Future Ready: Decoding the next 30 years of food and packaging
The rise in digital technologies and innovations has created a paradigm shift affecting the entire global food system—from farms and supermarkets to our kitchens and dinner tables. Here’s a glimpse into what the future holds
Digitization is no longer just a buzzword: from retail and IT to banking and logistics, businesses across the spectrum are looking to get in on what is popularly being hailed as the fourth industrial revolution. “Enabling digital transformation carries several benefits: Among others, it allows brands to empower employees, engage customers, optimize operations, and transform products,” explained Meetul Patel, GM – Microsoft, at a leadership seminar organized by Tetra Pak India in Gurgaon, recently.
At the same time, there’s a sharp difference between previous industrial revolutions and this one: technology is no longer the domain of complex machines and industrial algorithms alone; it is, in fact, literally at our fingertips. Digital technologies are transforming our lives in new, profound, and personal ways. “Today, there are more devices connected to the internet than there are humans,” said Libby Costin, vice president– Marketing, Tetra Pak South Asia, East Asia and Oceania, at the leadership event that marked Tetra Pak’s 30 years in India.
This increased connectivity has impacted all businesses alike, but its effect on food and nutrition is particularly interesting. “Just as the industrial revolution transformed food, the wave of digital technologies underway currently will also drastically alter how we grow, manufacture, package, and eat food,” explains Costin.
Globally, this hyper-connectedness also means moving to a distributed value web. “Every farm, every grocery store, every kitchen, and all the packaging in between, should not be thought of as part of a linear value-chain but instead as nodes in a distributed network,” explains Costin.
To get a deeper perspective, Tetra Pak commissioned the Institute for the Future (IFTF), an independent research group based in Silicon Valley, to help identify the disruptions and opportunities that will impact the food and packaging industry in 2030. Here’s what their findings reveal for food industries around the world, and particularly those in India.
■Automating the value web
In the years ahead, automation and intelligence will be two critical components of the food system, especially in fast-urbanizing nations like India. In addition, technological advancements will also be able to address food challenges brought about by such rapid development. Solutions will include smart and vertical farming systems that can use new urban infrastructure as a platform for high-yield food production; smart packaging that will reduce spoilage and other sources of waste; and smart networks that enable new forms of manufacturing and distribution.
Today, the scope of applying digital technology across the entire food web, from sourcing to distribution, is immense. For instance, the Bengaluru-based Hyperworks Imaging has designed CheckoutWiz, a retail product that uses computer vision to monitor fresh produce and determine the exact variety of produce bought in order to increase cashier efficiency and accuracy. This type of technology points to a future where smart monitoring can keep inventory, track levels of freshness, fight theft, and even provide insights around user experiences to drive innovations in store and display design. “A digital layer of intelligence won’t only be used to monitor food in stores, but will also be embedded into individual foods and their packaging,” points out Costin.
■Packaging that speaks
Another major zone of innovation that is likely to open up over the next decade is that of smart packages. Essentially, smart packaging leverages smart materials and programmable nanotechnology to enable a package to sense or measure various attributes of the product and then communicate that information to users by sending, for example, a signal to a smartphone. There are already several local innovations taking this idea forward around the world.
In one instance, a team of engineers at UC Berkeley, in collaboration with colleagues at Taiwan’s National Chiao Tung University, have developed a 3D-printed smart cap with embedded sensors for milk cartons which are capable of detecting spoiled milk. In another, researchers at Clarkson University in the US have developed a low-cost, portable, paper-based label that can detect not only food spoilage but also food contamination.
These technologies also open the way for enabling dynamic pricing in the future, based on aspects such as time until spoilage, product scarcity, popularity, time left until the store closes, or even more personal information about the consumer (like social media profile or credit card purchasing history).
■The people’s network
The last point doesn’t seem too far off, considering that in India alone, the mobile broadband adoption rate is forecasted to grow more than four-fold by 2020, with more unique mobile subscriber additions than anywhere in the world. This indicates that the stage is set for crowd-powered food systems to emerge—a world of personal economies where anyone in India with a smart phone and internet connectivity can become a part of the food value web.
Here’s an example of how crowd-sourcing is also helping Indians fight food waste and hunger at the same time: The mobile app, No Food Waste, finds restaurants, hotels, one-off events, and other places where there is excess food and distributes that food in eight Indian cities, feeding 500 people a day in each. Anyone on the app can geo-tag a suggested hunger spot, which is then verified and included in No Food Waste’s distribution database.
As we look toward the future and bringing everyone in India and around the world online, these emerging personal economies are going to serve as zones of innovation and fundamentally change the way food systems function, explains Costin.
As our present continues to grow increasingly unhealthy, the future will herald a freedom from one-size-fits-all diets: Consumers will show a preference for personalized meals that meet their needs, many of which will be assessed by them after online research. In addition, food packaging will need to dynamically display health information, and food manufacturers will need to have agile processes to meet the individualized demands of consumers.
Recent studies have reported that 74% of Indian consumers claim to actively look for products and services that help maintain a healthy lifestyle; 30% consumers in India are willing to spend more on products they perceive as ‘better’. This indicates an incentive for manufacturers for investing in food safety, as well as in innovative packaging solutions to attract the modern consumer.
What do millennials want?
The modern mindset brings its own set of challenges and opportunities for brands today. What influences millennials in the shopping aisle and how will their behavioural trends affect the future of food and packaging? Jeff Fromm, author of Marketing to Millennials and Millennials with Kids, provides a few insights on how brands can innovate to sustain loyalty in this brave new world.
Fromm’s research indicates that 80% of millennials believe packaging to be moderately to very important in their purchasing decision of retail grocery products. In addition, millennial consumers look for five key attributes when picking a single portioned package off the shelf: how it looks, how easy it is to carry, how easy it is to drink from, whether it can be resealed, and how environmentally friendly it is.
The last factor is particularly crucial today when nations are struggling to deal with widespread resource limitations, food wastage, and the accompanying environmental damage. Here, Fromm points out that millennial customers are more likely to engage with brands that they perceive are environmentally conscious and committed to health and food safety.
■73% of millennials say they try to buy products in packaging that is recyclable, while 59% say they look for beverages in packaging that is made with renewable materials.
■69% have changed what they buy in order to avoid artificial foods and beverages
■72% say that packaging that keeps beverages fresh without preservatives is the most important quality for healthy beverage packaging (Source: 2016, EcoFocus Trend Study)
“Millennial customers believe in brands that stand for more than the bottom line,” explains Fromm. Therefore, to hold their attention and be a part of their status updates, it’s important that brands, too, behave responsibly and communicate in ways that resonate with their customers. “From telling a story, brands have to now start ‘living’ the story,” he adds.
Being future ready
As a market leader in co-creating and conceptualizing products that suit evolving consumer needs, has been consistently ‘living’ its story for decades now. The brand’s India chapter—now three decades strong—is replete with examples of innovations in processing, packaging, services and sustainability—all of which have resulted in partnerships with top players in the country’s F&B industry, in addition to regulatory bodies like FSSAI, and direct association with consumer through outreach projects.
However, as present research indicates, the world and its eating habits are changing at a remarkable pace; constant innovations addressing this transition while also respecting the futures and livelihoods of those concerned is the key to moving forward. Here, Tetra Pak India has its sights set on the next 30 years with a range of new solutions and services in the offing, some of which are already on supermarket shelves around the world.
Each innovation developed by the company is born out of the need to solve a specific consumer / partner need or challenge. For example, the need for the ‘bottle’ experience married with carton benefits led to the Tetra Evero, the first ever carton bottle for milk and dairy products. Similarly, the Tetra Top, a head turning, contemporary package with great on-the-go features, built with more than 80% plant-based materials was launched recently. A third, and extremely visual example is the Tetra Recart, a light-weight, easy to use and environment-friendly retortable carton that is a direct alternative for cans, and ideal for canned fruits, sauces, purees, soups and other shelf-stable products containing particulates of any size.
Spanning the areas of food & beverage packaging, processing, services, and sustainability, Tetra Pak labs around the world are brimming with ideas. Apart from storefront innovations, engineers are also creating complete end-to-end solutions for food processing and packaging incorporating the latest AR/VR technologies, automation solutions through Tetra Pak PlantMaster for greater control and operational efficiencies, and the complete digitization of services through tools such as the Microsoft HoloLens.
The future may be digital, but it’s ultimately shaped by individuals who can perceive and transform challenges into possibilities. Tetra Pak has been leading this revolution for decades now through innovative technologies and solutions that enable both consumers and brands to explore and redefine their relationships with food, communities, as well as with each other.
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