When most people think of conscientious farm practices, they often think of organic-like practices – pesticide and fertilizer usage, animal welfare, natural genetics. They also think of environmental impacts -sustainable energy, methane emissions, reforestation. While these are all worthwhile goals, an overlooked factor of consciousness farming is soil health. Healthy soil both leads to healthier foods and could hold a significant key combatting global warming.
Consumers and brands are currently both largely sleeping on soil, but it’s a topic that’s rising in popularity. In the near future, brands that maintain good soil practices could be positioned to be at the forefront of the next big trend.
The first and most obvious benefit of having healthy soil is growing healthy food. Anyone who’s ever read to the bottom of a NUTRITION FACTS label, or taken a multivitamin knows the importance of certain minerals and organic molecules in our daily diets.
These compounds mostly originate in farm soil. As a crop draws up water to grow, it also pulls in the minerals and organics of the soil around it. What many people don’t know, though, is that the original presence of these compounds is the direct result of the living nature of the soil surrounding the plant. Soil is teeming with life. Every cubic inch of soil contains billions of microorganisms.
These bacteria and small animals help the soil stay rich with vitamins and minerals – replenishing compounds consumed by the plants and recycling natural fertilizers in the field. When these microorganisms are depleted or overworked, either by over-farming the land or the use of destructive chemicals, the health of the soil suffers. The crops, in turn, have fewer vitamins and minerals to absorb, and the harvested food becomes less healthy.
If, however, soil is properly cared for and protected, the food it grows can be much healthier, and often, better tasting.
Healthy soil can also protect the environment. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is currently 412 parts per million (ppm) and rising fast. This increase continues to contribute to global warming and has been linked to a rise in some weather-based natural disasters.
Most attempts to stem global warming focus on reducing our emissions, but carbon sequestration could contribute immensely. Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide molecules that are already circulating in the atmosphere. Some concepts and prototypes feature machines that clean the air in this way, but what many people don’t know is that soil is already doing it for us.
Because carbon is so essential to organic compounds found in microbial ecosystems, soil has the ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. The more organic matter and living things in the soil, the more carbon it can hold. Therefore, the more microorganisms in the soil, the better it is at cleaning our air.
Healthy soil isn’t just healthy for us. It’s healthy for our entire planet.
Both consumers and food producers are starting to become more and more aware of the importance of healthy soil. And it’s a trend we’re expecting to rise even more.
Cutting edge companies like Trace Genomics are currently mapping the composition and health of soil with unprecedented accuracy. It won’t be long before the data accrued from this new science reaches actionable potential for both brands and consumers. Want to be at the forefront of health and sustainability in 2 years? Be at the forefront of soil.
Already have soil sensors you need integrated into the rest of your system? Shoot us a message and let’s talk about added value you could gain on each of your products.
Everyone likes to talk about millennial’s consumer trends: what they’re buying, how they’re buying it, and what they’re doing next. But within the world consumer economy, millennials are no longer top of the heap. That title belongs to Generation Z.
Generation Z (commonly referred to as Gen Z) are all people who are now between 8 and 25 years old, and currently make up a whopping 26% of the US population. Their purchasing power goes even further – this year, they’re predicted to become 40% of all consumers, spending a total of $143 billion nationwide.
They’re also generous buyers, with 75% of Gen Zers spending more than half the money available to them every month. Even the Gen Z members without their own income wield enormous influence, with 70% of family food purchases being influenced by their preferences.
These numbers will only increase as more and more of Gen Z members come of age and enter the workforce. So how do we keep ahead of their preferences? Here are six Generation Z trends every food and agriculture company should know.
Compared to previous generations, Gen Z is much more health-conscious. They prefer nutritious products and are much more likely to look for organic and natural food choices. They’re also willing to pay more for the right products. A recent survey involving 30,000 consumers across 60 countries, found that not only are Gen Zers looking for healthier options, but they’re willing to pay a premium price for it. While Baby Boomers and Millennials will pay some premium for healthier food (21% and 32% respectively), a whopping 41% of Gen Zers will pay more for food they perceive as better for them.
Gen Zers are constantly on their phones, but they’re not just consuming content. They’re talking. Gen Zers are always communicating with their friends, with strangers, and with brands. Gone are the days when companies can expect marketing to be a one-way street. Gen Zers expect two-way communication with their favorite food brands. 40% of Gen Zers provide digital reviews often, and 76% report the expectation that brands respond to their feedback.
The onus is now on food companies to listen and adjust. Those who adapt will thrive.
The picture-perfect, pie-in-the-sky advertisements of yesteryear are out. Whereas older generations could be gulled in with unrealistic marketing messages, Gen Zers see through them. Instead, today’s young people prefer a pragmatic, truthful view of the world. 63% of Gen Zers trust ads showing real people over ads showing celebrities or an unrealistically perfect life.
The world’s well-being is important to Gen Z, and they’re willing to take action to protect it. Among Gen Zers…
•76% are concerned about humanities impact on the world
•60% want their job to impact the world
•26% currently volunteer for charitable causes
•60% are willing to boycott or support a brand pending its stance on a social or political issue.
While other generations adopted the internet and mobile technology, Generation Z was born into and raised in it. Digital connection is a natural extension of themselves and how they live their day to day lives. This means not only ordering products and food online, but also using the internet to research before they buy. Of Generation Z consumers, 47% reported researching potential purchases on mobile devices while in brick-and-mortar stores. That means that even in grocery stores and restaurants, Gen Z’s digital connection can’t be ignored. As such, food companies should look for ways to provide the information they crave in an easy-to-reach, intuitive way.
We saved the best news for last: more so than any past generation, Gen Zers are foodies. They care about what they eat, and love to do it. 19% of US Gen Zers report that food is their passion and an essential part of their lifestyle and identity, compared to 16% of millennials. It’s not just fashion companies that can now be lifestyle brands – food companies are now welcome too.
Marketing to Gen Z can be a challenge, but with some work, it’s an even bigger opportunity. Food companies that stay ahead of the health and transparency trends will reap the benefits and prosper for decades to come. Will yours be among them?
CORONAVIRUS SHOWED US THE WEAKNESS OF OUR SUPPLY CHAIN. WILL IT BE ENOUGH TO ACT?
2020 has been a crazy year. Everyone has a story about racing to the grocery store to stock up on toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and food for months. Unfortunately, most people also have a story about not finding the product they were looking for. The barren toilet paper aisle, the out-of-stock bread shelf, grocery store lines stretching around the block – until this year, these were all images we’d see in dystopian television. Yet it happened.
The reason why it happened is two-fold: First – the coronavirus crisis and ensuing panic. Second – an unprepared supply chain.
To some extent, global supply chains were simply overwhelmed by the demanded volume. But the problem goes deeper than that. Modern supply chains are woefully unprepared to facilitate communication across their points. Many supply chains (including and especially food) still operate like a game of telephone, with each point relaying a message to the consecutive point. This creates a disjointed, slow-to-react supply line.
The problem only gets worse when details are needed. Incredibly, many food supply chain points still rely on paper records and non-networked computers.
Even if fluid communication between supply chain points does happen, the supply chain players still have an incredibly difficult time adapting to demand. This problem goes beyond farming. Slaughterhouses often don’t know the exact number of animals coming in. Processing plants can’t easily adapt to a new output volume. Shipping companies have a difficult time changing their trucking schedule. These bottlenecks only get worse in crisis.
This supply chain lethargy means consumers are at risk. If the supply chain can’t communicate or adapt, food born illness outbreaks pose an enormous threat.
In the wake of COVID, research by the FAIRR Initiative showed a rather grim picture. They conducted analyses of the world’s 60 largest meat, dairy, and fish companies, rating them on metrics “vital to preventing future zoonotic pandemics,” including food safety, worker safety, animal welfare, biodiversity, and antibiotic usage.
FAIRR found that between factory farms and obscured supply chains, 73% of the food companies presented a high risk for pandemic based on an “inability to prevent the emergence of new zoonotic diseases.”
This report is a wake-up call, but not shocking. As mentioned above, paper trails and bottlenecks have long been pain points, even in modern times. It can still take months to track a contaminated product back to its source, if it’s even possible at all.
FIXING WHAT’S BROKEN
Part of the solution is enacting better food safety protocols and training at the source. Increasing vaccinations for animals and workers, utilizing more sanitary practices, and moving away from the factory farm model could all help in preventing contamination. Farmers and food producers should also cultivate a better digital picture of what’s going on in their farms with improved testing, field surveillance, and animal tracking. (In addition to improving the supply chain, this can often increase profit margins per unit sold for farmers)
The other part of the solution is transparency and communication. Not only do farmers need to know what’s going on in their fields and facilities, but that information also needs to be relayed down the supply chain and integrated with data from slaughter houses, processing plants, distribution centers, and retail. This team work creates a supply chain that can function as a singular, agile unit, with better efficiency, transparency, and safety.
With digitization and integration in place, the next time the supply chain is shocked, we’ll be ready for it.
Interested in digitizing and integrating your supply chain data? Let’s talk more
Over thepast decade, we have witnessed an increased focus on health and sustainability across the food industry. However, along with it has come the corrupt practice of Greenwashing (making unsubstantiated or misleading claims about environmental benefits or practices). Consumers know this, and as a result, now not only demand better practices, but better verification and provable trustworthiness.
Once we enter the post-COVID-19 era, it’s expected that consumer trust in a brand’s positive societal impact will become even more important. 80% of consumers already report that being able to trust a brand to do what’s right is important in their buying decision. This growing need for trust presents an opportunity in the market – those who manage to build trust will be rewarded by consumers in brand loyalty and customer acquisition.
So how can food businesses go about regaining consumer trust?
According to research, transparency has a direct impact on consumer trust. Additional research has shown us that transparency has a direct positive influence on green perceived value (GPV). GPV also influences brand loyalty positively. In other words, companies that invest in being transparent will reap the benefits in the strength of their brands. Furthermore, consumers in certain segments are willing to pay more at the grocery store for these transparent brands. In conclusion, transparency brings value!
Transparency can be defined on different levels. At its base, transparency means providing information on the ingredients of products. Brands should, therefore, clearly state what ingredients their products contain. Secondly, transparent brands provide details on the nutritional information of their products. This allows consumers to monitor their daily intake and improve their lifestyles. Thirdly, being a transparent brand, means giving information on how products are produced and sourced. This is where the opportunity lies – since most brands already provide some version of the first and second levels, brands who also give info on the source gain the advantage.
However, this layer also presents the highest challenge, since it involves the entire value chain. Although technologies that can link the value chain are emerging, the lack of trust between players is often one of the biggest obstacles, and implementation has remained illusive.
Since consumers increasingly value transparency and have a higher willingness-to-pay for more information, one solution to the aforementioned lack of trust is to distribute any added value throughout the value chain. From that point onwards, brands can choose a two-way approach. In the ex-ante quality assurance approach, quality and certification are measured at the time of sourcing or production. In the ex-post traceability approach, digitization of supply chain records makes it possible to quickly recall products in the event of a health issue. Research shows that the willingness-to-pay for ex-ante information is higher. In other words, brands with digitization are at a monetary advantage.
So what can digitization bring your brand?
Of course, many brands already have some form of quality assurance incorporated. But paper trails often seem endless. Documents and certificates are manually checked at several points in the supply chain and need to be sent back and forth while databases are processed manually. This process often takes months.
Once quality assurance is digitized and automated, this process can be shortened to minutes. After that, quality assurance can be backed up with a verifiably quality process, and transparency can be brought to its full potential. This transparency can then be shared with consumers and will form the basis for increased brand trust and added value. Any food company that does that will be well on their way to fully regaining consumer trust!
Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report (2019)
The transparency imperative product labeling from the consumer perspective (2018)
J. Lin, A. Lobo & C. Leckie (2017), The role of benefits and transparency in shaping consumers’ green perceived value, self-brand connection and brand loyalty, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 35 (2017), p.133-141.
B. Hou et. al (2019), Consumers’ Willingness to Pay for Foods with Traceability Information: Ex-Ante Quality Assurance or Ex-Post Traceability?, Sustainability 11 (2019)
It seems like just yesterday that blockchain was all anyone was talking about. Cryptocurrency was the new money. Internet of things was going to change our day-to-day lives. And to those of us in the food supply chain, a revolution in record-keeping seemed just around the corner.
The buzz around blockchain has dipped some in the last couple years, but many food companies are still forging ahead with cutting edge programs to integrate their supply chains into a blockchain. Why the delay? Was tech not ready? Were not all the players on board? Or was blockchain just a passing fad?
None of the above. The real story is that blockchain is only part of the equation.
WHAT CAN BLOCKCHAIN DO
Back to basics: blockchain is a digitized, verifiable, incorruptible, decentralized ledger that captures and records transactions between two or more parties. Because this record can’t be changed or hacked, it can be an ideal base for a system of transactions that requires responsibility and verification. Furthermore, because it’s decentralized, it’s perfect for a multi-entity pipeline like the supply chain.
In theory, this should create the ultimate vantage point to view the supply, and as a result, make it the best version of itself.
•Goods can be located in realtime at any given moment. Sources are verified and held to high standards.
•Every product will have a comprehensive origin record.
•The administrative mess supply chain managers tear through every day will sort itself into a cohesively organized database.
However, this dream of the perfect blockchain-powered supply chain falls short when the blockchain exists in a vacuum.
WHAT CAN’T BLOCKCHAIN DO
Think of the blockchain as a cutting edge superhighway, running between every stage of the supply chain. It’s the digital infrastructure that can connect the information needed by buyers, sellers, and supply chain managers into a streamlined system. That highway is all well and good, but without cars, that highway is going to stay pretty useless.
These “cars” are the other half of the equation. Like a highway needs cars, and supply chain blockchain needs data sets. Copious amounts of information need to be inputted at every step in the supply chain for the blockchain to function to its true potential.
Currently, most of the imported data on in-use blockchain projects comes from barcode and RFID scanning stations. This is a great first step – these tags can give detailed data on shipping times, locations, and even sometimes en-route conditions.
But it’s only a first step.
•Since the barcode is typically placed on a box at a processing center (long after a food product leaves the farm), large swaths of data on the true origin of a product are left ungathered.
•Legacy barcode tracking APIs already do a good job of gathering barcode-only data, so companies have limited incentive to switch to blockchain
•Traditional barcodes are the go-to in many shipments, and only only gather data on time, date, and location
POPULATING THE BLOCKCHAIN IN 2020
Filling the blockchain infrastructure with comprehensive data is the part of the equation yet to be realized. This data integration presents the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity for blockchain in the food supply chain.
The good news is that that data is out there. Upstream supply chain segments (farms, processing plants, washing facilities, etc.) often harbor a wealth of data in various digital silos cut off from the rest of the supply chain. With the right experts on the case, capturing and integrating this data is just a matter of footwork. At FarmTrace, one of our key missions is to collect this hidden data and prepare it for integration with data from the rest of the supply chain.
Blockchain is poised to be an integral part of the food supply chain. With the data to populate it, the infrastructure is set to be a game changer. As soon as the cars are in place, be ready for a true superhighway!