The Trend and Foresight Blog


Leave a comment

Why you won’t see a housing rebound anytime soon

Janet Yellen warned that the weakness in the US housing sector could hold back growth for the remainder of the year.  Many pundits are perplexed by the housing slowdown. Existing home sales in March fell for the seventh time in past eight months. Its not going to get much better. In a word, here’s why: Millennials.

Strike 1 – Millennials are just now in the midst of family formation. Existing home sales won’t improve until Millennials settle down, get married, and buy homes. However, just 26% of Millennials 18-33 are married compared to 65% of the Silent generation at the same point in their youth. Even though Millennials say they want to marry someday, they are waiting much longer than previous generations so it will still be several years before they could impact the housing market.

Strike 2 – Millennials are distinctly more cautious financially. According to a UBS Investor Watch Report, “the average millennial has 52% of his or her portfolio in cash, more than twice the 23% of other investors.”  Millennials are hesitant to make big purchases and see buying a home as risky. Those that do buy are learning a lesson from their predecessors by purchasing homes they can afford. A  report from the CFPB suggests that a trillion dollars in student loan debt is hindering Millennials from spending in areas like homeownership.

Strike 3 – Millennials have a different sense of the American Dream. The “sharing economy” has in roots in financial hardship, but the underlying driver of collaborative consumption is really a manifestation of a values shift. Cloud-based lifestyles allow Millennials to have access without  ownership. The possession of physical goods is now sometimes seen as a hindrance, rather than an advantage in life. The same philosophy is extending to homeownership which necessitates putting down roots and making a long term commitment. For Millennials who have experienced the economic upheaval and high unemployment rates, renting offers the flexibility and the freedom to move around the country if new opportunities present themselves.

Let’s hope the underlying strength of the current economy isn’t entirely reliant on a rebound in housing.


~Mike Vidikan, @mikevidikan

Leave a comment

Futurists as Crystal Ball Gazers? Maybe to Lazy Bloggers

image: h koppdelaney (flickr)

image: h koppdelaney (flickr)

A recent job post at Hershey’s made for some good headlines about a “chocolate futurist” and in a quiet corner of Internet, it caused a bit of a sensation.

Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic was first to opine and gave some reasons why the position is not “outlandish.” Not exactly a glowing endorsement of the work Futurists do. Then Tom Gara at The WSJ picked up the story but didn’t waste his time exploring why Hershey’s would want to explore the future of chocolate. Instead, he mostly focused “corporate jargon.”

And then came Mary Beth Quirk at Consumerist, who mischaracterized “futurists” as fortune tellers using crystal balls. We poked a little fun at these kind of people a couple years ago in our “What people think we do – Futurists” post.

For the lazy blogger, let me google “futurist” for you: “A professional futurist is a person who studies the future in order to help people understand, anticipate, prepare for and gain advantage from coming changes.  It is not the goal of a futurist to predict what will happen in the future.  The futurist uses foresight to describe what could happen in the future and, in some cases, what should happen in the future.”

Scott Smith, a professional futurist, captures more of the “ridiculous” coverage over at Quartz.

The futurists I know are trying to move government policy and corporate planning toward a better future. They are trying to help their organizations understand what happens when emerging technologies and shifting consumer values converge. Entire industries can be disrupted overnight. Companies and governments that fail to respond to consumers’ changing needs will be toppled and replaced by organizations that can. The risks and opportunities are very real. Hiring a futurist might be the best thing an organization can do!


~Mike Vidikan

Trends & Foresight, Innovaro

Leave a comment

Happier Holidays – The Future in 2025

As I drove 200 miles to visit family for Thanksgiving, I remembered how much I hated long drives with traffic jams, rubbernecking, busy rest stops, and all that good stuff and whether the future really holds the promise of a better holiday travel experience. More generally, I also started thinking about how the holidays might be different in the next decade.

Here are some ideas about what we might be able to look forward to:

Easier Holiday Travel for Drivers

Google's self driving car

Google’s self driving car

Between Thanksgiving and New Years lots of people pack their cars and make the drive to spend time with their families. According to AAA,  more than 80 million Americans at year-end make a 50 mile drive and tens of millions drive several hundred miles. In 2025, with smarter vehicles on the road we should expect to see less accidents jamming up the roads, smarter guidance systems that help us reduce and optimize traffic, and even self-driving vehicles that get us from point A to point B while we nap, work, or play. Self-driving cars could significantly impact holiday travel by reducing the burden of long haul trips on families who could load up the car and leave at night and sleep on the way. Cars could even fuel themselves and sense when the passengers need a pit stop of their own.

Spending Time with the Family Virtually

Cisco Telepresence

Cisco Telepresence

New technologies will make it easier for families and friends around the world to spend time together virtually. Consider the leap from speaking over the telephone to speaking face to face using Skype and FaceTime. Its likely in 10 years that another leap will take place in communication technologies. New interfaces and haptics, and even clothes with sensors, could allow hugs and kisses to be shared and felt across long distances, literally making reaching out and touching someone possible. Integrated wall displays, projectors, or even holograms will allow families to participate in meals together and feel as connected as if they were in the same room together, even allowing them to experience the smells of each-others homes, like mom’s homemade apple pie.

A Tastier Holiday Dinner

Farmed Here

Farmed Here

The holidays are a time for family and religion, but they are also associated with celebratory and abundant eating. As America grows more diverse, menu items and ingredients may change over time to include more ethnic cuisines, but a bigger way the meal is likely to change is how the food is sourced to include produce grown locally in vertical farms. More Americans are interested in sustainable and organic produce and ‘local’ has also become fashionable. But frankly, fresher fruits and vegetables taste better. Most shoppers don’t realize their meat and produce spend days, weeks, or even months in shipping containers before making it to their market. Vertical farms will allow city residents access to fresher food – and that will make for a better dinner. And while many will still enjoy the tradition of cooking a real turkey or ham for the holiday meal, a number of families will opt instead for a more environmentally friendly option - lab-grown meat that tastes like the real thing.



I’d be remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to the likelihood of 3D printed foods at holiday meals. Food fabricators could be used to add flare, such as a perfect replica of the family’s home as a gingerbread house, or the entire family could be posed as edible figures on a centerpiece.

More Personal and Convenient Shopping

Ebay Digital Storefront

Ebay Digital Storefront

According to the National Retail Federation, for some retailers “the holiday season can represent as much as 20-40% of annual sales.” This is one reason retailers push special deals so hard at the end of the year, but most consumers hate the large unruly crowds and will continue to stay home and shop online. That is, unless and until retailers end their Black Friday sales to bring real shoppers back to stores by offering a better shopping experience.

One way they will try to improve that experience is with digital storefronts. See Ebay’s latest innovation. In the future, these digital interfaces will be able to recognize users through digital beacons and facial recognition, giving recommendations based on the users past browsing and purchasing profile or basic physical characteristics (e.g., male, aged 40, 6’0, 215lbs), showing the consumer what they would look like with the product on or in hand, and then allowing them to place the order with their phone and have it delivered same day via Amazon Prime Air.

Retail stores will use similar technology to make shopping more personal. Empowered with AI assistants, the sales staff will be able to make much more helpful suggestions based on the customers personal data history, for example knowing the customer’s favorite colors or style of clothing. Stores may also offer virtual fitting rooms where the consumer can get a full body scan allowing them to receive a perfect fit for shoes and clothes which are then fabricated on 3D printers at a local fab center. In fact, higher end retail stores could soon offer custom design services to give consumers that personal touch, such as taking a familiar design (think Burberry) and changing the colors and patterns to better reflect that individuals personal skin tone or body type. And armed with 3D scans of family and friends, gift buying would become an incredibly customized experience.

All this should provide for a happier holiday season. Agree? Disagree? Tweet your thoughts at me!


Trends & Foresight, Innovaro

Leave a comment

Is Paying with Exercise the Future?

This subway ticket machine has the Internet abuzz. Instead of paying with cash, this machine accepts squats and lunges.

It raises some pretty interesting ideas for organizations that want to encourage people to exercise. Perhaps office vending machines could be equipped with such a program to offer employees that candy bar for free if they get their heart rate up first. Maybe life and health insurance companies should offer customers the ability to pay for part of the policy through running, yoga, or other healthy physical activities. Or maybe some sporting good companies could launch promotions this way – for example, if you can do 100 pushups in a row or run in place for 30 minutes, it’ll dispense a unique product.

Heathervescent writes about the Future of Money and alternative forms of currency – perhaps she’ll add exercise to the list.


Trends & Foresight, Innovaro

Leave a comment

The Mab Won’t Fly – Design Concept Goes a Little Too Far

Many columns have devoted space to this year’s winner of the Electrolux Design Lab competition pictured here.


Mab - Stage - Concept Development

“Mab is an automated cleaning system consisting of hundreds of flying mini-robots. The robots clean surfaces by touching them with a drop of water. Mab scans the house, determine the areas to clean and sends the robots flying.”

While the design is quite beautiful, the Mab will never be a feasible solution for cleaning a home. The design utilizes hundreds or thousands of synchronous and autonomous micro-UAVs to sweep for and remove dirt. I don’t doubt the technology will exist to make this possible, it just doesn’t make sense in a home. These micro aerial bots (is that what Mab stands for?) could pose a serious choking hazard for babies and pets, and a swarm of flying bots doesn’t seem like the ideal house guest.

Advanced surface coatings with self-cleaning nanomaterials are more likely to be incorporated in the home of the future. Perhaps the designer should have gone a step further to imagine trillions of nanobots crawling around, devouring every dust particle in sight, repairing scratched surfaces, and eliminating viruses to boot.  At least in that scenario, they would be out of sight, and out of mind, creating a robotic biome that could mimic our own human biome.

The concept of a host carrying hundreds or thousands of micro-UAVs is still valid and this concept might lend itself pretty well to inspecting complex structures. For example, an emergency response unit could deploy the Mab after earthquakes, tornados, or other catastrophic events and these mini flying robots could get into tiny spaces to scan for signs of life in rubble or even to check the structural integrity of buildings. Or the military might deploy such a unit for intelligence gathering.

If the designer and Electrolux were married to the “cleaning” concept, they could consider commercial or industrial applications instead. For example, the Mab could be used to clean up after a fire or flood, where there is heavy distributed damage and it would operate out of the way of residents. Or a hotel could provide the Mab to its housekeepers who would work alongside the tiny robots, going from room to room with guests unaware of the interaction.

Putting aside the merits of this particular concept, I’m certain we’ll see robots and different size UAVs working alongside humans in the workplace, at home, and everywhere in between.



Trends & Foresight, Innovaro

1 Comment

Kitchen Concepts for your Future Home?

Design competitions are a great source of inspiration for future products. Electrolux, the household appliance manufacturer, hosted a design competition this year with the theme “Inspired Urban Living.”

The following are some of the Design Lab concepts that help stretch the imagination:

Kitchen Hub

“Kitchen Hub is a household food stock controller helping you know what ingredients you have at home and when they expire. You can reduce food waste, find recipes and coordinate with the individual diets of each family member.”

This concept fits perfectly with consumers interest in reducing Food Waste, having connected food experiences, and monitoring health and diet.  It also looks like a screen that could be called upon for watching cooking tutorials – perhaps with added sensors and camera it could even provide feedback: “Don’t chop it so finely” or “Smells like something is burning!”


Atomium - Stage - Concept Development

“Atomium is a 3D printer that uses molecular ingredients to construct food layer by layer. Draw the shape of the food you would like to eat and show it to the appliance. Atomium scans the image and prints food in the desired shape.”

This is basically a home 3D food printer concept with a fun spin. Imagine printing your mashed potatoes into a recreation of the roman colosseum or a vehicle with moving parts. This food printer would take playing with your food to a whole new level. NASA has invested in 3D printed foods and we’re seeing advancement all the time in the commercial space.  3D Systems recent acquisition of The Sugar Lab has led to speculation that a eventually food printer for professionals and consumers could be in the works. Avi Reichental, President and CEO of 3D Systems said, “I believe there is a social covenant for indulgence that begins with desserts and The Sugar Lab will accelerate our ability to bring edible 3D printables to the masses while empowering chefs, restaurateurs and confectioners with never before explored digital creation tools for food.”

As a cook and frequent host, the Atomium would be a welcome addition to my kitchen.


“Nutrima calculates the nutritional values, possible toxins and freshness of your food. The appliance is foldable, easy to bring along and supported by an app mapping your experiences giving tips of resellers with high quality ingredients.”

While some consumers would definitely like a device that can instantly calculate the nutritional content of foods, I think the ability to monitor freshness and toxins at the point of sale is of greater interest. Innovaro has written about trends and forecasts for intelligent, smart, and active packaging which go beyond passively containing food and displaying nutritional info, to protecting it, sensing the environment within or around the package, and communicating that information. It would be far more beneficial to consumers, whose appetites for fresh and on-the-go foods have increased, to have smarter packaging, protecting the food and providing better real-time indicators of whether the food has gone bad. Its likely consumers will start seeing these packaging innovations roll out in the near future.

The Nutrima concept could still play a key part in healthy diets if it actually integrated into our servingware. If our plates could reveal exactly how many calories we were about to consume and what type of nutrition we were about to recieve, it could change quite a few people’s eating habits. That’s some food for thought.


Trends & Foresight, Innovaro


Millennials and Food [Infographic] – Changing the Landscape

This infographic is based on Innovaro’s Trends & Foresight research about Millennials food preferences with implications and opportunities for the next decade.

In the US, there will be an estimated 64 million Millennials over age 25 by 2020 and they will have a supersize impact on the food landscape over the next decade. Many of the retailers, processors, and distributors are catering to the older Boomer population and ignoring Millennials. However, its important they understand the distinct preferences of Millennials and start thinking about the tremendous implications and business opportunities presented by this growing demographic.

(Special thanks to Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, experts on the Millennial generation who graciously conducted an informal food-oriented focus group of Millennials in preparation for their interaction with Innovaro Global Lifestyles).


This infographic was based on Innovaro’s “Millennials and Food” research brief.  To download the full Millennials and Food report, click here


High res version now available

High Res version

High Res version

Excerpts from the Millennials and Food report:

Driven by the unique experiences of their generation, Millennials’ food choices, shopping patterns, preparation of food at home, and selection of food away from home are all different from those of earlier generations. And in coming years, Millennials will have an oversized impact on the food behavior of Americans. According to a recent report from Jefferies Alix Partners, “the maturation of the Millennials and the aging of the baby boomers, in our opinion, appear poised to rapidly transform the food-at-home industry, long thought of as a bastion of stability.”

The impact of Millennials on the food landscape will spread and persist over time. As the blog Millennial Marketing points out, “Food trends tend to trickle up the generational ladder.” At the same time, Beth Hoffman, writing about Millennials and food for Forbes, notes that Millennial food habits will have a very long range impact on the food system, because Millennials will teach their habits and preferences to their children.

This brief reviews the driving forces shaping Millennials’ relationship to food and examines trends in food preferences, food shopping, food preparation, and food away from home in the Millennial cohort. The brief is based in part on an interview with Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, experts on the Millennial generation who graciously conducted an informal food-oriented focus group of Millennials in preparation for their interaction with Innovaro Global Lifestyles.

• Millennials will have substantial, growing influence over the food marketplace in the coming decade.

• Diversity, self-awareness, living for today, acceptance of new gender roles, and pervasive use of information technology are all important driving forces of Millennials’ unique relationship to food.

• Millennials are seeking food options that are fresh, natural and organic, affordable, convenient, authentic, and socially responsible—and that provide choice and variety.

• Millennials are less committed to traditional grocery channels for acquiring food; more open to specialty, online, and bigbox channels; and less loyal to brands and retailers than previous generations.

Leave a comment

Kuwait’s “Gay Detector” – Big Data?

gaydar-2Just last week, The Daily Mail reported that Yousouf Mindkar, the director of public health at the Kuwaiti health ministry, told a Kuwaiti newspaper that, “We will take stricter measures that will help us detect gays who will be then barred from entering Kuwait or any of the GCC member states,” explaining that they conduct “routine medical checks” on expatriates.

A number of newspapers and editorials have written about this controversy and posited theories about what these “medical checks” could include. But why does Kuwait need to perform an invasive medical test to identify if someone is gay?

Facebook can already do that by using sophisticated data mining. They have more than a billion users and can look for correlations between who a user’s friends are and what pages the user and their friends ‘like’ to identify personality traits and lifestyles, from how they vote to sexual orientation.

The Washington Post reports the NSA has gathered hundreds of millions of address books, which would seem to allow them to make many of the same connections. We should assume other intelligence agencies are playing the same game. Who your contacts are says a lot about about who you are.

DonkeyHotey Flickr

image: DonkeyHotey (Flickr)

And last year the New York Times ran an article, “How Companies Learn your Secrets,” that included a story about how Target used big data to identify that a young girl was pregnant even before her father found out. What Target’s data mining revealed was that pregnant women in their second trimesters were purchasing a particular combination of products such as unscented soaps and lotions and vitamin supplements. In this particular story, an angry father yelled at a Target manager to find out why they were sending his daughter coupons for baby clothes and cribs. “Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?” he demanded to know. The man called the manager days later to apologize. His daughter WAS indeed pregnant.

As these examples show, the personal data we share, and sometimes don’t share, can reveal far more about us than we realize. As we approach the Internet of Everything, where everyday objects have the potential to capture data about us, what can we really expect to remain private?



Trends & Foresight, Innovaro

Leave a comment

Is the Flu in Your Future?

Image: |Chris| (Flickr)

Image: |Chris| (Flickr)

Kimberly-Clark is about to roll out a flu prediction tool, according to an article in today’s Ad Age. The tool, called MyAchoo, claims to go beyond previous tools like Google Flu Trends because it aims to predict where the bug will hit in the upcoming three weeks, not just report where the flu is already having an impact.

The company claims the tool is 90% accurate, and the goals of the effort seem to be two fold:

  • To drive sales of its tissues. According to the Ad Age article the company wants to “get consumers to stock up on Kleenex before they get sick, rather than buy supplies when they already feel bad.”
  • To inform their digital ad strategy…the predictive model will let Kimberly-Clark geo-target digital ads to areas that are about to get whacked by the flu.

What struck me about this wasn’t the potential accuracy level that Kimberly-Clark claims or that a tissue maker is crunching CDC data to target their digital ads (though that’s pretty cool), but more that this is a perfect example of the kind of “cloud intelligence” that we’re going to see brands roll out more and more for their customers in the future.

Providing information, advice, and real-time decision support is going to become more and more important for all kinds of companies, even those that traditionally didn’t have a lot of post-purchase interaction with consumers (like Kleenex). See more about cloud intelligence in my post at Serious Wonder or contact me to request a couple reports where we talk more about the topic….and stay healthy.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 112 other followers