After experiencing unprecedented upheaval and uncertainty in 2020, the C.O.nxt team saw significant trends emerge by year end. Expect these major factors to affect the food system in 2021:

  • Food remains top-of-mind—Consumer concerns about food include: “How do I get it? Where can I get it? Can I get enough of it? Is it safe?” And as the pandemic subsides: “How did it get to my plate?”
  • Digital ag ecosystem matures—Not just precision farming or satellite imagery but truly big data overlaid with artificial intelligence to improve the entire growing and product distribution cycle, with end-to-end transparency.
  • No return to business-as-usual—Trade shows, industry events, product sampling and other means of doing business will never be the same. Hello virtual everything, overlaid with: “It is nice to be home to put the kids to bed.”

What we eat stays hot.

People worried to the point of obsession over food in 2020. From restaurant closings to the baking boom to unfounded fears over meat shortages to radical shifts in grocery shopping, what we eat was near the top of news feeds for months.

Food issues will continue to foster confusion and concern for 2021. Economist, President of AgResource and C.O.nxt webinar guest Dan Basse told us that demand for staples like flour and meat will remain strong, but distribution disruptions will continue. “U.S. foodservice demand will return, but never reach 51% of disposable income as it was in 2019.”

As the pandemic subsides, our team believes interest in food sources and sustainability will become more prominent. Sign up below for a report on our latest research on consumer trust, sustainability and the food system.

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A.I. pushes ag from digital tools to a digital ecosystem.

We all know agriculture led the concept of self-driving vehicles. Over the years, satellite imagery connected to onboard yield monitoring and then input application and other innovations. Despite advances, digital innovation has been limited by a certain level of proprietary systems and database “disconnectedness” across technologies.

Digital farming ecosystems will begin to emerge in 2021. We agree with Five in 15 guest Greg Berger, Global Director of Customer Insights at Climate Corp: “Dealers, retailers, and other players in the ecosystem have had to find innovative ways to stay connected to and service their growers; digital ag systems are perfectly poised to meet that need.”

The C.O.nxt team sees those connections extending up and down the value chain as consumers, food processors and foodservice retailers demand more information and transparency. Unsuccessful attempts to put food sourcing and tracing information at our fingertips via apps, QR codes and websites will begin to be resolved by new entrants.

How you did business is not how you will do business.

In January 2020, a colleague in China shared important insights with us. With teams in Beijing and Shanghai, Edwin So, Managing Director of Paradigm Communications had a front-row seat during the first weeks of COVID business disruption. At that time Edwin advised: “You will need to learn to do business and win business in the virtual world.” His comments were prescient.

Food sampling, cattle auctions and trade shows will never be quite the same—so embrace it! Our team saw virtual food tastings, cattle auctions with enhanced remote connections and dynamic break-out discussions at online trade shows. Even when we return to our old ways, don’t expect mass abandonment of the ease and efficiencies we pioneered during 2020. We are all too smart for that.

As a colleague at a large agency lamented on a focus group: “I shudder to think of the times I traveled from New York to California for a three-hour meeting. What a waste.”

Most business leaders agree that while face-to-face is vital, our interactions are forever changed. This is particularly true for upcoming generations. None of us will see business meetings and events, circa 2019, again.

We all still need to connect and communicate.

At C.O.nxt, we are strategic marketers and brand builders working across the food system—from micro-organisms living in the soil to entrées on a plate. If we can help you position, communicate and compel regarding any of that, let’s chat. Mark Gale: mgale@co-nxt.com. Marketing and branding is more important than ever in our fragmented and rapidly changing world.