Just checked out with the grocery cart of the future? Here’s your digital receipt scoring the nutrient richness of your trip. Heading home for dinner? Your smart fridge has scanned all the food in your kitchen, compiled a menu of the healthiest meal combinations (tailored to your food preferences and allergies, of course) and has started preheating your oven.
In 2020, all the things we’ve always been told to do–eat better, exercise, get some sleep, see your doctor–will not only be easier, we’ll do them in spite of our best efforts not to. Making healthy choices will be done for us.
Take nutrition. Imagine if today’s nutrition labels–with their user-friendliness of tax forms and the informational consistency of a Madoff prospectus–were replaced by a universal icon that ranked all food with a brilliantly simple combination of a color and a 1-to-5 rating based on a database of nutritional information. Making a healthy choice becomes as simple as picking a color and the highest number rating you can find.
For the last several months my colleagues and I tagged along with strangers on their grocery trips and even invited ourselves to their family dinners, all in the name of understanding how Americans decide what to eat. What we learned is that people unwittingly develop basic principles or philosophies about what to eat, based on a buffet of often conflicting sources: morning shows, celebrity nutritionists, cereal boxes, a best friend and (at best) five minutes of conversation with their doctor. The result is an incomplete and often inaccurate understanding of nutrition that leads to unhealthy food choices and, ultimately, poor health.
When it comes to food, our research found that all 300 million Americans typically fit into just four distinct types of eaters: Convenient, Comfortable, Confused and Convinced. A person’s “Food Personality” is based on how heavily influenced they are by a particular situation, and whether they have a defined or undefined approach to nutrition.
To help Americans eat better, we must create a universal nutrition information system that is both intuitive and easily adopted. This is no small task. The USDA, FDA, Food Standards Agency, supermarket chains and food producers have made attempts at standardizing and simplifying consumer choice, yet none have improved America’s eating habits. Why? We found that no approach takes into account the entire user experience. Package labeling–the predominant focus of most systems–is only one consumer touch point.
In 2020 we’ll be able to leverage interconnected devices that go beyond a fire hose of nutritional information. We’ll be able to collect and aggregate food choices and their nutritional impact over time, ultimately driving behavioral change through integrated experiences. Digital interconnectivity will link together every food decision–imagine having an instantly updated nutritional rating that is omnipresent in your life. Purchase a salad for lunch, watch your rating go up. Eat those buffalo wings, watch it plunge.
A universal icon will be the core to realizing a universal understanding of nutrition. By creating one intuitive system, we can help everyone effortlessly identify and track the nutrient richness of what they eat. With this vision in mind, we have proposed an icon combining a number score and color value that is easy enough for even a 5-year-old to grasp.
In our future vision, a simple choice of a 3-value loaf of multigrain bread over a 2-value roll sparks the urge to reach a 4-value shopping trip. The icon is definitive enough to score every food combination from a single vegetable to a month of meals. It’s flexible enough to help every Food Personality regardless of the decision before them: salad vs. fries, pretzels from brand X vs. brand Y, or spaghetti dinner vs. mac-n-cheese. And, ultimately it encourages consumers–and food manufacturers–to make decisions on the basis of health first.
The alternative is a technology-fueled, convenience-charged world of overmarketed, indulge-now-take-a-vitamin-pill-later foodlike products, each less healthy than the next.
But if we start today with a universal system for making food choices, by 2020 we’ll have a world where nutritional value defines the competitive food marketplace. The tastiest benefit? We’ll change the world whether the average consumer realizes it or not.