The food industry of the future is born in conflict with the old

By Peter Wennström

We live in a world of rapid change, and recently the question was asked: Who will be the first Kodak of the food industry? This question is relevant because it is about how companies have lost their ability to change… In May I was invited by the Swedish Foods Industries (LI) to make a speech on their annual Food Day about the global challenges facing the food industry. 

The end of the innovation life cycle

When a food company reaches the end of its innovation lifecycle it is often governed by short-term profitability. And where does that lead? Nowhere. This is what happened to one of the most traditional Swedish food producers last year. Findus had been bought by international investors, whose profitability calculations soon resulted in closure of a very old and beloved food factory in southern Sweden. The anger of the Swedish mass media and population have been massive since, but of course when the innovation lifecycle has ended there is nothing anyone can do…

This is merely one of many examples of the result of an innovation wheel that has come to a stop. And if we don’t learn to understand how old structures and mindsets may hinder necessary change, the same risk is a challenge for the entire food industry. That would be devastating, since we all – the industry, the people and the planet –  are facing huge global challenges that we together need to solve.

There is something wrong with our food

It kills us. If 70% of all deaths can be contributed to our food and lifestyle choices, then we know that something is wrong. Similarly, there is something wrong with our agriculture. It kills the nature. When we see bees dying because of agricultural chemicals and that we at the same time are about to destroy our soils, I can’t help but wonder why the entire agricultural industry isn’t having a crisis meeting to reach a plan for turning production methods around as quickly as possible.

The consumer is taking over the production

A report from the US market states that Big Food loses shares in favour of Small Food. These Small Food companies are usually developed as an alternative to the traditional food industry’s products. Often it is actually consumers who want a change and thus take matters in their own hands and become food producers, driven by consumer values.  This means that solutions nowadays doesn’t come from the industry but despite the industry.

These are the five global innovation challenges we have identified that we together need to solve:

The food industry of the future is not born out of the old one. It arises in the conflict between the old and the new. The ability to accept and handle change will becomes crucial for how small as well as large companies are able to create profitable innovations that solve our global challenges:

1. The role of the food is to keep us healthy, not make us ill

2.  Food should give us the right nutrition, not empty calories

3.  We need to handle our limited resources with care, not waste them

4.  Food must be supported by science that sees human and nature as a whole

5. Food must be produced and communicated with technology that can be put in the hands of future consumers

These are the innovation challenges. What’s your strategy?