Food innovation is generating considerable buzz at #CES2014 as 3D food printers are unveiled, delighting with confectionary creations, and kitchen tech from dishwashers that work via texts to a WiFi-enabled oven range, promising easier, smartphone controlled futures. We find the future of food and food brands fascinating and have been tracking a growing interest in not only food tech, but in alternative, sustainable food sources.
There are gluten free egg-white chips, kale-flavored yogurts, re-discovered ancient grain chia, powder supplements that ensure we eat a full day's worth of vitamins, and even drinkable sunscreen. Yes, drinkable sunscreen.
These exotic seeming new combinations of ingredients may hold the promise of healthier societies and more efficient use of our planets natural resources. They also hold the promise of standing out from the endless mini-variations of other products in their category.
Take the cricket bar. It's actually made from ground cricket flour. There are plenty of energy bar types in the supermarket aisles, from nut to fruit to chocolate. They all are, at this point, seen-before products. But taking an immensely widely available resource (insects in general outnumber humans roughly one billion to one on Earth), that has more nutritional value than many of the usual ingredients, and tastes like hazelnuts.
The makers of the cricket bar, Chapul looked outside the snack category to truly innovate. In fact they might not even have started in the snack category, but with the abundant main ingredient. On their brand journey, they got to a place that might change not just the snack category on a global scale, but many other food categories too. It’s not far from cricket flour in bars to cricket flour in bread, pasta, pizza or fried chicken breading to name a few of our other favorite foods.
Innovations like Chapul's bar seem to be inspiring others. The New York Times today just featured an interview with the founders of Exo, a cricket bar brand that plans to begin sales in February with flavors like peanut butter and jelly and cashew ginger. Chapul flavors include an Aztec Bar with dark chocolate, coffee and cayenne, a Chaco Bar with peanut butter and chocolate and a Thai Bar with coconut, ginger and lime.
The big takeaway from the cricket bar for brands? Forget what you know about your current category, explore and experiment.
When you find something that makes business and market sense, don’t stop at just the product. Turn the new idea into a powerful brand experience that makes the way your customers interact with your brand special and memorable. Tell a story around the product and show your customers how you solve one of their key troubles. Chapul does it, elaborately explaining the product (which, admittedly is a necessity in their case) and donating 10 percent of profits to water conservation projects. Chapul's customers return the favor with brand advocacy.
Dominik von Jan is Senior Director Strategy, Digital at Interbrand New York.