During 53 years of covering the food business, Supermarket News has published many stories about industry predictions by executives. Rule No. 1 about predictions: In hindsight, they can be embarrassingly wrong.
In 1968, a Midwestern store operator quoted in this publication said store perimeter departments would become extinct. In the early 1970s, many industry executives forecast the discount trend was past its prime. Undoubtedly, the businesses of the people who made these predictions are either extinct or past their prime.
That brings me to rule No. 2 about predictions: Many will definitely come true. Surely that includes numerous forecasts contained in this week's comprehensive special theme issue on the "Future of Food." Each section of the magazine contains stories that peer into the future of eating and food shopping. This issue is timed to coincide with the GMA Conference on The Future of Food, a first-time event sponsored by the Grocery Manufacturers Association Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 in Washington. SN will be making a presentation at that conference in conjunction with Parade Magazine, which are both units of Conde Nast Publications.
So how do you know exactly which predictions you can count on? That's a tough one, particularly when the forecasts are highly specific and far into the future. But you can safely bet that the pace of change will quicken in the food business. Consumers of various generations and wide-ranging food and lifestyle preferences will place their divergent demands on retailers in the future. Supermarkets are already being pressured to react. A new generation of progressive supermarkets are luring shoppers by packing convenience food sections, restaurants, improved traffic patterns, in-store technology and marketing savvy under one roof.
Which brings me to rule No. 3 about future predictions. The hardest part is accounting for unforeseen variables. For instance, it seems logical that natural, organic and functional foods will surge as the population links these products with fostering health. But at some point, consumers may have a far more specific roadmap to their own health needs. For instance, the science of nutritional genomics, now in its infancy, will probably someday pinpoint a broad range of genes that point to future heart attacks or cancers. Consumers armed with their precise health risks can build tailored nutritional diets as pre-emptive strikes. That means their prior diets, based on guesswork and the presumed wisdom of eating a broad range of healthy foods, would be history. You can see how such variables would transform food choices.
Is it possible to say anything about the future of food for certain? Two things are for sure. One, that the future will happen. Two, that this week's issue will help you build a solid framework for thinking about the future even if ultimately we don't get every forecast right.