We’re in the midst of the Digital Age. With the onset of the Digital Revolution in the 1970s and continuing today, we’ve become significantly reliant upon computerized information. It’s the infrastructure of our high-tech global economy, and astute interpretation of this endless stream of data often makes or breaks businesses.
Snack producers, bakers, suppliers and retailers alike rely on market data from companies like IRI, Technomic, Natural Marketing Institute and more to track product performance across retail and foodservice. Retailers also invest in supremely sophisticated data-driven analysis to streamline the omnichannel shopping experience to craft predictive-analytics models in order to maximize future profit. Collectively, these and other similar information systems comprise the behemoth known as “Big Data.” It’s imposing. And it’s necessary.
But Big Data struggles to capture the emotional variables involved within the amazingly personal connection people have with food. As members of the food industry, we play a quintessentially intimate role in people’s lives. Nothing is more personal than taking a food and ingesting it. And to repeatedly do so—once that product becomes part of your regular purchases—is the pinnacle of personal intimacy. It’s confidence. It’s trust. And above all else, it’s a relationship.
Inevitably, the Digital Age creates intimacy gaps. While seeking to connect, computers and smartphones build distance between people. Email and texting supplant interpersonal conversations, and nuance is lost. Social media—while still a vital tool of digital communication—seeks to bridge the gap, but all too often falls short of its goal. Studies have shown that these factors have resulted in a loss of interpersonal skills and the art of conversation within many millennials, but we are all subject to their deleterious side effects.
The importance of relationships, built through personal interaction, has never been more important in the food industry as it is today. We must augment our digital tactics and strategy with conversation—both with our trusted supply-chain partners and the public at large across retail and foodservice. Without that variable, our business frame of mind remains incomplete.
With the rise of the Digital Age, many falsely predicted the death of events like trade shows and expositions. These opportunities to interact with ingredient, equipment, logistics and other suppliers are vital to shaping a sufficiently well-rounded perspective on viable future business directions, whether through relatively intimate association-led events like the American Bakers Association’s annual convention, SNAC International’s SNAXPO gathering and the inter-association Sanitary Design Workshop, or massive global gatherings like the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) taking place this October in Las Vegas—truly a must-attend event. Only in person can you fully experience the emotion, inspiration and passion of your fellow industry compatriots. The takeaway from those interactions is market intelligence of the highest degree.
But we also need to find effective methods of directly interacting with end consumers. As emotionally driven issues like clean-label and sustainability continue to rise in the public consciousness, snack producers, bakers and suppliers need to create opportunities to personally interact with shoppers in a meaningful way, beyond digital initiatives, in order to gain the feedback and resonance that will drive business forward through increased consumer trust and brand loyalty.