Re-inventing Food – Ready to Blow Up Your Kitchen?

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Some of you may remember Soylent Green (book/movie) where the central premise is people living on wafers because of pollution and over population.  You may also have heard recent reports about someone living on no food but something called Soylent-a drink based on the essential elements humans need to survive.  Here’s the gist:  A struggling entrepreneur looks at his food bills and applies some engineering innovation to the problem and comes up with a formula for a concoction that helps him cut down on his food bills and saves him a ton of time and voila-it works.  He switches all his energy to making that a viable product, crowd sources funding for it and now has NASA and the defense department as potential customers and is profitable already.  Think of it as a 3D printer model for food – break something down to its base components and then assemble it yourself.  The implications of this a ginormous – it will essentially rethink the entire food Supply Chain process.  No need of farms, grocery stores etc. etc. and you can use your imagination for the rest.

But don’t go throwing out your oven and kitchen stove quite yet.  While the phenomenon in itself is an interesting topic for a future blog, there is another aspect that needs careful examination.  If you look at the Value that food provides as nothing more than fuel for the body, then go ahead and empty out your kitchen.  For most people, there is far greater Value in the process of feeding than just refueling yourself in the most cost effective and efficient way possible.  Selecting, acquiring, storing, preparing, eating etc. are all activities that have intrinsic real value associated with them.  The act of cooking is a chore for some but an absolute delight for others – which has nothing to do with the refueling?  The act of eating, especially with others (depending on who they are 🙂 ), has tremendous social value associated with it?  The process of selecting and acquiring food is very enjoyable and part of the ritual for many?  The act of feeding satisfies many if not all of our senses and that has real value associated with it? 

This is no different than what most sourcing/supply chain organizations do – they assume that “food” is only needed for refueling and therefore the most cost effective and efficient way is the best way because that is the way we choose to define the Value in food.  However, each and every one of our stakeholders/customers defines the Value in “food” totally differently – and that’s why we almost always run into resistance.  We cannot make them replace their food (with all the real, explicit Value associated with it beyond the refueling) and make them drink Soylent with the argument that it provides refueling and is the most cost/effort effective.  This is what we meant a few years ago when we declared that Strategic Sourcing is Dead (and if not, it should be).    We caused quite a ruckus and commotion in the entire community and wear the scars quite proudly!!  If your organizational strategy is to keep working on Soylent and make sure your organization delivers it most effectively and efficiently, then you may satisfy the nerds and the geeks (my apologies but that’s the creator and the current market) – those people for whom food represents nothing but refueling and therefore are looking for the most efficient way to do that.  But for all the others who get far more Value from food than just refueling, it’s a losing proposition. And you will never get them to like Soylent.  I don’t know about you but I’m keeping my stove and oven and getting ready for the Indian cooking classes I’ve got to teach 🙂 .

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Dalip Raheja is President and CEO of The Mpower Group (TMG). Dalip has over 30 years of experience managing large organizations and change initiatives. He has worked across the spectrums of supply chain management, strategic sourcing, and management consulting.

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