by Aaron Cohen

In 1998, the American Government reached a Master Settlement with the tobacco industry which provided $500 million to The Truth to prevent young people from becoming cigarette smokers.  

A decade earlier, I was the beneficiary of youth anti-smoking marketing. In my high school staircases, the health department placed posters with the following prose:

“The first time you smoke a cigarette your eyes water, your nose burns, your stomach churns and you think you are going to throw up. Think your body is trying to tell you something?”

I  knew that poster was right, and never smoked again. So when the chance came to help The Truth, I jumped at it and helped to curb youth smoking. The Truth crushed it and helped reduce teen smoking nationwide  from 23% in 2000  to 8 percent by 2015. This will save an estimated 150,000 lives a year in the United States.   

As the anti-tobacco movement rose to prominence, the documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock released Super Size Me in which he lived off of only McDonald’s food for 30 days. At that moment, I knew that the food industry would face a Truth-like campaign.   

13 years later, Americans are eating quite differently especially when it comes to eating out. Most recently,  The Washington Post laid out how much dining out has changed with the advent of fast casual. Today’s diners want healthier, locally sourced, fresher food. Once celebrated for their “hyper-speed,” fast food nation is now associated with the industrial food supply. In particular, younger Americans are making very different food choices. Fast Casual restaurants are growing at 10 to 12% per year and fast food is barely keeping up with the rate of inflation.

But in the hyper-competitive restaurant industry, food costs and labor costs are rising so margins are contracting. This explains the new wave of technological innovation sweeping the country’s chains. Bluetooth thermometers, mobile software, robotics, marketing loyalty apps and other technologies are now being introduced at a rapid pace. An industry that confronted its first big problem — health and wellness — is now ready to invest in a panoply of technologies that can improve quality, safety, and financial margins.   

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are fast becoming bottled water companies because sugar became tobacco. It’s no accident the fastest growing restaurant concepts in America include  Sweet Greens, Cava, Luna Grill, and Vitality Bowls. Transfats are going to end up on every end of year out list. Fresh is the “in” ingredient and fresh requires technological sophistication to ensure quality and safety.

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