By Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO, Food Marketing Institute

Crystal balls, tea leaves, and staring at the stars do not help much when it comes to predicting the future, but knowing history does. I believe the most reliable glimpse of the future is achieved by extending the steadiest trend lines of the past just a few more inches and remaining cognizant of any factors that may cause them to bend. If this is true, we can look forward to more people than ever before on our planet because population growth has been steadily increasing for decades. We can also anticipate that technology will play an even more prominent role in the fabric of our being – becoming even more integral to the ways we relate socially and make personal, professional and corporate decisions. And because the crucial categories of measurement in technology are speed and storage capacity, we can further count on the pace of change to accelerate and the amount of information to wade through increasing. In short, we will continue to confront more substantive change in a decade's time than our grandparents faced in a lifetime.

Each of these mega trends – population growth and the tech-revolution– will alter life as we know it, and that which affects life, affects food and food retail. Consequently, the theme of the 2016 FMI Midwinter Executive Conference is Feeding the Future. That theme has implications for products, the marketplace, customer expectations and enhanced operations – and we’ll be exploring all those facets.

Questions of portion control, sustainable sourcing and reduction of food waste will intensify as populations grow and the number of mouths to feed increase. Packaging, transport, and storage will also draw even more critical scrutiny. Debates over methods to improve crop productivity and enhancement of food's nutritional value will grow in severity. Personalized healthcare, gene sequencing and customized awareness of the exact requirements for our individual bodies will change the way family menus are shaped, diets are determined and food products are chosen. So the shape of food, food planning and food preparation will change.

Not only will what is bought change; increased demands on consumer time, energy and interest will exert additional pressure on where, when and how people buy it. So, the adjustments to the nature of shopping that we have already experienced will further accelerate and domino, requiring even deeper revisions to marketplace strategy – making the dynamic changes experienced throughout the past decade appear relatively stable. Decisions about formats, channels and channel integration - things once considered long term planning - will feel more like short term tactics as five year strategic plans get put on a one-year execution timetable. As the front end of the store resists going the way of the full-service gas station, the means of maintaining critical personal contact - once the proud domain of the smiling cashier - will require supplemental efforts toward fulfillment through social media platforms or personified with experts in the aisles. Every employee at every level will be required to be tech savvy, in order to serve as a knowledgeable resource for customers and must be facile at shifting roles if necessary. So the shape of shopping will change the shape of the marketplace and vice versa.

And as the emerging 2016 presidential race takes its unusual turns and rambles down a rather unprecedented path, the question must be asked, "Is this simply an odd year or instead, the manifestation of the new shape of public discourse and the beginnings of a new model of electoral process?"  This raises questions of who will be elected and how that individual’s platform will affect the food retail industry. The shape of government is changing.

These important topics will be on the table for examination, scrutiny and dialogue at FMI's Midwinter 2016. I hope you will be part of the group gathered in Miami discussing what lies ahead for food, shopping, the marketplace and civic responsibility as we explore the many facets of Feeding the Future.

Photo Credit: farrokhi