The Consumer of 2020 Will Demand Product Customization and Company Accountability

March 30, 2012

CHICAGO – Food consumers in the year 2020 will demand customization, competitive prices and social responsibility when it comes to finding products to meet their nutritional needs, according to research presented at the Institute of Food Technologists' Wellness 12 meeting.

Linda Eatherton, partner and director of the Ketchum Global Food & Nutrition Practice, presented "Food 2020: The Consumer as CEO" during the closing session of the two-day IFT conference. The company conducted surveys of 200 middle-income people in the United States, China, the United Kingdom, Germany and Argentina who are the primary shoppers for their families. In addition, 25 interviews were conducted with CEOs and other experts in the food industry. Eatherton was joined on the panel discussion by William Dietz, MD, Ph.D., director of the division of nutrition, physical activity and obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Chris Wyse, vice president of communications for PepsiCo.

The survey's findings include:

  • Beyond tasting good, food must have a measurable impact on a community and society.  Consumers will demand financial and measurable goals to be reported publicly each year.
  • Consumers want to direct where the money they spend for a product will go, allowing them to micro-invest in a community. Manufacturers will be credited with enabling this kind of investing to take place.
  • There will be a demand for global standards of transparency, and public/private partnerships will form to create global guidelines.
  • Virtual research and development centers involving consumers will form, shifting the focus from consumer surveys to consumer engagement online.
  • QR codes will allow customized and transparent menus. Consumers could view the menu in advance, including complete nutritional information, and communicate special dietary needs to the chef. Further tailoring the experience, frequent visitors to a restaurant could create a profile that would enable the chef to create special menu offerings tailored to their individual desires or needs.
  • Formation of a Food and Agriculture Trust Bank, with protected funds to be matched by the government for directed research. This would generate a new body of unbiased science to educate the public and shape policy.
  • Brands would be "trust marks," signifying a manufacturer's commitment to accountability, responsibility, quality and being a partner in health and wellness.
  • Creation of a Food Value Index, which would surpass brand power to give consumers a complete picture of the value of a food based on a particular algorithm, taking into account the practices of the company as well as the quality of the food.

Dietz said the findings of the survey illustrate the challenge of providing food that tastes good, but also meets consumer demands that it contribute to healthy living.  "I think we need more detail on whether consumers connect sodium, fat and added sugars to long-term health problems," he said, adding that proven scientific findings are sometimes "displaced by belief" among consumers.

Wyse said PepsiCo has made strides in educating consumers about how its products are made, from featuring potato farmers in ad campaigns to taking consumers into its manufacturing plants. Still, it can be difficult to figure out how to deliver everything they are seeking in a product.

"Defining expectations is hard to do," Wyse said. "Is health and wellness the absence of negatives or the addition of benefits? Both answers are right."

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The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is a nonprofit scientific society. Our individual members are professionals engaged in food science, food technology, and related professions in industry, academia, and government. IFT's mission is to advance the science of food, and our long-range vision is to ensure a safe and abundant food supply, contributing to healthier people everywhere.

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