Insatiable appetite for healthy food and convenience fuels innovation drive

8th June 2017

The pressure has never been greater on firms in the food sector to innovate in order to compete.

Meeting the demands of switched on consumers with an insatiable appetite for healthier food and convenience is one of the key drivers, and there is an ongoing battle to find the magic ingredients.

Online ordering and delivery services which successfully combine both, like HelloFresh and Amazon Fresh, and those connecting restaurants and couriers including UberEats and Deliveroo, are enjoying rapid growth.

Technological advances which have enabled these new entrants to the market to launch range from mobile applications to new biobased packaging materials.

Firms are also under pressure to find ways to reduce food waste and energy consumption, while coming up with new functional foods bringing additional health benefits. Technology is also at the centre of foodomics, a discipline improving both food nutrition and consumer awareness.

Competition among the grocery giants and fast food franchises in the ‘healthy choices’ market is fierce.

Last month Tesco launched its ‘Little helps to healthier living’ campaign, which is promoting healthier foods and running in store health checks, while Subway was proclaiming it was slashing 4bn calories from British diets after introducing low sugar drinks in its branches.

One of the key issues faced by global R&D organisations is the length of time it takes from conception to launch of new innovation and product initiatives, particularly in those multinationals with large complex legacy manufacturing facilities, versus more nimble financially backed competitors who can outsource through co-manufacturing and co-packaging channels.

The vital importance of nurturing innovation in the sector has not been lost on government. Last month Scotland’s food and drink industry announced the launch of Make Innovation Happen, a Scottish Enterprise funded service to support businesses to innovate.

This followed a similar move weeks earlier by the Welsh Government, Project Helix – a £21m initiative providing funding for research into global food production, trends and waste to help SMEs increase production and reduce waste.

Consumer demand for nutritious food also extends to the $70bn global pet food industry, with the rising trend of pet humanisation a major driver for growth – aided by rapidly rising online sales.

New entrants include US based The Farmer’s Dog, which is sending freshly made food directly to customers’ doors. The firm is using smart technology to create customised meal plans based on a dog’s breed, age, size and activity level, delivered within days of preparation.

The significant demand in the human and pet food industries for executives with technical innovation expertise is reflected in recent global search mandates HW has been commissioned to deliver.

This includes the VP of a global innovation centre in Germany, a VP of Technical Innovation in North America, and the head of a new Food Safety centre in Beijing.

As a truly international executive search and professional interim business, HW advises many of the world’s most recognised and respected brands, among them the leaders in consumer products and services, and retail operations of all shapes and sizes.

Our long-term relationships with senior industry leaders and key stakeholders, give us access to market-leading talent, and the opportunity to attract top quartile executive professionals.

Contact the Global Consumer Practice at HW Global Talent Partner on +44 (0)161 249 5170 for an informal discussion.