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Back To Normal May Not Be Best

Are you eager to return to normal once the upheaval caused by COVID-19 is over?

Many of us take comfort in the notion of life going back to the way it used to be. However, a food system expert warns that approach could be bad for business.

“Wanting the social aspects of our lives back makes sense emotionally and personally. But rationally and professionally, the desire to ‘get back to normal’ is a liability,” says Kevin Ryan, founder of Malachite Consulting and Research, which serves clients in the food system.

Ryan is also a member of CFI’s Consumer Trust Insights Council, which brings together food industry thought leaders to share insights on emerging trends and uses data analysis to inform strategic direction.

In a recent column, Ryan explained that it has been a struggle helping some companies see a post-COVID future because they’re holding onto the past. That mindset of going back prevents them from understanding what lies ahead.

“Seeing the previous ‘normal’ as the only potential end goal not only denies reality, but stops us from seeing potential opportunities,” Ryan said.

Consumer attitudes have undergone significant swings over the past two months, as CFI has been tracking through the weekly webcast CFI NOW: COVID-19 and The Latest Consumer Trends. Online grocery shopping and home delivery from restaurants have become the norm and consumers will expect some of those conveniences to continue, members of the Consumer Trust Insights Council have shared on the webcast.

In a webinar, Ryan joined Ujwal Arkalgud, a cultural anthropologist who also serves on the Consumer Trust Insights Council. They identified how the pandemic has changed perceptions of sustainability. One of the dominant trends to emerge is that shoppers are very interested in shortening the supply chain and want to buy food produced closer to home. Consumers are also looking to technology to solve challenges.

The changing landscape presents opportunities for the food system, Ryan said. He encourages his clients to look past their perception of how things should be and to think like an outsider starting a new business. This often gives them a clear view of what might be possible for their business and the food system.

“Stop defaulting to ‘normal’ and start focusing on ‘next,’” Ryan urges.

You can sign up for Ryan’s weekly newsletter Culture Matters. To learn more about changing consumer attitudes, join CFI NOW each Friday at 1 p.m. CDT.