Interview with food research & development expert John Ruff

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During his 36-year career with Kraft and the former General Foods, John headed research & development (R&D) for International and North American businesses, established global knowledge centers, and led a worldwide advisory council consisting of external experts who helped guide Kraft’s health and wellness initiatives.

John is a past president of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), and past chair of the National Food Processors Association (NFPA). Twitter

John Ruff

Why is innovation in food and beverage important? In which areas is innovation most urgent? For whom does innovation need to happen the most?

Innovation has always been the driver of growth in the food industry. We need innovation to feed the growing global population while reducing the impact of greenhouse gasses in food production. More innovation is needed to meet the ever-changing safety challenges in food consumed both at and away from home. These innovations will require greater collaboration across the supply chain from farm to fork. Twitter

What are the biggest challenges you see facing the food and beverages industry?

I see two very distinct challenges which are inhibiting innovation in the food industry. First, the proliferation of misinformation on food and nutrition in the media is driving consumers to buy “natural” and less processed foods in the belief that they are healthier, which is inhibiting the development and application of new technologies. Second, the dramatic reduction in resources, particularly R&D, as part of “zero cost” budgeting and fear of takeovers.

What do you think is the future of the world’s biggest food brands?

I think that big food brands are likely to have a mixed future. Consumers will continue to have confidence in the safety and quality of strong brands but “big food” brands are often perceived as less healthy than smaller local artisanal products. Those who find the way to bridge this apparent contradiction are most likely to succeed.

What do you imagine the future of food will look like? Which trends do you think we will see in the future?

Today, we have contrasting trends around the world. In developed countries, more consumers are looking for “simpler”, less processed, more natural foods, whereas in many developing countries the need for affordable, safe, and nutritious food is leading to increased investment in food processing and application of new technologies. Going forward, it is likely that we will see more innovation in food from countries like China, India, and Brazil as opposed to the US and Europe. The increased need for protein, particularly in developing countries, will accelerate the use of aquaculture. In the longer term, climate change will dramatically alter how and where we grow and process food, and ultimately what we eat!

What factors make leaders successful innovators or pioneers?

Passion, curiosity, and perseverance. Twitter

What factors are critical to help keep brands, and their products, forward-thinking?

This hasn’t changed, the most important factor is meeting consumer needs, especially those they can’t articulate. Novel consumer research techniques will be critical to succeed.

Which beverage or food innovator or innovation inspires you and why?

I have always considered McDonald’s® Hash Browns one of the most fascinating products. Who would have thought of turning hash potatoes into a handheld snack?

The innovator who impacted food more than anyone else in my opinion is Louis Pasteur. His discovery of pasteurization revolutionised our knowledge, allowing the production of safer and better tasting foods.

Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur experimenting in his laboratory.

Do you think it is important for brands to “co-create” with their consumers, and if so, why?

Yes, because one of the success factors of many food entrepreneurs is their ability to meet unfulfilled needs by working informally with consumers. Twitter

What made you decide to jury for the future of project? Is there something you want the creatives and entrepreneurs who participate in the project to consider when submitting their ideas?

My insatiable curiosity keeps me engaged in the world of food 8 years after “retirement”. I’m optimistic about the future, and I’m excited to see the differing ideas – I’m sure some of them will impact my own perception of what’s possible in the future.

I would advise creatives to look past the status quo. What is going to become more important in the future? What problem are you solving?

John Ruff will be sharing his insights as a food research & development expert as a jury member for the Future of Food & Beverages project. Twitter Learn more about the first global think tank delivering inspiration, innovation, and tangible solutions shaping tomorrow:

Join us at the Future of Food conference in Berlin on October 28, 2016 to explore exciting food and beverages industry innovations and developments! Buy Tickets here.


Header image © NASA Goddard Photo and Video

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Katharina Brendel

Kat (she/her) is a storytelling and podcasting strategist. After studying journalism, she gained a boatload of marketing experience around the world (including at jovoto!) and co-founded CoWomen. Today, she collaborates with unheard voices to find, own, and spread their story through a podcast & beyond.