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Are you ready for new technologies impacting food distribution? Today’s end consumers are.

Steve Hixon

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As you begin reading my blog, you’re probably thinking: Here we go, another perspective on the future of technology and its impact on my meat operation. Another so-called expert telling me that e-commerce is taking over retail, warehousing is practically executed by robots and AI (Artificial Intelligence) is decreasing our reliance on human labor.

If you attended industry conferences this year that included sessions on future food trends, technology and food or consumer insights, you have heard all you need to hear, right? You may even be asking yourself, “Is this something I need to be thinking about now?” You are not alone.

At several conferences I recently attended, I scanned the audience and found that many of my fellow attendees were glassy-eyed, probably thinking “How can I afford these technologies?” or “How would I use this capability?” And the most important question, “Is my competition using this new technology?” The answer to this last question is most likely yes, in some way. While we are not living in a scene from “Star Wars” or “Back to the Future” yet, some of those technologies are being tested in R&D and are on the cusp of being scalable.

In your day-to-day operations, you may be thinking these technology changes are someone else’s problem. Then as you read this you get interrupted by a customer who needs product tomorrow, invites you to present new product ideas to the merchandising team next week or wants to know your innovation plan to deliver a personalized shopping experience. Uh oh, innovation plan???

Yes, innovation plan. Ready or not, the future is knocking on the door now and consumers are driving this rapid change.

Retail, including e-commerce, is being transformed by the integration of both personalized and high-sensory customer experiences. Food suppliers, especially in meat, have an amazing opportunity to support grocery and foodservice with their delivery of innovative, seamless shopping experiences both online and within brick and mortar, which combined are often referred to as omnichannel. But to integrate effectively in their delivery, you need to be set up to deliver personalized experiences consumers are seeking from retailers, restaurants, food trucks, convenience stores and fresh meat vending machines (that know when you’re coming and will have your selection ready before you even get there). Yes, the technology is out there.

This shift isn’t as much about consumers adapting to their purchase venue of choice as it is the venue or machine delivery service adapting to the needs and preferences of consumers. For example, in order to cater to the shopper, grocery will increase consumer-specific pricing on products that will go directly to a mobile shopping list. Point-of-purchase price tags will be digital, allowing consumers to scan with their phone to receive product information, coupons and inventory information in the event of an out of stock. Checkout lines will be almost non-existent as grocery will move to non-register payment formats. Inventory will be captured by mobile machines scanning the aisles. These mobile machines will work in real time to forecast out of stocks and communicate back to a warehouse to ship more product to the store to maintain product availability. Believe me, you want to be ready to integrate into these systems before you are asked. Shelves will offer sensory experiences for consumers to interact with products without having to physically sample the product. Meat counters will offer fully immersive digital experiences for consumers to help them understand where their meat comes from.

So, when your customer asks about your innovation plan, they want more than new flavor profiles and packaging designs. They want to know what new meat products and formats you have and how you plan to deliver these items to their consumers via a personalized, convenient and affordable experience (and on-time, of course).

So, to answer your question:  Yes, you do need to develop an innovation plan right now.


About the Author

As a member of the Midan leadership team and vice president of customer engagement, Steve Hixon manages teams in customer insights, public relations, new business development and account management. Skilled in both crafting long-term visions and monitoring progress through data analysis, Steve has helped successfully create, execute and manage multimillion-dollar food and entertainment campaigns for clients including Coca-Cola, Walmart, the NFL and the NCAA. Within the meat industry, Steve’s expertise is in beef production, and his passions lie in ensuring meat protein selections are delivered to their most valuable position. Steve connects with each of his teams personally and enjoys helping clients achieve measured solutions year after year.
Steve Hixon