'The challenge is how to revamp this industry'

Siebelien Defesche

Marketing and Innovation manager

My name is Siebelien Defesche. With over 25 years of (inter)national experience in the field of retail and out of home mainly for FMCG (food & beverages, body care), I am an all-round marketing professional with a broad perspective on business and people. Since 2006, I am working as an independent entrepreneur as interim manager and consultant at a senior and management level. I am also actively involved in several exciting developments in marketing such as martech start-ups and packaging design.

1. What are the main challenges in the food system change?

Prepare the food industry for a future that addresses the key issues and trends, we are already facing and aware of now.

Transparency and reliability
Demand for transparency of sourcing, transportation and production of food & beverages could lead to growth of blockchain solutions and more certifications. Companies need to be truthful in their efforts to make the industry a better place, this requires open cultures. Food safety is key, and frozen, canned, ambient foods have proven to be vital and trustworthy. Challenge is how to revamp this industry with more health and natural credentials going forward.

Natural/holistic health
There is an increasingly holistic approach to health, through an intuitive understanding that food contributes in a natural way to your overall health. This understanding is embedded in the daily repertoire of food. Product types that will grow from this natural health trend are plant-based, organic, biological, fresh food, local products etc. But because food is something to enjoy daily, taste will remain key! No compromises on taste…

On the left side of this spectrum are the “bad out” propositions (sugar, salt, MSG, colorants etc). On the right side of this spectrum are the “good in” propositions (fortified foods, nootropics, supplements etc.).

Mindfulness/conscious choices
On the one hand, consumers are more aware of health and wellness, on the other hand food and drinks are about fun and taste. For most people, it’s not about being a “crusader”, but about making more conscious choices when, what and how much you eat and drink … So for example, eat more plant-based products throughout the week because it’s better for you and the planet, but in the weekend eat a premium piece of meat and truly enjoy it. Or stop opening that bottle of wine out of habit every evening when you come home from work, but really enjoy a glass when there is a more special occasion like a dinner with friends. So it’s about a certain mindfulness in what you eat and drink, and being more aware of your choices. Consumers find their own balance that way throughout time. It’s not about being a tee-totaller or strict vegan.

The increased awareness of the responsibility we have towards the planet, people and environment of the past decades will continue to grow. This is a very broad topic, touching on issues like use of natural sources, footprint/LCA, social responsibility, waste reduction etc. The overarching driver for the future will be on circularity for the total food chain

2. What will the future of food look like in 25 years, what will we eat?

In the next 25 years, our main diet in the sense of macro nutrients will remain the same as it is now, of course (probably with a small shift towards more fat and less carbs)

The way the consumer will acquire the products will also remain mainly the same, i.e. through the food industry, because it has brought tremendous benefits to the world with safe, accessible and affordable food. There most likely will be a shift towards more local and smaller players, online channels etc, but in essence it’s all part of the industry; we will not move on a big scale to home-grown sourcing of daily food intake

What we eat and drink will change:

  • Less meat, with more plant-based alternatives, more lab-grown meats, more “waste” animals with no photogenic qualities (larvae, locusts etc.)
  • More unprocessed foods, local food, fresh fruits and vegetables
  • More nuts, seeds and legumes
  • More botanical and functional drinks
  • Blurred categories: e.g. coffee with nutritional benefits, immunity boosting meal kits
  • Different business models/Routes to Market: subscription based, shared concepts, circular, clicks and bricks, food communities

Branding and design are the most constant and available way of communicating with your consumer.

3. What is the way forward, what can we do today for a better tomorrow?
Find the balance between raising awareness with a wider audience (set the agenda, share the knowledge) versus keeping a consumer centric attitude and not preaching for your own parish, stay away from “grachtengordel” arrogance. Solutions must be simple and accessible.

As a marketeer be creative in combining facts, views and experiences. Be consistent in your innovations: keep strategy/vision in mind, even though you may need to pivot a few times in the execution, you should always be able to answer the “why” question…
4. What role can branding and brand design play in driving the change?

Branding and design are the most constant and available way of communicating with your consumer. It’s easy to miss communication campaigns, because after all most consumers don’t really care about our brands. But packaging is a smart mass communication tool and can reinforce certain messages and values on a daily basis. By being as sustainable as possible they walk the walk that companies talk. I don’t believe in using packaging as a message board though, it should always focus on product and brand communication and not about company programmes.

The most sustainable packaging is no packaging.

5. Can you name a role model who is making the right future steps in your eyes?

Not a specific role model, I think there are certain food & beverage categories that are very exciting and dynamic now, such as plant-based and lo/no-alcohol. Small start-ups as well as big companies are very active and doing amazing things here. These categories will grow double digit for several years more in my view. I have worked in both categories for the past two years and it’s been very inspiring.

6. With whom would you like to discuss this subject over dinner?

I would like to discuss this over dinner with Michael Fassbender, just because he is super hot! And food is all about enjoyment, right!? 

7. What do you think is the most progressive/sustainable packaging solution so far?
The most sustainable packaging is no packaging! But that’s not achievable on a big scale, and also something we may not want for hygiene reasons and communication purposes… So then I think: less packaging and biodegradable/compostable, both for CU and DU. Aim for highest degree of circularity. I think a crucial challenge is to ramp up the efficiency and consistency of the waste recycle system, where now plastic pieces < A4 are just lost, municipalities have very diverse programs (some throwing everything together, some adding 6 more separate containers), there are not enough stations for deposits etc. Personally I love the recyclable coffin made from mycelium, as an example of our final packaging 😊

8. Which characteristics are crucial for people and companies to be able to keep up with the future and the associated innovations?

Embrace a culture of experimentation and learning (Lean Startup way). Required characteristics are: flexibility, open-mindedness, critical thinking, capability to see the bigger picture (keep strategy/vision in mind, change tactics when needed), appreciation for the complementarity of people, reliability, have fun in what you do. Work with integrity, which is “doing the right thing, even when nobody is looking”.

9. How do you contribute?

I contribute hopefully, in a modest way, by doing what I am hired to do in a professional, constructive, responsible, ethical and intelligent way… I don’t have the ambition to make earth shattering changes, I am not a visionary, but I do want to have a positive impact on those close to me and not hurt people not close to me.

10. What is your biggest desire or ambition?

My biggest ambition is to keep an open mind, keep listening, keep talking to people and keep on learning …

Siebelien Defesche

Siebelien Defesche

Marketing and Innovation manager