Why are consumers so critical of the food and beverage industry? Will food processors ever be able to convince consumers that technology and innovation, heralded as progress in every other category, also are benefits when it comes to food?
Maybe ingredients suppliers can help. That's the hope of Matthias Guentert, who has time to reflect on such things now that he's retired after 28 years with global ingredients supplier Symrise AG. His last title was president of the Flavor and Nutrition Division in North America, a role from which he shepherded technical advances in ingredients and flavors but also kept one eye on the consumer reactions to those advances.
Guentert, who has a Ph.D. in food chemistry from the University of Karlsruhe, Germany, will explore those issues at the Food Leaders Summit, a Food Processing conference April 27-29 at the Westin Chicago River North hotel in downtown Chicago. "Growth through transformative change" is the subtitle of this event.
Guentert will lead a session titled "Future Innovation in Product Development for the Critical Consumer." And by critical, he's not talking about discerning.
"Over the years, the role of suppliers in terms of their contributing to the food development process has grown into much more of a mutual partnership," he says. That partnership can extend beyond research and development, he hopes, into "selling" technological advances in foods to consumers.
"A very important aspect is the increasingly critical opinion of many consumers to food, food labeling, food ingredients and the food industry overall," he says. "Some of this seems rather emotional. It will be very important for food manufacturers, their suppliers and their associations to be in a constant dialogue with consumers to explain in a transparent way how innovation is used to not only continuously improve the dietary properties of their products but also contribute to ample supply of nutrition for the global mankind in the future.
"Hopefully I will be able to give more insight into the interaction between food companies and flavor suppliers when it comes to the innovation process and using new scientific knowledge and new ingredients.
"Food and food flavors have been my passion throughout my career on the scientific as well as on the business side," he continues. "Hence this is a very good opportunity to meet with many food industry leaders and professionals."
In more general terms, he hopes consumers "will be increasingly educated enough to realize that balance is the relevant word when it comes to nutrition and choosing the right diet." In addition to his own session, Guentert says he's looking forward to "Sustainable Supply Chain of Natural Ingredients Through Biotechnologies" and the workshop "Transparency and Consumer Trust."
Guentert mentioned ensuring an ample supply of food for future generations. There are many facets to that effort, and one is reducing food waste – a topic that will be handled at the Food Leaders Summit by Gail Barnes, managing partner of Personify LLC.
"My company offers technical and strategic partner expertise to processors, manufacturers and packaging suppliers, providing insights on sustainability, product innovation, consumer trends, food safety and regulatory processes and procedures," she says. She'll apply that expertise, with a heavy dose of consumer insight, in "Use More, Waste Less: An Interactive Panel Discussion on Reducing Food Waste."
Her company's areas of expertise include global knowledge of consumer trends and liquid dairy and packaging industries across the value chain -- from processing and packaging technologies, consumer and retail trends to sustainability, food security and food safety. "Smart packaging as it relates to the internet of things is a particularly active current area of focus," she notes.
Barnes has a Ph.D. in applied chemistry (Food Science Division) from the University of Natal. She says she hopes food processors take away from her session on food waste "an increased awareness of the issues around food waste as well as specific actions that they can take to reduce food waste." She hopes they learn from best practices and realize there is expertise available to help them internally and in educating consumers on the issue of waste.
Like Guentert, she sees the need for gently selling the consumer on technology. "Technology is already an enabler and I see it playing an ever increasing role in every aspect of consumer/product interaction including convenience," she says.
When she's not leading her panel discussion, she plans on attending sessions on consumer trust, product innovation and navigating the waters of big data.