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We’ve lived for decades now—two centuries really—of what feels like soul-less corporations mass producing everything from the food we eat to the clothes we wear. It has felt like they controlled everything. Even the government.
This was a natural progression out of the Industrial Revolution. As we became better at automation over the last 50 years and goods became increasingly mass-produced, brands lost their authenticity and frankly gave up their morality in exchange for higher margins.
Data shows consumers are becoming wise to it. Young & Rubicam analyzed a set of well-known brands and found their customers’ trust has fallen from 44% in 2001 to a low of 18% in 2017.
Another study by SproutSocial showed more people think brands take stands on social issues for PR purposes than out of authentic concern.
It’s not surprising that consumers have lost trust in industrial brands now that we can see the connection between their operations and society’s growing problems. Frankly, they have created a mess.
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The easiest place to see it is in our food. Artificial ingredients like GMO-corn, wheat, canola and soy have led to an obesity pandemic. Using sugar in everything (the easiest way to extend shelf life) has created a diabetes pandemic.
Cereal companies like Kellogg and General Mills did exactly this. Any time an inferior, cheaper ingredient has been invented, they embraced it. It seems they’ll do anything to add a penny to their quarterly earnings.
Looking at this issue from a modern consumer standpoint, who exactly thinks it’s a good idea to feed children 50 grams of sugar and corn for breakfast? Probably not you, but companies advertise sugary cereal as high-fiber health food regardless.
These disingenuous marketing tactics reflect how industrial brands really feel about their customers. Their actions suggest they have little respect for the public and will say anything to make a dollar.
The largest grocery chains never cared either. The gatekeepers are incentivized to fill their limited shelf space with the lowest cost goods they can find.
Then came 2020.
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With people spending more time online—and Facebook ad costs plummeting—a new opportunity arose for conscious brands to enter the market. Food brands can bypass the gatekeepers and reach new customers directly at acquisition costs that just weren’t possible 12 months ago.
We’re seeing direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands emerging at a faster pace than ever, enhancing our lives with better products.
Harvard Business Review got this flat out wrong in an article it published earlier this year. They predicted the death of DTC brands right as their prospects grew bigger than ever.
This is fueling an important shift that will push away industrial products in favor of conscious brands.
First, consumers are researching nutrition like never before. The keyword “keto” gets 900,000 monthly Google searches alone. That’s a huge number in the digital marketing world. Consumers are educating themselves at a massive rate, and it means they’re increasingly likely to see through the lies industrial companies promote in their marketing.
Second, people are also changing their purchasing habits to make more purchases online.
These are all early signs of a mass consumer trend towards conscious DTC brands. The numbers confirm it. According to Emarketer, DTC companies will grow 24.3% this year from $14.3 billion in 2019 to $17.8 billion.
Grocery stores will remain, but what fills them will change. The macroeconomics will ensure this.
Advances in artificial intelligence, robotics and domestic manufacturing will cause small scale production to become more viable and cheaper than the systems we have in place today. This will allow new brands with better products to succeed. This will happen in the 2020s.
Advances in food ingredients and technology will make it easier to make healthy food taste great at an affordable price. Countless discoveries will be made in the 2020s.
Conglomerates that milk their cash cow will eventually find themselves losing the advantages that supported their dominance for a century.
People will flock to better products as they always have, and over the long run, only conscious brands will survive.
2020 marks the beginning of that era.