Interview: “Growing Complexities Challenge Traditional Food PR Concepts”
For many food brands, the success of their communication strategies will define whether their products will be loved or ignored by consumers – not an easy task given rapidly changing attitudes and behaviours.
But, effective communication is of crucial importance for all parties involved with either food production, distribution or consumption: agricultural and food producers, retail chains, supermarkets and, of course, consumers. Food-related communication is very complex: The growing awareness for sustainable supply methods of high-quality food products, the impact of agricultural production methods on the environment as well as an array of different political, health-related and ethical considerations create a truly difficult environment for this, to top it off, also emotionally charged topic.
Reason enough for Ubermetrics to speak with Stephan Becker-Sonnenschein of the Global Food Summit – which took place for the third time in March 2019 under the motto “Foodtropolis – Are cities changing the way we perceive food and nature?”. We spoke with Stefan about innovation and trends in the food industry, the role of communication as well as challenges within Food PR.
What are the objectives of the Global Food Summit?
We want to raise awareness for innovations in food as we need a “Next Generation Food” if we want to feed nine billion people in 2050. The required radical changes in food production and supply are already starting to emerge – driven by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. New, also digital technologies enable new production methods and new food compositions. Vertical farms applying sustainable methods, insects and vegetable proteins, cultured meat to replace livestock farming or using algae as an energy source – all these topics fuel the discussions around resource-friendly food production methods. We want to involve science, business and the wider society in the discussions and show the current state of play with the help of practical, international examples.
We’re very happy that the majority of this year’s sponsors already confirmed their support for the Global Food Summit in 2020 and new sponsors have joined as well. The 4th German Global Food Summit 2020 will take place on 25 and 26 March 2020 in Munich.
What are the currently most hotly debated issues within the food industry?
Central to all discussions is how much market share new methods of food production will take in the future and how this will impact conventional and organic farming. Another important topic is price evolution: Will new production methods help to maintain current pricing levels or will pricing levels decrease? These are very important topics on a local level as well as internationally since access to fresh, high-quality food for all has to remain the main objective.
Why is communication within the food industry so different?
Every single one of us is a food expert because we all eat at least once every day, we test very different types of food and from that develop our personal and in parts very complex system of likes and dislikes. In addition, many of us use this individual expertise to help define their social status. That’s why, in countries with a food surplus, we see many niche products that are equally driven by looking to achieve objectives around sustainability as well as personal health. So, what makes communication around the topic of food so special is that it has to inject scientific and rational insights into an environment driven by emotions and attitudes.
However, the international dimension of the issue doesn’t get the attention it needs. Many of us ignore the problems Bangladesh, China and many countries in Africa face – in those countries, discussions about food are not about personal preferences but about being able to eat at all. The Global Food Summit wants to raise awareness for these issues.
Tastings and the taste experience are the most important communication vehicles within the food industry, closely linked to arguments around the positive impact certain food items have on the individual. The third most important vehicle is the respective food item’s sustainability footprint – but current price levels often keep consumers from following through with their sustainability intentions.
What is the biggest challenge for food PR today?
The conditions are optimal since there are many niche categories with fantastic products and PR pros can focus on clearly defined target groups. At the same time, “one size fits all” strategies and tactics continue to lose their effectiveness. Today’s plurality of opinions, expectations and opportunities challenges traditional one-to-many, push-based communication concepts riding on one central theme. The multi-faceted nature of an ever-changing food industry makes it simply very difficult to agree on mega communication themes.
Which role does Market Intelligence play within the food industry?
It’s about recognising opportunities: half of the population is open to testing new food products such as cultured meat, insect protein or vegetables produced with vertical farming methods. Such a high number of “early adopters” is good news for innovation. If only a quarter of these consumers welcome such innovations into their daily routines, this will translate into a market share of roughly 10%. This exceeds the current market share organic products hold. It’s a market worth billions.
Check out our blog post (in German) for more information on how consumers view innovations in food: ‘Food: Verbraucher sehen Insekten, Laborfleisch & Co positiv‘.
Why is it that German food and agricultural associations don’t talk about innovation?
It’s a mix of insecurity and various considerations on how to successfully invest for the future. Typically we talk about planning cycles that can easily last ten or twenty years. So, you can easily invest too early or kick off things too late.
Also, today, policies favour conventional approaches which is why a lot of courage and effort is required to test new concepts and succeed in overcoming current practices. But, I’m pleased to see that many companies and other organisations already understand this challenge and start to communicate accordingly. We gladly support them.
How do new technologies change the food industry?
New technologies impact the industry on a fundamental level. The combined effects of new players entering the market – not necessarily with a background in food -, new trading models, new personalised products, new production methods and a highly decentralised production will create a a flurry of new food producers within peri-urban or urban areas. But, rural areas will definitely continue to play a major role in the production of grains, corn, rice and other products which need larger production areas.
What are the most important trends in food PR?
One big trend is definitely personalised nutrition with a view to optimise different, specific aspects of our lives. But, it is essential for communicators to give room to all three dimensions of sustainability: economic, social and ecological. Proposed scenarios of a world without any human or economic activity as a solution to the sustainability issue is simply unethical and wrong. In this discussion, we should consider some facts and data from the last centuries which proves that we got better in all relevant areas. There’s less hunger, less poverty, more education, lower child mortality rates and humans also live longer. There is a great book on this which I recommend to read: “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling.
The Ubermetrics team thanks Mr Becker-Sonnenschein wholeheartedly for this interesting interview.