Sharon Colgan, Programme Manager, Origin Green, Bord Bia – Irish Food Board
‘Big food faces annihilation unless it moves with millennials on health’ was the attention grabbing headline in a recent Guardian Sustainable Business article by Alison Moodie.
Millennials and their demand for healthier, fresher and more sustainable foods have big food manufacturers and retailers scrambling to adapt to their needs. John Stanton, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia (my alma mater) explains that consumers are changing so much and so fast and it’s the millennials – consumers now in their 20’s and 30’s – who are driving this ‘distributive change’ due to their unlimited access to huge amounts of information on the internet. Online, consumers are exposed to the health effects of products and issues such as sustainable sourcing which in turn, are creating a demand for hyper transparency in the quest to know more information about the products they consume.
Some companies are responding well to these changing needs. The growth of healthy, convenience food such as meal kits and freshly prepared meals from retailers and delivery services is satisfying the demand for both health and sustainability. Hans Taparia, an assistant professor at the New York University Stern School of Business explains that meals kits tend to be more nutritionally balanced and many of them use more sustainably grown produce and meat. He also argues that the carbon footprint is likely to be lower as the delivery truck is like a ‘shared ride’ versus everyone driving to the grocery store by themselves. He cites US companies like Purple Carrot who offer only plant based meals, Sun Basket who use meat free of antibiotics and artificial hormones and Munchery who donate 1% of every order to a non-profit of their choice, as examples of companies who are really satisfying these changing needs.
In contrast, some big companies are taking a short-term view instead of making fundamental shifts in their behaviour: offering gluten free and high protein products that are perceived healthier and yet have high sugar content. As a result, Taparia says that ‘millennials are turning to smaller companies that they feel are more in line with their values of sustainability and “real” food.’ So here’s my out-take: As big food companies continue to scramble and skirt around the edges trying to satisfy millennial demands for healthy sustainable food, there appears to be a clear business opportunity for smaller companies who are making real fundamental shifts in their behaviour, through the Origin Green programme.