Tomatoes, Bugs, and Nannochloropsis

Foodie Friday, and today we’re having a think about the food of the future. I don’t think it’s news to anyone who pays the least bit of attention to the world that humankind’s ability to support itself is in peril. CNN said it well:

We’ve gotten ourselves into some trouble. Our dining habits are a big part of the problem. The average American male consumes 100 grams of protein daily — almost double the necessary amount. This overconsumption isn’t sustainable. The United Nations projects food production will need to increase as much as 70% by 2050 to feed an extra 2.5 billion people. To survive, we need to reinvent the way we farm and eat.

Exactly, except that some of that reinvention, while packed with nutrition, is…well…gross. I know that I’m applying my American diet standards here but how would you describe eating bugs or algae? We have plenty of both, both are sustainable sources of protein, and both reduce the impact we’re having on our planet. Cricket anyone (and I don’t mean the game!)? How about a nice plate of nannochloropsis?

There’s a great business lesson in this. To understand it, let’s look at another food that was once anathema to most Americans: the tomato. That’s right. Until the early 1800’s, the tomato was grown purely for decoration in this country because it was considered poisonous. What happened to change its reputation and make it a mainstay of our diet? There are several theories, including one involving Thomas Jefferson’s promotion of dishes using the tomato. I think it has to do with immigration and the fact that European immigrants used the fruit (you know it’s a fruit, right?) in their cooking. Whatever it was, people overcame their fears and began consuming tomatoes en masse.

If I were marketing bugs and slime (OK, it will probably be protein derived from those things made into other food products), I’d do a few things. First, I wouldn’t deny that there might just be a perception problem. No brand can deny its past. I would aggressively try to control the conversation and the message. That means a lot of marketing, especially through influencers and social channels. I’d research the heck out of consumer attitudes on a continual basis and I’d avoid making emotional responses to misperceptions, focusing on the data. Mostly, I’d do everything I could to get the products sampled and I’d use the testimonials along with the overall message that these products are saving the planet by decreasing the need to rely on other protein forms that are inefficient at least and detrimental at worst to the environment.

When I was a kid, the notion of eating raw fish in this country was nonexistent. I’ll bet many of you did just that this past week. There just might be a bug in your future once some smart marketers get to work. What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

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