The Future of Food: SF Design Week panel recap

(Photo credit: Andrey Moisseyev)

Food Sustainability Marketing gets Sexy

Trying to surmise the future of consumer brands? You need only look at what’s going on with challenger food brands to find the answer. From supply chain transparency to continued bite-sized education bits, to arresting and beautiful first impressions — we attended the Future of Food and Beverage Panel at Pearlfisher during Design Week in SF. Here are our takeaways.

It Starts and Ends with Design

You can have the healthiest, most sustainably sourced product in the world, but the design is what makes things craveable — what makes it pop on the shelf. It just makes sense, if your product isn’t craveable you’re fighting an uphill battle. It’s going to be extra hard convincing people of the goodness that’s inside the package if it’s dreary looking or hard to understand what’s inside. 

People buy things for their looks. No brainer, right? If it looks fun, refreshing, and tasty they’ll dig in to learn how it’s better for them. The product needs to work, and for food—to taste good, then follow up with how it’s sustainable or whatever your deeper cause happens to be. Prove you’re tasty first, then that you’re deep. That’s especially true when you’re a challenger in an industry. You need to create a low barrier for an entryway into your product. You can hook them with the details later.

The Devil in the Details: Unclutter to Focus the Story

Let’s look at the rare success story in an extremely cutthroat field: the soft drink industry. Olipop is a healthy alternative soft drink that eschews chemicals for a proprietary formula containing plant extracts. It’s a great idea, but on the shelf, it failed the first time. Their design was cluttered trying to tell too much at once, and their marketing strategy was too abstract — only food scientists care about proprietary food formulas. 

So Olipop simplified. Their design got sleeker, they emphasized flavor first. It was only THEN that they could talk about why their drink was so smart and healthy. Now they’re one of the hottest beverage brands of 2019. The takeaway: Make products accessible and convenient first, then add in layers of education and knowledge. 

How Social Media Helps Solve the Food Waste Problem

The biggest challenge when trying to future proof our food system in the next thirty years has to do with solving the problem of food waste. Imperfect Produce has found a great way to use food that might otherwise be tossed out — but to capitalize on that you need education. It’s not enough to just get people to buy the food, they needed to educate their customers on how to use and store this food, they also needed to find an emotional connection that made their customers understand where this food came from and why it’s important. They connect customers with the stories of their farms and farmers to deepen that connection. After all, if you’re grateful for something, you’re less likely to waste it. That’s where social media comes in. 

Imperfect Produce has leaned into Twitter, Instagram, and other social media to help tell their story — and the story of their product. Social media focuses on bite-sized, digestible bits of information that are easy to read, clear to understand, and simple to make into a habit.  They can take big ideas and make them manageable, even viral. From building ingredient literacy with Imperfect Produce to learning about gut biome health with Olipop, brands are embracing this bite-sized brand building to great effect. The Takeaway: Challenger brands are winning this battle by adapting to the constraints of social media marketing and making challenges. 

Transparency is the New Normal

These days there are so many badges and buzz words associated with food that it’s almost impossible for consumers to care deeply about your product just by using them. What does organic even mean anymore? To solve this food, like all consumer consumables, will have to lean hard into transparency — both around the final product AND their supply chain.

When you open the discussion around transparency of the supply chain it’s important to be realistic. Have humility about what you’re doing now, and what you’re trying to change. We loved how the company ReGrained handled it earlier this year when faced with the challenge of a compostable wrapper that didn’t work.

ReGrained was the first food company to market with an entirely compostable package, unfortunately, the packaging didn’t keep their energy bars fresh. Instead of quietly replacing their packaging with new material, they wrote a blog explaining how this process had failed, how they struggled to find a solution, and what they were going to do in the future. They pledged to continue to strive toward 100% compostable packaging and included a call to action for other brands, distributors, and retailers to follow suit. What could have been a huge marketing snafu ended up being a great and inspiring story. They helped build their brand and created equity with their customers through this transparency. 

This is how to bring the consumer along with you in the process and make them a part of your story. That’s exactly what brands like Patagonia are doing with their open-source tech or Everlane’s truth in-process campaign. Trust us, the consumers care more about the truth than the badge. 

SF Design Week Future of Food Speakers

David Lester, Co-founder at Olipop
Philip Saneski, Vice President of Product at ReGrained
Reilly Brock, Content Manager at Imperfect Produce
Jon Vallance, Creative Director at Pearlfisher San Francisco



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