Moonshot _ 01
The time is ripe for a food revolution. When food is abundant and has become a matter of course, when food should no longer just feed us, but also satisfy our hunger for self-optimization – then something urgently needs to change. And the signs are indeed pointing to change: the age of industrial illusory diversity is coming to an end and the age of genuine individual food diversity has already begun.
The supermarket shelves are still full of alleged superfoods and industrial lifestyle products – from wellness sausages to detox teas and anti-aging chocolate. But this brightly colored variety is deceptive. Because beyond the sometimes absurd promises of salvation, we have long since lost the inner connection to our food. The milk just comes from the refrigerator, the eggs from the carton, the honey from the glass.
At the same time, more and more people are realising that food can indeed make us healthy – but not through generic industrial products, but through a conscious and very individually composed diet. At the same time, the limits of this diet are no longer defined by the assortment of the supermarket around the corner. In the digital age of direct information, communication and distribution channels, we have access at all times to a genuine variety of valuable foods that meet our individual needs and are good for us.
“We have focused too long on the masses and the numbers, while living in a world of niches!”
The average person and craft lie
Cheap is king. Unfortunately, we are also programmed to look for the lowest price for food. Test institutes and journalists have also contributed to this by comparing and grading the utility value of different foods for “normal” people. The problem is that this average person does not exist. Moreover, such ratings tend to ignore the subtle and often decisive differences in quality. The result is a decreasing willingness to spend a little more money on something special.
So cheap is good. Cheap and traditional is even better. For this reason, countless companies are pretending to be traditional craftsmen – and yet only sell the same mediocre and industrially manufactured products. The more and more aggressively the subject of craftsmanship is marketed as a promise of quality, the less it seems to redeem the corresponding products. After all, no one deals with terms such as “craftsmanship” and “tradition” more generously and aggressively than the major brands in the food industry.
The new proximity
Especially in the food sector, people are increasingly turning away from globalised markets. Instead, they look for orientation in manageable spaces and rediscover traditional crafts in their immediate vicinity – from bakers to butchers to fishermen.
Uncritical consumers become responsible partners of food producers, who not only learn about the production, procurement and preparation of food, but also make demands on its processing and quality.
The points of reference for this cultural return are not necessarily producers and suppliers with a long company history. Although this can be helpful, trust is not gained solely through tradition – but primarily through a credible respectful treatment of food and the resulting quality.
Established brands under pressure
The development of the food market is gaining further momentum as a result of the digital revolution: e-commerce and new possibilities for direct marketing are focusing more on people’s needs, transforming entire industries and making it easier for new food brands to enter the market.
Innovative start-ups get in touch with their customers in a unique way. Young idealists and innovative food lovers develop new ideas and offer surprising solutions for individual needs. Small and medium-sized companies oppose the uniform trend with imaginative food creations and thus put established brands under pressure.
Fermented kombucha with living cultures instead of the dead kombucha uniformity of the beverage industry, innovative chocolate creations with cocoa beans from exotic countries instead of uniform milk chocolate, or burger patties made of plant or insect meat: Such innovations cannot be expected from an established industry that is not only caught up in its traditional thinking but also takes far too much time to bring a new product to market.
These disadvantages weigh heavily, especially against the background of the rapid developments in nutritional medicine. After all, the new understanding of the human genome and the microbiome requires new solutions if we want to participate in the market for personalised food.
The return to diversity
Our digital age is the perfect environment for the return of diversity and mass customization. Internet and smartphone give us all the opportunity to become experts in food raw materials and their refinement with a little effort. For this purpose, an endless supply of goods is available virtually around the clock via online trading.
It is impossible for stationary trade to keep up with the limited space available. While a well-assorted supermarket has around 60,000 items in its assortment, a staggering 232 million items were available on amazon.com in 2013. And this gap is widening further: just two years later, the US online retailer had more than doubled its range and already offered 488 million items for sale.
It is the large rat tail of slow-turning C-products (English “Long Tail” , see Fig. 1) that distinguishes an online retailer from the stationary retailers who make the bulk of their sales with a few fast-turning A-products and complete their range with a few mid-turning or B-products. Slow-turning C-products are not worthwhile for a stationary dealer. The future obviously belongs to online niche markets.
Of course, supermarket operators are also aware that with their limited standard product range, they are becoming the dinosaurs of stationary trade that are threatened with extinction. They, too, have discovered the new start-up food variety for themselves and are trying to profit from this trend by means of promotionally effective special placements. An Austrian food retailer has aptly described this approach as “fairy dust” for its own image.
The new food world
Instead, they are increasingly looking for quality and added value when buying a product. In addition to values such as authenticity, health and sustainability, a fair price/performance ratio that does not exploit and overreach and reflects the true costs of food production is gaining in importance. These aspects are particularly important for educated groups with high purchasing power who want a fairer and better world.
In order to be relevant to this group, producers and retailers must make a credible commitment and build a genuine relationship with their customers. It’s about meeting the changing expectations that Millenials and Generation Z have of contemporary consumption – and winning their hearts in the process.
In doing so, Zeit works for the principle of craftsmanship. Bakers, of all people, are an example of this development. Because in the meantime, the number of genuine, authentic thoroughbred bakers in Germany is rising again: men and women who see their craft as a vocation and reinvent it with passion every day. Bakers who understand that grain and all other ingredients have something to do with nature and life. Just like the process of production, with which they transform products of nature into a piece of culture.
The new food world has all the possibilities to counteract the current consumer mania of our society with something meaningful: High-quality and nutritious food is the key to healthy eating habits and thus a prerequisite for more normal-weight and healthy people.
This also involves using natural, regional and valuable raw materials that are in danger of being forgotten. In combination with traditional production methods, they are used to produce food of exceptional quality, which reflects the appreciation of craftsmanship as well as respect for mankind.
There is much to be done. Let’s do it!
 Chris Anderson, The Long Tail – Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, 2006
work in progress…