Deluged with data but hungry for insights: five challenges facing the food industry 

October 25, 2017

What do venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, farmers, elected officials, incubators and leaders from some of the world’s biggest food and agriculture companies—including Cargill—have in common?

A desire to transform the food sector.

In its second year, the Wall Street Journal’s Global Food Forum brought these disparate groups together in New York City to explore the intersection of food and technology—and discuss how innovation can help feed a growing world population. While opinions vary on how best to do it, here are five challenges we must address together to meet evolving consumer demands.

  1. The industry is deluged with data, but hungry for insights. Access to data has grown exponentially, but understanding what to do with that data and how to apply it to make precise farming and business decisions remain elusive for many farmers and companies alike—as does an agreement on who owns the data.
  2. The pressure is on to feed a growing world population. Speakers at the forum shared a growing concern about global food security and the shortage of resources necessary to feed 10 billion people by 2050. Of note: experts say more food needs to be produced in the next 40 years than the world has produced in the last 10,000 years combined.
  3. Grocery shopping is changing in the digital age. Peapod, an online grocery delivery service, shared shopping trends led by the growth of mobile ordering among millennials who expect “smart shopping,” including filtering options, meal kitting and add-on recommendations based on past shopping patterns. But Peapod also shared good news for brick and mortar retailers—consumers still want “omnichannel” experiences with both in-store and online options.
  4. Science matters, but so does emotion. We have to figure out how to make the most of the science and technology available to feed the world—GMOs, alternative protein sources, food fortification and cultured meats, for example—while also addressing the emotional connection people have to their food. “To get the full benefit of these technologies, consumer acceptance will be critical,” said Sonya Roberts, president of growth ventures for Cargill’s protein business, who attended the forum.
  5. Consumers want food with a story. To deliver on consumer preferences, food makers must tell the story of their food—where it came from, how it was raised, how it was handled and how it arrived in the restaurant or on the shelf. During a panel discussion, Cargill Executive Vice President Joe Stone noted that blockchain technology holds promise to increase traceability and build trust with consumers.

Want more from the forum? Watch Cargill Executive Vice President Joe Stone’s discussion “The Global Research Lab—a look at innovation outside the U.S. and its contribution to global food supplies."