Written by Rik Vera

Last week, my company nexxworks went on an Innovation Tour to Silicon Valley to inspire others about the disruptive changes in the healthcare and food sectors. I already knew that these domains are going to completely transform in the coming years. In fact, everyone knows that. But what I saw over there really opened my eyes about how we are going to evolve from ‛sick care’ – which is what it actually is today (a business model focussed on tending to the sick and infirm) – to ‛healthcare’, and in the end to just plainly ‛ health’. And how we are going to have to deal with their consequent major impact on our planet.

Three major learnings from our Healthcare & Food Innovation Tour

So what are those forces that are about to change this landscape so dramatically? Answer: big data, technology and changing human behavior. Everything which is measurable will be duly measured. Because the measuring tools are becoming exponentially more powerful, cheaper and smaller, this leads to a breeding ground of universities, startups and large companies like Google which develop all kinds of measuring tools in order to easily and rapidly collect masses of data about our bodies in real time – and metadata from all the billions of correlations between all that data. Not only blood pressure, body temperature, heart rhythm and blood values will be measured, but also your gut flora is mapped out and much, much more… and that is then combined with your food habits, your lifestyle, the sun’s UV-radiation, the quality of the air, etc. 

1. Medicine, as we know it, will disappear

All this data can be combined by 'smart algorithms', almost infinitely, with all possible kinds of patents, papers, patient cases and test results. Just imagine what we could learn from all that. In addition, computers will become better able to test new drugs exponentially faster. Medicine will be able, at an accelerating pace, to wage a ‛precision war’ against every individual variant of every disease. Not only because the measuring tools will become exponentially better, tinier and less conspicuous, but primarily because the computing power needed to run all these smart, self-learning algorithms will also increase exponentially.

The upshot of all this will ensure that medicine will die out. Every individual will become a master of their own existence. Big data will ensure that we can be ‛cured to order’. Also, ‛being ill’ will become more predictable and we, as humans, will focus more on prevention than finding cures. But there is more...

The new, empowered consumer is in control. In healthcare too. We will be increasingly able, you see, to manage eating habits, lifestyle and environmental factors. We will probably be able, as individuals, to insure ourselves based on our lifestyle data and that’s something we will have to be mindful of. This is set to become a very tricky balancing exercise, from an ethical standpoint. 

2. If we are going to live longer, then we also need to keep the planet healthy

I would like to highlight an aspect that gets too little attention: if we’re all going to live more healthily and combat and manage diseases better, then we will live longer lives and place an even greater burden on this planet.

Health and sustainability are, after all, inextricably linked. It’s not (just) how healthily we feed ourselves, but how can we possibly produce enough food without using up too much water, land, without burdening the environment and in harmony with animal welfare. In that domain too a brand-new industry is emerging: that of alternative food production. It focuses chiefly on high productivity relative to the impact on the environment. On that ‛tectonic plate’, technology, biology, chemistry and big data are coming together in a mixing crucible of, once again, universities, start-ups, scale-ups, venture capital and big players: they are focusing on creating food that is ‛manufactured’ as much as possible is and avoids all possible animal origin.

I was really impressed by ‛Not Company‛. They have launched ‛Not Milk’ and ‛Not Mayo’. This is a squeaky clean concept: this isn’t mayonnaise, but it does replace mayonnaise. Crystal-clear product information. Clear communication. A simple, easy-to-understand label. Tailored to the ‛new’ customer, who expects full transparency and zero bullshit. These are the expectations of the ‛new’ eco-conscious customer, who – connected in networks – drives change him- (or her)self, and who won’t take orders, top down.

‛Not Company’ does not want to make the world a better place and rewrite the whole food chain. Unlike, for example, Hampton Creek. That is a lofty mission statement of the latter, but not the right path. ‛Not Company’ meets a growing customer need and in doing so, their market grows. Hampton Creek, for its part, tries to create a customer need and that has always been the battleground of the behemoths with their huge marketing resources. Their methods, however, are beginning to lose their punch. If Adidas has decided that carpet-bombing TV-commercials no longer fit in with their marketing strategy, well, that is saying a lot. The power has shifted to the networks. Joining those with just the right value proposition, at the right time via the right channels is key. And ‛Not Company’ realized that.

3. Distribution, in food & health, has also made a U-turn

And that brings us to the final aspect of the revolution in food & health: distribution. There you can see three big trends. Once again, you see start-ups, scale-ups, investors and large companies who are engaged in this, brewing an explosive concoction.

  1. Custom solutions
  2. The ‛platform economy’
  3. A hybrid world

Custom solutions. Once again, because big data, technology and the empowered customers make this possible and want it. They want to be recognized as individuals. They want consistency. They want to be served to order. Firms engaged in food & health, try to capitalize on that with tailored solutions and smart methods in order to get this to that consumer, quickly and easily.

One of those techniques is the ‛sharing economy platform’, which consumers join. Not only do they try to upscale the products or services via their networks but they also deliver them or become them. Instacard is a fine example of this.

Last but not least, the recent move by Amazon – that wants to control the whole value chain, including the logistics that are needed to make a fast and easy delivery – has made it crystal-clear that the world is hybrid and wishes to remain so: Bricks and clicks, digital and analog, digital and human. Online players are about to valorize the market position they’ve attained, the amassed data on consumers and their market value in order to mercilessly blow away the ‘brick & mortar’ players – who have all reacted too late and who, above all, believed religiously in the ‛rules of the game’ in the economy, business processes and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

It was a crazy ride, this tour, with lots of inspiration and new insights. So I therefore very much look forward to our next two journeys of innovation: our ‛Day After Tomorrow Tour’ in San Francisco in September and our ‛Future of Shopping Tour’ in October.