Stepping Ahead, Looking Behind

By Cher Mereweather

By standing five years in the future to look back at the anticipated changes by the virus, we are able to break limiting beliefs and create a space for real breakthroughs in thinking.


I want to start by thanking you for the great response to our “Coles Notes of COVID” blog post from a few weeks ago.


It was a rewarding experience for the team pulling together the trends and ideas that we were seeing from across the food and beverage industry and across the world.


And while we had committed to doing another Coles Notes post in a few weeks, something has crossed my desk this week that is so good that I want to share it with you now. So forgive me if I change things up a bit!


This report, entitled “After the Virus”, is published by the Centre for the Future of Work at Cognizant, a digital innovation company. Their team has imagined standing in 2025, looking back at the world of 2023 and written the report from that perspective.


That in itself, is worthy of comment. When we do visioning exercises with our clients to help them imagine their sustainable and purpose-driven future, we do a similar exercise - we ask them to stand five years in the future and talk about the business they created. It helps break limiting beliefs and often creates a space for real breakthroughs in thinking. So when we saw the Cognizant report was using the same techniques, it got our attention!


Beyond the way the report is constructed, it was really the insights that kept us reading.


Here are some of the key highlights, with a link to the report provided at the end of this post.


COVID-19 Was Online’s Big Bang


Perhaps not a surprising conclusion, but what landed for us was how, from the perspective of 2025, COVID-19 was clearly identified as the moment where “everything that could move online, did move online”.


Technologies that had previously existed but remained niche, such as remote healthcare, or “see-what-I-see” augmented reality quickly became generalized, helping supply chain efficacy, transparency, and ensuring that every business now had both the opportunity and obligation to talk to all levels of its supply chain at once.


The impact of this went way beyond the death of the office and business travel, to a subtle but powerful re-creation of working relationships where levels of trust and empowerment became a very welcome by-product of the remote working environment. The assumption here is that managers realize as part of this transition that you get more from your people if you align on a purpose and then give them the tools to make their best contribution, without constantly peering over their shoulders…


What does this mean for you, now? Well, if there are parts of your business that aren’t digital yet, don’t hang around too much longer. Your customer and supplier relationships, how you operate your facility, train your staff, manage your throughputs as well as track your environmental and social footprint are all heading to a remote world. And, although the report’s authors don’t touch on it, perhaps it will also herald a new era of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems that are less clunky…


Health Vs Privacy


This is a debate that is already looming large in Canada and elsewhere, as we begin to imagine the privacy trade-offs inherent in a world where we can track and trace everyone, all the time. 


The authors draw the parallels with Sept 2001, when almost overnight, getting on a plane went from a casual saunter through an airport terminal to a fraught gauntlet-run of x-rayed teddy bears and criminalized bottles of water. And they predict the same thing will happen with health.


The imagined creation of Health Security Agencies with eye-watering budgets that create and enable systems and technologies to collect and collate equally eye-watering amounts of personal health data on individuals, in return for access to many of the things we take for granted today is the basic premise explored in the report.


What does this mean for you, now? While pre-approval systems based on real-time health data (for people to enter buildings) and temperature scanning tricorders may sound a bit Star Trek, it is entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that checking the temperature of your staff every day is not going to stop at the end of lockdown. And that social distancing at work will become not an isolated set of temporary processes, but a standard operating procedure in which constant innovation is required. Those plexiglass protection screens and arrows on the floor may be here to stay…


Clean Became Cool and People Stayed at Home


Again, from the perspective of 2025, as the world began to venture back out of its nests and embrace the possibility of society again, a new clean regime took hold. While many had privately ridiculed Naomi Campbell pre-COVID for sanitizing her airline seat and table before sitting down, post-COVID, the idea of travelling in a dirty subway train or streetcar became anathema. Beyond improved sanitation regimes for public spaces, the report’s authors predict that cleanliness - in both its aesthetics and its behaviours - will become the way of life.


“The increased costs of regularly deep-cleaning workplaces and providing sick leave were considered a worthwhile investment in maintaining reputations and avoiding the PR debacle of being a vector of viral infection.”


At the same time, the increasing aging population will become a burden - both financial and in terms of healthcare - that societies will be unable to bear in the context of a new pandemic. As a result, elderly people will be encouraged to stay at home and a whole new set of industries will spring up to serve them - from delivering and preparing food, to keeping them company, to deploying medical device technology to keep them alive. 


What does this mean for you, now? Direct to consumer growth of over 25% in the last few months has opened up the possibility for many food and beverage companies of being able to control the relationships with their end users, regardless of their position in the supply chain. The data that companies will glean from this needs to become the basis of a new phase of innovation in how to serve a growing percentage of the population who will be digitally empowered and based at home for the majority of the time. Not just the elderly, but individuals and families of working age.


And the products that will be the most in demand will be those that deliver health benefits. Firms that move now to make their products more nutritious, that are in close and continuous communication with their customers to understand what they want and need, and who keep their factories spotless and their staff well taken care of will be the ones that win.


How is your company facing any or all of these challenges?


Do you have a great example that you can share of how you are evolving and pivoting to meet the changing times?


To read the full “After the Virus” report, click here. Join the conversation and send me an email. As always, it’s a pleasure to hear from you and to work with so many of you every day to build a more purposeful and sustainable food industry - one company at a time.


Cher Mereweather

President & CEO

P 519.822.2042 x1

C 519.803.6395

Tags: Sustainability, Strategy, Purpose, Food and Beverage, Covid-19

Subscribe to Provision Coalition

Enjoy access to industry news, articles, events, trends and more!