Food revolution on aisle seven: Amazon will be a game changer

We are in the age of mass personalization. With its bid for Whole Foods, Amazon is bringing mass personalization to the food system and upsetting the order that has reigned since the end of World War II.

WHEN Netflix was sputtering five years ago, and we stopped having DVD players in our computers, I’ll admit to being skeptical of this upstart making its own TV shows — but Netflix wasn’t.

The company had the data that showed people watch anything with Kevin Spacey, had a tendency for binge-watching and — voilà! — along came “House of Cards,” the first show to be released as an entire season. Netflix knew that people search for quirky dark comedies with strong female leads and — pow! — along comes “Orange is the New Black.”

It should not be a surprise, then, that Amazon followed suit with its own programming, which turns out to be successful with the same level of scientific predictability.

The great technological opportunity of our time is combining highly personalized services with unlimited scale. If I look on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, I see a curated list of news and updates (and advertising) that is all about me. Uber provides everyone’s private driver. Amazon helps complete my online order with suggestions of exactly what I ought to get based on what else is in my shopping cart.

We are in the age of mass personalization. And with its bid for Whole Foods, Amazon is bringing mass personalization to the food system and profoundly upsetting the order that has reigned since the end of World War II.

Since the war, our food policy, reflected in the federal farm bill, has been to keep food abundant affordable and safe. In the words of Greg Page, former CEO of Cargill, the U.S. federal government ensures there is enough food at the price of just $1 for every person on Earth.

This is a food policy focused on production, in particular, of calories and protein (think corn for ingredients, wheat for bread, soy for livestock feed). The consequence of this policy is profoundly depressed commodity prices, so Midwestern row crop farmers cannot make a living, and the foods of “Fast Food Nation” — empty calories that lead to diabetes,…

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