As food innovators, we must remember that there are many flavors of innovation and they each serve a strategic purpose based on the needs of the customer and business. Incremental innovations support and extend existing product lines with new features or by serving adjacent customer needs. On the other end of the spectrum, breakthrough innovations create entirely new product categories and customers, boldly moving the industry forward.
Ideally, a mix of both types of innovation needs to be pursued for food companies to capture and create opportunities for themselves. Problems can arise when a company is too focused on only incremental innovation or all breakthrough innovation.
Achieving this mixed approach to innovation is difficult in practice, as incremental and breakthrough mindsets are quite different. The former focuses on near-term time scales with more concrete visions of costs and benefits, while the latter is all about diving into the future with many unknowns. Building a culture that can accommodate both of these innovation approaches is challenging, but worthwhile.
This is why we created The Future Market, a conceptual grocery store that imagines what the world of food could look like in the year 2065. The store is in development and will live online and in physical form. But instead of stocking the shelves with the same products you’d see in a grocery store today, we will be creating concept prototypes that suggest a very different food system than we live in today. We’ll explore things like biodegradable bioplastics for packaging, advanced aeroponic & hydroponic growing systems, alternative proteins, and future versions the crops we see today.
It’s difficult to get today’s food from ground to table and we don’t always have room for breakthrough innovation. The Future Market is a venue where food innovators can truly think outside of the box and imagine what the food will look like two generations away. It’s a place to only think in “breakthrough” innovation mode. Our goal is to think more ambitiously about the future in order to inspire what we do today.
Outside of the food industry, companies like Google and Amazon have mastered the art of investing in incremental as well as breakthrough innovation. Each week, an onslaught of new refinements, features, and optimizations are introduced into their main software products. While every year, these tech giants typically introduce one game-changing product or service that’s aimed at putting them on a whole new plane of innovation. For every self-driving car or package delivery drone, there are many more new Android releases or product search functions that launch at Google and Amazon, respectively.
This mix of innovation approaches is what keeps companies like Google and Amazon relevant not just today, but well into the future. They are not keen to simply defend their turf today, but they are aggressively paving a way towards longevity through innovation.
This balance of incremental and breakthrough innovation is dearly needed in food today. The food industry is far larger and more vital to our civilization than those tech giants, yet we tend to move at a snail’s pace and avoid risk at all costs. We owe future generations—and ourselves—a stronger effort in promoting outrageous, moon-shot ideas in the food world. The ideas that are crazy enough that they just might work.