At its core, food serves a very basic purpose to sustain life, to nourish. But, it’s so much more than that. Food is how we celebrate, love, explore, gather, comfort.
Personally, I have an odd relationship with food. It is both my passion and my nemesis. Food has been my life’s work. That wasn’t my plan or my dream, it just happened. Like so many who find themselves involved in the food business, I fell in love with the industry, its people, the products and I never left.
Yet, I’ve been challenged by my own relationship with it. I’ve struggled with weight my whole life. At times, I’ve had the upper hand, at others food has held that advantage. I love to eat, but often hate the way I feel once I’ve eaten.
Every one of us has our own connection to food. In fact, in many ways, our lives revolve around that association. We have self-described foodies, others who identify themselves as vegans, vegetarians or my new favorite, flexitarians. Don’t forget the 20 billion dollar U.S. diet industry for those who, like me, struggle.
So much of who we are and how we spend time with others revolves around food. Our holiday experiences, our cultural identities, our family traditions, are all deeply intertwined with food.
That emotional, cultural relationship was very visible walking through St. Josep La Boqueria, the famous food market in Barcelona. Families were strolling by the booths as their young kids pleaded for some of the sweets. Modern day fish mongers were selling their day’s catch. Brilliant colored fruits and vegetables were artfully displayed, and of course, there was booth after booth of carnicerias selling Jamon Iberico, the famous cured pork from the acorn fed pigs of the Iberian Peninsula. Barcelona to me is food. To describe the city without its markets, tapas, and cafes would be like describing a sunset without the use of color.
There is a lot of innovation and disruption occurring in the food and beverage industry. It is exciting, and to be a part of bringing some of those new products to market is awesome.
However, it is important to recognize the difference between food and other sectors where there has been a lot of innovation and disruption. It may have been hard for some to give up their Blackberries or PDA’s. It could have been scary to migrate to Windows 10 or upgrade to the latest iOS. But, tech doesn’t have the same visceral connection to culture, tradition, and emotion that food does.
We experience food differently than a lot of the other products we buy. We buy food for comfort, function, and nostalgia. We choose products for their smell, look, feel, and taste. We treasure hunt and bargain shop. We attend farmers’ markets and cooking classes. We agonize over Yelp reviews trying to decide where to go for dinner. We plan vacations around eating and even take food tours.
Food is more than its function, it’s us, it’s who we are. As we bring change to the market, as we introduce the next great brand or product, we need be mindful of the uniqueness of food. We can’t just treat it like a tech innovation. We need to think about the relationship we are trying to establish with the consumer and the product we are asking them to break up with.
Before you go to market, and before you find your product on the shelf, make sure you can answer this question; “What is the emotional, cultural, relationship I want the consumer to have with my product or brand?” Because innovation without connection just doesn’t work in food.