By: Carol Abel, Vice President of Education, Food Marketing Institute
Crystal Ball

With the winds of change simultaneously blowing in so many different directions in the food retail industry, what will our marketplace look like and how can we plot a plausible path to growth in the future?  Understanding the future may not be for the faint of heart, but knowing the tricks of the trade will serve us well.

To help us examine ways to shape our own futures and explore the trends in today’s marketplace, we’ve invited Sheryl Connelly, one of the most-recognized futurists in the world, to join us at our upcoming 2016 Midwinter Executive Conference. She shared a few insights with me ahead of the event.

Connelly defines a futurist as someone who challenges the status quo adding, “By doing so, the role of the futurist is to help organizations assess the robustness of its strategy.” When asked about the rapid change the food retail industry is facing, Connelly says our industry is not alone. “Consider the revolution taking place in home automation,” posed Connelly. “Through WiFi technology you can lock your doors, set your security system, turn off the lights, and lower your heat from your cell phone.  I think that is pretty cool. Even cooler are appliances that learn to run the washer and dryer when the cost of energy is at its lowest.”        

Sheryl ConnellyIn looking at today’s marketplace, Connelly sees “The Joy of Missing Out” as an emerging and powerful trend food retailers need to pay attention to. “In the context of constant connectivity, people are actively seeking out ways to disconnect, claim back their time and purposefully live in the moment,” says Connelly. “Indeed, one might argue the highest form of luxury is time. Rich or poor—we all only have 24 hours a day.”

Looking into her crystal ball, Connelly envisions the future grocery store as a health and wellness destination. “By 2025, I imagine groceries stores will be an extension of pharmacies—such that food will be sorted according to their respective health benefits,” claims Connelly. “Suffering from arthritis?  Eat food from this section. If diabetes ails you, purchase this combination of food. ”

Looking even further into the future, Connelly sees the tried and true principals of customer service in food retail going a step further. “By 2050, I suspect the grocery industry will be more service oriented, where products are delivered to your door step on a daily or even hourly basis,” forecasts Connelly. “Smart subscription-based services will be the norm and will rely on machine learning to recognize your households usage patterns and place orders in a just in time fashion.” 

So, what does it take to be a futurist? Connelly shared a few tricks, “It helps if you are naturally curious and enjoy reading.  As for an easy tip, the next time you hear someone say, “That will never happen?” try to imagine the implications if it were to happen.” Connelly advises, “See how many “if . . . , then . . .” scenarios you can explore.”