Meaningful Innovation: Giving Consumers What They Want

PC Musthafa, Co-Founder & CEO, iD FreshMusthafa is an alumni of prestigious IIM-B, Musthafa has a keen eye for spotting trends and new innovations.

The disruption in the food industry, especially over the last couple of years, has been phenomenal. Whether it's the impact of the farm-to-fork movement, or the growing interest in foodomics (study of food and nutrition through the application and integration of advanced technologies), or even Big Data's role in boosting supply chain efficiencies. We have been witnessing transformation on an unprecedented scale.

No doubt, technology is the driving force. However, without the demand and opportunity for innovation ­ chiefly due to the changes in societal and consumer behaviours - this evolution in the food industry wouldn't have been possible. Changing consumer expectations are inspiring meaningful innovation in the food industry, which is not limited to the popular food ordering and delivery businesses. The packaged food business, in my opinion, is the perfect example of sound technological innovations that are led by a customer-centric approach.

Know your Customer
What do customers want? The packaged food industry, more than any other industry in the world is obsessed with this question. We spend a lot of time, money and resources to truly understand our customers and gain deep insights into their needs. The challenge is not merely to keep pace with, but to stay several steps ahead of the consumer trends.

Research shows that new-age consumers across the globe value convenience the most. Anything that saves time and makes life easier is a big draw. As innovators and entrepreneurs, our job is to cater to this growing demand. Make foods that are easy to access and consume. Invest in smart packaging, facilitated by cutting-edge technologies.

Unlike in other businesses, driving commercial traction alone cannot suffice in the food industry. Given that there's such a strong emotional factor associated with food, our innovations need to be aligned with
the emotional quotient and lifestyles of consumers.

Studies discern that Indian consumers today not only want convenience, but also more nutritional content, freshness, and variety in their foods. The best way to cater to this demand is to go back to our roots. Traditional Indian foods have paved the way for a customer-centred approach to innovation. It's not just about meeting the ever-growing consumer expectations, but also about consistently delivering on the promise of enhanced customer experience.

Making healthy, authentic Indian meals accessible and affordable for all is as much about embracing state-of-the-art technologies as it is about keeping things simple

Get Smarter
Across the globe, it has been well established that single-use and non-resalable plastic packaging is not the most effective option when it comes to preventing food deterioration. The best option, experts concur, is to use smart plastic packaging that can help extend the life of the food, even after the packaging has been opened.

The biggest challenge, I believe, for any food entrepreneur today is to become more responsible in the use of limited resources available to us. Packaging innovation, by way of smart and hygienic solutions, is a potent means to achieve that goal.

Similarly, as the demand for nutritious ingredients and environmentally-conscious sourcing becomes more pronounced, businesses are now taking steps to phase out artificial ingredients, such as flavours, colours, and preservatives. In keeping with the evolving consumer preferences, home-cooked foods, healthier sugar alternatives, plant-based proteins, and 100 percent natural ingredients, without any chemicals, have been gaining more ground in recent times.

According to an interesting study published recently, more than one-third of food manufacturers in Singapore are already investing in innovation. Whether it's the use of new ingredients or smart packaging, food enterprises, including startups as well as global leaders, are seeing the business and social value in innovation. The trend is catching up in India as well, with more players waking up to the tremendous potential of disruptive technologies in the food industry.

Balancing Act
We are what we eat, goes the old ad-age. So, to combat the problems that plague us in the 21st century, whether it's the global health crises or environmental calamities, we need to reconsider and reinvent our food processes ­ what we eat and how we eat.

The traditions of food and cooking run very deep in Indian house-holds. To venture into that personal space, food enterprises will have to adopt complete product transparency. Only once consumer trust is established, can opportunities and innovation truly benefit the entire ecosystem.

Making healthy, authentic Indian meals accessible and affordable for all is as much about embracing state-of-the-art technologies as it is about keeping things simple. It's a tough balancing act that demands a solid foundation and conducive environment, where innovation can meet tradition.