Shelley Balanko ACT Chicago 2019

The focus of The Hartman Group’s eleventh Food Culture Forecast summit this past September in Chicago was the future of food technology. ACT (which is shorthand for Anthropology, Culture and Trends) is where the food and beverage industry’s marketers, strategists, innovators, brand managers and consumer insights practitioners gather to learn how to navigate this complex new consumer culture and marketplace. They come away smarter and inspired. At ACT, attendees gain fresh ideas to stimulate innovation, energize brands or find growth opportunities from the key presentations and networking sessions. They also have exclusive access to The Hartman Group’s intellectual capital, analysts and thought leaders.

Here's how three attendees summed up the Chicago ACT experience:

“Rich insights on food culture were presented. The speakers were clearly passionate about their topics and were great storytellers. Thank you for a very insightful day!”

“The information and data points provided exceeded my expectations. I am able to leverage those data points and link them back to the business questions at hand.”

“Great collection of information, and especially enjoyed the panel. This event was really well done. Loved it!”

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the summit, here are five key insights:

Consumers evaluate food production innovations according to four overlapping arenas. When consumers think through innovations in food, their perceptions tend to be colored by whether they think of them first and foremost as an innovation of the lab, factory, field or kitchen. Even though innovations like cellular agriculture and insect protein appear to be logical extensions of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, they occupy a very different space in the consumer imagination.

The future of food and technology. AgTech and BioTech companies could be the future of food production in the U.S., but tech innovations alone will not assure success. Food culture savvy will be critical as consumers and culture will bend, but innovations that “break” the boundaries of cultural acceptability will not be embraced regardless of the benefits offered.

Tapping into personalized nutrition: Five key areas (microbiome, stress & sleep, neuro health, aging and beauty) will continue to be a core focus across consumer segments and occasions. How does your current offering engage with these needs? Determine how you can be conversant with the needs, outcomes, ingredients and practices that support these factors.

Technically plant-based: Leverage the power of plants’ health halo by making it easy for consumers to feel like they are engaging with plants. This means helping them experience plants in-store, incorporating specific plant ingredients into recipes and product formulations, and building them into brand narratives. Key to building engagement is being specific about your use of plants. Know which ones you’re using and why, celebrate them through narratives that communicate their benefits, and show consumers you’re protecting them for the next generation. As the cultural roles and symbolism of plants continue to evolve, beware of generalities and resist stereotypes in your communications with consumers.

Navigating alternative proteins: The protein pie is getting bigger; meat providers who broaden their purview to include all proteins will be well positioned to capitalize on this growth. Traditional meat consumption will remain high; consumers will be adding a broader range of proteins. What can we expect to see in the alternative proteins space going forward? The key point to remember is that, regardless of how hot alternative proteins may be just now, regular meat is not going anywhere. It is more that the overall protein pie is getting bigger, with meats growing at a slow but steady pace and consumers at the same time reaching for a broader range of protein to include in their diet. And these consumers will come more from the ranks of meat eaters who are trying to moderate their meat intake or switch back and forth, rather than from full meat rejectors. Given that alternative proteins are making their way into the mainstream, it is a wise strategic move for established meat producers to introduce these alternatives into their portfolios, as some have already done.

The Hartman Group’s ACT Food Culture Forecast summit is a powerful platform from which to acquire valuable knowledge about the factors and trends shaping your business today — and into the future. Let us bring ACT to your company. To learn how we can tailor a session for your business teams, contact