The Fourth Industrial Revolution is in its infancy, yet it is already disrupting the historically stable food and beverage business. Big food companies that one once appeared on a steady march toward industry domination are starting to look like slow-moving dinosaurs.

Now, innovative upstarts are winning through rapid innovation that benefits from eager investors and a democratized internet that can rapidly popularize a new food or drink.

Within a decade, the sector will be radically transformed on a global scale. Emerging megatrends point to three especially promising innovation pathways:

Go Mobile, Urgently: Mobile communications have unleashed consumers and the full effects are only beginning to be felt. As people can work, communicate and be entertained anywhere they wish – often, in fact, while in motion – then eating anywhere or on the move is becoming second nature. 

Old guard companies are scrambling therefore to move from cereal to cereal bars, from salads to salad cups, from easy-prep meals to ready-to-eat snacks. The quaint habit of dining at a table will increasingly be reserved for special occasions.

Instead, look for foods that easily move with us, always within easy reach, even in a “wearable” form.  Autonomous cars will escalate the trend, prompting consumers to enjoy meals and snacks on their commute like never before.

Tap Big Data to Become the New Big Food: “Big food” today is famous for taking years to develop and introduce a product. It’s already a hopelessly dated idea, a turtle in a world where growth is being driven by upstart rabbits.

Contrast giant food companies with some of the most promising new food business models: subscription and delivery services that offer a constantly evolving menu of food products. Variety is an old strategy, but this is a new approach that relies on Big Data to reduce innovation cycles to weeks, not years.

Not only can these companies now intricately understand the constantly-evolving tastes and needs of their consumers; they can also innovate and test in rapid response to them. It’s a marketer’s dream in a sector where tastes are now evolving at an ever faster pace as consumer crowdsource, not mom-source, their food tastes.  

Tell All to Ensure Trust: Trust in food companies has badly eroded. Even a brand like Chipotle, which promised to lead us to the promised land of natural food, is now understood to have sickened consumers with tainted food and misconstrued promises of wholesome nutrition. Don’t expect to hide in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Instead, tell all.

Smart labels on food packages are about to demonstrate the concept, allowing consumers to use near ubiquitous smartphones and QR codes to learn anything they could possibly want to know about a food product:  ingredients, origins, genetics, allergens, nutritionals, etc. Full disclosure will prove they have nothing to hide. It’s an approach that answers activists and empowers special needs consumers. If you are a producer with something to hide, then fear the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

If one revolution memorialized the phrase “let them eat cake,” then this revolution will require cake that’s packaged to go, finely tailored to the very latest tastes, and served with complete disclosure. 

Steve Bryant_new B&WBy Steve Bryant, Managing Director, Seattle, MSLGROUP