Over two decades working within the food and beverage industry to drive nutrition forward, I have seen a lot. Trends have come and gone, policies have shifted back and forth, and front-of-pack labeling systems have endlessly evolved. But never have so many interconnected headwinds and tailwinds all pointed toward the same conclusion: a healthy and sustainable portfolio isn’t just a nicety – it’s an absolute necessity.  

Weight loss wonders stirring up board rooms 

The meteoric growth of semaglutide, AKA GLP-1 agonist drugs prescribed for weight loss, and the emerging effects on consumer behavior in markets like the United States have caused a frenzy. Nearly all our clients are clamoring to make sense of it and understand the impact on their innovation plans and bottom lines.  

Whether these wonder drugs continue to transform lives and behaviors or fizzle out in a few years, consumers will still be searching for solutions: convenient products that win on taste and keep their health goals in check. Forward-thinking companies, including some of our change agent clients, are homing in on health so they can continue to grow and remain relevant. I am far from the only person saying this. Morgan Stanley’s latest insights on the topic indicate that companies with a “better-for-you" portfolio are best positioned for the future.  

Some dismiss the semaglutide craze as a US phenomenon. Fair enough. The uniquely American socio-cultural realities, obesity rates and healthcare system make the US a prime market for both the interest in these medications and impact on consumer purchasing behavior. But these drugs (including illegal imports and off-label prescriptions) are also on the rise in Europe, the UK, Latin America and the Middle East, with the APAC region expected to have the highest growth rate outside the US. Again, future-thinking companies are staying up to date with the latest research and preparing for impact.   

Looking to become more knowledgeable on the potential impact of GLP-1s agonists?
Click below to learn about our latest GLP-1 insights from health professionals,
a key group of influencers engaging directly with these patients.


“Ultra-processed” foods: threat or opportunity? 

If food behavior changes from pharmaceutical-induced weight loss don't propel companies to prioritize portfolio improvement, here’s another reason: ultra-processed foods. This controversial classification, which judges a product’s healthfulness based on its degree of processing rather than on its nutritional content, concerns R&D leaders across the food industry. Not only does the phrase disparage an entire sector, the classification clusters foods like whole grain breakfast cereals, fruit yogurts and tomato sauces together with candies, sugar-sweetened beverages and packaged donuts. 

While scientists are still exploring potential mechanisms to explain early findings of health impact, the public health community has already taken sides. Some view the classification as a clear indicator of foods to be avoided, with certain countries already developing policies against them. Others consider it a dangerous oversimplification, demonizing nearly all packaged foods, including nutritious options like whole grain sliced bread or reduced-sodium canned soups. Not to mention these foods can be especially helpful for marginalized populations who need affordable, safe, convenient, healthy options. 

While the debate continues among scientists and public health professionals, consumers are already weighing in. And according to Mintel, their scrutiny of processed foods will continue to rise. In China, nearly 80% of adults aged 50-65 say that decreasing intake of processed foods is an effective way to improve health. The International Food Information Council’s recent consumer insights report on processed foods found that 70% of US consumers are unsure what processed foods are, but 60% try to avoid them anyway.  

Food processing will not simply cease – convenience is a key part of fast-paced modern society. And consumers won’t stop seeking indulgent products – they’re human after all. But they are also asking for new solutions: delicious, nutritious, “less-processed” products. And what is the goal of business anyway if not to supply solutions? I challenge more of the food industry to look at it this way: the ultra-processed foods "issue” is more of an opportunity than a threat. 

Climate + Nutrition: synergies abound 

Perhaps more impactful than any other trend is the mega move to focus on all things sustainable and nature forward. The Initiative on Climate Action and Nutrition (I-CAN) highlights the interconnectivity of climate and nutrition-forward solutions, especially calling on governments and the public sector to align their efforts for greater impact. But the food industry still mostly addresses these two subjects separately, with the sustainability and nutrition teams focusing on their respective “issues” in silos. 

 From regenerative agriculture practices to improve soil health and nutrition to diversifying and upcycling ingredients to a greater focus on fruits and vegetables, there are countless areas where the food industry can innovate in ways that benefit the health of both people and planet -- and their bottom lines to boot. For example, Unilever is evolving and measuring its regenerative agriculture practices to understand the impact on nutrition. Innovative players like Matriark Foods have designed their models from the ground up with nutrition, climate and equity in mind.  

Transforming a portfolio requires a mix of solutions – from reformulation and innovation to acquisition and divestment. But it needs to start with bold ambitions that are rooted in today’s (and tomorrow’s) realities. In its New Frontiers of Nutrition initiative, the World Economic Forum and Accenture urge the food industry to use its second-to-none expertise to “make healthy food the default” by marketing healthier brands as cleverly as the rest.  

The innovation, influence and sheer scale of the global food and beverage industry are what inspired me to choose this sector as my vehicle for impact. And as my fellow IMAGINE leaders remind me daily – enough brilliant ideas already exist. It just takes courage, some systems thinking and a bit of guidance to unlock business solutions and positive impact in food and health.

So, the question to my food industry colleagues is this: think honestly about your portfolio – are you ready for the future?