business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Of all the places on earth to get a sense for just how much things can change, few can match Berlin, Germany. But there I stood on a recent night, my hand against one of the remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall, considering just how insignificant it looks today, with hotels, buildings, shops and activity taking place on either side.

If I had any doubts that it wasn’t always that way, I got a quick lesson from the young woman who led a friend and me on this visit. She had grown up in East Berlin in a time when the wall was The Wall. At that time, the eastern side of the divide was vacant, the easier to identify and stop anyone trying to escape.

As I stood touching the wall, this young woman began an impromptu dance, leaping over the line that is embedded in the ground to remind visitors of the entire path of the wall. She jumped from the east side to the west of the former divide singing: “I’m in the West; I’m in the East…” Things, as they say, change.

There was nothing so dramatic about the conference I was attending, but then again, change usually doesn’t seem very dramatic when looked at from the present. Only when we look back do we suddenly glimpse how different life is today than it was a short while back. It wasn’t that long ago that car seat belts were unused or smokers walked and sat among us at conference, restaurants or even college classrooms.

Which raises the question of where will we head in the future on the issue of healthy eating and will the time come when the point of sale will become the point of wellness, as suggested by Dominique Reiniche, president of the European Union Group for Coca-Cola.

The issue of health and wellness goes well beyond the US these days as does the level of concern…and the notion of possible solutions range just as far. Only two week ago, an obesity conference in the United Kingdom drew headlines for suggesting that pharmacists will need to play a bigger role in guiding customer choices for health. The surprising news wasn’t that pills and advice will be dispensed together, but rather that Britain medical community is behind the idea.

The notion of how to change the discussion on health and wellness is the essential element of the newest report from the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council of which I am a member. (And for total full disclosure, I was the presenter of the report at the ECR Conference in Europe and a member of the panel discussion where Reiniche made her comment.) The report, conceived and directed by retailers, was produced by the Institute for the Future. It merits your consideration as you think about how things may yet change again.

Using a range of research techniques to create insights into the future, the Institute shows how the intersection of changing lifestyles and societal issues could alter the way consumers shop for food, health and information into the future. It offers forecasts of connections that might change the ways shoppers engage in all sorts of behaviors, including: How health could become a filter for decision making; How health advisors might be found anywhere and everywhere; And how concern for the environment may shape and alter purchasing patterns.

The future, of course, is unknowable and the key to the Institute’s work is the debate it can help create inside your company on what the future might resemble and how you are prepared to address it. The information you find on the report isn’t so much a solution, as it is an invitation to consider what might be and what steps you will need to take to get there first.

Remember, walls come down unexpectedly all the time. Especially in Berlin.

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