inewtrition – Food Product Development Company

Could Clean Science Innovation be a Post-Pandemic Food Solution?

Picture of by Dr. Raphaëlle O'Connor

by Dr. Raphaëlle O'Connor

Raphaelle has over 25 years’ experience in the ideation,
development, and commercialisation of food chemistry,
food science, food technology, and nutrition.

Sprout Plant

First of all, let’s start with what clean science innovation refers to. When I talk about clean science innovation in relation to the food industry, I refer to the exploration of the relationship between science and nature.

The clean science concept is a relatively new idea particularly relevant to converging products and merging industries. To date, it has been mostly associated with skincare but is expanding towards other consumer good categories and adjacent sectors such as medical foods, functional foods, beauty-from-within and dietary supplements. The boundaries are becoming very blur and this opens the door for innovation learning from one category to another. 

My area of work and focus is downstream and will contribute to this field and help others in different aspects of clean-science and biotransformation. For example, with the re-validation of by-products or identifying the relevant bioactives naturally available in ingredients to characterise their profile in terms of not only functionality or nutrition but also sustainability relating to environmental impact, greenhouse gas emissions, land use and impact on biodiversity, water usage, usage of non-renewable fuels and mineral oils.

Clean Science Innovation

Looking at the area of clean science innovation through mid and post-pandemic eyes, we are forced to consider it in different ways. The global food and drink industry has moved through an important shift in terms of buying behaviours and consumer expectations, needs and preferences. It is reinventing itself to meet the demand, not only of a sustainable planet but also a more educated and informed consumer.

This is something that brands need to consider when picking back up projects on pause and ideas that were planned for pre-Covid as they may not be relevant or profitable in a post-Covid future of food.

We were able to see mini shifts throughout the lockdown period. Here are five examples of trends and habits I noticed from food and beverage consumers throughout the course of lockdown life:

Back to familiarity and tradition with home-cooked meals and health credentials:

With restaurants mostly closed and as isolation may have increased, many people have gone back to the kitchen and learned or relearned how to cook over the past few months. The post-virus economic downturn will reduce disposable income available to people who would usually explore new products and brands, we are likely to see more purchase of traditional, familiar and protective foods however even with tighter budgets people will prioritise buying something that makes sense for their health. Choices are likely to be focused on quality rather than quantity. The challenge here for suppliers and manufacturers is to be that product that people believe is worth spending their hard-earned money on. My recommendation is to focus on getting attention and interest in terms of USP and positioning with a concrete link to a health benefit and value proposition

Back to safety with packaging providing another layer of protection:

Remember that packaging is the first and last interaction with your product and brand and we are reminded that consumer goods packaging helps prevent contamination. More often than not additional or unnecessary packaging is creating some friction in consumer’s mind because of its impact on the environment however it is likely that consumers will put personal health first. Retailers and manufacturers will have to think about different technology or material to protect their products and that are sustainable.

Could brands and ingredients become more local?

The trends around authenticity in traceability and provenance is already well-developed and more people – and retailers – are seeking local products, local suppliers and brand owners sourcing ingredients in their home country or region. Nervous consumers may deepen their trust for local brands, expect them to be engaged and big retailers may add more local products on the shelves, not just to meet consumer preferences, but to support local economy, community and a way of making the supply chain more resilient and less vulnerable against future disruptions.

Retail to shift to more online, local and independent:

The crisis seems to have revived the fortunes of smaller, local and independent stores, many of whom showed themselves to be more resilient and able to maintain stock levels and strengthen community and more incline to put emphasis on social interaction. More people will be thinking about supporting their local stores with at least an occasional visit so that the store is still there in the next crisis. And stores may profit and retain more of their new customers by sharpening and increasing their messages about where they source their products from with home delivery being an option for many consumers.

Health and lifestyle influencers:

Those who know the power and benefit of digital media have gained popularity online. Science-based communication is important however one must not underestimate the power of online influencers in a post-coronavirus world who are aspirational.  With industry exhibitions and scientific conferences being on hold, online influencers have pivoted rapidly and are busy informing their followers about how to boost their immunity and look after their health by changing lifestyle. Usually, their superior communication skills make their webpages and Instagram accounts more engaging than those of experts. This is an important factor to take into account during the discussion of branding and communication strategy. Proven benefit based on science combined with aspirational figures that have a strong digital network and audience.

In comparison to the beginning of 2020 where we were very much focused on personalised and individual nutrition and diets such as keto, plant-based etc., it feels like lockdown had almost put this space on pause for many consumers, especially those who may have been trying it out for the first time.

While it feels like a step backwards for many, it will be interesting to see how many steps forward we will take once we get back on our feet. How will we even be able to do this?

The answer to this question for me lies in new technologies and flexible ways of thinking.

While top health care professionals and other experts in the field are focusing on the pandemic, it is important that others spend time reflecting on new ways of working and looking ahead at what the solutions may be to recover from not only an economic perspective but also in relation to enhancing health benefits and credentials of products and services to the consumer.

New product development and clean science innovation are the disciplines where I can make the most difference and the question is: how can I support you to innovate in functional foods and beverages, health and wellness space?

Off the top of my head, a few ways I would like to help the industry would be to assist in establishing and building on consumer trust through the creation of functional foods and beverages, nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals using proven ingredients and bioactives in new delivery systems and matrices. We could use vitamins and minerals with an approved health claim to build trust in nutraceutical brands or address specific health benefits surrounding immunity and eye health using natural sources of bioactives, for example.

Another strong area of focus for brands moving forward is in clean science innovation. Whatever the target benefits, there are some common concepts to keep in mind when companies look at innovation. These include clean label, safety, familiarity and naturalness with an apothecary and naturopathy-like positioning to help denote holistic/traditional attributes and enhance the perception of effectiveness.

Product designers, technologists and scientists must also keep in mind the detail of the provenance of natural ingredients maintaining sustainability, shared-value, supply chain and distribution. The entire value chain and life cycle should be at the core of the process because this is what consumer-centric product design thinking is all about. Not the other way around.

Other aspects to take into account under clean science innovation is disruptive packaging, product format and usage occasions. You have an opportunity to establish and strengthen connection points with users through engaging branding (i.e. transparent, authentic, comprehensive and colourful). You can also capture attention and align this with your tone of voice, brand essence and communication guidelines to communicate a clear message to the target audience for the product, service, lifestyle, values. This is particularly relevant for medicinal/functional foods/fortified foods/nutritional benefits and brands must consider the physical aspect of the brand but should not underestimate the emotional connection, especially during times of uncertainty and unpredictability. Reassurance and trust are key.

What we know at this stage is that the future of food is uncertain and unpredictable. Just like we didn’t see the global pandemic coming, we don’t know what our food industry will look like afterwards. All we can do is make our best-educated guesses and plan for as many contingencies as possible.

I would like to help businesses in the food industry and those operating in health and wellness sectors with a focus on nutrition to navigate the best route out of Covid-19. It will be important to try and get it right the first time to ensure maximum success and benefits. If this sounds like what you need for creating a new and better normal post-pandemic in your brand, I am here to have a chat and discuss how we can ensure your business becomes even more robust, resilient and agile for the future.

You can send me a message to [email protected] or book a 20 min introductory call to see if we are a good fit for one another! Look forward to connecting with you! 

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