It used to be that the main factors influencing a consumer’s purchasing decisions were those directly associated with the product itself. Did the cereal have lots of juicy raisins? Was the pot pie stuffed with chicken? How well did the detergent clean my clothes?
While today’s consumer – whether they live in Guangzhou, Chicago, or Manchester – is still concerned with these attributes, they also want more information about products, much more. Today’s consumers want to know where products came from, each and every ingredient, how they were handled and processed, were harvested sustainably and also their carbon footprint. To top it off, they want control over where, when and how they receive this information – is it printed on the product, displayed on the store shelf, sent to their phone via text message, accessible via an in store kiosk… or is it information they obtain on-line from a blog or community.
With these same consumers increasingly pressed for time, concerned about their health and eating on the move, products have been developed to deliver convenience, nutrition and portability benefits. The result is foods that are increasingly packaged, processed and engineered.
Adding further complexity to the equation is the fragmentation and globalization within the supply chain for many consumer products. Commodities, ingredients and packaging are sourced through a global network of suppliers and sold via multitude of retail outlets.
While the benefits we receive from this highly evolved system are many – substantial risks and costs are also present. Out of stocks continue to cost the industry billions in lost sales, massive amounts of food are wasted unnecessarily due to a lack of visibility, and contaminations and recalls are exacting a growing toll on consumer trust, brand equity and most importantly people’s lives.
Gathering data from this web of activity and network of players and turning it into useful information is a massive challenge… but one that on a Smart Planet must and can be met. It is time for the informational supply chain to catch up with the physical one, for information about products to travel with them wherever they go, for consumers to have the information they need in order to feel good about the products they buy.
Guy Blissett is an IBM Global Business Services consultant and the consumer products lead in IBM's Institute for Business Value. His new report, co-authored with J. Chris Harreld, "Full Value Traceability," examines Chinese consumer values and confidence related to food and product safety.