Q&A: The Future Laboratory Collab

Last year, The Future Laboratory asked LOVE. to collaborate for their annual Food & Drink Futures Forum, exploring the challenges and opportunities set to shape the future of food and drink.

The event culminated with their latest macro-trend report - Uprooted Diets - where co-founders Chris Sanderson and Martin Raymond presented the findings.

On the day, our Head of Strategy Neil Bennett took attendees on a journey through an immersive activation, before taking part in a live Q&A.

Check out the highlights below.

What was it about the brief that LOVE. found exciting?

LOVE. was asked to create the brands, packaging, and communications that we might see in such futures as determined within the Uprooted Diets macro-trend report.

We already do this for the likes of Diageo and Häagen-Dazs, but rarely do we get to think so far into the future.

As part of the brief, we created packaging for sugar products from the US, taking visual cues from cigarette packaging.

A new wine brand - Close Quarter - which farms wine in vertical vineyards in the Northern Quarter, just around the corner from our design studio.

Photo credit: LOVE. & The Future Laboratory
Photo credit: LOVE. & The Future Laboratory

Our design team got really excited about seaweed packaging that could wrap the climate positive burger of the future.

We also created FooHD which aims to turn the debate around genetically modified foods into a positive, not a negative.

Photo credit: The Future Laboratory and LOVE.
Photo credit: The Future Laboratory and LOVE.

But whilst I say stretch, the reality is that a lot of this stuff is literally just around the corner. There's a real sense of reality to what brands should be thinking about.

We encourage all of our clients to look ahead and think long term.

There is currently so much short-term thinking in marketing and products, which is why we loved this brief.

Should branding be used as an activist tool?

Design has long been a key tool for activism.

From propaganda to peace movements and punk, design is pivotal to establishing symbols, communicating and driving iconography associated with the biggest global challenges.

It seems that food and drink is the next frontier, so why not?

Today most activism is lost in kite-marks, or within advertising campaigns and brand purpose.

There's room to be more radical on how a brand, packaging or communications can create impact.

Food and drink brands should look towards Patagonia or Farfech and their adoption of radical transparency and circular design for inspiration.

Are there any examples of brands already doing this?

There are some brilliant start-ups. For example Impossible Foods, whose mission is ‘To save meat. And earth.’

Animal agriculture occupies over half of land on earth and a quarter in fresh water. In response, the brand has found a way to create meat using plants.

Photo credit: Impossible Foods
Photo credit: Impossible Foods

Available in American fast-food joint White Castle, they unveiled quite a funny launch campaign with Wutang Clan I'd recommend checking out.

Then there's Snact, making healthy snacks from fruit which would otherwise be thrown away.

They use a compostable flexible film to package their products and talk about their offering as a delicious protest.

In more mainstream circles - which is where we need a commitment - we’ve seen Veuve Cliquot begin to explore no waste packaging.

Photo credit: Greener Package
Photo credit: Greener Package

They’ve invented a box and paper bottle which is created from grape residue and natural fibers produced in the winemaking process.

Then, of course, there is Iceland with their plastic-free pledge and their recent palm oil Christmas ad.

Do drinks brands still rely on provenance to establish their brand identity?

We’ve already seen a shift in provenance as a factor in a lot of the spirits brands we work with.

We work across a number of Diageo’s whisky brands, and often when you get into discussions around provenance you get locked into conventions and clearly defined rules.

Often there is very little wiggle room for innovation or doing something different because the rules are so tight.

But when you look outside this, you find the brands who aren't relying on provenance popping up and winning with younger consumers because they give people different reasons to.

They might not be a ‘Scotch’, but they’ve got a brilliant story, amazing packaging, unusual distillation processes, or other interesting links with culture. These things are the emotive levers amongst younger drinkers anyway.

Photo credit: menniedrinks/Instagram
Photo credit: menniedrinks/Instagram

So I think gone are the days where authenticity has to be driven by a provenance story. It can be garnered in many other ways.

So going back to our Close Quarter wine from Manchester, why not?

As we're becoming more conscious of how far wine travels, why can’t we serve Manchester homegrown and bottled wine? Rather than a wine that has to travel all the way from South Western Australia, Chile or the Nappa Valley?

What is the biggest challenge in creating a new food brand?

Depending on the type of food, the balance of familiarity and newness is a challenge.

In reality, people are conscious to make a change, but the majority of consumers aren’t quick to change their eating habits. They like the way things taste, look and smell.

Although with design, naming, product form, texture and packaging, you need to signal its difference, you still have to deliver against the more formal conventional codes that are familiar.

Take our pasta made from Amaranth, Freekeh and Moringa Leaf. We needed to find an emotive hook to pull people in and communicate its point of difference whilst retaining the fact the product still behaves like pasta or rice when cooked.

Photo credit: LOVE. & The Future Laboratory
Photo credit: LOVE. & The Future Laboratory

What role can branding play in opening up consumer preferences to new product categories?

We've recently started working with an innovative drinks start-up who are trying to invent the future of non-alcohol health drinks.

Their products are amazing and they’ve got killer ingredient stories, but the way they behave overall is quite similar to other more established brands.

They need to capture people's imaginations, create desire and really connect with their target audience by having a point of view on the world with packaging that gets noticed.

These briefs don’t come around often enough. When they do, they offer more room for bravery as the brand doesn't have to bow down to category expectations.

And so, whilst I mentioned before about balancing familiarity and newness, you can actually start to lead and establish these codes yourself.

How can brands use visual identity to build customer trust with products like gene-edited food?

For gene-edited foods, it goes without saying that transparency and simplicity of messaging are essential.

It's that element of making something feel normal but different which is key. Like any food product, it needs to clearly deliver benefits and value to the consumer.

Of course, such branding can’t be in absence of wider education, but a common language and set of visual identifiers across the board is key to making everything connect between communications, the moment of purchase and the experience itself.

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You can find out more about our partnership with The Future Laboratory here.