The Food Industry is Pushing Innovation to New Heights

There’s a lot we can learn from the leaders who decided to be proactive rather than reactive, who quickly identified the potential benefits of technical innovation and created advantages during a time when few seemed to exist. They’ve offered us a glimpse of how the food industry is capable taking a leadership position in technological innovation and shown us a path to attract new customers, especially online, in ways previously unimagined or unavailable.

And this demand for technical innovation is leading to new food industry applications, like HoloLamp’s glasses-free, hands-free augmented reality for restaurants. How very novel, and yet also very engaging for our future restaurant customers.

Food products themselves have also become a source of innovation. Monica McGurk, Kellogg’s new chief growth officer, emphasized a continued growth strategy focused on innovative new products with the launch of Incogmeato and Leaf Jerky. The retail launch of these two product lines signified Kellogg’s entry into a booming market for plant-based meat alternatives. Even with COVID-19 putting most of the country on lockdown, plant-based meat alternatives are still seeing record growth.

And the innovation continues. A recent TD Bank restaurant survey found that 34% of respondents believe increased automation will strongly impact industry growth in 2020. Some national franchises have invested in automated services, including self-serve kiosks and mobile loyalty apps, to reward customers based on their spending habits. Despite challenges of COVID-19, adoption of these innovations will continue to grow in popularity. In fact, brands that invested early, like Starbucks and Chipotle, found themselves ahead of the curve, while others are racing to catch up.

Technical Innovation: From Buzzword to Best Practices

These kinds of innovations wouldn’t have been imagined some years ago. Neither market forces nor consumer expectations drove for innovation in this direction. But in times like these, food industry innovation is a force to be reckoned with. Now, “foodtech” is the new buzzword. Even private and public investors are getting in on the act by seeking out new investments in a category they never would have considered. Fast Company even has a new category specific for listing the 10 Most Innovative Food Companies of 2020.

Together with other industry innovators, you’ve made sure legacy systems were more integrated and cross-departmental communications were coordinated. From that, your food companies have gained the benefits of digital transformation. Margins have improved, some costs are down, and customer services and relations are improved.

Not only did your business benefit, but also this emphasis on technical innovation helped position you for the unfathomable retail environment we’re all in right now. Again, well done.

But hang on, technology advances on and so too must you. Technological innovation is a process, not a project. It requires bold leadership, talent and a culture that supports it. Success is temporary, and it’s only assured when its implementation comes from a top-to-bottom execution across all business disciplines.

Technical innovation allows companies to better navigate volatility and thus test new ideas at speeds and prices not not previously thought possible. And innovation is becoming more efficient and cheaper with new adaptions. This makes it the lifeblood of long-term growth for companies who realize its full potential.

Follow Technology as Much as Trends

Technology evolves with innovation. And that innovation leads to new trends. Rather than pursuing trends as a means to gain market share or grow your consumer base, keep watch on where the technology is evolving.

As we navigate the months ahead, these changes may be seen in new capabilities, new functional characteristics, or even new applications. Each of these will build toward improving and enhancing the customer experience.

Innovation at Every Level of Leadership

Make innovation an institutional habit. That will keep it on your radar when a new opportunity, market or product presents itself.

Technology alone is no guarantee – it must embody your vision for the future of your business. Make innovation part of your operating institution. You lead the business team and direct the goals and KPIs for your business. Add an innovation KPI to your goals, and include innovation as part of your ongoing performance metrics.

Integrating innovation as an institutional part of your management process will ensure it thrives and continues to deliver on its promise long after the initial investment.

Your role as chief information officer can become the key to ensuring innovation continues to develop within your organization. Add the role of chief innovation officer to your CIO function – who better? You know the technology your business runs on. And you know the functional requirements necessary to meet your business goals. These two positions give you a unique perspective on where new technologies can be applied, how they might integrate within your existing environment and how to best measure the results and output from new innovations within the system.

A lot of research is conducted to better understand consumer needs and wants. With technical innovation, understanding how your consumers use technology is just as important. Knowing the ‘how’ will give you insight into their familiarity with the technology, how they make use of it in other applications, and expose potential new uses that can apply more directly to your food marketing efforts.

Only the Innovators Will Survive

Andy Grove, president of Intel, was once famously quoted as saying, “Only the paranoid survive.” But the new mantra really should be, “Only the innovators survive.”

And in these times of sudden change facing the food industry, being able to innovate and find new efficient ways to deliver your food products and services to your customers will ensure long-term success and growth.

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Keith Butler VP/Digital Strategist EvansHardy+Young
Keith Butler, VP/Digital Strategist

Keith is one of the early leaders of the tech revolution, with a career reaching back to a senior role at AOL, and spanning startups to Fortune 100 companies. But we recruited Keith (twice, actually) not for his past achievements, but for his current leadership capabilities in the digital world. His team’s recent redesign of the California Walnuts website earned a perfect score of 100 from Google Analytics.