’s gaming revolution with Supercell?

Look at a category like beer, for example, with disruption and innovation are everywhere. Consider the skyrocketing growth of non-alcolohic beer maker Athletic Brewing Co, and the recent marketing-fuelled popularity of hard seltzers like White Claw, the bar to hotel brand experience of Brewdog or the unique business model of Mikkeller, created by the “ gypsy brewer” Mikkel Bjergso, and the sustainability initiatives of Corona.

As business leaders, our challenge is to take these inspiration and apply the best ones in fresh, creative and commercial ways to our business and markets, to reimagine the future, and start delivering it today.

Times of change, are typically times of most innovation, as consumers reconsider priorities, new possibilities emerge, and businesses fight to survive but also to thrive. Now is the time for you to step up. With creativity, collaboration and courage.

Going beyond retail, what’s the future of food?

The future of food is about authenticity, wellness and relevance – traceability of supply chains, natural and organic ingredients, convenient and well designed packaging, and fantastic, inspiring taste

The UN estimates that by 2050 global food production will have to increase by close to 70% if we want to feed the world. This poses a real conundrum: How do we feed all those people healthy diets, in ways that don’t harm the planet?

In some cases, innovators in this space are doing what was once science fiction. The outcome of these new technologies has profound implications for the human diet, the changing climate, and the global economy.


Here are some most recent examples:

  • DNA Sushi … London-based conveyor belt sushi restaurant YO! Sushi collaborated with DNAfit to help diners choose dishes based on their DNA.
  • Smart food … Nestlé XiaoAI, an AI family nutrition assistant, is a smart speaker equipped with nutrition and health knowledge answering questions on custom recipes, music, and nutrition
  • Upcycled Beer … Kellogg’s teamed up with UK brewery Seven Brothers to convert its rejected Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, and Coco Pops breakfast cereals into beer.
  • Mood Tea … Marley Mellow Mood Peach Raspberry Relaxation Tea from the US features mood-enhancing botanicals, which are said to calm the soul and ease the mind.
  • Genetic Dining … Vita Mojo was the first foodservice chain to give customers nutritional guidance based on their genetics, providing a great conversation as well as healthy eating
  • Sea Farms … Floating Farm is a dairy farm in Rotterdam, Netherlands, that showcases how food production can become less vulnerable to climate change
  • Indoor Farms … Bowery Parsley is grown in indoor automated vertical farms in New York City, NY promoting itself as “grown locally (in the city!) with no pesticides”
  • Edible Fashion … Modern Meadow in New Jersey grows animal-free leather in their labs, indeed recent fashion shows have been full of aubergine and mushroom-based fabrics.
  • Better Bling … New York City- based Couple is the first company to exclusively sell lab-grown diamond rings as an ethical alternative to real diamonds, and a lot cheaper too!

Splash out on dinner at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant, and you might find an iPod accompanies your seafood risotto. Sounds of the sea enhance the perceived freshness and flavours, and can also affect our sense of sweetness and saltiness.

Caterpillars, already popular in Africa, contain 28mg of protein per 100g, more than minced beef, and add 35mg of iron too. If you’re in search of a calcium boost, try grasshoppers.

Rising food prices, the growing population and environmental concerns make food one of the big debates for governments, and interest areas for investors. Meat production takes up huge amounts of land, consume water, diverts crops from humans, and adds to carbon emissions.

Insects, perhaps rebranding as micro-protein, could become a staple of our diets – low cost, requiring little space or water. With 1500 edible species, we could soon be tucking into nutrititous crickets and grasshoppers, ground into burgers. Wasps are a delicacy in Japan.

If you still want meat, your next steak could be sourced from a test-tube. Strips of muscle tissue using stem cells taken from cows, a little like calamari to look at, are grown in a lab, and then shaped to expectation, similar to existing meat substitutes such as Quorn. Of course you could just become vegetarian, and still get a balanced diet.

Another source of improved eating, is sensory-engineering. Scientists have shown that look and smell affect how we taste. Condiment Junkie, a sonic-branding company is exploring how certain frequencies can compensate for sugar in foods, thereby improving health, as well as enhancing the whole cooking and eating experience.

However the most significant source of future food is likely to come from algae. 145 species of green, red, and brown seaweed is already eaten in huge quantities across Asia, often as a delicacy. Ground into other foods, its strong flavour can dramatically reduce the amount of salt used, for example in bread or prepared meals. Algae farming, for food as well as energy, could become the world’s largest crop industry by 2030.

However it is not just the food content that could radically change. It is also about embracing technology to deliver more personalised service and added value experiences. A great example comes from Singularity Sushi, which uses DNA analysis to ultra-personalise food, and 3D printing to produce objects of incredible beauty.

Here are 20 case studies of companies who are shaking up the world of food and drink in profound and enlightened ways, riding the consumer trends, embracing digital technologies, with incredible new experiences and profitable new business models:

  • % Arabica – Asian minimalism, African coffee roastery, and Arabic meeting place
  • AeroFarms – Vertical farming in a crowded world
  • Basmaty – The Arabic cookery community
  • Boring Life – Embracing CBD to relieve the stress and anxieties of a busy life
  • Brewdog – Beer for punks, irreverent and brilliant
  • Deliveroo – Food delivered as fast as a kangaroo
  • Gïk Live! – Blue wine from Spain
  • Graze – Snacking reinvented … fast, healthy, delivered
  • Halo Top Creamery – The Healthy Ice Cream from California
  • HelloFresh – Say “Hello” to easy home cooking
  • Impossible Foods – Can a burger save the planet?
  • Juan Valdez Café – From commodity to premium branded experience
  • Kikkoman – Make haste slowly
  • Mayrig – Cooking up a passion for Armenian culture
  • Mikkeller – The world’s largest craft beer company
  • Nespresso – The business model with an extra shot
  • Ossian Vides y Vinos – Organic fusions of wines from Segovia
  • Red Bull – Space jumps, air races … energy drinks and media house
  • Supr Daily – Digitalised milk delivery in Mumbai
  • Vinomofo – Australian wine lovers community
  • Zespri – Redefining the Chinese gooseberry as the Kiwi fruit

In the past few years, food waste has been a particular sustainable action point for consumers and companies. Companies are finding new ways to reuse food waste. The Kellogg Company worked with UK- based Seven Bro7hers Brewery in 2019 to create beer made from non-standard cereal pieces. Meadow Mushrooms in New Zealand has created a container that is made from the organic waste from its mushroom stalks.

In France, Danone committed to solely using ingredients from regenerative agriculture by 2025. Unilever has a Sustainable Living Plan with three wide-reaching corporate social responsibility goals. Danone, Nestlė, Firmenich, International Flavors & Fragrances, and Sodexo are among more than 80 companies that are part of the We Mean Business climate change coalition. Ecommerce giant Amazon has founded its own Climate Pledge that commits to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement by 2040.

In the next 10 years, consumers will be able to use easily accessible and affordable customised biological tests, data collection, and analysis to learn what makes their bodies one of a kind. The results will help consumers better understand how to address every aspect of their health, including brain and emotional health. While respecting consumer privacy, food, drink, and foodservice companies will have opportunities to develop personalised recipes, custom diet plans, and individualised products.

Consumers are learning more about the natural connections in their bodies as more research discovers how the systems in our bodies work together. In particular, improved understanding of the research into the microbiome has taught more consumers about the importance of maintaining a healthy gut/brain axis, or the connection that links the brain, digestive system, and emotions.

At the Tag des Handels 2020 (Austrian Retail Summit) Peter Fisk will deliver a keynote which focuses on developments in the food market in relation to the changing consumer and technological innovation.

Image: Unsplash

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