Food Entrepreneur Strategies Following COVID-19

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[View original post from N.C. Food Innovation Lab, Bill Aimutis]

As society navigates the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer behavior is indicating where innovation and technology might move after all this is under control. A recent blog by CB Insights inspired me to give some thought to how this applies to North Carolina Food Innovation Lab (NCFIL) clients and their opportunities for future development.

Product sales are spiking for mindfulness supplements, aromatherapy, cannabis-infused foods and immunostimulatory supplements. Consumers seek these products to calm their anxieties during this troubling time. NCFIL follows some of these indicators to better advise our clients to address jobs to be done and to innovate with new technologies and products for the plant-based food segment.

Supermarkets are rapidly gaining new views into the reliability, agility and efficiency of the food and packaged goods supply chain. Anyone that has shopped in person at grocery stores during the past two weeks witnessed vast product shortages on retailers’ shelves. This shows us the consumer cares about the basics during this crisis as evidenced by the products that have sold out and those the consumer is not purchasing.

Another trend necessitated by shelter-in-place orders has been the consumers’ spiked usage of online grocery ordering apps. Consumers are putting the current apps through rigorous testing, and the companies that developed the current apps will benefit from consumers’ input on how to improve the apps’ functionality and efficiency.

Food manufacturers and retailers will also need to innovate to improve efficiencies in meeting consumers’ online shopping activity. For example, retailers will want more micro-fulfillment centers to improve service levels and fulfillment profitability. Food processors will undoubtedly study if retail stores will survive in the long term and if they need to build infrastructure to go directly to the consumer.

Live stream shopping, interactive product information and virtual stores will become more widespread after this pandemic has passed. Does this mean an end for in-person stores? Of course not. Many consumers like the social interaction and ability to touch and feel their products. However, the shopping experience may be much different in the future. Current technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and cashierless checkout will move into the mainstream and ultimately assist retailers’ profitability. This presents opportunities for technology and product development.

Society will likely change after this pandemic, but we all still need to consume food for nutrition and enjoyment. The manner in which we stock our retailers; shop and purchase our food; and make our food selections will evolve. With that said, now is a good time to take a deep breath, evaluate your ideas and product offerings, and study the consumer indicators of the jobs to be done after the pandemic.

How can NCFIL assist you? We will be available for ideations, product development, scale-up and insight on how to market and distribute in this new era. Let’s make the future together!

Headquartered at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, the 15,000-square-foot North Carolina Food Innovation Lab opened its doors in 2019. NCFIL, an NC State facility, grew out of an ongoing partnership of the university, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the N.C. Department of Commerce/Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina to support food processing and manufacturing of North Carolina commodities within the borders of our state. Discover more about the N.C. Food Innovation Lab.