Is There Public Permission for Technological Innovation in Food?

Melissa Kinch speaking at Future Food Tech.

From feeding a growing world population with the same land and resources, eliminating food waste, improving nutrition for people everywhere, and reducing farming’s environmental impact, our world has a lot of food challenges on its plate.

Investments in food and agriculture technology and R&D are exploding, and interest from Fortune 500 companies and Silicon Valley startups to use advanced science to solve our food problems is hotter than ever. At the same time, there is a growing narrative of concern among consumers regarding science and technology infiltrating their food supply. The challenge then for food innovators and communicators is this: With so many questions when it comes to food R&D, how do we bridge the gap of understanding?

Ketchum’s Food and Technology practice counselors explored this communications gap at the recent San Francisco Future Food-Tech conference in San Francisco where food research leaders, entrepreneurs, agricultural leaders and venture capitalists come together to explore the technologies changing our food system.

Through the discussion, we shared some thoughts on how food companies and innovators can earn permission from consumers to use cutting edge technology in food production. To earn permission, we emphasized the following:

  1. Make transparency your True North.
    If your science isn’t easily understandable by the average consumers, you have a problem. Transparency is answering the questions consumers really have, not just sharing facts.
  2. Prepare for a crisis.
    Food can make people sick. If you are providing food, or involved in food production in any way, you have to be prepared for something to go wrong. Make sure your sourcing and safety processes are top notch. And have a crisis plan in place.
  3. Play nice in the sandbox.
    Don’t make enemies you don’t need by using exaggerated claims that imply your competitors aren’t sustainable or healthy. It is too easy to make marketing claims that don’t hold up. This will backfire over time.

Upcoming Food Trends:

Many other engaging topics dominated the discussion at both Future Food-Tech and Future Ag-Tech. Here are four key trends that stood out that food and agriculture brands should be paying attention to:

  1. Alternative Proteins:
    From plant based to insects based to grown in a laboratory, the quest for proteins that don’t come from animals is booming. This trend is taking hold in large food companies as well as with food startups. How will consumers react in the marketplace?
  2. Microbiome:
    Is customizing nutrition based on bacteria in our guts the future? More research is planned and more food companies are investing in learning more – and developing new products.
  3. CRISPR/Gene Editing:
    Although so much of today’s food conversation is about GMOs, a more advanced technology is quickly emerging in plant and animal science (as well as in human medicine). CRISPR is faster, more precise. What challenges will it face in the marketplace?
  4. Big Data on Farms:
    Growing more food with less land and inputs such as water, fertilizer and pesticides is critical for the future of both the human population as well as the health of our planet. As farmers become more and more innovative, new technologies are making the collection of data on every acre of farmland possible – and this data can be crunched to make the dream of feeding more with less a possibility.

Melissa is partner and North America portfolio leader for Technology and Food, Agriculture & Ingredients, specializing in corporate communications, issues management, business-to-business branding, corporate branding and strategic philanthropy/CSR.